Rural communities losing treasures to moneybags who sack indigent citizens from cities

Indigent people including farmers in remote and rural communities are losing their treasures at an alarming rate to investors in real estate who are on the prowl for land acquisition. Besides buying up available lands, developers are also buying up houses in many cities, kicking out poor tenants.

Innocent Duru examines the implications of the trend for food security and housing challenges for the poor considering that a large number of indigent citizens have no means of living in the expensive and exquisite estates.

Sam, a resident of Epe area of Lagos State, and his kinsmen have lived in the community for ages. In fact, they were born in the community and also grew up in it to marry and raise their own children.

For them, life revolves around the area. But the invasion of the area by investors in real estate lately has seriously unsettled them as they fear that their portion in the community could also be bought anytime soon.

“If that happens, we will have a serious crisis to deal with,” he said. “This is the only place we have known all our lives. We were born in this place and have in turn given birth too.

“Many people in neigbouring communities have been displaced after the land they were living on was bought. They are facing serious accommodation crisis.

“I don’t even know how some of them survived it. If you look around many remote parts of this area, you will see estates all over the place. Many of them have been there for years while many other new ones are springing up.

“The more estates are built, the more poor people are displaced.”

Another resident, who gave her name as Helen, said: “The poor have no place again in the society. When they buy the lands where poor people like us are living, they begin to sell them at outrageous rates, which people like us cannot afford. Where would people like us get hundreds of thousands of naira to buy land?

“Everybody cannot live in an estate. The annoying thing is that they have left the city to buy up land in remote places where people like us are managing our lives.

“It is unfair. The poor should also be given some space in the society.”

Aside from Epe area of Lagos State, checks showed many remote areas across the country, the southern part in particular have been invaded by people investing in real estate. Experts have put the figure of Nigerians facing housing challenges at 62million. The number, from every indication, will continue to rise as moneybags continue to acquire lands and displace indigent people living in those areas.

A resident of Mowe Area of Ogun State who gave his name simply as Hassan said the fear of real estate investors has become the beginning of wisdom for many tenants in the area and adjoining communities.

He particularly cited the ofada area meant for growing local rice as one of the areas that have been bought over by real estate investors.

He said: “Many parts of this axis have been taken over by real estate developers. Some people, out of poverty, are selling their property to them, forcing the poor tenants to look for accommodation elsewhere.

“This is a serious issue, because it is not everybody that will live in an estate and it is not everybody that will build a house.

“Poor people will have to live somewhere. But if the estate developers continue to buy every available land and house, the poor will not have a place to live anymore, and that will constitute a serious crisis in the society.”

The activities of developers are not restricted to Lagos and Ogun states alone. Checks in some parts of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, revealed that apart from buying virgin lands that were being used for different purposes by the people, developers are also buying existing buildings.

A victim, who gave her name simply as Gethrude, said: “I paid for a year’s rent, and when it expired, the agent, who knew that the house would be sold, asked me to pay another rent for a year.

“I agreed and paid, but shortly after I made the payment, the people who bought the house came and asked us to vacate. They only gave us three months as deadline.

“When I complained to the agent, he said the buyers would refund our money. But the buyer only ended up paying a part of the money.

“When I approached the local chief to complain, he said I should thank God that I could even get some refund.

“It was a huge setback for me because I had to go looking for accommodation shortly after a year, and paid fresh commissions for the new apartment.”

Farmers lose farmlands, investments to developers
Findings also showed that apart from indigent residents in rural communities, farmers are also losing their farmlands to estate developers.

Some of the farmers who spoke with our correspondent said the ugly development could worsen the challenge of food insecurity in the country.

A former Chairman of Agriculture, Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Prince Wale Oyekoya, said he recently lost his farmland to estate developers.

“I am a victim, so you are asking the right person. Our farm around Epe has been taken over by estate developers. They have taken over the whole place, and the place is meant to be for farming.

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“The military owned the place but it was given to Lagos State Government for agricultural purposes. The local people in those places have been displaced. The whole place is like a ghost town now because they have chased the people away.

