in tattered and faded jean trousers, T-shirt and a pair of slippers of varied hue, Suleiman Ibrahim, tiredly sat by the Agege, Lagos rail tracks with his hands placed on his laps. After the young man fled his hometown in Yobe State to Lagos State due to terrorists’ activities in the northern region, Ibrahim became homeless.
Ibrahim told our correspondent that it was the only choice for him after the whereabouts of his six family members was unknown. He revealed that he pleaded with an unknown truck driver conveying livestock to Lagos to join him on the trip.
He explained that when he got to Lagos sometime in 2021, he had nowhere to stay and the situation was compounded by lack of shelter and hunger.
He said that he once slept for days at the Oshodi Underbridge, adding that in the struggle for survival. he became a cart pusher at a market where he sourced for daily bread.
He said, “The terrorists’ attack caught my community in Yobe State unawares. At one point, villagers in the Kanama community became scared. I don’t know the whereabouts of six of my family members till date. I can’t say whether they are still alive or dead. It was a man driving a truck loaded with goats and rams heading to Lagos that I begged to allow me to join him on the journey. This place was strange to me when I arrived because I didn’t know anybody so I begged for food and money and I always slept under the bridge before I started pushing wheelbarrows to raise money. The money I see is just for food. I don’t have anywhere to stay so I also joined some of my fellow cart pushers who sleep under the bridge at night. I cannot afford to rent a house yet, that is why I stay there.”
Ibrahim’s case is one of the many homeless people who have turned public amenities such as motor parks, pedestrian bridges and rail tracks to either dwelling or relaxation spots. Most of them are louts, cart pushers and beggars.
Public amenities are essentially created by the government to make life easier and more pleasant for citizens. Such amenities include motor parks, railways, bridges, libraries, markets, hospitals among others.
One of the amenities which have been turned into homes by the homeless is the Agege rail tracks in the Agege Local Government Area of the state which Ibrahim and his colleagues use as abodes.
A resident in the area who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of attack told our correspondent that one would find such individuals at different spots under the bridge as late as 9pm, adding that regardless of the weather situation, they would always be there for they had no other lodging.
Housing being one of the vital needs of humans is significant for its welfare effects and contributes to a country’s economic viability. Due to its importance, the United Nations solicited global acceptance of housing and included it as the Goal 11 in its area of advocacy with a view to achieving quality and affordable housing units for all by 2030.
The National Bureau of Statistics stated in its 2012 report that amid high housing deficit, the government spent only two per cent of its total expenditure in the housing sector which contributed to the 50 per cent of the Nigerian population estimated to be living in cities in 2016 and the 80 per cent living in substandard condition.
It was however stated in a 2019 study titled, “Addressing housing deficit in Nigeria: Issues, challenges and prospects,’’ that Nigeria’s housing deficit crisis worsened with statistics indicating a deficit of at least 17 million. It further noted its steady rise of seven million to 14 million between 1991 and 2010.
Similarly, in 2018, the World Bank noted that Nigeria required about 700,000 housing units annually for a period of 20 years to cater for the country’s fast rising population of over 200 million. Data from the NBS also corroborated the report in 2020, indicating that the country had an estimated deficit of over 17 million as of December 2020.
The International Human Rights Commission recently put the country’s housing deficit at 28 million, but the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, noted that it would be a difficult task to determine the current housing deficit in the country without a thorough assessment.
Nigeria is expected to be the third most populous country after China and India by 2050 with its fast rising population expected to increase to over 300 million. However, 33 per cent of its populace are jobless and the majority of those living in urban areas live in slums, according to data by the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa.
It added that the shortage of 28 million units in housing was as a result of urbanisation, population expansion, poverty and unemployment said to have put intense pressure on the country’s real estate sector and its capacity to provide enough housing.
In August 2022, the Federal Government through the Bank of Industry said the housing sector would require N21tn to bridge the estimated 28 million housing deficit across the country, adding that trillions of naira was required to close the country’s housing gap. A sum of N470bn was however budgeted for it in 2022.
Later in October same year, the Chief Executive Officer of The BrooksAfrica, David Onoja, noted that over 30 per cent of Nigerians amounting to nearly 62 million people were faced with housing challenges. The statistics showed that 80 per cent lived in informal housing plagued by problems relating to poor quality and inadequate infrastructure. About 95.1million out of the over 200 million people in Nigeria were said to be living below poverty line, hence it became difficult for them to have access to their own homes.
Our correspondent observed at the Agege railway track that cooking utensils, clothes and different types of used mattress were put by the rail track shaded by different sizes of umbrellas mounted on sections of the tracks. It was further observed that about 10 umbrellas were mounted, while the occupants numbered between 15 and 20.
Some of them were also seen at separate spots under a nearby bridge taking a nap. The rail tracks underneath the Oshodi Bridge were also a commonplace for cart pushers. They tend to relax on the rail tracks either in the afternoon or evening after returning the rented wheelbarrows to their owners. On the tracks, they sat in twos or threes and seemed unbothered about the dangers of their act.
