TUNDE AJAJA examines how inadequate provision of social housing is widening spread of slums across Nigeria

In his late 70’s, living in a decent apartment still remains a luxury Elder Abiodun Ajimuda craves daily. For 23 years, the septuagenarian, his wife and three children lived in a flood-prone shanty at Otto, a slum community in the heart of Ebute Metta, Lagos.

From the entrance to the neighbourhood to the labyrinthine corridors connecting Ajimudas’ ‘apartment’ to about 500 other ramshackle wooden structures, the neighbourhood is characterised by mosquito-infested stagnant water, decomposing human faeces and piles of rubbish used as “landfills” but which play host to stray pigs and rodents.

Amid biting poverty that has deprived millions of poor Nigerians of decent accommodation and the failure of the government at all levels to provide social housing, Ajimuda and millions of families have found solace in filthy shanties and the noisome environment scattered across Lagos State and other parts of the country.

“I have been living here since 1999,” Ajimuda told our correspondent during a visit to the community mid September. “When we moved here, it was a thick bush and it was waterlogged, but I did not have the money to rent a better accommodation, so I sought the permission of the land owners and I erected a make-shift shelter. Since then, I have lived here with my family.”

Narrating their ordeal of many years, he said in the night, some sleep in the shop and others in the bedroom, pointing at a smaller extension littered with a jumble of used cartons, serving as their ‘bed’ every night.

“As long as we have a place to put heads,” he mused as he ushered our correspondent into his shabby little shop.

From encounters with mosquitoes and dangerous reptiles to perennial flooding of his jerry-built shelter, often forcing them to forfeit sleep at night, and the putrid odour emanating from the garbage littering the premises, Ajimuda said their only hope is for the government or well-meaning individuals to assist them with decent accommodation.

He said, “No sane person can be happy living here. When this place is flooded, there are times we stand throughout the night. All of us in this community have no place to go unless the government helps us.”

Across the length and breadth of the community, which boasts of about 20,000 residents, including women and children, other dwellers have similar tales to share even as the population is on a steady rise.

Heartrending as it is, Ajimuda’s experience reflects the reality of tens of thousands in his neighbourhood and millions across Lagos State. Our correspondent’s experience visiting different parts of the state showed that Ajimuda’s housing challenge is even mild, compared to many others.

From Otto to Ajegunle, Makoko, some parts of Agege, Bariga, Ijora Badia and others, growing mega slums have almost become an integral part of the state’s housing sector. This, according to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat, is because the urgently needed investments in housing, infrastructure, services and livelihoods remain absent.

Troubling statistics

In 2018, the World Bank in its report on the percentage of urban population living in slums put Nigeria’s at 54 per cent, compared to South Africa’s 26 per cent, Cameroon’s 34 per cent, The Gambia’s 27 per cent, Ghana’s 30 per cent, Senegal’s 30 per cent and Zimbabwe’s 34 per cent.

Similarly, the UN-Habitat, in its Habitat Country Programme document for 2017 to 2021, put the proportion of urban residents who live in slums in Nigeria at 69 per cent. The findings of both institutions underscore the pressing need for the government to provide social housing. Being the only Nigerian megacity with a population of more than 10 million, according to the document, a large percentage of these slum dwellers, understandably, reside in Lagos.

The Bank of Industry disclosed in August that about 95.1 million Nigerians live below the poverty level. The likelihood that most Nigerians may be unable to afford their own homes was further highlighted in the report of a study sponsored by the Central Bank of Nigeria and authored by Dr. Emmanuel Abole Moore in 2019.

Moore’s expert report indicated that only 10 per cent of Nigerians who desire owning a home could afford it, whether through purchase or personal construction. Whereas in Singapore, 92 per cent of the population could afford it by either means; the United Kingdom, 78 per cent; United States, 72 per cent; China, 60 per cent, and Korea, 54 per cent. This further highlights Nigeria’s huge housing deficit.

In addition, for a population of over 200 million people, the Demographic Health Survey carried out in 2019 puts the number of households nationwide at 41.7 million (including the 22.2 million in the urban areas).

The BoI in its ‘Institutional Turnaround for the Next Level’ report in August puts the estimated housing deficit at 28 million units, noting, “N21trn (is the) amount required to fund the housing sector.” The lender noted that with a growing urban population, increasing construction costs and declining household income, access to affordable housing is becoming more difficult for millions of citizens.

