HOUSING DEBACLE: NIGERIANS LIVE IN SLUMS, SLEEP UNDER BRIDGES

  • ‘Landlords take advantage of this  and see themselves as mini gods’

 

Across the country, low-income earners are still in quagmire, regarding their own houses. This may be the reason stakeholders are worried that despite government claims of formulating policies to provide shelter for appreciable percentage of the citizenry, there are no indicators to justify the claims. The mortgage institutions in the country, according to ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report are also largely inactive

 

Madam Onyeka Nkemakonam is a widow. She lived in a mini-flat apartment at No 5, Lagos Street, off Akilo Road, Agege, Lagos, with her family for close to six years.

 

She lost her husband, Nnamdi, in May last year. After the burial rites of her husband and the mandatory mourning period, Nkemakonam returned to Lagos with her four children, to face new challenges of life without the breadwinner.

 

Her landlord, sensing that it could be difficult for her to continue with the payment of rent, decided to issue a quit notice to her. She pleaded for time, which she thought the landlord had consented to. But she was wrong. Unknown to Nkemakonam, her landlord had a different game plan.

 

The man, according to what later played out, might have decided to test the signed tenancy law in the state. He ejected her, along with other tenants with the aid of thugs, a few months after.

 

One of the tenants, Christopher Johnson, a commercial bus driver, who raised the alarm, said he was at Obalende when someone called to inform him that thugs and fake policemen were at his residence in an apparent move to eject all the tenants in the bungalow building.

 

“I had to abandon what I was doing at Obalende Park and rushed home. I met other tenants outside the house, their properties and mine had already been vandalised by the thugs,” Johnson narrated to Saturday Telegraph.

 

According to him, items lost to the hoodlums were clothes, phones, laptop, a travelling bag and N70,000 cash he had been saving to rent another apartment. Other tenants in the house also claimed they lost sums of money ranging from N50,000 to N90,000 to the invaders. Nkemakonam said the N250,000 donated to her to complete her husband’s building at Sango Ota area of Ogun State during the burial of her husband, was also stolen.

 

The total money lost to the thugs was over N360,000, according to claims the tenants made at the police station, where the matter was reported. Narrating her ordeal to Saturday Telegraph, Nkemakonam said she was in the room when the thugs rushed in, threatened to break her head with a hammer after which they bundled her out of the room.

 

“They claimed they were from the court with an instruction to eject us. The landlord has been on the run since then,” she said amid tears. Like Nkemakonam, many Nigerians, especially those living in the cities, have tales of woe the other to tell about their ordeal in the hands of landlords.

 

Many people have had terrible experiences in the hands of landlords whose power seems to be growing unchecked. And since shelter is one of the basic necessities of life, many are determined to acquire this essential need. It has thus become a major concern for both individual and governments in the country.

 

In fact, the scorecard of any government in the country has, more often, been assessed on its ability to provide housing for its populace. Shelter, indeed, is very important and obligatory in human living. It is imperative for every human being to have a home.

 

However, the individual financial capacity often hinders the purchasing power, hence, the prevalence of house rent in Nigeria. This may be the reason why most landlords take advantage of this and see themselves as ‘mini gods’.

 

They believe they have power, which can quickly change the livelihood of any person negatively. However, many of the home occupiers in Nigeria today are largely tenants, who pay for accommodation monthly or yearly. And, the uncontrollable rise in the country’s population, particularly in urban areas has resulted in an unimaginable demand for housing.

 

The overall cases of landlord palaver over the years are alarming and mind boggling. Most of the landlords today, who hitherto were tenants, do not care about the laws or rules guiding landlords and tenants relationship. The thinking is that the house belongs to them and they are free to make their decisions anytime. Though, government at various levels had come up with difficult landlord/tenancy laws, they have only achieved very little in addressing the problem.

 

In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, only the well-to-do can afford to rent an apartment in the metropolis as the costs appear not to be for small salary earners. Judith Nmakwe, a civil servant said: “The rate of accommodation in this city has assumed an alarming dimension; you cannot see a beginner, I mean someone who is trying to start life, settle down in Abuja. A room apartment at the boys’ quarters is what most people can afford here,” she said. There are other views. According to another resident, Ade Adebayo, the FCT is not meant for everybody to settle.

 

“You cannot compare Abuja with other places in the country. This is the capital of Nigeria and it’s no dwelling place for every Tom, Dick and Harry. However, not all houses are expensive; it depends on the area you choose to live. Many settle on     the outskirts where rent is quite reasonable,” he said. But, Lagos and Abuja are not isolated cases.