Another man simply identified only as Bala told our correspondent that he often slept at the pedestrian bridge at Berger bus stop along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway or a nearby bus park. He blamed high housing rent for his situation, saying he usually searched for empty buses at the parks whenever he wanted to sleep at night.
He said, “I always find a place to sleep in the park because I don’t have anywhere to go. Rent is high and I don’t have money to get one. At night, whenever I want to sleep, it is either I sleep on the Berger Bridge or I find an empty bus. It’s only God that has been protecting us.”
Asked if task force didn’t disturb them for sleeping at the park, he noted that nobody knew he was sleeping there because he always got there late at night and left early in the morning.
“How will the task force arrest us or chase us away? They don’t even know that we always sleep there. It is not possible for them to come there at 11pm when I usually go there,’’ he stated.
went round some places to find out the cost of housing which experts attributed its increase to rising construction costs.
In Agege, it was gathered that the average cost of a room is N100, 000 per annum excluding agreement and commission fees. A room and parlour self-contained apartment costs N250, 000 with other fees inclusive.
In Ojodu-Berger, a complete package for a two-bedroom flat is N600,000, indicating N150,000 for agreement and commission, and N450,000 for the actual payment per annum.
Our correspondent gathered that landlords charge a total package of N950, 000 for a two-bedroom apartment in the Ikotun area of the state in the first year for rent and other charges, while the tenant is expected to subsequently pay N750, 000 yearly.
In Agbado-Oja in the Ifo Local Government of Ogun State, further survey showed that the average amount charged for rent varies between N100, 000 and N650,000, depending on apartment type.
Commenting on the matter, Executive Secretary, Housing Corporations in Nigeria, Mr Tope Eniola, stated that inflation which over time led to increase in commodity prices also contributed to the number of homeless people in the country.
He added that there had not been any substantial commitment by subsequent governments towards addressing the country’s housing deficit.
Eniola identified high costs of building materials worsened by rise in foreign exchange as a major reason for the rise in housing rent.
He said, “Increase in rents also has to do with housing deficit which is not a new thing. It has been with us for so long and this is often caused by lack of commitment by subsequent governments. The private sector and individuals are the providers of housing and most of these individuals also depend on the houses they put out for rental. If there is a rise in inflation, they will also pass it to the tenants. In the last three or four years, there has been a surge in rental rates and technically, it is as a result of increase in the costs of building materials which is also driven by rise in the foreign exchange. Forex is the determinant of everything in this country and this has led to inflation. About three years ago, I think the inflation rate was less than 20 per cent but today it is about 23 per cent and it keeps going on. That is why even commodities are now sold twice the amounts they were sold a few years back and most landlords depend on their houses for a living so we can’t blame them. ”
He stated further that occupying motor parks, under bridges among others with the aim of sleeping there could make the occupants vulnerable to several health hazards due to their exposure to indecent habitation and lifestyles.
He added, “People under bridges, public places are highly exposed to health hazards because whether there is rain, harmattan and hot weather they are there and that poses dangers to their health. It means that surviving a long life has already been obstructed because their lives will definitely be shortened. They are also exposed to robbers, criminals and their lives are at stake because anything can happen at any time. The female ones are also vulnerable to rape and they carry unwanted pregnancies, diseases due to their exposure to indecent habitation. They seem not to have any future because nobody will like to employ such people. The problem is if they have good jobs in the first place they would have saved a lot to cater for good accommodation for themselves and have roofs over their heads. They are now posing a dangerous phenomenon to the country’s economy.’’
The housing expert also blamed the government for not doing enough regarding the formation and implementation of favourable policies which could champion the betterment of the housing sector in Nigeria, adding that there should be a room for a mortgage system to encourage private developers to access funds from commercial banks at a single digit interest rate.
Eniola stated, “Government is not doing enough in terms of policies because in the past it was directly involved in the provision of housing. But when the resources were waning, it said it was going to improvise a good environment for the private sector to strive for and of course, when you leave this to the private sector, they are profit-driven. We do not have a mortgage system in this country. Developers collect funds at high interest rates so it might not be profitable for them to tie down their money and pay high interest rate to the bank while collecting the rents so they will prefer to sell them out. This is the situation we find ourselves in and what it means is that the government has the responsibility to ensure a favourable atmosphere by providing a good mortgage system for the people and encouraging the private developers to access funds at single digit. If that is not done, we will continue moving in a circle.”
He noted that there was a need for the government to improve its information collection and storage system which he identified as the only way to adequately obtain individuals’ information for the purpose of mortgage rating.
“The effect of the mortgage system on those low income earners like truck and cart pushers, etc still boil down to the government and that is the challenge we have. In developed countries, we need to look at how they are doing it in such a way that they still take care of the people that work in an unorganised society. What we need to really drive this is technology. Developed countries have what they call mortgage rating and their government has the information about everybody in their societies. The way to go about this which the government can employ is through the National Identification Number. That is the only trick that can upturn the situation and everybody will be taken care of. From there, it is easier for us to do a credit or mortgage rating that will show how much these people are collecting and as well how qualified they are. Without technology, we will find it difficult to take care of the people living in those public places,’’ he added.