The Lagos experience

Meanwhile, being the commercial hub of the country, Lagos State attracts thousands of migrants daily. The state government said in 2017 that 86 persons enter the state every hour and 6,000 every day. According to experts, there is understandably a resultant housing deficit because the demand for social and affordable housing continues to outpace supply. Given that most people are unable to pay for their accommodation, it thus fuels the expansion of slums and overcrowding.

Nigeria seems to be experiencing rapid population growth with about 3.2 per cent annual population growth rate and 3.97 per cent urban growth rate, according to the UN-Habitat. But due to the lack of corresponding increase in the provision of houses, the country’s housing deficit rose from between 16 and 18 million units in 2014 to about 23 million units in 2016 and now 28 million units in 2022.

However, since the 1980s, the Lagos Government has built thousands of housing units in different parts of the state. From the mainland to the Island and even the hinterlands, the beauty of these long rows of multi-storey condominiums is appealing.

The state government has also been largely responsible for financing the apartments, save for a few partnerships with private sector players. From findings, the local governments do not play any significant role in housing provision. As corroborated by the UN-Habitat’s document, there is no arrangement among constituent local governments for integration and coordination of developments within most cities.

Based on the information on the website of the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation, the state built 22,368 units of houses from the 1980’s to 2015, comprising low income, medium income and duplexes (for high income) estates. Those of 2015 till date were not detailed on the website, but findings by our correspondent showed that the state built 5,008 housing units between 2016 and 2018; 492 units in 2019; 388 units in 2020; and 2,994 units in 2021, comprising a mixture of low, medium and high income schemes.

However, save for the low-income estates built in the 1980’s by then governor, the late Lateef Jakande, which qualify as social housing and are still serving low income earners till today, most of the housing units built by subsequent administrations were largely for middle income and high income earners, as they were unaffordable by the poor. Notably, Jakande recorded the highest social housing score till date.

In the 1980’s, he built 14,972 units of low income scheme (Jakande Estate), 1,784 units of medium income homes and only 476 duplexes for the high income earners.

The Jakande Estates were sited across 20 locations, including Abesan (4,272); Isolo (3,632); Iba (1,560); Iponri (1,002); Ojokoro (534); Abule Nla (90); Ikorodu (78); and Itire (42), among others. The medium income homes were cited across nine locations, including Ijaiye (796); Ebute Metta (528); Alapere (140); Opebi (120); Omole (100); Ogba Phase II (28) and Alaka, Surulere (16), among others. For the duplexes, they were in three locations; Ogudu Phase I & II (142); Dolphin Phase I & II (100); and Amuwo Odofin Phase I & II (234).

Clearly, the government at the time prioritised housing for the poor in terms of cost, units available and spread.

But, in the 1990s, the number of housing units as captured on the LSDPC website showed that there were 1,299 units for middle income earners; 764 units for low income earners and 504 duplexes.

The ‘LSDPC Low Income’ units comprising two bedroom flats, three bedroom flats and three bedroom semi-detached bungalows were built in Ojokoro and Isolo; the middle income estates were built in Surulere, Ikoyi and Ogba, among others; while the duplexes were in Ikoyi, Amuwo Odofin and Ikeja.

Again in the 2000’s, lesser attention was paid to social housing, compared to what Jakande did. Between 1999 and 2007, the government produced 359 units of duplexes and 1,552 mixed units for low and middle income earners, but mostly middle income units.

Similarly, according to the website, between 2007 and 2015, there were 464 units for middle income earners, 116 units of duplexes and 78 units of “LSDPC Lower Medium Income Estate” in Isolo.

While these significantly reduced the housing deficit, especially for the middle and high income earners who could exercise effective demand – more than in any state of the federation – the provision of social housing has dwindled considerably. Thus, the poor, whose only hope of a decent accommodation in the metropolis is social housing, have mostly been left out over the years. Instructively, the Lagos State Household Survey Report for 2020 pointed out that cost of procurement was one of the major constraints to home ownership in the state.

Meanwhile, for the units that are sold, our correspondent learnt that former governor Akinwunmi Ambode launched the Rent-to-Own initiative, in which case buyers were expected to deposit five per cent of the cost of the property, while the balance is spread over 10 years. Prior to that, the Lagos Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme was in place, whereby buyers deposited 30 per cent and balanced the rest in 10 years.

