The UN and Nigeria’s housing crisis

Leilana Farha, the United Nations’ (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, has called attention to the housing crisis in Nigeria. According to her, “Nigeria’s housing sector is in a complete crisis. Existing programmes will hardly make even a small dent in addressing the ever-growing housing need.”  Farha, who made this known while addressing journalists in Abuja on Monday, September 22, also noted that there was a lack of official data for the government to develop an effective housing policy. As a result, the government has allowed informal settlements to balloon in many urban centres. In these unplanned settlements, conditions are inhumane.

Indeed, Farha explained that what she saw during a 10-day visit to Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt was “the most severe” she had encountered worldwide. These informal settlements lack access to even the most basic services, like running water. Inhabitants live in constant fear of being evicted because they lack any security of tenure. The crisis in the housing sector is put in bold relief by the fact that 69 per cent of the urban population live in these deplorable informal settlements. It reflects the extreme economic inequality in the country, with an estimated housing shortage of 22 million units.

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Farha was particularly disturbed that there is no evidence that the situation might change in the short or long run.  This is because Nigeria’s population is set to double by 2050 to around 400 million people, which would make it the world’s third largest nation, behind India and China. Rather than address the housing deficits, Nigerian governments have continued to demolish shanty towns, claiming that they are home to criminal gangs, breach building regulations, or pose security threats. State government authorities and property developers’ use of force to evict entire communities in major cities like Lagos to make space for luxury housing further complicates the housing situation, as most of these luxury houses are usually unaffordable for the majority of locals.  Consequently, newly built luxury dwellings springing up throughout cities remain vacant and unoccupied.  They do not meet any housing need.

The UN Rapporteur therefore called on the Federal Government to declare a nationwide moratorium on forced evictions “until adequate legal and procedural safeguards are in place to ensure that all evictions are compliant with international human rights law.” The government should establish a national commission to investigate gross human rights violations in forced evictions and provide basic services to all informal settlements. She also urged the Federal Government to impose vacant home taxes and make effort to increase the number of shelters for persons in situations of vulnerability by using the money from the tax to create affordable housing. The National Assembly should revive work on the bill for rent control which it abandoned. These are essential measures to address homelessness and poverty. Without addressing the grossly inadequate housing conditions in the country with urgency and rigour, Nigeria’s dismal human rights record will remain.

We agree with the UN Special Rapporteur that the housing crisis in Nigeria demands urgent attention. It is the responsibility of the government to guarantee basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. Many Nigerian citizens are deprived of these basic needs and are therefore condemned to lead a life of penury.  The ministries of works and housing exist in most states of the federation, but the housing component is never attended to.  Where state governments have intervened, the approach has been elitist, top-down, without reaching out to those at the bottom of the income ladder.  Inadequate housing continues to feed poverty.

We join Farha to call on the Federal Government to develop a workable housing strategy that targets those at the bottom of the economic ladder to reduce poverty. Policy must move away from mortgage that attends to only a few public servants. Civil servants that are being owed arrears of salaries cannot afford to build houses. Government can work through local organisations such as cooperative societies and community development associations to address the massive housing deficit. We need an economy that can house and feed people, not one that grows while leaving the poor in worsening conditions.

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