“The Lagos State Government allocated the land to us for farming. But right now, the omo onile (land grabbers) are conniving with developers to take over the whole place.

“As I am talking, two of my workers were arrested by the police through the developers. They were taken to court and remanded in Kirikiri correctional facility.

“The arrested guys were just working on the farm. They didn’t do anything wrong. But they lied against them, claiming that they found ammunition on them.

“How can you arrest someone that is working on a tomato farm and claim that they demolished property worth N50 million?”

Oyekoya said prior to the time the developers took over his farmland, “we had made huge investments on the farms. We even had those who were into animal husbandry. We lost over 3,000 chickens when they came and chased everybody away.

“If you don’t feed chicken for one or two days, it will become a problem.

“When those hoodlums come to your farms, they are armed to the teeth. It is when there is pressure from the media and people like us that there would be a stop to this.

“Most of us have taken loans from banks, friends and families to do all these, and that would mean that everything would go down the drain.

“It is a big pain, and we are complaining that foodstuff is expensive. It is not only here. It also happens in the north and even in the east.”

Also sharing his experience, Afero Dalegan, a farmer in Epe area of Lagos State, said: “My farm was also affected.

“The Lagos State government gave us the farm because they collected the land on which we were farming and relocated us to where we are presently.

“Subsequently, omo onile started selling the land to estate developers. We cannot access the land anymore.

“They threatened that they would kill us and do all manner of things to us. They even brought military men with them.”

Implications for food security
Speaking on the implications of losing agricultural lands to estate developers, Prince Oyekoya feared that the country could suffer from severe food scarcity if the menace was not addressed.

He said: “Most of the farmers in Lagos State have had their lands taken over by developers. The same thing is happening in Benue and most of the northern axis of the country too.

“It is a very big problem, and that is why food production is very expensive. There is no land for people to farm again.

“The implication is that there would be food crisis. When there is no food security, there would be a food crisis. Prices of foodstuffs will go up.

“Farmers from Itokin, Erijinmowo, up to Epe have been displaced. They chased everybody away from the farm.

“Most of these people have no business in real estate. They are chasing us away because they feel that the farm is close to the Dangote Refinery and all that. Definitely, it is going to affect food supply.”

Also regretting the setback caused by their predicament, Idowu said: “Among us are poultry farmers who had 10,000 birds and were producing eggs. But now they can’t go there.

“The consequence is that the quantity of eggs going to the market will be reduced.

“I have cashew in my own farm. I sell it to exporters. I also have cassava farms but they are not allowing us to go there.

“It is certainly affecting Nigeria’s food security. It is also affecting the foreign exchange that the country is supposed to be earning.

“When I produce cashew, we always export the seed and get more dollars. When we export cassava we get more foreign exchange. But now everything is at a standstill.”

Farmers take battle to Lagos govt
Worried by the incursion of estate developers on farmlands, the affected farmers led by Prince Oyekoya paid a courtesy visit to the Attorney General of Lagos State during the week.

“We are just coming from the Attorney General’s office as we are talking now,” Prince Oyekoya said.

“The Attorney General said this is a big problem because most of the farmland that they gave to farmers has been taken over by developers.

“In fact, it seems you are reading the mind of the Attorney General. I told the Attorney General that all he needs to do is to strengthen the Land Grabbers’ office.”

Also corroborating Prince Adekoya, Dalegan said: “We met the honourable Commissioner for Justice and he was sympathetic with us. He promised that he was going to look into it.

“But you know how the government works. When they tell you they will do something, it may take time.”

Estate developers exposing rural people to security challenges – Builder Awobodu
A former President of the Nigerian Institute of Builders, Kunle Awobodu, in a telephone chat with our correspondent, noted that rural dwellers are constantly exposed to security challenges as they have to further move into isolated areas, each time estate developers displace them from their communities.

He said: “For those people in the rural areas, they would have to go further into the forest. It is unfortunate but that is what is happening.

“When rural people are made to go further into the forest, it is another level of suffering.

“When you go to the outskirts of a town, not a city, it is another level of suffering.

