Op ed

NIGERIA: A homesless generation

Gooluck Jonathan Estate in Abuja.Housing is very vital to the human life; for without it, we are no better than the animals whose roof is the sky. Sadly, the sky has become a roof for many city-dwellers in our country, so to say, as homeless people of all ages sleep under the bridges, in market places, in uncompleted buildings, on pavements, and slabs on the roadside. How did Nigerians, particularly those from areas noted for their pride of their ethnic group, family and roots, get to this deplorable situation? Population explosion, mass migration to the urban areas, loss of jobs and consequently of rented premises, all contribute to this.

One leaves hometown for a better life in the cities, to improve one’s circumstances and render financial help to other members of the family back home, so, when things don’t work out well, it’s very difficult to accept failure, and have to return to the life that one was escaping from. Some of such people may then prefer to rough it out on the streets, waiting for their circumstances to improve. This situation could persist for long, and if no tangible help comes, they may become permanently destitute, exposed to all sorts of health and criminal hazards; becoming a problem for the society. Miracles and breakthroughs do happen, and some may actually become home-owners later, who knows?

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Whatever one’s circumstances in life, one needs some place to call one’s own at a point, even if it’s a lowly one. Once you’re free of escalating house rent and threats of eviction by landlords, and you have your own roof, other problems in life can be bearable and manageable, by the grace of God.

When we didn’t have the population explosion that we have now, and some people didn’t mind spending all the days of their lives in the family house, housing wasn’t the major human life problem that it has become in this country. Parents with just one house, divided up the rooms among all the children. Those children who could build a house of their own, moved out and rented out their inherited rooms, while those who couldn’t, lived in theirs and passed them on to their own children.

You can imagine the chaos where several children with their own separate families all inherit a few rooms from their parents! Leaving home to go rent rooms/apartments in your own home town thus becomes necessary! A thing that was like an abomination many years ago! You couldn’t be a tenant in your birth place! When you left home then, it was to move into your own house.

With the hard economic crunch, how possible is this for the majority of the populace who can barely make ends meet, and who struggle to meet payments for their rented rooms?

Some of our readers believe that the government at all tiers can do much, if they want to, to help the masses become home-owners, or, become government tenants.

“Madam, thank you for drawing attention to housing in our country in your piece ‘A homeless generation.’ Actually, there was a time when some governments were concerned about housing for the masses; to the extent that they built affordable accommodation for citizens to buy e.g. the Jakande era. My family bought a three-bedroom flat at the Amuwo Odofin Housing Estate for seven thousand naira at the time. It’s the only place we have to call our own, and also where I raised all my children. As a retiree, I can’t see myself building a house at this stage of my life; neither can I see my children, some of whom are still job-hunting, building their own houses yet. Those who are married are in rented accommodation. But for that Jakande’s move, we would still be tenants. – Thanks. Pa Solomon, Lagos.”

“Helen, thanks for your write-up. Playing politics with people’s welfare (housing) is not acceptable at  all. Yohanna .. “Before getting into power, some Nigerians would say all the right things that would promote a good life for the citizenry, but when they get into power, they do nothing. Your write-up was to the point, but can our rulers say that they don’t know that it’s time that housing is given priority again?

“Do they need to be told again and again that they should address this government wrong problem? What about them? Isn’t the acquisition of their own personal houses the first thing they engage in even before they properly start their jobs? Houses, not only for themselves, but for members of their families, and generation to come. But Nigerians can choose not to vote into power again, any ruling party which fails to make houses available and affordable to the masses. We have that power. Let’s use it without fear or favour.”

“Mrs. Ovbiagele, with regards to your write-up of January 20th, concerning the balloting out of the Satellite Town houses. General Obasanjo, at the time, also invited government parastatals and corporate bodies to come acquire land in the Satellite Town area, and build houses to sell or let to their workers at affordable prices. The NNPC, NPF, some oil companies, and a few other agencies took the advice and built quarters for their workers. I remember mentioning this to the managing director of a large manufacturing foreign company I was working for at the time. I suggested that it would help our staff. He brushed me off, saying that they weren’t in Nigeria for that. I think that state governments should make land available to multinational companies to do this for their workers, and closely monitor the project till the very end; which should lead to sales of houses to workers at affordable prices. Thanks. – Ben, Abuja.”

“Madam, every government at any given time, should make housing a priority. Many of us cannot afford the cost of building a house of our own, due to the high costs of building materials. Even if you have a plot of land from your family, where would you get the money to build when banks are no longer giving loans for such purpose? But the government can build at a reduced cost, as they would know how to get the materials cheap. We can then go look for money to purchase from them. Funsho, Ibadan.”

“Auntie, the rich in this country are so greedy that if there are houses for sale at government estates, they would turn it into a business venture by buying several to go re-sell to other people at much higher prices. This defeats the purpose for which the government built the estate. There should be a way by which the government edges out the rich from the sale, and sell to the low-income group.”

“Decent housing is part of human right. The government should bring down the costs of building materials, so that most Nigerians can afford to build. It’s terrible being a tenant all one’s life. It isn’t enough for government to try to control rent. It doesn’t work anyway, and it isn’t fair on the landlords, considering the high costs of building/maintenance. Rent is the main source of income for many house-owners in the cities. If you insist on government-controlled rent, you get thrown out, or, are denied accommodation. As I am now, I can’t even afford to build in my village.

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