Amid the harsh economy and housing deficit said to hover between 17 million and 22 million, a great number of low income earners in Nigeria’s major cities are groaning under the weight of prohibitive rents. LADESOPE LADELOKUN writes on the need for governments at all levels to make decent housing accessible and affordable to all.
For many, the church is a place consecrated for Christian worship. But it means more than a place of worship to Kemi Ajewole.

Having been compelled to quit her one bedroom apartment in the Ogba, Ikeja area of Lagos, owing to what she deemed an abominable hike in rent by her landlord and unpaid backlog of salary at her workplace, seeking refuge in a church, she had thought, would provide her temporary respite before relocating to neighbouring Ogun State.

But alas, that plan was truncated just after three weeks of stay on March 25, 2022. Tired and famished after a stressful day at work, a good night sleep was all she craved; something that remained in the realm of wish as a church worker, on the order of the pastor, had, according to her, come to enforce the ejection of boarders around 10:30 pm in the church following the expiration of the two-week ultimatum handed them to quit.

Narrating her story to Sunday Telegraph, Ajewole said while it would cost her N195,000- Agreement and Commission charges inclusiveto rent a room in the Ketu area of Lagos, the same room would cost N70,000 in the Loburo area of Mowe, Ogun State.

“It hasn’t been a pleasant experience for me. As I’m talking to you now, I don’t have a particular place I stay. Once it is evening, I start thinking of where to sleep. Since March till date, I’ve not stayed longer anywhere than my three-week stay at a church.

Ever since then, I’ve been sleeping anywhere I can lay my head. Recently, in a Christian camp I went to sleep, someone brought two children to me and told me to help her to watch over them, saying she would be back in a jiffy. The next thing I saw was the same person accusing me of kidnapping the children she brought to me. Now, the case is in court and I would need N500,000 to prosecute the case. I have so many problems I’m battling.

There was a time I contemplated suicide. ” Angered by arbitrary hikes in rent, Charles Gbenoba thought that moving house was the next option after a series of increments in rent. He tells his story: “Before I left where I lived for five years, my landlord was always increasing my rent every year. I paid N150,000 when I got to the house. Then, it got to N250,000. Suddenly, he increased it to N350,000 from N250,000. I was furious.

That was how I left FESTAC for Jakande Estate. Some tenants also left.” In the second quarter of 2021, Nigeria’s real estate market grew by 3.85%, which analysis of data from the National Bureau of Statistics reveal as its highest rate in six years. Just like the famous line, ‘water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink’, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem,

‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, water is around us but is often not clean or safe enough to drink, the growth of the real estate market, experts say, has not translated into access to decent and affordable housing for millions of citizens.

According to the World Bank, 22 million people in Nigeria do not have the housing they need, and to bridge Nigeria’s housing gaps, Nigeria, experts say, will need to build a minimum of 700,000 to one million housing units every year for probably a decade.

Last year, the Federal Government had announced plans to deliver one million affordable houses every year in bid to address housing deficit in the country.

Housing deficit debate
Speaking at the inauguration of Woodhill Es tate in Abuja, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, opined that Nigeria’s housing deficit was unacceptably high, putting the range between 16 and 22 million.

“As we all know, Nigeria’s housing deficit has been said to range from 16 million to 22 million, the chairman (of FMBN) just said 17 million but that the minister will tell us where it is. “However, whatever value it is, the housing deficit is unacceptably high. It is for this reason that the government is determined to provide affordable housing as a strategic imperative to guarantee the wellbeing of Nigerians,” he said.

Dismissing claims of housing deficit in Nigeria, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had at the inauguration of the Board of Directors of Federal Housing Authority,(FHA) said that there was nothing like housing deficit in Nigeria, stating that it had no scientific and logical basis. “There is something out there before we came in that Nigeria has housing deficit; it’s a lie. Unfortunately, it was a document that originated from this ministry in 2012. It has no scientific basis, nor logical basis; so ignore it.”

Fashola said the housing problem was an urban problem, stressing that people who rented houses in the urban centres had empty buildings in their villages. “Whether in Lagos, Kaduna, Abuja or Ibadan, we see empty and unoccupied houses and we need to begin to understand this problem.