Currently, the Rent-to-Own and Outright purchase are the two ways to buy any of the properties. To create a balance, it was learnt that two-thirds of every housing development is for the Rent to Own, while the remaining is for Outright. While the payment under the Rent-to-Own scheme is more flexible, they are mostly in millions, with the least being about N2.5m, clearly beyond the reach of many, especially in a country with N30,000 minimum wage. Besides, the houses are hardly sufficient for all willing buyers, which is another testament to the state’s rapidly growing population.

Priced beyond the poor

For the properties currently being sold, information on the LSDPC website indicates that one bedroom in Ilupeju Gardens costs N43m; a two-bedroom apartment in Channel Point Apartments in Victoria Island costs N110m, while some others have sold out already.

Owing to the pressing demand for affordable housing, however, the survey report noted that 53 per cent of households surveyed had one member apply for the government housing scheme, while 25 per cent of the households had two members apply, and nine per cent had four to five members of the households apply.

Meanwhile, 35 per cent of those who applied were not given. In 2018, for example, out of the 12,000 that collected forms, only 1,420 were pre-qualified for allocation.

Already, the state, which boasts of N30.31tn Gross Domestic Product and has a population of 28.1 million, budgeted N28.1bn for the Ministry of Housing in its 2022 Appropriation Law and the state currently has in the pipeline no less than 9,000 units in 16 housing schemes. With the prevailing cost of existing schemes, however, there are concerns that the poor may continue to be left out due to affordability issues, worsened by rising poverty, unemployment and population.

Indeed, it’s due to the cost that Ajimuda and many others could not get allocation in the thousands of housing units being built. “Those houses were not built for poor people like us because they cost millions,” he told our correspondent. “We have filled the forms before, but we can’t afford them. Even those in government know that those houses are not for the poor. As they build for the rich, they should also build for us, even if we have to pay the little we can afford while they help us with the rest.”

Disturbing housing deficit

Owing to the cost, even under the touted affordable housing scheme, Nigeria’s housing deficit remains huge, forcing many to live in slums. A professor of Estate Management at the University of Lagos, Timothy Nubi, said that social housing was meant to subsidise housing for the poor or low income earners because they were unable to exercise effective demand.

“Somebody is paying for the difference between what they can afford and the market price and that subsidy aspect is what makes it social housing,” Nubi, who has conducted research on ‘upgrading slums in some selected sites and communities within the state and funding housing delivery in Nigeria through real estate investment portfolios,’ said in an interview with our correspondent.

He explained that the social housing scheme works better where 80 per cent of the population could exercise effective demand and would support the remaining 20 per cent when the government uses their taxes to provide the houses. However, he stressed that within the limit of available resources in Nigeria, federal and state governments could still provide social housing, even if gradually.

‘Highest housing deficits in Africa’

Due to dwindling investment in social housing, however, Nigeria is ranked as having one of the highest housing deficits on the continent.

At the Affordable Housing Investment Summit in 2019, Nigeria was identified as one of the eight African countries that need affordable housing owing to their “unparalleled demand for affordable homes.”

According to the AHIS, Kenya, with about 53million people, had two million units housing deficit; Ghana, with about 32million people, had 1.7million units deficit; and Ethiopia, with about 121million people, had 1.2million units deficit. According to the document, the low deficit in Ethiopia is tied to the government’s “condominium housing schemes that have largely benefitted low and middle-income citizens,” in addition to private sector players’ roles.

Meanwhile, Nigeria, with a population of about 200million, had 20million homes deficit (as of 2019). Uganda with 48 million people had 1.7million units deficit; Cote d’Ivoire, with 29million people had 600,000 units deficit; Rwanda with its 12.9million population had 5.5 million units deficit and South Africa, with about 60million population, had 2.5 million homes deficit.

Indeed, social housing has helped South Africa to bridge its housing demand, according to a professor of architecture, Eziyi Ibem, who once did research on sustainable housing and infrastructure procurement.

He said, “In 2013 to 2014, I was in South Africa and I did a study on how they were able to address their housing needs. The provision of social housing really helped. They have houses for low income earners and they have a database for that. We don’t have such a database in Nigeria.’’

He identified corruption as a challenge in Nigeria, adding that if the government built social housing, the houses could be hijacked by politicians and their cronies who could sell the houses.

