My people them dey stay for poor surroundings*

Makoko, Nigeria. Image via Wikipedia
Makoko, Nigeria. Image via Wikipedia

In 2012, the star architect Kunlé Adeyemi unveiled his “floating school” in Makoko, one of more than 100 slums in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. Most of Makoko’s residents, who are estimated between 40,000 and 300,000, live in makeshift structures built on stilts on lagoon water. The floating school, built by local residents, used wooden offcuts from a nearby sawmill and locally grown bamboo. It sat on 256 plastic drums and was powered by rooftop solar panels. The construction of the floating school gave new hope to residents hoping for more durable, permanent housing structures in the face of regular flooding. It was also viewed as a prototype for housing crises elsewhere on the continent.

One thing the floating school did not do was encourage government intervention to improve the lives of Makoko’s residents. Instead, residents were regularly subject to threats of eviction because Makoko is located on prime land. At best, the international attention (the school won a number of design prizes) slowed attempts by the Nigerian government to finally “clear” Lagos of the slum. It didn’t help when three years after the floating school was first constructed, it collapsed in June 2016, after heavy rainfall.

The global assessment of slums by UN-Habitat shows that 828 million people, or an estimated 33% of the urban population of developing countries, reside in slums. In sub-Saharan Africa, 62% of the urban population resides in such settlements. For Nigeria, the World Bank reported that as of 2015, 48% of the total population (estimated at more than 180 million) reside in urban centers.

Nigeria’s biggest cities – Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Aba and Enugu – present a number of urgent problems for urban planners: urban decay, slums, overcrowding and lawlessness, which lead to the loss of land and natural resources. Lagos faces the most acute housing crisis. It began to expand at a breakneck pace with the oil boom of the 1970s. Lagos is now Africa’s largest city with a population that exceeds 10 million. The result has been over-urbanization, meaning that populations are growing much faster than local economies, leading to major social and economic challenges of slum proliferation.

In an effort to alleviate the housing crisis, the Lagos State Government (LSG) and its different agencies contributed a mere 27,000 housing units between 1950 and 2010. Considering that the population of Lagos tripled over this period of time, these efforts have done little to alleviate the acute lack of affordable housing for the poor or lower-class Lagosian. It is estimated that about 500,000 units of housing per annum over the next 10 years would be needed to keep up with the housing demand.

The deterioration of urban centers are the result of, but not limited to, the lack of enforcement of urban development and management regulations by city authorities, and the non-compliance to building laws by developers. Most city authorities in Nigeria are so overwhelmed by the rapid development and spread of informal settlements that their regulatory interventions make little impact. Secondly, the absence of a ‘maintenance culture’ for already existing housing infrastructure is missing from the Nigerian public housing market. The issues of repairs and maintenance are foreign to Nigerians causing rapid decay and deterioration of buildings which affects the sustainability of the urban environment and consequently leads to the development of informal settlements.

Though it is still unclear what the new government’s agenda is with regards to housing delivery regulatory reforms in the past 10 years are helping to create an enabling environment for housing delivery. The LSG plan formulated in 2012 provides a framework for housing, but it is not ambitious to resolve the housing and slum proliferation in the city. The plan focuses on promoting private housing estates or gated communities. Yet, this solely services the upper and middle-classes. A move in the direction of exclusively gated communities/private housing estates hampers societal development, promotes crime and classism.

The majority in Lagos lives in rented accommodation, and is at the mercy of landlords and estate agents who dictate a market that is poorly regulated and monitored. Despite 2011 tenancy legislation that imposes restrictions on advance rental payments, the law is not being enforced and landlords regularly request upfront payments of two or more years. Agency fees are another expense the law has been unable to govern. In Nigeria, agency fees top out at 10%, the highest on the continent. Thus, the urban poor are displaced and deprived access to decent and affordable housing, thereby rendering most of them “homeless.”

In 2014, the LSG launched the Lagos Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme, aimed at financing housing delivery. Under the scheme, the government provides the housing and funds the mortgage facility to be granted by a participating bank. First home buyers are expected to make a down payment of 30% and the balance of 70% spread over the next 10 years at 9.5% interest rate. Sadly, access to financing is still a major barrier for most people. Currently, the LSG is in collaboration with several organizations and initiatives that are increasing awareness on the issues, as well as developing sustainable housing solutions using local materials that are easily accessible, with implementation to commence in 2017.

*Fela Kuti – Coffin For Head of State (1981)

Olukayode Alao

Olukayode Alao is a civil engineer.

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