The struggle for housing rights in Nigeria

One of the things we are most proud of at the ISHF is our bringing together of voices from so many different national contexts, and whilst the problems and definitions may differ from country to country, the fight for decent and affordable housing remains universal! In this interview, Mr. Caesar W. Enwefah, Executive Secretary of the National Union of Tenants of Nigeria (NUTN), talks about his organization’s work, how European housing sectors can learn from Nigeria’s experience, and why you should attend NUTN’s event, which is sure to be an intriguing and assumption-challenging one.

Article by Crispin Pownall, ISHF team

What is your background (place of birth, place of residence, education, profession)?

I was born in Ile-Ife in Osun State, southwest Nigeria, in 1963, but am now based in Port Harcourt, which is the capital city of Rivers State, in the heart of the Niger River Delta. After a stint as chairperson in the bankers’ union NUBIFIE, I became the director of Center for Housing Rights Protection and the executive secretary of the National Union of Tenants of Nigeria, which are together at the forefront of housing rights activism in Nigeria. This can be a great struggle in Nigeria— my appointment to NUTN in 1997 was during a period of large-scale violations of housing rights in Nigeria, which called for experienced activists and advocates such as myself.

What is your relation to social housing?

Let me start by saying that ‘social housing’ is a highly contested term! For many countries in Africa, the term applies only to housing for ‘most disadvantaged persons’ such as motherless children; old people; disabled and displaced persons, and so on. These homes, also called ‘welfare homes, are provided by not only government, but philanthropists, NGOs and churches, and others in the third and private sectors. ‘Public sector housing’ in Nigeria is yet another thing, very specifically referring to housing provided by government for public servants unable to find or afford adequate housing.

A large proportion of the world population depends more on rental or private sector housing than ‘social’ or government-provided housing for it to be accommodated. So, when talking about affordable housing in much of the world, it is from within the private and rental sectors that many problems arise, and where solutions should aim. In Africa, where many housing solutions also aim at increasing ownership, inequality of opportunities often place the more well-off as the beneficiaries, who may then rent out the homes to the poor for high rents: defeating the purpose.

We at NUTN concentrate on shelter as a human right, as enshrined under international treaties such as the ICESCR and ICCPR, and we endeavor to push this right forward for all tenants of all tenures in our country.

What is the NUTN? Why should people get to know your organization?

We were established by decree of our federal government in 1994 with a mission to protect the right of tenants to adequate shelter, which includes the right to affordable housing and freedom against forced eviction. The goal of this mission obliges the union to ensure that no tenant in any part of Nigeria is removed from home by any means except the due process and the rule of law. It further obliges the union to ensure that all financial costs associated with housing are commensurate with the income of a tenant.

Nigeria has a strong and strict framework for tenant protection: the 1994 federal Housing Protection Law from which NUTN came into existence, for example, spells out 14 years imprisonment against any landlord that breaks and enters a tenant’s house in the day-time— and life imprisonment if the breaking and entering is committed at night. Without a court order, landlords in Nigeria are forbidden from invading their tenants’ homes. One role of the NUTN is to support the enforcement of this law through advocacy and raising awareness.

Most of the festival visitors at the festival will be from Europe and will know less about the situation in Nigeria. Can you tell us a little about the current housing situation in Nigeria, and the main struggles for tenants?

Housing policy in Nigeria has always faced many challenges, not least from the setbacks in political, societal and economic functioning that military rule created. Access to affordable housing for all Nigerians was a goal for 2000, but as of 2017, Nigerians’ housing situations continue to deteriorate.
According to statistics, more than 60 million Nigerians are either homeless or living in slum while the country needs over 16 million housing units to accommodate its entire population. The grand cause of this situation, being lack of political commitment toward affordable rental housing, has been recently challenged with a policy review recommending a comprehensive array of solutions to incentivize private sector actors through tax breaks and other means, and facilitate easy and cheap access to land for relevant projects, among others, to be implemented by 2030. The program aims to reduce by half the population that spends more than 30% of their incomes on housing.

Your workshop ‘City inclusion and the challenge of affordable housing’ is about alternative models for the current ‘one-city’ model. The alternative models will work to spread urbanization and create more medium sized cities. Why is the ‘one city per country’ model problematic, and what best practices will help solve these issues?

‘One-city development’ refers to the focus on singular major cities for development programs. It refers not just to the country-level alone, but includes states or provinces where the practice is more common. This is because in most countries such as Nigeria, city and urban development is in the exclusive power of state or provincial government and is independent of national or federal government. One-city models of development are counter-productive to sustainable urbanization and, therefore, inimical to affordable housing. This is because the policy exacerbates urban population growth and usually culminates in dense population force on urban basic infrastructures – particularly housing. Given that dense population pressure on housing magnifies a mismatch between the demand and supply of affordable housing, the policy is viewed, therefore, as a factor that deepens homelessness and slum-dwelling on the one hand; and high cost of rental with the accompanying forced-eviction from accommodation on the other.

A research study carried out by NUTN recently depicted “urbanization spread” (otherwise known as decentralized system of development or rural integration) as a good approach to the affordable housing challenge. It entails upgrading of a rural center to peri-urban standard through basic infrastructure & services provision. By the initiative, the socially excluded rural headquarters invariably become the centers of excellence for rural people and essential alternatives to cities. The overall positive effect of the initiative is the reduction of population load on affordable housing in cities.

Why do you believe it is important to exchange ideas between Africa and Europe?

Although the characteristics of the challenges differ between our continents in nature and principles, their magnitude calls for a need to harness these principles to a greater level, build on joint initiatives and create collaborative efforts between the two continents. Some such initiatives, as may be show-cased for examination at the NUTN workshop session of the International Social Housing Festival, might include introduction of new investment ideas in the emerging rental-housing sector, focusing on affordable housing and basic infrastructure and services provision for the population. Housing policy on a global level should be sustained, replicated and up-scaled in the worldwide transition to the Habitat III Agenda.

What would you like to achieve with your event? When would you deem it a success?

At the ISHF, the NUTN intends to use the occasion of its workshop to confront, by way of sharing and learning, the growing level of affordable housing shortfall in developing countries, mainly in the global south, the sub-Saharan Africa especially; and how urbanization-spread can be used to address this challenge in the transition to scale of Habitat III Agenda by the Year 2036.

Why should all readers attend your event?

Readers of this interview are kindly welcomed to the event. The workshop represents a moment offered to all ISHF participants to broaden their knowledge, ideas and experiences of all the ISHF’s themes. The event will focus mainly on the interconnectivity between urban population growth and affordable housing deficit and between the former and informal settlements growth in countries where one-city development model is practiced. The workshop will result in recommendations that challenge this development model and showcase an alternative system of sustainable development.

What other ISHF events are you planning to attend yourself and why?

NUTN delegates are excited to attend all the events slated for 19th-21st June 2017.

Can you tell about the image that is attached to this article?

It’s me at work, addressing forced eviction victims.

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