If we have things that are not used, does it make sense when we say that we have deficit of things available but not used?” In a chat with Sunday Telegraph, the immediate past Past President of Nigerian Institute of Building(NIOB), Kunle Awobodu, harped on the need for governments at all levels to provide affordable housing to bridge the deficit. “I don’t think the minister can say there’s no deficit. What I think he was saying is that there is no scientific data to back up the claim on figures of housing deficit. Some houses meant for small families are quite too big for such family. So, you discover that by the time the children of the couples migrate abroad, many of the mansions become empty.

So, does that translate to sufficient houses for all? No, because if you’re not a member of the family, you cannot live there. The way out is a little complex. We are supposed to be consulting more and providing more houses than what we have. You look at the number of graduates we produce every year, some of them will definitely want to settle down.

How many of them go ahead to rent where to live? If you compare the figures of graduates that pass through the compulsory National Youth Service Programme every year to the number of houses available in the country, can we say there’s no housing deficit? If the government builds houses in a suburb and you ask people to bring N5m ,N7m how many can afford it?

Does that mean they don’t need it?No.” However, in 2019, the Economic and Financial review publication of the Central Bank of Nigeria revealed that Nigeria had 18-22 million housing unit deficit when compared to other six countries from 2016-2019. In 2018, the World Bank stated that to solve Nigeria’s housing deficit problem, about 700,000 housing units were required to be built annually over 20 years to accommodate the increasing population.

Respite for tenants?
In a move to prevent what he called the oppression of poor Nigerians, a Nigerian lawmaker representing Kogi West Senatorial district, Smart Adeyemi, had earlier in the year sponsored a bill titled, ‘Advance Rent for Residential Apartments, Office Spaces, Etc, Regulation Bill 2022.’

According to Adeyemi, the bill sought to make tenants pay maximum advance payment of three months’ rent, with subsequent monthly payment. “We discovered that landlords are compelling tenants to make one-year and two-year advance rent payments before they would give them keys to their apartments.

It may not be an issue to quite a number of people but to many others, it is a great pain for them. Most Nigerians need the protection of the law to be able to meet their basic needs after paying rent,” he said Adeyemi further stated that many landlords did not secure loans to build their houses, adding that they are products of free money acquired from the system.

In spite of this, he said, they make life difficult for poor Nigerians, who do not have such privilege of making ill-gotten money from the system and put up structures. “The buildings are constructed in such a manner that an average Nigerian would not be able to afford it. Many people are involved in corrupt practices to get their rents paid, while the ladies took to prostitution.

The law we are proposing stipulates a maximum advance rent payment of three months. After the expiration of the three months’ rent, the tenants are expected to pay monthly. There are many tenants whose salaries are competing with their rents because they live in cities like Abuja.

The law will prevent the poor workers from any form of oppression.” Abandoned houses amid housing deficit Stating its resolve to boost security of lives and property in Lagos State, the Lagos State Government, had, through the Commissioner of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Dr Idris Salako, reiterated its resolve to demolish abandoned properties across the state.

“It is important that you team up with us as regards voluntary compliance with the physical planning and development laws of the state and this also includes the stipulations on abandoned properties. You are to note that government is not going back on its resolve to rein in on abandoned properties. I reiterate that we will not hesitate to invoke the law and demolish abandoned properties where necessary in order to enhance the security of the state.”

Meanwhile, investigation by Sunday Telegraph revealed that high cost of rent in the highbrow area of Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, has driven some residents to live in slums or left many homeless. This is even when hundreds of abandoned buildings still dot the city. For example, the average cost rent of a one- bedroom apartment in the Asokoro area of Abuja stands at N1.8m, while the average cost of the same apartment is satellite towns hovers around N500,000 annually.

On why there are abandoned houses in Nigeria’s major cities and what the Federal Government is doing to cater for the shelter needs of Nigerians, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Housing Authority, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, said: “If you go round, you will see a lot of unoccupied houses because of the amount of money they have put on them. We know that we have a lot of work to do but this administration is doing a lot to ensure that we reduce the number of housing deficit across the country.”

Ashafa added: “It is part of the promises of President Muhammadu Buhari. So, we are not just providing houses on one level, we have three levels in the mass housing scheme that we must cater for and we are working hard to meet it during the life of this administration. We have houses for the lower-, middle-income earners, while this project (Expressview Estate, Lugbe) is for the upper-income earners.

