• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Demolition: Homeless population swells as Lagos goes brutal on illegal structures

Amuwo Odofin-market-demolition

Shelter is one of the basic needs of man, but homelessness in Nigeria is growing in leaps and bounds following cases of demolition in the cities with Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, leading the pack.

Homelessness in the country is such that, last year, data from the World Population Review revealed that Nigeria has the world’s largest number of homeless people with 24 million of its population not having homes to live.

The dada explains that over 24 million people are considered homeless with many more not having appropriate access to a proper dwelling that has access to some of the basic services such as water, electricity and good road network.

In Lagos, a city that prides itself as ‘Centre of Excellence’ research has shown that about two-thirds, that is a little above 30 percent, of the city’s residents live in informal settlements that include unapproved developments, abandoned or partially completed buildings.

Some residents were discovered recently to be residing under one of the many bridges in the city and were paying rents to a faceless landlord until their “homes” were demolished by the state authorities.

The homeless situation in Lagos is made worse by a combination of factors, including the state’s tenancy laws which tend to favour house owners or landlords, economic situation, forced evictions and the gale of demolition that has become a major item in the state government’s development agenda.

The state government under Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s watch has, in the last couple of months, gone on building demolition in a manner that has defied understanding of its real intent and purpose in a city where many find homes in odd places including under the bridge.

The exercise has been so frantic and frenetic that people have begun to attach meanings to it. For instance, a priest at the Celestial Life Ministry has described the state government’s demolition binge as a genocide against non-indigenes of the state. The priest, in a trending video, alleged that the demolition may have been targeted at people who did not vote for the party in power in the last election.

Victims of these demolitions usually accuse government of being insensitive to the plight of the poor and also failing to give them adequate notice before coming with their bulldozer to demolish their houses.

But the state government, on its part, accuses the victims of occupying illegal spaces or erecting illegal structures, breaching the state’s town planning regulations, and generally hurting the environment with their unplanned and unapproved developments, describing such developments as illegal structures.

The government has therefore, gone brutal on these illegal structures and its angry bulldozer, which can visit neighbourhoods at any time of the day or night, is no respecter of persons or locations, leaving on its trail wailings and lamentations as it turns buildings of various configurations into ruins and rubbles.

Across the state, demolition has happened and has affected both the high and low neighbourhoods where the state has seen infractions in its town planning regulations.

Places like the ultra-highbrow Banana Island, Ajao Estate, Ikota in Lekki, Abule-Ado, Oriade Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Mende in Maryland, Alaba Arago, Alaba International both in Ojo area of the state, Surulere, Mushin and many other locations, too numerous to mention, have seen demolition in its raw nature.

In addition to the demolition of buildings occupied by residents, similar actions are being taken on markets and even worship centres. A number of markets have been demolished by local government authorities in the state.

Some of the victims of these actions, who spoke to BusinessDay Sunday, have tales of woe to tell, particularly on the loss of their homes and the attendant trauma that comes with forceful and brutal dislocation.

“I am homeless now since the government came a few days ago and demolished my house for reasons I don’t understand. None of us living in this neighbourhood can tell you that he or she has any notice from government that they were coming to demolish our houses. I live everything to God; this is a house that I built with my sweat,” a victim, who identified himself simply as Samuel, told this reporter.

Udom is another victim of demolition who was one of the Lagosians that had their “homes” under the bridge where they were said to be paying exaggerated N250,000 rent because, he said his rent was N20,000 and not N250,000.

He told our reporter that he worked as a driver with one of the banks in Ikoyi and so he needed to stay close by so that he could resume work early.

“I felt sad, the day my house was demolished, to see all my property scattered all over the place. I don’t know why the government is treating us like animals. We don’t have money to rent good houses but the one we can afford government will come and destroy it without providing another place for us to live,” Udom said amid sobs.

At Alaba Arago where a sprawling slum neighbourhood was developing along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Esther, a middle-aged woman, could not hold back tears as she told her story.

