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How frequent market fire deepens housing deficit in Lagos

How frequent market fire deepens housing deficit in Lagos

To many Lagos residents, the Tuesday fire outbreak at Dosumu Market in Lagos Island is one incident too many as it brings to five the number of such incidents in the 4-month-old 2024.

The incident, which occurred as a result of what has been described as ‘human error,’ ranks next in magnitude and level of destruction to the Mandillas building fire that occurred in January this year.

The unfortunate incident, according to Margaret Adeseye, director of the Lagos State Fire and Rescue Service, claimed the life of one person and left eight others injured. It also led to severe damage to, at least, 14 buildings while causing the collapse of six other buildings.

Read also: Docemo fire: Our response to reckless behaviour in markets will be decisive — Sanwo-olu

In addition to ordering the closure of all market activities on Lagos Island, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of the state, who visited the scene of the fire incident on Thursday, said more buildings within the vicinity of the incident will be demolished.

In its mid-year activity report in 2023, Adeseye revealed that the state recorded 1,642 fire incidents between January and June of that year with some casualties. The director added that while 177 persons were rescued, about N14.62 billion worth of properties were destroyed.

For a state where top of its social problems is housing, the loss of properties, most of which are residential, can only deepen or worsen an already bad situation at a time when inflation, volatile exchange rate and escalating building materials prices have conspired to make housing delivery a difficult venture.

A Pison Housing Company report on The State of the Real Estate Market in Nigeria, says Lagos has approximately three million housing units deficit that requires about 200,000 housing units delivered annually to close, pointing out that the deficit is both qualitative and quantitative.

The report adds that over 80 percent of the state’s 22 million population live in rented accommodation, spending about 50 percent of their income on house rent.

Though the state’s commissioner for housing, Moruf Akinderu-Fatai, who confirmed this deficit at a housing conference in Lagos, recognised it as a major challenge for the state, he stressed that it also presents a good investment opportunity, especially for those who invest in build-to-let homes.

It means, therefore, that the destruction of properties each time there is a market fire outbreak, efforts by the state and private sector operators to take more residents out the crowded housing market suffers a major setback which is made worse by the state’s fast-paced urbanisation.

“Don’t forget that even though some of the houses destroyed by fire were used for commercial purposes, they were also used as homes by some of the traders who do not have other homes to return to,” Sampson Ada, a social commentator, noted in answer to our reporter’s questions.

He added that some of the burnt houses are fully tenanted, noting that these tenants are now forcefully thrown back to the housing market unsure when to get the next houses to rent at a time when the country and its economy are gasping for breath.

Worried about these incidents, the state government says it is embarking on value enhancement of the city with emphasis on Lagos Island where, according to the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Oluyinka Olumide, has lack of access as its major challenge.

Read also: Lagos closes Dosumu market to demolish unsafe buildings after fire

Olumide at a real estate summit hosted by Association of Real Estate Agents in Nigeria (AEAN) in Lagos recently, noted that the reason the destruction of properties by the Dosumu market fire was colossal was because the emergency responders could not gain access to the scene easily.

To avert further loss of lives, properties and other valuables to fire in Lagos in particular and Nigeria at large, experts have put forward a number of measures that both the government and traders in the markets across the country need to put in place.

In Lagos, especially Lagos Island where most of these fire incidents occur, most roads are clogged and made impassable by trading activities which are done in defiance to extant laws that prohibit street trading. Government finds it difficult to enforce this law because street trading is a major source of revenue. Revenue collection from these traders is given out mostly as “job for the boys.”

In some cases, buildings cannot be accessed because of other buildings which have been developed without regard to physical planning laws and regulatory framework for developments.

Incidents like the Mandilas Building and the Dosumu Market fire make it necessary for the government to take physical planning and building regulations seriously. Regulation, according to Hakeem Oguniran, CEO, Eximia Realty Company, is very important in real estate investment, transaction and development.

Other experts who spoke to our reporter suggested that government should start building fire stations in the market. Expectation here is that response, in case of any emergency, will be swift and timely, leading to the safety of lives and properties.

“We have seen cases where fire men come several hours after calling them and this is because they are not always near the scene of the incident or they are held up in traffic as in the case of Lagos. These men are supposed to be the first responders but, more often than not, they are not,” Francis Oledibe, a businessman in one of the affected markets said.

Oledibe added that market associations should enforce a law that mandates every shop to have fire-extinguisher that should be deployed immediately there is an incident. This will serve as first aid to such incidents.

Read also: Fire incident: LASG suspends market activities in Central Lagos

He too canvassed accessible roads to markets, explaining that, most times, losses to market fire are of great magnitude because roads to the markets are not accessible. Government should build roads that could allow for free vehicular movements in case of emergency.