Prayer for Nigerians in housing distress

By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 8 Feb 2009
SOME three years ago, I attended a seminar where we were urged to sack our landlords. This simply means acquiring our own houses and putting a stop to the overt and covert harassment most tenants suffer in the hands of landlords. The facilitator, a good friend of mine, first prepared our minds by advising us not to regard any land anywhere as bush. In real estate, he noted, the land you regarded as bush today might turn out to be a hot cake tomorrow.

And so, not less than 10 of us set out to inspect some plots of land at Mowe, Ogun State. I was in front. Each time I turned back, I would notice that the number of cars following us had reduced. Being a patient dog, I kept on moving. At a point, what kept us company were goats, birds and whistling trees. By the time we got to the end point, I was left with only the agents and some lizards dancing about in readiness for copulation.

I didn‘t buy the land. The major reason was that dealers in building materials would not reduce the price of cement or rod because I wanted to build in a remote part of Ogun. What it costs to build in Ikoyi, for instance, is what it will cost to build at Mowe or Ofada in Ogun State. My real estate friend advised that I could still buy the land at Mowe, develop it and rent it out.

This sounded good. But then, I had reason to sample the cost of renting a three-bedroom flat in some areas of Lagos. That was when the difference between owning a house in a “first world” like Ikoyi and a “third world” like Iyana Ipaja or Igando in Lagos and Mowe in Ogun dawned on me.

Let’s look at the rent in some areas of Lagos. In a place like Ikeja GRA, a three-bedroom flat goes for between N3.5m and N4m per annum. In Ikoyi/Victoria Island, it is between N4m and N8m per annum. Some landlords even collect the rent in dollars. In a place like Ojodu, it is between N500,000 and N800,000. The same type of accommodation in some estates within Ojodu goes for not less than N1m. In Maryland, Anthony and Apapa, it is between N500,000 and N900,000. In Ogba area, it is between N350,000 and N550,000. The same type of accommodation in suburbs I call third world is between N100,000 and N250,000.

Even with this low rent, most tenants in these third world suburbs default in payment after the expiration of their initial payment. Sometimes, the landlord increases the rent to either make more money or force the old tenants out. Serious fighting usually follows this action. And in some cases, some landlords adopt unorthodox means to achieve their aims.

Last week, there was a report in the SUNDAY SUN about a landlady who allegedly brought down the roof, ceiling, and smashed the windows and doors of her tenant at Ojodu area of Lagos just to force them out. The lady reportedly increased the house rent, but the tenant was not favourably disposed to paying the new rent.

Some Nigerians have also had cause to condemn advance rent payment. Some landlords ask for as much as three-year rent from prospective tenants. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, last week, called on the Federal Government to make laws that would criminalise such an idea. The group believes the practice infringes on the right of poor and vulnerable people to adequate housing.

SERAP’s call is great. But I think Nigerians should look beyond asking government to criminalise advance rent payment. Housing is among the tree basic needs of man. Rather than the government initiating laws to harass landlords over how much they collect on their houses, why can’t it initiate plans that will make it possible for the majority of Nigerians to own their houses under a good mortgage system as it obtains in advanced countries?

In this period of global economic recession, every Nigerian needs to be more careful and more prudent in managing their finances. Some companies are sacking their workers. I understand that even some banks now do not pay full salaries to their members of staff anymore. About 75 per cent is paid as salary and 25 per cent is based on performance.

Nigerians may not think of committing suicide as some European multimillionaires have done. But since the downturn in the stock market looks like it will not be over soon, there is every need for all to think more of survival strategies. Investing in real estate, for instance, may be a wise move this period. Unlike stocks, land is known to appreciate with time. One should buy what one can afford for now. If it‘s Mowe land you can afford, please buy. It may be N400,000 today. In the near future, the same land may go for N4m.

The problem is that some middle income earners want to prove that they have crossed the poverty line. And so, there is some sort of competition to acquire the latest automobile in town. The banks have different schemes luring people to buy different brands of cars and spread the payment over some years. There is even a new jeep that is selling for about N2.7m, although the price seems to have changed to about N3.5m of recent.

Perhaps, this is why the number of cars plying Lagos roads seems to almost outnumber that of human beings in the state. Now that Governor Tunde Fashola is going on a massive tax drive in Lagos, it will not surprise me if he wakes up one morning to introduce tax on cars.

These are not the best of times for Nigerians, especially those in need of accommodation. Those who are desperate are at the mercy of agents some of who dupe them in the process. Some of the agents take different people to different houses and collect transport fares of about N1,000 each from them.

My prayer for Nigerians in housing distress is that they should think more of how to own their own houses. With that, they can plant flowers or do anything they like in the house. With that, nobody will have the audacity to remove the roof of their apartment.

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