Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The new immigrant and housing in Lagos

He was fifth in line, on a queue at dawn, to use the sole bathroom in the 14 room apartment. Chidi had arrived Lagos the previous day and was really bewildered with life in the city. First, he had to pass the night in cramped arrangements with his uncle and family in a single room; and then, at dawn, to be confronted with tons of tenants spilling out of the other rooms in a rush to make use of the facilities.

Overcrowding in housing units has assumed alarming proportions in Lagos especially in predominant slum areas. Abdulhakeem Akinola identifies accommodation as the greatest problem in Lagos City; he observes that, “too many people are jostling for inadequate building structures.” It has become common to see situations where as much as 10 people live in one room.

Migration is a big issue in Lagos; the city has attracted millions of people seeking for a better life from Nigeria and beyond. The last population census in Nigeria gives Lagos population as 9.6million which makes it the second highest in the country after Kano; however the Lagos State Government contests these figures, alleging that Lagos population should be about 13million and thus the most populous city in the country. Lagos is literarily bursting with over population and people still flock to the city in alarming numbers; statistics reveal that approximately 21 new immigrants arrive Lagos every hour. In 1999, the United Nations predicted that the city's metropolitan area, which had only about 290,000 inhabitants in 1950, would exceed 20 million by 2010 and thus become one of the ten most populated cities in the world. Mr. Shina Odunuga of the Lagos State Ministry of Housing says that, “The heavy influx of immigrants contribute to the strain on housing in the city, however Government is trying its best in providing more housing units to accommodate as many people as possible.”

Construction of economic housing units is an important responsibility of Government. However new immigrants like Chidi asks, “Where are the low cost housing projects?” The Lagos State Government recently built 2 housing estates at Oke Eletu, Ikorodu (where 2 bedroom flats go for 3 million naira) and Abraham Adesanya, Ajah-Lekki (where 3 bedroom flats are on sale for 12 million naira). “Do these qualify as low cost housing?” asks Mr. Casimir Ehirinne – an Estate Agent. “What we really have here is Government building houses for Its high ranking officials to purchase and either live in or lease out to rich tenants”, he adds. For mid civil servants like Chidi’s uncle –Tony, these housing projects are out of their means, “I definitely can’t afford that on my wages, and I can only improve by searching for another public yard where I can get two rooms probably in same filthy conditions”, he says.

Living conditions in these ‘public yards’ are quite unhealthy. In Tony’s case, approximately 50 people live in the 14 room compound and use one bathroom and toilet. There is no water; residents have to buy water from a commercial borehole some 100metres away. A greater population of Lagos residents live in similar conditions; recent studies by the World Bank reveal that Lagos has 42 slums, with the figure actually outnumbering well managed neighbourhoods.

Chidi finally got his turn at using the bathroom and as he dressed up, he couldn’t help wondering if he emerged from the filthy bathroom cleaner or dirtier. He is determined, however, “To work hard and rent my own room as soon as possible, hopefully with a cleaner bathroom.”

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