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Room for the night: Lagos priced-out residents seek shelter in abandoned buildings

by Oluwatosin Adeshokan | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 17 December 2019 10:50 GMT

Customers shop at a market in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos, August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

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Professional Nigerians living in the capital are bedding down in abandoned and often unfinished buildings due to a lack of affordable housing

By Oluwatosin Adeshokan

LAGOS, Dec 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Adekunle Adigun is gainfully employed as a commercial lawyer on Victoria Island in Lagos, yet as he finishes work each day he does not know where his home for the night will be.

For that, he turns to a man known as Papi, who leases space to Adigun and hundreds like him in abandoned and often unfinished buildings in the Lagos Island district - for about 200 naira ($0.65) a night.

"It is not ideal and it is a little scary, but everybody knows everybody so we are safe," Adigun, 27, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as he sorted through bags of clothes in front of a bar.

Despite his professional stature, Adigun's 40,000 naira ($130) monthly pay means he cannot find a permanent place to live in Nigeria's commercial capital.

He moved to the Lagos megacity of about 20 million people in 2017 - which was initially designed to house 6 million people.

Lagos's attractive location on a lagoon has only fuelled its population, which the U.N. estimates could double by 2050, and rental prices, according to real estate experts.

Estate agent Moses Fiarama said that "a lot of the houses in Lagos are overpriced".

"If we consider the minimum and average wages of the people living in Lagos, we can't say the market for houses is working properly," he added.

With urban planning far outpaced by the city's growth, an overabundance of businesses has packed its island portion, said Oluwatosin Ajani, a Lagos-based financial analyst for BlackHouse Media, a public relations agency.

"The mega-city plan is essentially a gentrification project," he said.

"The government displaced a few waterfront communities, people that have existed in those spaces for generations," he said. "Of course, there is no home for them."

Idris Salako, commissioner for the Lagos state ministry for physical planning and urban development, said the government wants to make the city "a 21st century economy and destination for investment".

"A lot of structures that are uncompleted or abandoned in the city may be distressed and not fit for habitation," he said in a phone interview.

"Some of them are on drainage channels or unoccupied because of high rent or sales value. This government is working to resolve a lot of the problems."

A view of the Victoria Island district in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye


Adigun spends the night with more than 20 people in a bedless 100-square-foot room facing Tafawa Balewa square in the city centre.

Morning brings a scramble for water to shower, and by 5am the water is often cut off, he said.

While cheaper housing options exist on the mainland, Lagos's traffic jams can add more than four hours to a daily commute, Adigun explained.

When he lived with family in Oworonshoki, northeast of Lagos, he spent more than two hours getting to work in the morning.

Tunde Braimoh, a member of the Lagos House Assembly, said that "we are using the bus rapid transit system to link parts of Lagos that are hard to reach".

"We are also working on fixing the roads to decongest the city and road systems," he said in a phone interview.

But the quality of available housing is a bigger problem, locals say, with many reporting settling into deplorable conditions.

"Sometimes, when it rains, water leaks from the walls," said freelance writer Vivian Nnabue.

"Whenever it rains, everybody now knows what to remove - like furniture - and place in strategic places," she added.

The government is trying to improve access to homes through initiatives like an affordable mortgage finance scheme.

And a spokesman for the housing ministry in Alausa said that many structures on the island as well as the mainland were marked for demolition.

But demolition orders are rarely followed, said Ajani, with 'landlords' like Papi instead renovating the decrepit buildings to collect rent.

While police raids on such spaces have increased of late, no arrests result as money exchanges hands, explained Papi, who added that, at most, he must sometimes escort tenants to new spaces for the night.

A man takes a daytime nap on a bench in front of a dilapidated building with a warning notice reading "This house is not for sale" written on the wall of the house in Lagos, Nigeria April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja


Ambitious urban planning projects like Eko Atlantic City have received a mixed reception among locals.

Dubbed "Africa's Dubai", Eko Atlantic is being built on Victoria Island next to Lagos. Developers say it will become a new financial headquarters for Nigeria as well as solving chronic housing shortages in Lagos.

Detractors argue that shiny urban centres like Eko Atlantic are designed for a wealthy elite, and do nothing to help poor communities living on their doorstep.

Most Lagosians are priced out, said Fiarama, the estate agent, adding that "the Nigerian minimum monthly wage is 30,000 naira ($83). How will they afford rent that is upwards of a million naira?".

Others said the project fails to tackle climate change, with Lagos particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

"Eko Atlantic swallowed up Bar Beach (a beach on Victoria Island)," said Nnimmo Bassey, an architect and director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, a Nigerian non-profit.

"It (Eko Atlantic) stemmed the erosion of that part of Victoria Island. But ... when one part is blocked, another part takes the beating," he added.

"It will be a sad sight when the rest of Lagos goes underwater due to sea level rise."

Back in the Lagos Island district, Adigun has given up on his living conditions improving.

"Now I'm looking for jobs outside Lagos. I hate it here," he said.

($1 = 305.9000 naira)

(Reporting by Oluwatosin Adeshokan, editing by Zoe Tabary and Chris Michaud. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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