One issue that has been persistent in Nigeria over the years is housing shortage. With a current population of approximately 227 million, Nigeria ranks as the sixth most populous country globally. United Nations projections anticipate a surge to 377 million by 2050, potentially placing Nigeria as the third most populated country worldwide, alongside the United States. Given this demographic trajectory, it is crucial for the government to prioritise policies that will make housing affordable for the benefit of the majority. The housing shortage, especially in major cities like Lagos, has precipitated a multitude of problems, including cramped living conditions, insufficient infrastructure, and the exacerbation of socio-economic disparities.

In 1991, Nigeria grappled with a housing deficit of 7 million units, a figure that surged to 12 million in 2007, escalated to 14 million in 2010, and reached 20 million by 2019. Recent data from the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) as of January 2023 reveals an intensified deficit at 28 million units, with an annual increase of 900,000 units, portending an undesirable situation and major constraint to Nigeria’s ability to achieve sustainable development characterised by “no poverty”, “good health and wellbeing” by 2030. 

It is noteworthy that the Land Use Act of 1978 has significantly contributed to the housing crisis by being a clog in the wheel of housing development in Nigeria over the years. This Act was initially conceived to overcome land utilisation challenges hindering wealth creation and aimed to streamline land administration for economic development and urban planning. However, a critical change brought about by the Act, consolidating all land control under the governor, now hampers progress. This centralised control grants the state government authority over crucial land decisions, affecting occupancy rights, land transactions, urban designations, and compensation distribution. 

The acquisition of both the Certificate of Occupancy and the governor’s consent is hampered by prolonged delays and exorbitant costs due to extensive bureaucracy. The Certificate of Occupancy is exclusively granted to the original landowner, necessitating the governor’s consent for the legal transfer of property rights. This intricate and costly procedure acts as a deterrent for individuals and real estate developers, presenting substantial hurdles in the acquisition process. 

The protracted property documentation and registration process leads to shortcuts, undermining proper procedures, and hindering housing development. Additionally, it becomes a breeding ground for corruption among government officials. The issue of harassment by hoodlums during property development in some parts of the country could also be alleviated by a streamlined documentation process.

The Act outlines a process for land revocation and compensation, mandates giving adequate notice, and provides proper compensation to ensure fairness and due process when land rights are revoked, which is only permitted in cases of overriding public interest, yet this process has not consistently been followed by the government. When the government intends to revoke land where people have established their residences and workplaces, it should already have in place proper provisions and equitable compensation.

However, the Nigerian government often seems to follow the approach of “out of sight, out of mind.” Inadequate notice may be followed by abrupt demolition by soldiers and bulldozers, leaving landowners as squatters, the affluent becoming impoverished, the impoverished sinking into destitution, and many ending up in slums. The Act lacks provisions for holding the government accountable for their actions or inactions, nor does it provide recourse for the people in cases of an abuse of this “trusteeship.” The right for anyone displeased with the governor’s actions to seek redress in the high court should not be abrogated.

Conclusively, the government must embark on comprehensive reforms, fostering equitable land use policies and innovative housing solutions that will not only cater to the present but also pave the way for a sustainable and inclusive future. One of the primary solutions to enhance Nigeria’s housing sector is to reform the Land Use Act and establish an effective mortgage system. A well-developed housing market requires a functional mortgage system, which, in turn, relies on a flexible land administration system. Unfortunately, numerous efforts to amend the Act have been stymied because its provisions can only be altered through a constitutional amendment. This demanding process necessitates a two-thirds majority in both federal and state legislatures, which has proven too cumbersome, leading stakeholders to abandon their efforts in frustration. Nevertheless, regardless of the time it may take, Nigeria must address this issue earnestly.

Balikis Anoba is a Research Assistant at the Ominira Initiative for Economic Advancement and a UN Advocator for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

This article was first published in the Nigerian Tribune.

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Balikis Anoba