Pastor Isong Uyoh who oversees a church in the Federal Capital Territory was having a nap in his living room in an estate in Lokogoma when Sunday PUNCH sighted him through the gaping window.
On moving closer, our correspondent observed that the room had no doors or ceiling and the floor was not tiled. Personal effects and musical instruments coated with dust littered the floor as the cleric snoozed. Uyoh had converted the abandoned building into a home where he lived with his wife and daughters.
He narrated how he was ‘forced’ to move into the uncompleted building after his former residence was demolished by the landlord. He claimed to have paid N170, 000 to the estate managers whom he accused of failing to install doors and windows in the three-bedroom apartment which he occupied for over seven months.
The building had no power supply, water, doors, windows, toilets or basic convenience. It was obvious that Uyoh and his family are living in an unsafe and uninhabitable building.
He said, “I was forced to live in this uncompleted building on account of the demolition of my apartment and church by the owner of the land. I have been staying here for the past seven months, but I intend to move out when my rent expires in a few months.”
“Though the building has no doors and windows, I don’t feel unsafe at night; God is my security,” he claimed.
Uyoh’s case typifies the housing crisis in the Federal Capital Territory which is affecting many people. The situation had also led to rise of informal, unplanned settlements which had corrupted the Abuja master plan.
A housewife, Mrs Chioma Akaeme, who also lives in an unfinished building in Lokogoma, popularly called carcass in real estate parlance, said many Nigerians were compelled to live in such structures in the FCT due to economic reasons. Her attempt to share details of her experience in such an unsafe building was stopped by her husband.
Akaeme blamed the government for not making adequate housing provision for the citizens. She noted that pro-poor housing policies could empower many citizens to acquire property, adding that the current economic situation had made it almost impossible for the masses to live in decent accommodations.
Uyoh and Akaeme are among many FCT residents living in unsafe buildings and unplanned settlements without access to basic amenities or infrastructure.
For Mohammed Abubakar, a student of the FCT College of Education, Zuba, living in Abuja is taking a toll on his meagre income. He had been surviving on his little income as a butcher in Kubwa, a satellite town in Abuja, while sharing a single room with a friend. But his decision to settle down with his fiancée had brought him face-to-face with the realities of the accommodation challenge in the FCT.
Since he could not afford a decent accommodation, Abubakar has decided to erect a makeshift structure on a piece of land somewhere in Kubwa.
Abubakar said he had already secured a space for his proposed accommodation, noting that it was his only hope for now. “I am getting married this month and since I can’t afford the N350,000 rent for a self-contained apartment, my plan is to build a batcha (shanty) on a piece of land in Kubwa.”
He added, “That is what many young people who could not afford the prohibitive rent in the city are doing. Some preferred living in uncompleted buildings, but I don’t want to do that because many of those buildings had been abandoned for a long time and they may collapse.”
Investigations show that a large population of youths mostly from the North are also living in makeshift structures erected illegally on private and public lands. Checks showed that many commercial motorcyclists popularly known as okada riders live together in such shanty structures in different parts of the FCT including Utako, Jabi, Gwarimpa, Nyanya, Byazin and other areas. The makeshift homes were mostly built with recycled wood, zinc and aluminium products scavenged from construction sites. Many of such structures had been pulled down by the FCT Administration, but no sooner was this done than they were rebuilt.
A commercial motorcyclist, David Janu, who lost his job as a gateman in Gbazango extension, Kubwa, had been living in a shanty since he was evicted from the gatehouse about six months ago. The 29-year-old said he took to commercial motorcycling so he could provide for his family of five.
He stated, “I was living in a gatehouse with my wife and four children where I worked as a security man, but I lost my job about five months ago. I had to send my wife back to my village in Bauchi. I started riding okada to make ends meet and I have been living in a shanty since then.
“The structure was built with planks and it has no power supply, water or toilet. About four of us stay there and we get water from a well and take our bath early in the morning before daylight. Whenever we need to defecate, we patronise public toilets.”
In New Kuchingoro, Games village, living in over 50 shanties are Nigerians displaced from the North-East by the Boko Haram insurgency. Over 1,000 men, women and children are living in appalling conditions in makeshift structures that offered no safety or protection from criminal elements or dangerous reptiles such as scorpions or snakes.
The leader of the IDPs, Philemon Emmanuel, said 1,573 displaced persons including children were living in shanties without electricity, potable water, toilet facilities or security.
“It is as if we are homeless because we have not been provided any form of support despite several promises by officials and different agencies of government,” he stated.
Experts said the IDPs’ living condition is akin to homelessness as they sleep on mats and wrappers spread on the bare soil without any other form of comfort. More tragic is the fact that many of them have been residing in that part of Abuja for over six years. Ironically, located a stone’s throw from their camp is a top-notch private school and a gated estate with all modern amenities a man could wish for.
Informal settlements spread, encroach on planned areas
A drive around the FCT revealed the growing spread of unplanned communities springing up at a fast rate. Such settlements brimming with artisans, the unemployed, and low-income workers have become a common feature of Abuja city. Planned residential areas like Jabi, Gwarimpa, Utako, Kado and other highbrow areas are also facing the challenge of encroachment by slums which are spreading fast.
A few metres from the luxury estates and swanky apartments in Utako is about three informal settlements–Wuse, Wuye and Daki Biu, where basic public amenity is absent. The communities, findings indicated, are home to sex hawkers, drug addicts, jobless youths and other persons.