According to him, if those people can be organised into cooperative societies, it will also be easier for them to partake in these things but the country needs appropriate laws that will drive it but it’s not in place.
He further stated that the government needed to come up with policies that would encourage some of these things to work.
On his part, Executive Director, Housing Development Advocacy Network, Festus Adebayo, decried conversion of public utilities to homes, saying it was the responsibility of the government to move the homeless people away from such places.
He noted that homeowners put their houses for rent at higher amounts because of the pressure they also faced from the inflation embattling the economy.
Adebayo stated that the government housing policies were enforced with certain barriers which deprived commoners from accessing the houses units built by the government.
He added that such houses should be made available for the poor rather than giving them out to the rich people who could easily afford to pay the expensive rents often demanded by private homeowners.
He said, “People sleeping under the bridges, abandoned houses and public places are a manifestation that something is wrong in the country. In the UK, for instance, you will find out that some people also want to be sleeping in all those places but their government takes the responsibility by taking them out of such places. The people we are talking about are the ones that need social housing and government help. If the government cares for the citizens, there would have been provision for this category of people.’’
Explaining why landlords demand high rents, Adebayo stated that the pressure from the effects of inflation contributed to the hike while they used what they had to meet their needs.
“These are the people that will end up involving themselves in social vices because they will always want to get a means of survival. We need to ask ourselves who are the beneficiaries of the housing units built by the Federal Government. The houses should be meant for the poor and not the rich because by the time the houses are delivered even the man sleeping under the bridge cannot afford N1,000, 000 to obtain it,” he added.
He observed that the available housing units across the country was not enough to cater for the fast rising population in the country, noting that both stakeholders and the government should seek alternative ways of tackling the issue.
“The government is not really committed to providing housing for those living under bridges. If not they would have looked deeply into the issue because as of today, housing is a monopoly and that is why stakeholders and the government need to look for alternative ways to solve the problem. We are reproducing at geometric progression while we are building houses at arithmetic progression. There will be no impact. I can tell you that the private developers did not produce up to 50,000 housing in 2022,” he said.
He also decried a situation where the homeless turned themselves to landlords at motor parks, bridges and other public amenities.
In his view, President, Council of Real Estate and Developers Association of Nigeria, Aliyu Wamakko, said the private housing sector could be properly equipped and encouraged with a single-digit interest rate to drive the housing sector in Nigeria.
Wamakko added that if the government channelled funds directly into the private sector, houses would be built and made available at lower rates for people, adding that it would also be an opportunity for the private sector to strive in the provision of houses and employment creation.
He said, “What we think is that the private sector should be the ones to drive the possible housing provision for Nigerians and the way to do that is that government at all levels can budget some money for intervention in housing and that money should be channelled directly into the private sector at a single-digit interest rate so that when they take the money as an interest-based or single digit they will be able to provide houses at an affordable rate and it will create employment too. This will give opportunity to the private sector to strive in building houses, creating employment, making the money back from interest and paying into the corporate firm. So, it is a win-win situation for the government. If the government can do a shift in policy in the aspect of housing provision, it will eliminate the problem at the grass-roots. They are supposed to provide an enabling environment for the creation of houses.”
Contacted for his reaction on the issue, Lagos State Commissioner for Works and Housing, Moruf Akinderu-Fatai did not respond to several calls to his mobile.
But the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, told our correspondent that the state government was saddened and concerned by the situation despite several efforts made to reduce housing deficit across the state.
He linked the surge in the number of homeless persons in the state to over population which, according to him, resulted in the high cost of housing. He added that it was the reason homeless people often slept in public places, adding that the mortgage system could be the solution to the lingering problem.
Asked about the future plans of the state government on housing, the commissioner explained that the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration was planning a housing initiative to encourage access to cheaper housing and a monthly rent payment by individuals in the state.
He said, “It is the high costs of housing that forced those people to be sleeping in those public places. Housing is not cheap anywhere in the world. Mortgage is what people take to be able to pay over time. Some pay for 25, 30 and even 40 years in the mortgage system anywhere in the world so people who are sleeping under the bridges because Lagos State is overpopulated. Houses can never be enough anywhere in the world especially where we have cases of insecurity. The state government is planning a scheme in a way that will allow people to pay monthly so that one does not need to look for money for a year before one can pay for rent. That monthly housing scheme is where we are going so that people will not be stressed before they can pay their rents.”
Omotoso advised that it would be attainable for landlords to put their houses for rents on a short-term period, rather than opting for a long term, noting that a year or two would be better instead of letting them out for three years and above.
“Those places are not facilities that people can just use anyhow. Motor parks are duly organised and we have a leadership overseeing them. Some of the people you see at motor parks are either drivers or one of those who work as officials. It is not all of the time that landlords are not considerate. If you look at most of the materials used in building houses, they are imported and with the rate of foreign exchange now, the dollar/naira rate, one will realise that the amount is much. The government advises people not to source for rents for two or three years. A year’s rent is rather obtainable,’’ he said.
He further stated that landlords and developers should rather go for local building materials to save costs, adding however that they buildings have complex structures thus it was vital to use standard quality and quantity of materials.