Homeless in cities like Warri, Sapele, Ughelli and Agbor in Delta state result from inability of government to guarantee housing security for her people. Residents said they are unable to secure accommodation because of the oil-rich disposition of the state. John Udemude, a self-employed motor-repairer who lives in a shed with his family said: “because of the oil companies, landlords ask us to pay the same rents they ask from oil workers.”
In Port Harcourt, SERAC said that the Rivers state government began demolishing homes of the Agip waterside community in February 2005, leaving 5,000 – 10,000 homeless. Some 1.2million were also forcibly evicted by the Amaechi administration in July 2000 from Rainbow Town, Port Harcourt – a settlement for poor people dating back to the 1960s. The state government used land conflicts and purported illegal occupation as justification for the evictions and demolitions.
In Abuja, forced evictions in Lugbe, Chika and allied villages such as Alieta, Mabushi and Galadimawo led to the displacement of more than 800,000 persons. Most of them relocated their families to their native states, ‘while a great number of them opted to move in with friends and relatives’, a report by SERAC said.
According to Poju Onibokun, a professor of urban and regional planning who was part of the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER), rapid urban growth associated with urban development has seriously aggravated the shortage of dwelling units in Nigeria, resulting in overcrowding, high rent, and slum. That, Onibokun say is untrue, citing the failure of the Third National Development Plan of 1975-80.
Those who favour priority being given to the urban areas argue that rapid urban expansion should be accompanied by rapid expansion of public services in order to avoid environmental decline; that housing in urban areas generates greater external economies. They also maintain that urban areas have more political heavyweights and agitators and therefore investment in urban housing are more likely to yield more political benefits than investment in rural housing. But those who believe that rural projects should take priority have argued that ‘investment in rural housing is more likely to stem rural-urban migration thereby decreasing the problem of the urban areas; and that investment in rural housing will encourage balanced national development.
Robert Adeyemi, 31, a real estate surveyor said he believes that the homeless problem will always be there as long as private estate developers together with the government place emphasis on building houses for the rich. He said that he attended a well-publicized event in Lagos where a signing ceremony took place between three banks and a private developer to build estates in an exclusive area of Lagos.
According to Adeyemi, the amount involved in the building of the flats was put at N5 billion, with completion time estimated at 30 months. ‘Do you know that that amount of money could build low cost housing estates for nearly a million Nigerians?,’ he queried. Adeyemi said that he is disappointed that nobody is asking why such schemes to build houses for the poor and homeless are not being asked.
At the eighth Lagos Housing Fair held in Lagos, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, former governor of Lagos state said that federal and state governments must urgently address the homeless problem through provision of land and adequate funding. Jakande said that most workers in Nigeria were ignorant of the fact that they were entitled to loans after six months of contributing 2.5 percent of their salaries under the National Housing Fund. According to the former governor, the activities of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria are not known to majority of Nigerians who may want to take advantage of it to build their own houses.
The major challenge is the issue of mortgage. According to the Managing Director, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), Gimba Y’auKumo, the inability of the CBN to pay its equity contribution into the National Housing Fund is responsible for the apex mortgage bank’s inability to either provide the housing needs of Nigerians or mortgage for people to build their own homes. Also, there is no mechanism for risk sharing that will encourage banks and other financial institutions to extend loans to people at the lower income level. Yet, if loans are less expensive and easier to qualify, then the property becomes more liquid.
In addition, lack of primary infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity is another concern for investors. Poor infrastructure accounts for about 35 per cent of housing costs. In most cases, investors and property developers have to provide the infrastructure which invariably increases the cost of the houses they build thus making such houses expensive.
In spite of the housing shortfall of about 18 million home units that the nation must produce to accommodate her people, single family homes units on 700square meters of land-even in government schemes-are still constructed regularly.
It is alarming that despite the small size of Lagos state and its high population, the government still comes up with estates where 650 square meters are allocated to an individual when private firms should be allowed to provide luxury homes.
A large plot size allocation deprives about six Nigerians the opportunity to own their homes in every one hectare. In America, where homes are built on large plots, there is widespread infrastructural development that makes land available for all.
Homelessness, even though an acute problem in Nigeria, also exists in the civilized world. According to a report by the United Nations titled: UN, Fund, State of the World’s Population 2007: Unleashing the Potentials of Urban Growth, there are indications that by year 2030, more than 3.3 billion people will opt to live in urban areas, even though under bridges and in cartons and cardboards. According to that same report, the number of cities of the world having people without homes will grow by 1.7 billion and the number of city dwellers will reach 5 billion.
Of that figure, towns and cities of the developing world will make 81% of urban humanity. Another report by the United States Conference of Majors(CM) said that more people in American cities were homeless and hungry in 2006 than 2005 because the government could not meet the requests for shelter which rose by nine percent in 2006.
Agunbiade is a real estate/marketing consultant and entrepreneur