Last week, the Program Manager of the United Nations Habitat in Nigeria, Professor Johnson Bade, revealed that not less than 71 million Nigerians live in slums. Professor Bade made the revelation at the National Conference on Shelter and Urban Renewal, held to commemorate the United Nations World Habitat Day. He further added that about 16 million houses were needed to correct the trend. Given this appalling statistical situation, the UN expert argued that provision of adequate shelter for all has become an imperative, if Nigeria was going to achieve the MDGs, the Habitat Agenda or even Vision 2020. Professor Bade’s revelation came in the wake of another set of statistics, from a sister UN agency, which said that 34million Nigerians defecate in the open, because of a shortage of decent toilets, thereby releasing about 1.7million tons of faeces into the Nigerian environment annually.
The underlining current to these unflattering statistical data, is that our country has remained a very underdeveloped nation, and the trend in recent decades has seen a regression from earlier indicators of progress. We are not developing, if the basic human indices are used as basis of measurement. In recent years, there has been an explosion in the rural-urban migrational patterns in our country. This has largely been as a result of the increasing erosion of the economy in the rural areas and the attraction of very young people to potential opportunities for advancement and jobs in the urban areas of our country. The social services in these urban centres have been bursting at the seams largely because of under-investment in the upgrade of basic facilities, including housing and even where there was provision, the population in need often far outnumbers these provisions. It is therefore not surprising that related statistics indicate that 65 percent of the total urban population of Nigeria alone, lives in urban slums.
All around Nigeria, as people arrive daily from rural areas into the urban centres in search of a livelihood, they more often than not, end up in the sprawling slums that are not planned; are cesspools of prostitution; crimes of all hues and the location for marginal existence. The economic crises of recent years have also narrowed the opportunities for jobs that can provide a basis for an upwards mobility for a lot of people arriving in the urban areas. The fact that state provision of social housing is almost completely absent has meant that most of the people in our urban centres have had to depend on shylock landlords for the provision of often, very low-quality housing that make up the chaotic settings so characteristic of urban ghettos. So families bring up their children in very unhealthy surroundings where early in life, they can easily get drawn into very negative activities or become easily drawn into gangs and other well-known draw backs of the ghettoizing of existence in our country.
The statistics that over 71 million Nigerians live in slums is a direct affront to the Nigerian state. It is further underscored by the fact that Nigeria needs at least 16 million houses to find the decent solutions to begin to pull out the vast population in slums out of the morass. The problem is compounded by the fact that the Nigerian state in recent years has taken a decision not to builds houses, expecting private developers to meet the nation’s housing need. In turn, these developers have entered the sector, spurred on by the profit motive, and in many settings where they have made an impact, they have largely targeted the upper middle classes and the rich, with housing that is priced out of the reach of most of those in need of urban housing. It means that the vast space which can give succor to the majority of the slum dwellers that the statistics has talked about is not really being catered for. It is therefore imperative for states and local governments to launch ambitious, targeted and well-thought out programs of provision of social housing all around Nigeria. Similarly, mortgage facilities ought to become more democratized in a manner that can allow people in employment an access to the funds that can help them become home owners.
A combination of the intervention of the state, private developers and the opening up of a democratic access to mortgage facilities can go a long way in helping to turn around the unacceptable statistics which says 71million of our compatriots are slum dwellers. The ghettoizing of life diminishes all of us as much as it is an indictment of the Nigerian state. If a large percentage of our people remain on the margins of decent existence, then the country cannot find the peace that will enhance progress and development. We have spoken so much about Vision 2020, but we certainly need the will power to move us beyond the rhetorical flight of fancy so typical of Nigeria’s ruling elite. Solving the problem of having 71million people as slum dwellers is a task that must be done!