They are Nigerians too.” Meanwhile, the Federal Capital Territory Administration said it had uncovered 6,000 uncompleted buildings across the territory. FCTA Department of Development Control Director, Muktar Galadima, had said: “We have over 6,000 uncompleted buildings in Abuja and the Federal Capital Territory Administration is making some efforts to stem the tide of rising cases of uncompleted buildings in the territory.”

Heavy tax on abandoned houses
Speaking at a conference on housing challenges in Nigeria, Ms. Leilana Fartha, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Adequate Housing, expressed support for the imposition of taxes on abandoned buildings to help catalyse the process of accessing affordable housing.

Her words: “Most residents in Nigeria’s ballooning informal settlements live without access to even the most basic services, like running water. And they lack any security of tenure, forcing them to live in constant fear of being evicted. My 10-day fact findings visit to Nigeria has presented an economic inequality in the country, which has reached extreme level and is playing itself out clearly in the housing sector.

“There is an estimated housing shortage of 22 million units. At the same time, newly built luxury dwellings are springing up throughout cities and made possible often through the forced eviction of poor communities. These units do not fulfil any housing need, with many remaining vacant as vehicles for money laundering or investment. Government must address the grossly inadequate housing conditions with the urgency and rigour befitting a human rights crisis of this scale.

“Apart from establishing a national commission to investigate gross human rights violations in the context of forced evictions, the government should provide basic services to all informal settlements and must increase the number of shelters for persons in situations of vulnerability. The idea of controlling rent caps is hotly debated in many countries. New York just tried to have rent control laws passed; Barcelona is close to getting rent-free as rent is actually frozen for some period of five to seven years.

“So, in many jurisdictions, they have started to impose vacant home tax. I support that kind of move from human rights point of view only where that money from the tax is directly put into the creation of affordable housing.

In the case of Nigeria, it could be used as a fund to upgrade informal settlements. I don’t like a tax and you never see where the tax is going. There are other measures that can be explored. There are situations where homes are misappropriated given that the government has all the lands in trust.” Aligning his thoughts with Fartha, the Director- General, Nigerian Building, and Road Research Institute, NBBRI, Professor Sampson Duna, at a civil society roundtable discussion with NBBRI,said: “If the government has been able to tax these people, all those houses would have been opened to people to occupy them.

We made a strong recommendation to the government to enforce the tax on the owners of all unoccupied houses in the FCT but nothing has come out of it. We are not an enforcement agency but we can identify a problem; we can create solutions as well. We can formulate and send to stakeholders but our mandate did not give us the power to enforce. “But as I am talking to you, the issue of housing, there are houses, decent accommodation within Abuja. There are empty. Nobody can afford it. Most people cannot afford them.

And people used them in form of corruption. They used proceed of corruption to acquire those houses and then keep them empty. But if we can come out up with agitation that all houses in Abuja are either to be occupied or government should place a heavy tax on them, I am sure that would be the solution.”

Why rent may continue to rise – Ex-President NIOB
In spite of concerns expressed by a number of Nigerians about rising rent, experts explained why respite may not come anytime soon.

Speaking with Sunday Telegraph, a developer, Tade Ogundimu, explained that, “Most construction materials are imported. And you know what the exchange rate is now? Like other imported products, the prices of these things are affected. No one does business to lose. Developers also feel the heat of the Nigerian economy. We don’t have any control over the materials we use.”

According to Awobodu, what is responsible can be based on the law of demand and supply.

His words:”It’s only when there’s a shortage of supply that the demand becomes critical thereby translating to abnormal price or cost. So, in a situation where we don’t have sufficient supply of accommodation, there is bound to be a commensurate reaction to that which will affect rent.

“Two, urbanisation is the drift of people from rural area to urban areas. So, that automatically exerts undue pressure on the facilities in the cities .Houses that are not occupied is due to prohibitive rent. What constitutes the percentage of people who have large resources to play with?

The percentage is so low. So, the question is, if you have some houses in highbrow areas that are not occupied, it may be due to high rental value. Those who have sufficient funds are also prudent. Rather than rent, they prefer to put up their own structure. So, that’s another factor. Like in Abuja where some people put up expensive houses and they are not getting patronage in terms of rent, if rent can be reduced to something affordable, those living in suburbs of Abuja and working in the town will not live there.

So, are you telling me that those who have resources will travel long distance to their places of work from the mainland in Lagos to the Island ?

