Every October, the United Nations and partners organise a month of activities, events and discussions on urban sustainability as part of activities to mark World Habitat Day. The purpose is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and on the basic right to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns. World Habitat Day was established in 1985 by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 40/202, and was first celebrated in 1986.
This year's Global Observance of World Habitat Day 2020 had as theme; Housing For All: A better Urban Future.
However, stakeholders in Nigeria are not happy that the awareness created by such an event has not gingered successive administrations to solve the nation's protracted housing challenge.
Housing policies in Nigeria date back to the colonial period. The policy centered on provision of quarters for expatriate staff and for select indigenous staff in some specialised occupations like railways, police, education etc. The period saw the establishment of Government Reservation Areas (GRA) as well as a few African Quarters. No efforts were made by the government to build houses either for sale or rent to the general public and little was done to order the growth of settlements outside the GRA.
Today, the situation says something more.
Despite the global recognition of shelter as one of the most basic human needs with a profound impact on the health, welfare, social attitudes and economic productivity of the individual successive governments in the country continue to hold the old, unitary and narrow view about housing devoid of vision.
Again, despite global acceptance by a good number of nations that provision of housing is a human right and desirable to address other problems facing the world, successive leaderships have not taken historic and concrete steps that will expand the frontiers of housing inclusiveness. Instead, they still feel that government has no responsibility to do something about the problem of inadequate housing in the country.
While some administrations believed that the masses would be better left to their own devices, others aggravated the housing challenge through forced eviction without recourse to Sustainable Development Goals 2030 provision, which emphasises on Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
Tragically, Nigeria's housing sector is in a complete crisis with a very bad history of forced eviction.
To illustrate the above, between July and September 2000, over 50,000 residents were displaced from their homes for many years without alternative accommodation as a result of governments restoration of the Abuja master plan. A similar situation was witnessed in Rainbow Town, Abonima Wharf and Njemanze waterfront, Port-Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, under Governor Peter Odili, where an estimated 100,000 people lost their homes and business offices.
But if these reported cases on eviction (Abuja and Port Harcourt) present a challenge, that of Lagos, Nigeria's largest urban area, where about 70 percent of the total population or two out of every three residents (World Bank 2917) live in informal housing, is a crisis.
Regrettably, this sad narrative about Lagos started in July 1990, when the state government then for yet to be identified reasons destroyed Maroko. Over 300,000 people lost their homes.
Between 2003 and 2015, partly or wholly, Makoko community, Yaba, Ijora East and Ijora Badiya, PURA-NPA Bar Beach, Ikota Housing Estate, Ogudu Ori-Oke, Mosafejo, Agelogo-Mile 12, and some communities along Mile 2 Okokomaiko too suffered the same fate.
However, there is a ray of hope with the recent appointment of Senator Gbenga Ashafa, as Managing Director of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA).
Ashafa has, according to media reports during an introductory meeting with the FHA management and staff, assured Nigerians that President Muhammadu Buhari's administration will do everything necessary to address the issue of housing problems in the country and promised to take his new responsibility with vigour.
But the question that is on the minds of citizens is that how does the federal government hope to address the housing sector when there is no communication between it and state governments on the issue.
There is also the lack of enforcement of laws that should regulate and protect the right to housing while landlord-tenant relations are loosely governed.
For Nigeria to achieve the objective of meeting the housing needs of its citizens, there must be an aggressive social housing in the country. This must be seen as a national project, a sincere and a fundamental undertaking aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving long standing impediments to housing cohesion and harmonious development.
Most important is the need to recognise that stakeholders are worried about the legal framework for land administration, especially the Land Use Act. The manner in which the act is being used has resulted in severe consequences for the enjoyment of the right to housing.
The act vests governors with significant management and administrative powers. Governors can grant rights of occupancy and also revoke them based on an "overriding "public purpose". It makes land title registration cumbersome and extremely onerous to perfect.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social And Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA).