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Displaced Residents Pay Price of Ajegunle’s Renewal

As at the end of May 2019, Funmilayo Afolabi and her husband had been unable to pool funds to rent a new apartment in Ajegunle, Lagos’ bustling urban slum. After their former residence, a dilapidated bungalow, was sold for N13 million in November 2018, their new landlord gave them until May to move out, with a stern warning that he would detach the roof if they failed to honour the date.

At the expiration of the deadline, Afolabi had only N40,000 when housing agents were demanding N200,000 to cover rent, agreement and commission. At the same time, the eldest of her six children, a student in Osun State Polytechnic, was making request for money. She started considering Okokomaiko, a Lagos suburb, where a self-contained apartment could go for N90,000. In fear and disorientation, she began to pack her belongings in handy fashion and kept them with friends.

However, like light at the end of a tunnel, a N100,000 loan came from a microfinance bank. She was lucky enough to find another apartment on the same street she had lived since 2002. To refund the loan, her obligation is N19,500 monthly for the next few months.

The acquisition of Afolabi’s former residence for full reconstruction by a new landlord is a prototype of the growing pattern of urban renewal spreading in low-cost areas of Lagos, such as Ajegunle. Such redevelopment in urban slums does not merely involve demolition and construction of better structures which tend to be costlier. Displacement is a key feature that silently relocates many into more underdeveloped and underserviced communities in Lagos, BusinessDay’s investigation found.

Tenants who fall victim of this are often faced with the harsh effect of short notice. They are faced with the problem of distance between the potential new apartment and their workplaces. Parents worry about the new school to re-enrol their children and bother most about affordability. Should their effort to obtain another apartment in Lagos fail, some victims of displacement are sent back as far as their hometowns to start a new life.

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Some landlords who choose to sell their property also go to their hometowns, but with a higher assurance of financial security to begin a new life.

Afusat Ajao, one of the 11 devisees of a bungalow on Ojo Road in Ajegunle, has plans to begin a new life at Igbonna in Kwara. A devisee is a person to whom something, especially real estate, is left by the terms of a will. The 56-year-old grandmother got a sizeable cut from the sale of her father’s one plot for N25 million.

“I am going back to my hometown where I was born. I’m not interested in building or renting here. Most people have moved back home after realising that the stress of living in Lagos is too much,” Ajao explained to BusinessDay.

“From the little sum that was given to me, I’m building on my husband’s land in the village. I plan to run a small bar there,” she said.

BusinessDay learnt many victims of Ajegunle’s renewal have had to relocate to farther distances such as Oko-Afo and Okokomaiko on Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Ikotun and Igando, among others. Many of these people had moved long before they were caught up in the demolition of their former residences.

Urban renewals are increasingly threatening social cohesion and inclusiveness of people, leading to forced evictions and in some cases brutal social changes. Few urban renewals that have taken place in Nigeria led to further impoverishment of urban poor or slum dwellers who were evicted from the area without any form of compensation or alternative accommodation.

Affected tenants are left with no choice than to vacate the sold properties. This translates into hardships as people have to move away from family, community and environment. Redevelopment of old buildings also brings about fewer low-cost accommodations for people.

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“This affirms that urban planning in Nigeria is poor,” said Najeem Adeyemi, real estate valuer at Lagos-based Ewenla and Mustapha Limited. “A government that is responsive enough ought to plan ahead to avert this unfortunate situation.”

Housing in Lagos State is inadequate both in quantity and quality, even as construction is yet to keep pace with rapidly expanding urban populations, leading to severe overcrowding and congestion.

A World Bank-assisted urban renewal project identified 42 blighted areas in Lagos metropolis alone. The State Urban Renewal Board has identified more of this in recent years. A large chunk of urban residents are crowded into these areas and other enclaves of low-income groups.

The problems within such settlements have continued to bother planners and government authorities alike, and the main approach used by Lagos State in most cases is eviction of residents, slum clearance and relocation.

A few instances of urban renewal experience in Nigeria need to be mentioned. The Ndoki and Aggrey Water Front exercise in Rivers State, the Maroko and Aja renewal schemes, among others, showed that rather than resolving the housing problems of squatter dwellers, it compounded them into worse conditions. It further aggravated congestion and pressures on infrastructure due to migration of displaced squatters.

Rasheed Osinowo, assistant general secretary, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Lagos chapter, blamed government at all levels for not prioritising on the people.

“It boils down to the fact that government should re-engineer their priority on the people. For example, there are various housing schemes they are proposing, and some completed,” Osinowo said. “But on the average it is unaffordable for low-income earners, even though keep saying they are affordable.”

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Nigeria may therefore need to take cue from the urban renewal experience in advanced nations. In the United States, housing conditions improved for those housing conditions were best in sacrifice for those in least.

In South Africa, the urban renewal programme in metropolitan area of Alexandria was targeted to reduce unemployment by at least 20 percent through stimulating income-generating opportunities for the economically active population of the city.

Experts urged the government to come up with policy to create opportunities for displaced persons, saying the protection of people’s lives and property should be the primary responsibility of every government.

“Our national institutions need to be strengthened to deliver greater access for displaced populations and affected communities,” Livingstone Oghenekaro, a Lagos-based realtor, said.

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