How govt is fuelling housing deficit, prohibitive rent – NCF
For Head, Communication, Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Oladapo Soneye, there is need for governments at all levels to scale up measures to regulate the activities of players in the building environment. “The greed of landlords and property agents is a factor in rising rent. It’s not housing deficit. The government policy on housing is not properly implemented.

The agents and the landlords are doing what they like. Nobody is checkmating them. Government says don’t collect more a particular amount but they are collecting it. Then, let’s look at the houses built by government. Is government giving it to people directly?

Most of the houses are got through agents. Agents will take care of developers. So, it’s from one hand to the other. So, the house that should cost N200,000 will cost N500,000. The Federal Government has the capacity to put control in place for those who are selling. “For instance, you have produced product A for a certain amount of money.

The margin that should be on sale should not be more than a certain amount. They would have given you a bracket. You can now decide that you’re selling at a certain amount. Is that not what they do in developed world? That they would give you a selling price within a particular bracket ? If you’ve produced at N50, you can sell at N55 or N60 as long as it’s within the bracket that the government allows.

The government has the capacity to put that control in place for those who are selling. “If they can do that, they can now look at those who are giving out houses. If I build a house, am I supposed to recoup my investment in one year? No! Property will always appreciate. Most of these developers and landlords are greedy. Government needs to put control in place and follow it up. The properties owned by the government should not be given to agents.

For instance, I know a company that paid five years’ rent for a whole building. Do you know how much it costs to rent a house in Banana Island? It means the owner must have made the money spent in building the property in a jiffy. Are there not properties in Ikoyi, Victoria Island that no one is occupying? Are we having deficit truly? Truth is, these people prefer to deal with corporate bodies instead of individuals because they know they can afford to pay five years’ rent.

A lot of shady deals are going on. The government is not checking anything,” he told Sunday Telegraph.

We need an elite consensus – Fasua
Former presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party and Harvard- trained Economist, Dr Tope Fasua, has decried the absence of plan for real mass housing in Nigeria.

According to him, Nigeria does not have a 22 million or 17 million housing deficit, stating that Nigeria needs a more nuanced estimate. In an interview with Sunday Telegraph, Fasua called for an elite consensus to address Nigeria’s myriad of problems, especially in the housing sector.

“We don’t have a 22 million deficit. We need a more nuanced estimate. Even if we are 200 million people in Nigeria, a house can take five people per house. We already have a housing stock but the problem with that housing stock is that many of the houses that are vacant today are luxury houses. If you come to Abuja, we have about 500,000 houses that are vacant. The danger is when people keep dropping the big figures – 17 million, 22 million – it kills our vision and allows a lot corruption in that housing sector. If you build 17 million houses today; most of them will be vacant. I think we should put that figure at 5 million.

The problem with rising rent is that it comes from several pressures, including people responding to high inflation, price gouging, et al. There are several factors that lead to higher prices. The bottom line is, we’ve never developed any plan for mass housing in Nigeria.

“Even the efforts of Jakande and co, Jakande built 29,000 units of houses, Tinubu did about 10,000. We are talking of millions of people needing houses. But you see, we also have to look at what we can do with the old stock of houses. If you go to Ibadan, many of the old houses are built with mud. You cannot call it proper housing but you cannot also demolish them because they’re seen as ancestral houses. We’ve never got to that point where we would have a consensus on what to do with those houses.

When I studied what happened in the UK and co, the concept of mortgage is fairly recent. In fact, it picked up after the second world war. And there was a deliberate attempt to build cheap houses, and it was initially bankrolled by cooperatives. We need to ask, what kind of houses do we build for our people? In South Africa, they have 609,000 rooms which they call hostels. So when people were coming from the villages to build the cities, that’s where those people lived.

Of course, those places are prone to crime these days and abandonment. But, you can see a deliberate action, 609,000 rooms in different places. But we have not done anything like that. “I think we need an experience like that – real mass housing. And even in the villages, I think if the villages had an option. We would reduce the rural-urban drift. So, we need to go back. Even those mud houses can be standardised.

So, that’s what we haven’t seen. The academia is on its own. The government is on its own but no one is thinking about the poorest among us. We need an elite consensus around that. We have to move away from this selfishness. The kind of capitalism we’ve practised for too long is not working for us. We need an elite consensus that will say; what do we do for these people? Let us transform the face of Nigeria; let us make our people happy. They cannot continue to live like animals.”