“I started living in this kind of structure when my family lost everything; we had a fire incident in another part of Lagos which is better than here. Not long after, my two parents died and none of our friends and relatives was ready to take me in. I decided to come here and lived in a shanty. Now, everything here has been destroyed. Where do I go from here?” she cried.

A pastor in Surulere area of Lagos, said the fence of their Church was pulled down last week despite all their papers that are genuine. He also said that at the time of the demolition, they were supposed to have a meeting with the government officials the next day, only to wake up one morning to see bulldozers stationed to pull down the walls.

“It was shocking to us because we have been having meetings with the officials of the government and we were supposed to have another meeting a day before the bulldozers came to demolish our fence and generator house. We were asking what our offence was, with all the genuine titles we have,” he said.

The demolition binge in Lagos has become a tough subject to discuss as people find it difficult to marry the need to regularise and sanitise the state’s development control with the acute shortage of housing for the ever-increasing population of the state which is exacerbated by rural-urban migration.

Housing professionals and sundry onlookers have expressed divergent views on the Lagos buildings demolition.

“I am always sympathetic with people in authority because it is not an easy task. If you look at what has happened in Lagos, the urban sprawl and decay are increasing at very alarming rate and if it is not stemmed, we may not have a Lagos that we will be proud of. That is the truth,” Odunay Ojo, CEO, AUC Property Development Company (UPDC) said in an interview with BDSunday.

Ojo noted however, that, “for some reasons, development control has been slower and I believe that is what is being corrected with all these developments. We are all aware of the degeneration of several neighbourhoods into slums even in some highbrow neighbourhoods.”

He further said: “We are aware of people who don’t build to any known development guidelines. We must not also forget the menace of building collapse for which lives and property have been lost, especially in Lagos. For me, these are difficult subjects. You hear people complaining about demolitions but you also see building collapses everywhere.

“I think what the government is doing is an attempt to regulasrise and sanitise development process in Lagos and as a result, some developments are affected. But in the long term, I think instituting the right type of development control is a necessity on the part of all the stakeholders.”

Hakeem Oguniran, CEO, Eximia Realty Company, shares this view, saying, “building demolition is good, more so if such buildings contravene physical planning and approval laws. But it would have been better if such houses were not allowed to be built at all. Government needs to be proactive and not reactive by preventing such buildings from being built.”

But Samuel Ukpong, former chairman of Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Lagos Branch, differs.

According to him, “No state or country that demolishes people’s houses, almost willfully as we have seen in Lagos, prospers because buildings are symbols of prosperity.”

Ukpong wondered where the government agency and its officials responsible for giving planning approval for houses had been when the builders started, continued, completed and packed into the buildings, after which they come with their bulldozer to demolish people’s sweat and life’s savings.

Emmanuel Ibeneme, a real estate consultant, finds it difficult to understand why Lagos goes so brutal on building demolition without exercising any restraint. In a brief chat with our reporter, he cited the Pison Housing report on ‘The State of the Real Estate Market in Nigeria which points out that Lagos has three million housing deficit with 80 percent of its population living as renters.

The Pison Housing report was corroborated by Moruf Akinderu-Fatai, the state’s commissioner for housing, in his keynote speech at BusinessDay’s Property Investment (PRINVEST) Conference 2023.

The commissioner noted that housing deficit is a reality in all the urban centres of the world, pointing out that United States now has a deficit of 3.8 million homes, with the greatest supply shortages at low-income price points which is true of urban centres in Nigeria, including Lagos.

According to him, “Statistics has it that, on daily basis, Lagos population increases by 123,840 as at 2016. The immigrants come in as visitors who do not intend go back,” meaning that the state needs to do more in the area of housing in order to contain the influx.

The commissioner also revealed that about 80.7 percent of Lagosians need houses to rent which means that 8 out of 10 Lagosians is a tenant. He noted, however, that this is an investment opportunity for private sector estate developers because, “not everyone can buy homes; not everyone wants to buy homes; but everyone needs a decent accommodation,” he posited.