The recent demolition of shanties constructed at Makoko and Abonema waterfronts in Rivers and Lagos States respectively, has once again brought the age-long housing crisis in Nigeria to fore. CHARLES KUMOLU & KINGSLEY ADEGBOYE report
NOTICE is hereby given to you to vacate and remove all illegal developments along the Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront within 72 hour, their unwholesome structures on the waterfront amounted to an environmental nuisance" said a letter from the Lagos State ministry of Waterfront, Infrastructure and Development.
The great demolition
It was upon this premise that Lagos State government, sent truck loads of armed soldiers and police officers to invade the Makoko/Ilaje waterfront at Yaba to effect government order that the residents vacate the area which had been marked for demolition. It was gathered that security operatives had stormed the area at noon and consequently demolished houses, shanties, schools and shops built in the densely populated area.
No fewer than 5000 people were said to have been rendered homeless as a result of the demolition which spared no one. Justifying the action, the state Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Adesegun Oniru, said the demolition of shanties was part of pragmatic ways to forestall tragedy. Residents in the area who built shanties close to a power-line situated on the lagoon, had lost their homes following the exercise.
Oniru who said the exercise was a clearing of the waterfront and not demolition, explained that attempt by government to delay because of sentiment would be inviting future calamity. He said: "There are people living under a power-line in that area. The water level is also rising rapidly, but the people ignored this and instead continued building more shanties up to the Third Mainland Bridge. Is that a place people should reside? It is not a good sight for anybody to see and beyond that the issue of safety is more of concern to us.
"What we are doing is to clear the environment of the danger that is looming in that area. We moved in to protect the lives of the people on that waterfront. We met the traditional rulers in the area after which we held discussions with the Local Council Development Area. These people helped us to advise the residents to quit the water." The commissioner urged the displaced people to go back to where they came from, saying government had no intention of allowing them to come back.
Abonema and Njemanze waterfront: Since this action was taken, the state government has received more knocks than kudos from various sections of the public. As it was in Lagos, so was it in Port-Hacourt where the Rivers State government had on July 26, demolished Abonnema Wharf waterfront, thereby leaving thousands of residents homeless. The exercise which reportedly started on June 26, lasted for days, as residents were taken unaware as many people were said to have lost their property in the process.
Demolition of water fronts
Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi had always maintained government's stance on the demolition of waterfronts in different parts of the state during his media interactive sessions. He explained that most of the crimes committed were carried out by hoodlums who reside at the waterfronts, a development, he added, must be tackled headlong in order to ensure the safety of lives and property in the state.
Earlier, the State Government had undertaken a similar exercise at Njemanze waterfront which it claimed to be a hideout of criminals. In all these, government has said it will pay compensation to owners of demolished buildings. But in the case of Abonnema Wharf, some of the house owners have protested over the compensation, claiming that it was inadequate. According to the Public Relations Officer of Abonnema Wharf Landlords Association, Jim Tom-George, some of them were paid N40, 000; N60, 000 and N1.2million respectively for five to 10 rooms while describing the development as ridiculous.
But defending the action, the State Commissioner for Urban Development and Town Planning, Dr. T.W Dangogo, noted that the residents were given one year to move out in 2010, adding that the time had elapsed. He stated that property owners would be compensated, saying that the demolition was informed by security reports about the area.
"Over the years, we have told landlords that the areas would be demolished and compensation paid. We asked that tenants should no longer pay rents. That place became a jungle because no one was paying rent to anyone. The rate of crime and need for urban renewal accounted for why the place was demolished."
Housing crisis: Despite this explanation by both state governments, there is anger in the land over the manner people are displaced by some state governments, in the face of acute housing crises in the country. For the Publicity Secretary of Lagos State Chapter of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. Taofik Gani, that the eviction and demolition exercise was more of destruction than correction.
"It lacked human feelings and indeed violates human rights. The Lagos State government's decision to evict the Makoko residents from their abode and occupation is very callous, especially at this time of heavy rainfalls. The residents are now helpless with no alternative accommodation provided by the state government, thus confirming the insensitivity of the government in its policies."
Tofik's anger, however, has the support of Human Rights treatise like the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ICESCR, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, which prohibited countries from forced evictions. Accordingly, under the international convention, human rights law evictions may be carried out only as a last resort, once all other feasible alternatives have been explored and genuine consultation has taken place with communities, and only after appropriate procedural and legal safeguards are in place.
Nevertheless, the issue has once again brought to fore the agelong housing crisis in Nigeria. Instructively, housing provision in the country is fraught with a plethora of problems especially for low-income earners who incidentally constitute the majority of the population. Findings by Vanguard Features,VF, also discovered that housing is generally inadequate in the rural areas in terms of quality, while the major problem in urban areas is more of quantity, although quantity is also an issue.
While there had been Housing policies like the 1991 Housing Policy, Urban Development Policy initiated in 1997 among others to address the abnormally, a large chunk of the nation's population have been battling with inadequate housing.
Speaking on the matter, the President of Nigeria Institute of Building, NIOB, Mr. Chuks Omeife, said: "given the fact that we are not trying to re-invent the wheel, this is something that has become a tradition in other countries. In the developed economies, the process of housing provision is standardised just like buying a cell phone SIM card though with obvious conditions attached. I do not see any reason why the policy cannot be implemented as proposed, the major challenges that past policies have had to contend with are lack of political will and insincerity of purpose on the part of government and government functionaries.
If government can commence in earnest the process of institutional, administrative, legal and regulatory reforms then the journey would have started. Issues relating to land use act, ease of access to finance, viability of financing institutions must be tidied up quickly and laid to rest. It is after all this and some other things have commence that we can start trusting that government is sincere about the laudable intentions in the housing policy."
New housing policy: He, however, stated that the new National Housing Policy, which is targeting the provision of one million houses per year, would go a long way in addressing the housing crisis in the country. "That the policy addresses the process of how Nigerians are going to be housed is not again in doubt. The policy like I have said severally is very robust and if implemented to the letter as conceptualised would jumpstart the long awaited transformation in the housing sector.
The housing policy clearly articulates how each income group in the country can be effectively catered for including the no-income group. To actualise the intentions of the policy there are strategies, initiatives, processes, institutional framework that must be put in place, co-ordinated, monitored, evaluated and assessed for impact through feedback. It is when all this are done that one can positively align one's thinking to the genuine intention of government in respect of housing provision for Nigerians," Omeife added
Corroborating, NIOB President, Mr. Moses Ogunleye who is the Vice President, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria, ATOPCON and Chairman, Lagos Housing Fair said it is good that there is a new housing policy in the country. Ogunleye, however, added that he hopes the new policy has taken into consideration the errors in the implementation of the 1991 National Housing Policy, pointing out that there is no point having a policy that will not be implemented.
Explaining that access to land for building purposes is very difficult across the country, Ogunleye who is a former past chairman, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, NITP, Lagos branch, said for the new policy to be effective, various states' land agencies and ministries should be reactivated. He is of the view that the major area where change should come first is through land administration, arguing that land management in the country has been deficient which has affected supply to the extent that land transactions in Nigeria can be described as black market, a situation where 'Omo nile' now dictate what happens.
Ogunleye said: "it is not that we don't have lands for various uses. But the problem is that we don't manage our lands well. Another area of concern is that our mortgage system is not vibrant. For mortgage system to be vibrant, land administration must be effective.
This is because you need titles to land as collateral to access loans from the bank. I hope and pray that this new policy will not be like others that came before it. I hope there will be no deviations from it."