 

 

In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, Bidemi Babatope, narrated her ordeal in the hands of her 58-year-old landlord. She had earlier paid for two years house rent, but after a year of occupancy, the landlord demanded that she paid more. Reason: Because other landlords had increased their rent. Babatope declined such demand and referred the landlord to his tenancy agreement, which they both signed. That was not enough to dissuade the shylock landlord as he refused to acknowledge his agreement. The consequence was that Babatope was given a seven-day quit notice to evacuate the room.

 

“He gave me the notice on a Saturday, the following Monday, he started knocking my door early in the morning, telling me that someone had paid for my room and that I should move out in two days’ time. Though I had been busy looking for a room before then, but I couldn’t get one. In fact, I was not financially buoyant enough to do much running around or guarantee a decent house since the man said, he won’t return my money until I move out. “As I was praying the next day, I noticed a carpenter was working on my roof, I thought it was a usual change of a leak in the roof but again, I remembered that my room was not in need of repairs. As I dashed out to find out what was going on, the landlord said he was removing my roof so that I will know that I had overstayed my welcome in the house. Unfortunately for me, rain fell that day and most of my properties were destroyed,” Babatope recounted. Residents of Port Harcourt in Rivers State are also groaning.

 

They have called on the state government to intervene in the high cost of housing in the city. They said that unless something was done urgently by the authorities to address the astronomical cost of housing in the state, some of them might be forced to relocate to the suburbs. Currently, rent offered for a oneroom “self-contain” apartment goes for between N200,000 and N250,000 per annum while a one-bed flat costs as much as N600,000 in some locations. Likewise, two-bed room is offered for rent at between N600,000 and N700,000 depending on the area.

 

One of the residents, Kelvin Onwuka, lamented that house rent in the city was fast getting out of the reach of public servants. He said it was becoming increasingly difficult for government employees to live in good houses.

 

Onwuka, a civil servant, said that housing was a critical social service issue and called on the federal government to enact laws that would regulate housing, especially rents in the country. But, Mrs. Josephine Okenwa, a landlady, attributed the high cost of housing to the rising cost of building materials. She said one way to solve the problem was for government to also regulate cost of the materials. “You cannot expect someone to sell goods below their cost prices; that is what we have been passing through and government knows about it.

 

The first thing the government should do is to ensure that cost of materials for building is reduced and it can, therefore, address the issue of rent,” she said. Building experts see housing as an economic product over which an average investor wants profits.

 

It is, perhaps, for this reason that the Lagos State government passed a tenancy law. It was targeted at making life comfortable for its citizenry and safeguarding the low income earners in the state. The law, however, has thrown up endless debate among major stakeholders in the real estate industry. Its provisions made it unlawful for a landlord or his agent to demand or       receive rent in excess of six months from a sitting tenant. With the law, it becomes illegal for any landlord to receive more than a year rent from a new tenant otherwise he will be made to pay N100,00 or sentenced to three years imprisonment.

 

Similarly, it will also be unlawful for a tenant to offer to pay more than a year rent, even though, it allows for the two parties involved (landlord and tenant) to sign a tenancy agreement. But, as plausible as the law may seem, most landlords, stakeholders and property developers have argued that such would never achieve its purpose.

 

According to them, the Nigerian society has failed to provide sufficient housing facilities for the people. It is argued that the problem of insufficient accommodation should be tackled first before promulgating such laws.

 

The general case of landlords make Nigerian housing situation looks like a lawless one as they do not care about what the law says concerning their actions and inactions. An Abuja-based Estate Surveyor and Valuer, Ahmed Shehu Dogon-Daji, said that even when rent control laws are available they cannot be implemented because of the refusal of grant to fund research on local building materials through the Nigerian Building Roads Research Institute (NBRRI). He also pointed to the refusal of government to bring the price of cement down because of interest or romance with some manufacturers.

 

Another Abuja-based property developer and MD, Urban Shelter Ltd, Musa Aliyu, admitted that though the courts are there, absence of rent control laws tend to make all landlords abuse the situation. The Lagos State Publicity Secretary of All Progressives Congress, Joe Igbokwe, also submitted: “Dubious and lazy landlords in the country have no conscience.

 

They rely on houses they built 30,40 years ago to pay school fees for their children and children of their concubines in Nigeria and abroad.” As it stands today, many Nigerians still rest their heads under the bridge in the dark hour. Such people, who cannot afford a house rent, are left to sleep in the cold at night, exposing themselves not only to the vagaries of the weather but other dangers. Less privileged tenants also live in uncompleted buildings.

 

 

These kinds of people are exposed to hazards both night and day. There are others too, who often consider themselves lucky but live in the slum where all forms of inhuman act     tivities abound. They inhabit the slum because they cannot afford the cost of a decent accommodation. The efforts of the federal government, particularly the National Assembly and state assemblies to propose rent control legislation have met with unrealistic fantasy. This is as a result of the failed situation on the supply side of the real estate market and the failure of the existing and subsisting rent control legislation and home ownership schemes to address the problem of housing in Nigeria. Housing generally has not ranked high on the scale of priorities for social spending by successive administrations in the country.

