Nigeria and its homeless citizens

Babatunde Raji Fashola

The problem of homelessness in Nigeria remains unsolved, despite government’s claims of housing provision, Kayode Fasua reports:

For 34-year-old Usman Hassan, the day broke before time. At about 3am under the popular Alaba-Suru bridge in Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos, he had woken up to set about his ‘shores’. His first itinerary for the day was to dance a genre of music known as ‘shakushaku’; yet there was no music.

The previous night, this young man who had been displaced by the Borno Boko Haram insurgency and is now in Lagos, living under the bridge, had been tricked into smoking Indian Hemp, popularly known as Igbo, given to him by a fellow: Adio.

That was typical life under a Lagos bridge as related to THISDAY, by Hassan. Under such a situation, normalcy is in abeyance, as thousands of residents in their shanties operate under the control of their different lords of the manor.

“Under a Lagos bridge, you are seen as homeless, but you are, indeed, at home. We have a leader called ‘Alaaye’, whose wife is usually the most beautiful in the commune, and who is the caretaker for yet a big man called ‘omo onile,” an excited Hassan explained.

He is one of millions of Nigerians without habitat, a home to live. But rather than sulk under the pain of that depravity, he has accepted his faith with equanimity, rejoicing in the lack.

Elsewhere in Moniya area of Ibadan, Oyo State, a few years ago, mother and child were reportedly gang-raped by a band of armed vagrants in an uncompleted building, where they improvised as home.

Putting the plight of homeless citizens in perspective, Patrick Edewor, a don at the Covenant University in Ota, Ogun State, in a published treatise, noted thus: “A survey of 447 homeless children and youths in three purposively selected parts of Lagos metropolis was done. The results show that majority of the respondents were males. They had low level of education and were from poor and large families most of which were polygynous.

“Parental neglect, discontent at home, marital instability in family of orientation, poverty and peer influence were the major causes of being on the street. They slept under bridges, at the beach, in motor parks and vehicles, in market places, and in uncompleted buildings.

“Their survival strategies include engaging in some income-yielding activities such as carrying load, being bus conductors, packing refuse, buying and selling, engaging in commercial sex and begging. Substance abuse and engaging in risky sexual behaviour were common.

“They faced the problem of insecurity, police harassment and all forms of exploitation and maltreatment from social miscreants (area boys). They were also predisposed to a number of hazards including sexual abuse, molestation and health hazards.

Across the country, the media is awash with different tales of homelessness situations which are largely encapsulated in criminal tendencies and misfortunes.

108m Nigerians Technically Homeless
Meanwhile, at a global scale, as many as 1.6 billion people are believed to lack proper housing. But in the real sense of the word, the United Nations, as at 2005, estimated that no fewer than 100 million people were bare, without roofs above their heads.

That figure alone may have been paled into insignificance by the Nigerian situation, many years after.
Only recently, and in fact early this year, the Bureau of Public Service Reform (BPSR), cautioned that urgent attention should be given to the housing shortage in the country which has made over 108 million Nigerians technically homeless.

The bureau reportedly described the 100,000 houses built yearly in the country as insufficient, adding that it was time for stakeholders to join government’s efforts in providing affordable houses for the people by taking advantage of the ongoing Federal Integrated Staff Housing (FISH) programme.

Also, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) also recently put the nation’s housing shortage at 18 million, a situation that had been described as not only unhealthy for a developing country but also nauseating.
A former Director-General of BPSR, Dr. Joe Abah, had observed that providing housing for the people had become a great concern with the 189 million population in the country.

He had also urged stakeholders to confront the challenge in the housing sector, such as insufficient funds, high cost of land and building materials, so that Nigerians would have the opportunity to become house owners.
The Executive Secretary of the Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board, Dr. Hanatu Fika recently said the government was seeking about N13 billion to give out as housing loans to civil servants.

Fika, also recently said that over N1 billion had been disbursed as renovation loan to civil servants and that more than 2000 civil servants benefitted from the gesture.

But sneering at this claim, a building contractor, Mr. James Ogunrogba said “government agencies sound clownish when they underestimate the large population of Nigeria, composed mainly by private workers.
“All the time, they keep using houses provided for civil servants as benchmark for affordable housing in Nigeria, which is sheer debauchery.”

Ogunrogba, also noted that a statement credited to the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, on tour of Nigeria, that the world’s poorest could be found here was influenced by statistics of many homeless citizens of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, getting the exact picture of global homelessness is deemed as extremely challenging. Definitions of homelessness, experts contend, vary from country to country.

“Census data is typically collected based on household and, while most census data takes into account those living in shelters and receiving government aid, census takers struggle to count the “hidden homeless” – those who may be residing in inadequate settlements such as slums, squatting in structures not intended for housing, couch surfing with friends and family, and those who relocate frequently,” a recent report by the United Nations stated.

Homelessness Not Strange in High Places
In the Nigerian context however, the problem of homelessness is well known in high places, yet, what has remained to be done is probably the will power of the political class to attempt a lasting solution.

Last year, wife of the Vice President, Mrs. ‘Dolapo Osinbajo recounted how she spent about 10 years under several notorious Lagos bridges with street urchins in the bid to reshape them and reverse their life trajectories.
Osinbajo had explained: “When I became a worker in the church, the first place I worked was the Teenage Church and for 10 years, I was in the children’s church.

“For 10 years, I was under the bridge; under the bridge in Lagos with ‘Area Boys’. So, every kind of drug that there is, I know about it. I have seen it before and I have seen the effects as well and I will like you to know that the ones that use it are not different from you.

“Some of them too have parents in the church. Some of them have parents with very big names. There are some streets in Lagos that the names of the streets are names of people, some of which have their children under the bridge. There were people whose parents lived in America and yet their children were under the bridge. So, do not even imagine that it cannot happen to you, but you must be an example in your conduct”.

But popular Nigerian artiste, Ransome Noah, also recalled in a published interview that he spent most of his early years under a Lagos bridge; a clear indication of homelessness.

FG’s Pledge
However, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had at a forum assured Nigerians that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration was committed to ensuring the provision of affordable houses for low income earners.

He gave the assurance in Abuja, while addressing the Obinna Chidoka-led House Committee on Habitat, which requested for details of the budget implementation on Habitat.

The minister disclosed that there were plans to roll out habitat agenda that would accommodate public and private sector workers, especially persons with low incomes, adding that consideration would be given to workers within Grade Levels 08 to 15.

He also explained that the new policy would be standardised and made flexible to take into consideration, building needs of Nigerians across ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.

Fashola, foreshadowed the government’s grand plan, saying it included provisions of power, water, access roads and security for the proposed low-cost houses.

His words: “At the ministry, we see issues of habitat as crucial in driving the housing sector in the country. This is the reason we participated in the habitat conference, where we expressed our commitments and are working towards the domestication of the agreements we have reached on housing matters.

“For the 2016 budget relating to habitat, the records of expenditures are not with me right now. There are with the DFA (director of finance) and will be made available later. But I must say that we’re starting a new housing policy, in which we’ll create economic outlets for artisans.

“We are aiming at completing old housing schemes and beginning new ones, where we’re targeting those in levels 08 to 15 in public sector and those in the private sector, bearing in mind the different cultural, religious and other needs of the people in the construction of the buildings.”

But as the four-year tenure of the Buhari administration inches to a close, an explanation is also due from the Fashola housing ministry on feats so far achieved in ameliorating the homelessness malaise, plaguing millions of Nigerians.