There seems to be no end to reactions and controversies trailing the recent buildings demolition in Lagos that has turned many homes to rubbles and forced landlords to become tenants or homeless in some cases.
The controversy is heated just as the reactions are mixed, each looking at the wailings and lamentations that follow the demolition incidents from different prism of either pain or duty.
Both the Lagos state government and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) have demolished houses running into thousands in many Lagos communities, including Ikota, Lekki, Alaba, Ajao Estate, Abule Ado, Ladipo Market and other areas of the state.
Some 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.
Other experts however look at the issue of illegality associated with the erection of those structures that have fallen to the unfeeling fangs of government bulldozers and their operators.
Though there is no dependable data on the number and configuration of the structures that have been pulled down in the state, FHA alone estimates the number it has demolished at 300 units. In Abule-Edo, Festac Town, it is said that the authority has marked about 644 houses to be pulled down, while about 744 others will be partly demolished.
Both governments have always explained and justified their 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 Kunle Adesina, Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, explained recently.
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, the experts 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.
Emmanuel Nwafor, a Catholic priest and public affairs analyst, is worried with the goings-on in the housing sector in Lagos with the spate of building demolition that, according to him, has raised a lot of questions begging for answers.
Nwafor, in an opinion piece published in BusinessDay, wondered why state-certified real estate practitioners would purchase lands on water channels to develop, and also why a government would render her citizens homeless at this critical point without any alternative or at least show compassion through compensation.
“Why would the government fail to employ its regulatory powers and resources to prevent citizens from the danger of losing their property? Why would the government fail to punish developers who deceived the house owners? What punishment would the government give out to those Omo onile and community leaders who have sold some plots of land on waterways? When will the government punish illegal estate developers and land speculators who have been selling lands illegally to people”? he queried.
Other concerned Nigerians, while condemning builders who always like to circumvent the law by building without planning permit and approval, faulted the government for turning blind eye to when the building was started and completed and only opened its eyes when it is occupied and it comes for demolition.
They are all the more worried that Lagos and the federal government could go on demolition binge in a state where housing is a major social and economic problem with a worrisome gap.
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.