Interestingly, the 2020 survey report indicated that 44 per cent of those who bought the apartments were not living in them while 56 per cent were living in theirs. “In South Africa, it’s not like that,” Eziyi noted. “Since government has the database, when such houses are ready, they are considered and once you get yours, your name is removed from that list.”

Housing, essential commodity

Ideally, governments at all levels should prioritise the welfare of the people, housing being one of the basic needs of human beings – in addition to food and clothing. Section 14 (2)(b) under Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) speaks to this.

Similarly, different organs of the United Nations, which Nigeria is a member of, also prescribe people’s right to adequate housing. It’s also one of the Inequalities UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 10 sought to address.

However, for many Nigerians, getting decent housing amounts to chasing shadows year in year out, despite the billions of naira budgeted yearly for the sector at all levels of government.

The CBN once noted that investment in housing creates capital. In fact, housing contributes 16 per cent to GDP in Egypt, 14 per cent in the United States and a meagre three per cent in Nigeria.

In many parts of Lagos and the country as a whole, our correspondent’s findings showed that due to lack of housing, many Nigerians were constrained to live in slums or other squalid apartments, characterised by overcrowding, especially in tenement houses. In some instances, traders convert their windowless lock-up shops to rooms at night, like Ajimuda has done for over 20 years.

It is also common to see homeless persons ‘occupy’ public structures such as bus stop shelters, pedestrian bridges, walkways, etc. This has aggravated environmental conditions and urban squalor such as haphazard construction of makeshift and substandard shelters. Greedy landlords, as a result of the overwhelming demand for cheap houses, indulge in substandard building construction, profiting from the growing demand – sometimes leading to avoidable deaths from building collapse.

Such shanties also worsen sanitation issues such as open defecation.

For example, in Otto, where Ajimuda and thousands of others call home, there is no standard toilet, which makes residents engage in open defecation. The WASHNORM 2021 report showed that in Nigeria, a whopping 43 million persons, representing 23 per cent of the population, practice open defecation.

In fact, the United Nations Children’s Fund said last November 19 during the 2021 World Toilet Day, that there had been limited progress over the last two years in the fight against open defecation in Nigeria.

The housing deficit also contributes to hours wasted in traffic daily as people are constrained to live in far-flung places where house rents are comparatively lower and they travel long distances to their workplace. This has also worsened the horrendous logjams in the Lagos metropolis, as evidenced during work days.

More tales of poverty, deprivation

It is because of the many associated challenges, accompanied by different shades of social disorder that Ms Shukrat Quadri, who is in her 50’s, said she could not raise her children in the slum where she lives.

She added, “There are many challenges associated with ghettos like this and that’s why I don’t allow my children to live with me. I visit them in Kwara State from time to time.” I’m a petty trader, so I send money to them.

We need help because we heard they plan to chase us away and demolish this place.”

From one slum to the other, Mrs Chinyere Daniel’s has a lot to worry about on a daily basis. Looking downcast, she told our correspondent, “We were living in a shanty in Oko Oba but it was demolished by the government, and we didn’t have money to rent a better accommodation, we had to come to another slum. Our children, aged 11, three and two respectively, complain about the filth but we don’t have a choice, so we beg them to forgive us because we just don’t have the money.”

On how they sleep in their wooden makeshift shop-cum-apartment, she said, “We don’t have a mattress to sleep in. So, in the night, we lay cartons on the floor for our children to sleep, while my husband and I lay clothes on the floor.”

Similarly, Mrs Florence Njoku lives with her husband and children in their dilapidated wooden structure. Asked how they manage, she said, “We don’t have a choice but to endure. Our income daily is N1,800 and certainly that cannot rent a house. We don’t have a toilet but we have a bathroom, so to defecate, we do ‘it’ at a corner and throw it away.”

The leader of the community, Mr. Marufu Bello, called for help, while the chairman of the Community Development Association, Mr Musbau Agbodemu, tasked the government to build social housing for the millions of people living in slums across the state, lamenting that there were rooms shared by eight to 10 persons.

Sadly, most other states have nothing to show regarding affordable or social housing. The Lagos challenge, according to findings, was worsened by the rural-urban drift, and the refusal to prioritise social housing.

