HOUSING CRISIS FOR MILLIONS IN NIGERIA:
HOUSING CRISIS FOR MILLIONS IN NIGERIA:
Only a Working People’s Government With Socialist Policies Can Guarantee Massive Housing for the Working People and the Poor
By Dimeji Macaulay
Housing crisis is a huge issue for Nigerians. Millions live in homes that have been precariously built in terrible places that have life threatening environment in the “showcase” Federal Capital Territory, let alone other parts of Nigeria. Like late Fela Kuti’s song in one of his radical albums “Original Suffer head, water, light, food, house-eno dey.” The same issue is what we have in Nigeria today where we have rising rent, vacant houses and homeless people. Many of the houses in major towns like Abuja are owned by top ranking elements among the ruling class most of which are not occupied.
We have in some cases where poor people have been literally thrown out because they could not pay the high-rising rent. Many houses lack even basic facilities, such as water, sewage, electricity etc while being tiny and overcrowded. Ironically, this is happening in a country that is the 5th biggest oil exporter in the world. But this is not accidental, it is due to long term and continuous implementation of neo-liberal policies that grossly underfund the housing sectors as well as promote private interest at the expense of the housing needs of all.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 24.4 million people in Nigeria are estimated homeless and about 700,000 of this figure are homeless as a result of insurgency in the north. This estimated homeless Nigerians are almost one-quarter of the global homeless people. This shows how enormous is Nigeria’s contribution to global homelessness.
Since the return of the civil rule in 1999, most efforts at building public housing have been cosmetic as it is dominated with private interest and profit. Most existing public housing estates were built during oil booms in the 70’s and during the second republic. However, while Nigeria had the longest run of oil boom during this republic, no affordable public housing has been built. Former President Goodluck Jonathan in the last lap of his administration initiated a policy, which he believes will bridge the gap in the country’s housing needs, with the private sector playing a key role. The Federal Government secured a $300 million loan from the World Bank for this purpose. The money is to be used to set up the Mortgage Refinance Company, out of which $50 million was set aside for mortgages to the masses (Punch, 29, January, 2014). But till the end of its tenure, practically Nigerians never saw anything from the whole money borrowed.
The housing crisis also mirrored in the ever growing rents and the conditions associated with renting an apartment. More people find it difficult to meet their rent obligation. While workers earn monthly minimum wage of N18,000, they are made to pay a year or sometimes 2 year rent in advance. The housing crisis has created an avenue for many landlords to profit from.
Elitist urbanization in cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt and elsewhere have also rendered millions of people homeless. Many of these homeless people were just chased out of their homes in a land grab exercise only for the same land to be acquired by the rich or for activities that benefits mostly the rich. The previous Lagos State Government is committed to building Eko Atlantic City with no fewer than 1,200 houses for the superrich whereas the vast majority of the working masses live in slum-like environment lacking in basic amenities.
SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE TO HOUSING CRISIS
It is not surprising that the housing scheme (Kriston-Lally housing scheme) embarked upon by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) hit a brick wall. NLC entered the scheme with the illusion that it could provide housing for workers. But even at that, the scheme can only potentially provide houses for top and middle-layer workers who constitute a minority amongst the working class. As the controversy continues, subscribers are left wondering when they will get a refund of their money, and the crisis persists. Hence, the scheme has been abandoned leaving a confused state of things. Instead of partnering with the private sector, the NLC should lead a campaign and struggle for massively public funded housing planned towards meeting the housing needs of workers and the poor.
We in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) have always argued against neo-liberal agenda of privatization, deregulation etc. Unfortunately, the Buhari administration is committed to neo-liberal policies in the housing sector as dictated by World Bank, IMF and the ruling elite in Nigeria. The continued dominant interest by profit will not allow for cheaper, quality and massive housing. The production of cement, a key material in construction is dominated by Dangote and a few others. Some other materials are either imported or locally produced at high cost. The only way to reduce the cost of building is to nationalize cement production, steel factories and massively invest in the sector and draw up a serious plan, under democratic management of workers and tenants, aimed at meeting the housing needs and infrastructural requirements of all. This is the only way cheaper and quality housing can be guaranteed for all in the long run, as well as providing much needed employment for building workers.