By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi –
It is no longer news that the World on Monday 20 June celebrated the annual event tagged; Refugee Day, an international day organized every year on 20 June by the United Nations, to among other aims celebrate and honour refugees from around the world. It is equally common knowledge that the day was first established on 20 June 2001, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of refugees.
However, as the world celebrated, what is in some way newsy is that while over 100 million people worldwide going by reports, find themselves displaced by wars, natural disasters and other forms of hostilities and unable to return home, and other refugees were forced to flee their homelands at a moment’s notice, with little more than the clothes on their backs, there were even a larger number of people in today’s world and Nigeria in particular that unmindful of the fact that they have fallen into this troubling refugee bracket/category, not as a result of war as currently witnessed in countries such as Ukraine, Sudan, Afghanistan, and other areas currently faced with violent crisis or natural disaster induced displacement. But as a result of factors that has to do with government’s failure to adhere strictly to the dictates of the global call for the implementation of right to adequate housing which of course, is both a human right and one of the basic needs of man borne out of desire for security, privacy and protection from negative impacts of the environment.
Take Nigeria case as an example, separate from powerful statistics which made it abundantly clear that Nigeria is currently faced with over 17 million housing deficit and may require about 700,000 new houses annually to close the gap, a September 2019 report findings and recommendations on Nigeria’s housing challenge/deficit by Ms Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, made shocking revelations that every Nigerian of goodwill should be worried about. The report glaringly supports the belief in some quarters that we are not only casualties of housing deficit, rather, in applied sense, the majority of Nigerians even with roofs over heads, still qualify as refugees in their home country.
The report which has as a goal; assessing, the housing conditions of people in Nigeria using international human rights law and standards, and to determine if governments are meeting their obligations in this regard, was based on housing-related data, laws, jurisprudence and policies in several communities in three major urban centres: Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt and focused on vulnerable populations whose rights are most precarious,
It did confirm what has been on the minds of Nigerians as it describes the conditions met in the informal settlements visited as inhumane and an assault on human dignity.
That was not the only sad commentary.
The report also confirmed the following; one, that economic inequality has reached extreme levels in Nigeria. Secondly, Nigeria’s housing sector is in a complete crisis and there is no current national housing action plan or strategy. Thirdly, that Coordination and communication between federal and state governments seems lacking and private market housing is unaffordable for most, rental housing is scarce, requires tenants to have one to two year’s rent in advance and there are no rent control or caps; The report further established that in Nigeria as in many other countries, real estate is used as a convenient place to launder corrupt money, to park excess capital and as a means of financial security for the wealthy.
Leilani also remarked that the Nigerian government does not fully appreciate the nature and extent of the crisis on their hands, noting that internally displaced persons living in an informal settlement in the Federal Capital Territory live in appalling conditions. With over a hundred children attending a tiny, overcrowded one-room school run with little resources by an NGO, despite living half an hour drive away from Abuja’s city centre and the Federal Ministry of Education
This inequality underlined by the report, was widely attributed to several factors, including corruption and mismanagement of public funds, and a failure to implement just tax policies, whereby low-income earners pay disproportionately more taxes than do high earning corporations. Less than 6 percent of registered corporate taxpayers are active, and only between 15-40% of the Value Added Tax is collected.
Separate from the report’s expression of concern that State governments routinely ignore the rule of law in right to housing cases, what is in some ways an even more troubling manifestation of how seriously off track successive administrations have taken us as a nation, is the report’s remark that Nigeria is blessed as one of the largest economies in the world, just behind Norway and well ahead of countries like Singapore and Malaysia-and considered as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, albeit, reliant on the precarious oil market.
Yet, unable to meet the standard as set under international human rights law, which demands that states should spend the maximum of available resources toward the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights including the right to housing-this include collecting and imposing taxes, and developing mechanisms to prevent corrupt money from landing in residential real estate or other assets domestically or internationally.
This disgraceful treatment suffered by the vast majority of the vulnerable Nigerians in the hands of their leaders has created not just deep resentment and hurt the feelings of the nation but rendered all her citizens outside the government circle (corridors of power) as refugees.
Consider this example reported in-depth by the report.
It says; there is a consensus that the legal framework for land administration, especially the Land Use Act (LUA), is exacerbating the pressures on the housing sector. The manner in which the LUA has been used has resulted in severe consequences for the enjoyment of the right to housing. The LUA vests State Governors with significant management and administrative power. Governors can grant rights of occupancy and also revoke them based on an “overriding “public purpose”. ‘I received many reports of Governors abusing their land administration powers, including granting occupancy rights to family members and friends; defining public purpose in a manner that results in forced evictions of impoverished communities inconsistent with international human rights law, including for luxury developments that often stand vacant – unsold or unused. The LUA also makes land title registration cumbersome and extremely onerous to perfect’
The report observed something else.
None of the homes visited had running water, boreholes or portable water, thus most families have to pay high prices to access household and drinking water. Those who could not afford fresh water were using contaminated floodwater, resulting in cholera and other health issues. ‘I saw a few houses with latrines. According to UNICEF, diarrhoea kills more than 70,000 children under five years old annually in Nigeria, most of it caused by poor access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene. Nearly one-quarter of Nigerians defecate in the open’. The report stated.
Going by the above, it may in my views be said that; there may be a sincere desire by the government to develop the political and socio-economic situations in the country. However, it may also be thought audacious to talk of creating a better society without the government; whether state or federal, studying this report. Government must in addition tackle the problems of a battered economy arising from corruption, social vices, decayed institutions and homelessness.
This must be done not for political reasons but for the survival of our democracy and nation.
Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; jeromeutomi@yahoo,com/ 08032725374