In recent years in Lagos, Nigeria’s sprawling commercial nerve centre, it has been wailing and lamentation as the state’s unfeeling and roaring bulldozer brings down buildings, dashing dreams and ignoring the state’s housing deficit and high tenancy profile.
The demolition binge also ignores homelessness which is a social problem that breeds insecurity , lowers residents’ self-worth and leads to low productivity in all aspects of economic activity that hurts any economy.
In most cases, the demolitions which the bulldozers and its operators do with some sort of glee, come suddenly and at a time when the owners of such buildings are ill-prepared to salvage or help the situation. All they have always done is to watch in pain as the joy of their livelihood fleets away.
Experts are of the view that Lagos is not a place for buildings demolition which has become an elevated state function. “This is a needless and avoidable exercise; moreover, it comes with both social and economic implications for the people and economy of the state,” the experts say.
Lagos has over three million housing units deficit, according to a Pison Housing report on ‘The State of the Real Estate Market in Nigeria.’ This was corroborated by the state’s commissioner for housing, Moruf Akinderu-Fatai, in his keynote speech at BusinessDay’s Property Investment 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 have it that, on daily basis, Lagos State population increases by 123,840 as at 2016. They 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 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 was 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.
Despite this disturbing scenario, buildings demolition has happened with threat of more coming in many communities of the state. Demolition has happened in the highbrow Banana Island, Ajao Estate, Ikota in Lekki area of the state, and lately in Abule-Ado, Oriade Local Council Development Area (LCDA) where many residents of King’s Royal Estate, 91 Road, Festac Phase 2, were rendered homeless.
There is also threat to demolish illegal structures on the drainage system in the Orchid Road, Agungi, Ajiran, Conservation Road, Osapa, and Oral Estate II along the Ikota River of the state. The same fate is likely to befall all structures along drainage channels in Ikoyi, according to the state government.
The state government has always explained and justified its actions, citing contravention of building planning approval or lack of it. “The law of the state allows the removal of any building or structure within a seven-metre drainage setback in the area after the contravention notice has elapsed,” Kunle Adesina, Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, explained recently.
“We cannot keep lampooning the government for flooding when developers, builders, and residents are the main causes of flooding. We shall continue to enforce because that is why laws are made. Without law and order, there cannot be development. Enough of this bad behaviour,” Tokunbo_Wahab, the commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, wrote on his X (Twitter) handle.
Also explaining and justifying the massive demolition in Abule Ado, Akintola Olagbemiro, the zonal managing director of FHA, South-West zone, said the residents of the demolished buildings violated the rules, adding that people continued to erect structures in the area despite a stop order from the FHA.
“A lot of illegality has gone up in that place, and I mean an illegal development. And we are looking at how best we can solve this and ensure people live in a serene environment. We want to ensure that we do our part by making people live in quality houses ,” he said.
However, as good and justified as these explanations seem, experts in the built environment say demolition of buildings is a needless and an avoidable waste that hurt not just the lives and livelihood of the owners, but also the economy of the state in particular and Nigeria at large.
“Buildings 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 needed to be proactive and not reactive by preventing such buildings from being built,” Hakeem Oguniran, CEO, Eximia Realty, noted.
Oguniran added that building demolition was an economic loss as it amounts to loss of an investment that could have contributed directly or indirectly to the growth of the real estate sector and the economy.
Samuel Ukpong, former chairman of Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valers (NIESV), Lagos Chapter, agrees, stressing that “no state or country that demolishes people’s houses, almost willfully as we have seen in Lagos, prospers because buildings are symptoms 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 out with their bulldozer to demolish people’s sweat and lives saving.
Olajide Faremi of the Department of Building, University of Lagos, lamented that a state like Lagos and a country like Nigeria could demolish houses in spite of the dire situation of housing in the country where deficit is in excess of 20 million units.
“This is also a country where buildings are collapsing like a pack of cards. The country has recoded about 271 building collapse incidents since 2012 and still counting,” Faremi said in his keynote speech at a real estate forum in Lagos recently.