Social housing works

While most states in Nigeria make no provision for the poor to be sheltered, the concept of social housing works in many parts of the world. A report published by iProperty, a Singapore-based company, showed that some of the best social housing schemes could be found in Austria, Denmark, The Netherlands, Ireland, Singapore, Spain and Switzerland.

Speaking on the issue, UNILAG’s Prof Timothy traced the history of social housing to the Great Fire of London in the 16th Century.

The don said, “Investigation showed that the fire was caused by the poor people who were annoyed. It was from that time they believed that if those who have must keep what they have, they must take care of those who don’t have, else all of them would end up not having.

“So, they started the Poor Relief Act which led to the tenement rate today, for the rich to set aside a certain amount from what they have to relieve the poor. The concept of social housing emanated from that.”

He added, “There used to be social housing, but we stopped it. Jakande Houses Similarly, architecture professor, Eziyi, said most countries that had addressed housing needs embraced social housing.

“Social housing is for categories of residents who cannot, by their earnings, have access to decent housing at the prevailing market prices. So, the state comes in, sometimes in partnership with cooperatives and NGOs, to provide housing at affordable cost to them.

“In Nigeria today, there is hardly any social housing, but for a few instances. This administration launched a programme and some states such as Borno have been able to leverage that programme to provide a kind of social housing for the internally displaced persons in the state. That’s a typical example.”

Ibem said the lack of a significant number of social housing was because the government was no longer committed to providing housing for the poor.

What living in slum does to people were social houses, built and given out at subsidised rates. So, it’s not alien to us. I grew up in a social housing; Housing Corporation at Abeokuta, Ogun State. In those days, every state had a Housing Corporation and they had housing estates and civil servants stayed there.

“The 1004 estate that is now elitist used to be for levels one to nine workers, while levels 10 and 12 were staying at Ikoyi Towers and levels 14 and 16 were living within Ikoyi GRA. So, it was junior staff members that were living in 1004 Estate. That was social housing. LSDPC was building social houses like the other housing corporations across the states but it became commercial and started competing with private developers by selling houses in millions, and others followed.”

On scarce resources that the government talks about, Nubi said the government could still provide some social housing with their limited resources. “If they can’t build 2,000, let them start with 20 and let it get to those who need them. The resources are not totally absent, it’s the management that is poor,” he added.

On how the initiative could be financed, he said Nigeria could learn from the model in the UK, where the Housing Corporation supports developers with funds and the English Partnerships support with land, after which the government would take 20 per cent of the units built and allocate them to the poor.

On the possible consequences, he said, “The welfare, health and productivity of the people that live in slums cannot be guaranteed. A schoolchild living in that area may also not perform well academically.

“Studies have shown that there is a link between the kind of housing people have and their welfare. We also have environmental issues. Lagos has many slums and that affects the image of the city. It decreases the value of adjoining properties and impacts on government’s tax revenue. The thugs living there could even beat tax officials.”

On whether the government could still afford to provide social housing within their respective limited resources, Ibem said, “Yes, definitely, if they are committed. However, there is a need for partnership.”

He stressed that the government might have to vary the design for high, middle and low income houses.

Poor housing and mental health

Also, a consultant psychiatrist, Dr Victor Makanjuola, said the government should provide decent housing for people for the sake of their mental health.

Makanjuola, who is the President, Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, stated, “Poor housing conditions are another enabler of mental health challenges. This shouldn’t be if you want to protect people’s mental health.”

The World Habitat Day on October 3 already has the theme ‘Mind the Gap. Leave No One and No Place Behind’ to examine the worsening inequality in housing.

Lagos govt speaks

Commenting on the issue, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, said the government was doing its best to provide housing for people.

He added, “There are people who live in slums illegally. About 6,000 people come into Lagos every day, because they feel Lagos is the land of opportunities and once they are in Lagos, they just find anywhere to stay. Lagos, in my own view, is a victim of its own success. The houses we are providing are at rock-bottom prices and the government is working with the private sector to build more affordable housing.

“We said if you would be in Lagos for at least three months, register with LASRRA but people don’t and that makes planning difficult.”

Meanwhile, the UN-Habitat noted, “By widening housing choices and enabling the provision of housing opportunities at appropriate scale, prices and diversity, housing will directly impact the future of cities and its ecological and economic footprint, thereby contributing to reducing social inequalities and improving urban safety through their social and spatial impacts.”