 

This may be the reason efforts at providing low-cost housing have been minimal, despite the creation of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) in 1977, as shanty towns and slums are common sights in urban areas leading to overcrowding. It has been estimated that about 85 per cent of the urban population live in single rooms often with eight to 12 people per room, making living conditions very dehumanising. Former MD, FMBN, Gimba Ya’u-Kumo, said that lack of a robust mortgage financing system in Nigeria had made rate of home ownership in the country one of the lowest in Africa. Ya’u-Kumo noted that mortgage credits accounted for less than five per cent of total lending portfolio of Nigerian banks and just about 13.5 per cent of mortgage lending by Primary Mortgage Banks (PMBs).

 

According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) supervision report 2008 revealed that 90 per cent of housing developments in Nigeria were selffinanced through personal savings for periods upwards of 10 years. He said that housing not only satisfied the basic human need for shelter, but a key component of economic growth and development. He pointed out that provision of housing was not only a key driver of economic development, but that it formed a substantial part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of most developed countries.

 

“The supply gap for low and medium income groups is huge, reaching a crisis level in some cities in the country. This is heightened by the rapid urbanisation of the population,” he added,   noting that the World Bank had predicted that the housing problem in Nigeria would become even more acute by the year 2020 if adequate measures were not taken. In his contribution, Prof. A.O. Olotuah of the school of Environmental Technology, Federal University of Technology, Akure, said: “The Nigerian housing is fraught with a plethora of problems, especially for low-income earners, who incidentally constitute the majority of the population. Fundamental to this is the lack of access to housing finance by this segment of the society.”

 

In Nigeria, like in many other developing nations of the world, housing problems are multi-dimensional. The problems of population explosion, continuous influx of people from rural to the urban centres, and lack of basic infrastructure required for good standard of living have compounded housing problems over the years.

 

Access to this basic need by the poor, who constitute the largest percentage of the world’s population, has remained a mirage, which needs to be critically addressed. Perhaps, this may be the reason why President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Day Speech on October 1, hinted on what the government intends to do in the real estate sector. He said: “We have initiated the National Housing Programme.

 

In 2014, four hundred million naira was voted for Housing. In 2015 nothing. “Our first budget devoted a whooping N35.6 billion to the housing sector. Much of the house building will be private sector led but government is initiating a pilot housing scheme of 2,838 units uniformly spread across the 36 states and FCT.

 

This initiative is expected to reactivate the building materials manufacturing sector, generate massive employment opportunities and develop sector capacity and expertise.”

 

Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, unveiled the plans by the federal government to deliver mass housing for Nigerians. He said that 360 houses would be built in three states through Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement in the first phase, develop “Rent to Own” housing scheme for those who cannot afford mortgage and incorporate a new housing model into the National Building Code.

 

He, however, lamented that the money appropriated for housing sector was grossly inadequate. Former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), added his voice to the housing debacle when he noted that Nigeria with a population of well over 150 million people requires housing unit per annum. According to him, this is to replenish decaying housing stock, as well as to meet rising demand and avert a further crisis in the sector. Ms Ama Pepple, former Minister of Housing and Urban Development, also pointed out that Nigeria was facing a national housing deficit of over 17 million units.

 

She was blunt in saying that the country required additional one million housing units a year to reduce the national deficit with a view to averting crisis in the year 2020 and beyond. In like manner, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, believes that housing defines culture, style and provides the much needed security, even as he urged the three tiers of government to intervene in the building construction sector. He said the intervention, which should be in the form of direct construction of houses, was necessary for the sake of the low-income earners, who were in need of mass housing.

 

One time president, Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Agele Alufohai, also said there was the need for an evolution in the mortgage system with a view to strengthening the build-   ing construction sector. He stressed the importance of a viable mortgage system that could strengthen home ownership, and urged government participation in the process through the creation of an enabling environment.

 

“If we have a mortgage system where the rent you pay will lead to owning a house, then we talk of low-income housing. Elsewhere in the world, you pay rent to mortgage institutions and between 20 and 25 years, you become a landlord and move from being a tenant. Government has to move in to provide the enabling environment by encouraging mortgage origination.”

 

His former counterpart in the Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Emeka Eleh, equally said tenants would have a better deal if the supply of homes increases since, according to him, the nation’s housing sector is ruled by landlords. “I believe the solution to our housing problems may not even be short term. We have to deal with the problem: access to suitable and title land on which people can build. There are statistics on how badly we are doing in that area,” Eleh added.

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