- Nigeria: Gimme Shelter
After independence in 1960, Nigeria began to earn a tidy income from crude oil sales. With the allure of petrodollars pulling people to the cities, agrarian economies collapsed. The rural to urban drift stretched unplanned cities to the breaking point as populations increased faster than the housing stock. The government formulated terrific-sounding development policies and tried to execute them with the construction of homes managed by mortgage banks. But without reliable population data and with political patronage determining the distribution of the housing units, homes remained scarce in the places they were needed most.
Following this failure, policymakers went back to the drawing board and emerged with a two-part plan. After tearing down homes built on government land and pushing people into the streets, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Nasir El-Rufai embarked on part one of the strategy, digitizing the cadastral and land registry of Abuja. This step also involved allocating land to individuals seeking to erect houses. While the land redistribution could now be done more efficiently, it favored politicians, celebrities, and the crème-de-la-crème of Abuja society.
Under the plan’s mass housing component, the government allocated tracts of land—which had previously been reserved for agriculture, public parks, and utilities—to private developers with the understanding that the houses would be affordable even for some of Nigeria’s poorest residents. This hasn’t been the case. Given the need of companies to make a profit and the high cost of building materials, the condominiums are too expensive for the needy and sit largely empty. Many Nigerians living in Abuja do not reside near the city center but are instead forced to live in slums on the outskirts.
Although redistribution and allocation of land for housing failed to yield the desired results, one initiative remains that could resolve Nigeria’s housing crisis—part two of El-Rufai’s housing plan, a land swap policy. Under this scheme, the government will grant land to developers to provide homes with good roads, electricity, parks, and public amenities. The whole project will cost the government around $900 million. There’s one snag, though: The government is not enforcing the conditions of the deal. The success of this project requires the government to be firm, transparent, and responsive to the public. A determined and open government working with good data could work with developers to create an affordable rent regime for Nigeria’s poor. But first, leaders will have to develop some political will. [End Page 4]
BOB MAJIRIOGHENE ETEMIKU is a communications manager with the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, one of Africa’s leading NGOs.