A similar settlement located opposite a popular eatery in Jabi is an eyesore. Rows of drinking joints and brothels dot the area which is a favourite spot of commercial vehicle drivers and artisans. Narrow and overflowing dirty gutters snake around the area as the atmosphere reeks of decay. Garbage litters the ground. The residents were said to have been living there for many years and accustomed to the base lifestyle.
Going southwards to Gwarimpa, the situation appears grimmer. Various unplanned communities dot many parts of the sprawling estate. There is the Gwarimpa village with dingy structures, open and stinky sewers.
At the extreme of a posh estate is another slum named Lungu. This ghetto, like others, is characterised by a dense population, absence of government presence in terms of infrastructure and low living standards. Investigation revealed that low-income workers also lived in these communities due to their proximity to their workplaces.
In the satellite towns across the FCT, the unplanned settlements have become the norm as they had evolved into suburban communities enjoying unofficial approval from the authorities. Informal settlements in Dutsen Alhaji, Byazin, Kagini, DeiDei, Karmo, Zuba, Kuje, Nyanya and a large part of Gwagwalada, among others, seemed to have received approval from the Federal Capital Territory Administration despite blighting the Abuja master plan.
Conditions in informal housing sector inhumane — UN Special Rapporteur
Speaking on the inequality in the housing sector, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha, described as inhumane the conditions in the unplanned settlements which she said highlighted the housing deficit in the country estimated at 22 million homes.
“Successive governments have allowed economic inequality in Nigeria to reach extreme levels, a fact that is clearly evident in the housing sector. Meanwhile, newly built luxury dwellings are springing up throughout cities – made possible often through the forced eviction of poor communities,” she said in her preliminary report on the housing crisis in Nigeria which would be presented in full to the Human Rights Council this month.
The report followed her 10-day visit to Nigeria between September 13 and 23, 2019.
Farha insisted that the luxury buildings “do not fulfil any housing need since many remained vacant acting as vessels for money laundering or investment.”
Highlighting the fact that seven in 10 Nigerians in towns and cities now live in informal settlements, the special rapporteur said most remain without access to running water and toilets, noting that they were in constant fear of being turned out of their homes.
She stated, “None of the homes I visited had running water, boreholes or potable water, thus most families have to pay high prices to access household and drinking water. Those who could not afford fresh water were using contaminated floodwater, resulting in cholera and other health issues. I saw a few houses with latrines.”
The UN official acknowledged homelessness in the country as a growing problem, describing it as the failure of the state to implement the right to housing.
“I saw people living under bridges and in informal settlements in conditions that are equivalent to homelessness. The conditions of homelessness are extreme, constituting a threat to personal security, health and to life itself,” Farha noted.
Narrating her experience with the internally displaced persons in the FCT, the UN official described their conditions as appalling.
She further noted that the IDPs she met indicated that in four years the only assistance they received from the government was the initial permission to stay on the land they were occupying, which was granted only informally and without guaranteeing their security of tenure.
She noted, “The lack of security of tenure and the risk of forced evictions affects the majority of internally displaced persons in the country, however, instead of providing durable housing solutions, the government is prioritising securing their return to their communities.”
Farha observed that the 2012 National IDP Policy included the right to housing for internally displaced persons. She, however, regretted that those rights, included in the 2009 African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) ratified by Nigeria in April 2012, weren’t currently enforceable by domestic courts.
She encouraged the government to domesticate the Kampala Convention, which would be a positive step in the protection of the right to housing of internally displaced persons in the country.
Among other recommendations, the special rapporteur urged the government to prioritise upgrading informal settlements. She also advised the authorities to adopt a rights-based national housing strategy recognising housing as a fundamental right in national law.
600 buildings in different stages of development abandoned by owners — FCTA
The FCTA said about 600 buildings in different stages of development in Abuja had been abandoned by their owners for many years due to the economic situation, litigation and inheritance crisis among family members.
It said many of the buildings which were in various state of deterioration in Gwarimpa, Wuse, Garki, Maitama, Asokoro and other parts of Abuja had become hideouts for criminals and homeless persons.
To address the situation, the Federal Capital Territory Administration is proposing a special fund to acquire the buildings from their owners and resell them to workers under its mass housing scheme.
Director, FCT Development Control department, Mallam Muktar Galadima, said the FCT Administration planned to send a memo to the Federal Executive Council on the acquisition of the abandoned buildings across the FCT.
The director stated that the Federal Government may create a special purpose fund through the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria to acquire the buildings.
Galadima said, “We went to the sites and issued identity numbers for ease of integrity test. We invited the owners to a meeting where we had some discussions and about 130 owners complied, but we are not comfortable with that number.
“Because we have done what we can do within our capacity, we are sending a memo to the minister to look at options of revocation and acquisition. But our challenge with revocation is that it would lead to litigation.”
The director further stated, “So, the best option is through the Federal Executive Council; if some of these abandoned buildings can be acquired by the Federal Government so that where it is residential houses, workers can be given such houses.
“Where it is an office or commercial buildings, government offices can take over. This is the last point we are; we are trying to see if the Federal Executive Council can come in, maybe, by creating special fund through the Federal Mortgage Bank or other housing facilitators.”
Galadima said the acquisition of the buildings by the government would address the housing deficit in the FCT.