“When you go deep into the outskirts, you are exposed to attacks from criminals. That is what those who stay on the outskirts face. Whenever they go to work and come back, hoodlums would have stolen their little property.

“Staying on the outskirts has security implications, but that is the fault of the local chiefs, and government. When the government is taking land from communities, they always excise some plots of land.

“If the government does not take the land where people are already occupying, why would they allow developers to do that?

“It is recklessness. The local chiefs and land owners are guilty of that.”

In spite of the rush by estate developers to acquire large expanses of land by estate developers, Awobodu said most of those estates are not really developed.

“If you go to Ofada area, you will see so many estates. They wouldn’t build any house. All they will build are sample buildings for exhibition and a large expanse of land will be there for years.

“It is for speculation. They are trying to speculate into the future that in five years, six years or ten years’ time, development will get to those areas and the land could be resold.

“Don’t mind them, because they may not develop the estate in future. It is part of speculation.

“On the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, they are many there. Also when you are heading towards Epe and Ijebu Ode, they are many there. It is all part of speculation.

“When they take land from the indigene or people within that area, well, I don’t know why those ones will accept that. It is part of speculation. It is a business.

“When you have some money, property is a business you can invest money in for years and reap bountifully. People bought some of those lands and discovered that those places are not yet habitable.”

Some of the displaced people, according to Awobodu, don’t own the land.

Explaining further, he said: “What is happening in Abuja is that some of the lands that have been acquired, those who are working in the city will go and set up temporary shelter they know might be demolished after a while. It is just for them to manage with their family.

“From there, they will be going to work in the centre of the city. That is why in developed countries now, they try to provide accommodation, they have some specific buildings in the centre of the city where the low income earners can stay not far from their offices.

“There is the existence of societal stratification in the society. The people at the lower wrung of the ladder in the society are so many and they are so contented that most of them occupy tenement buildings popularly called ‘face me I face you’.

“You would find a whole family staying in a room. All the tenants in the house are using a common toilet and common kitchen.

“When you go to a village setting too, it is more or less like that. But the elite stay in a six-bedroom or three-bedroom apartment, and at the end of the day, not all the rooms are occupied.

“It is a societal contradiction.”

Also commenting on developers who are buying up existing buildings and sending the tenants out, Awobodu said the solution lies in adopting the late Lateef Jakande, the former Lagos State governor’s approach to solving housing problems.

“This is an area where we have to remember people like the late Jakande who built rent-to-own houses. He built so many houses where you would be paying rent and later own it.

“That is the recommendation that we are making for the low income earners. We have been advocating this for a long time. We said there should be a deliberate housing scheme that will consider low income earners.

“This is what the new minister of housing and urban development is working towards. That is what he is doing presently. We pray that state governments would emulate that.

“The Lagos State Government has also built some houses that are meant to be rent-to-own. That is a way of overcoming this challenge.”

62 million Nigerians facing housing crisis
Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Sow Real Estate, Mrs Uzo Onukwubiri, recently put the figure of Nigerians facing housing crisis at 62 mllion.

She said: “Nigeria has an estimated population of about 200 million people, and about 30 per cent of the entire population still struggle with quality shelter and housing crisis.

“This implies that urgent attention should be placed on the country’s housing sector if the housing needs of the inhabitants are to be met.

“One key issue affecting housing delivery in Nigeria is that the level of housing shortage has not been adequately presented. This is a result of inadequate and inappropriate statistics and data by the managers of housing in Nigeria.

“However, there have been attempts to estimate the magnitude of the housing shortage in Nigeria. The National Housing Policy specified in detail that to achieve the goal of providing 15 million housing units by the year 2022, 1.2 million housing units would have to be built each year.

“It concluded that this number is necessary to compensate for the housing shortage in the country.

“It is estimated that around 100,000 housing units are built each year, and an average of 80% of Nigerians live in informal housing, which is plagued by problems related to poor quality and inadequate infrastructure.

“Although the exact reasons for the housing shortage vary across the country, the main problem in Nigeria is the low income of residents. This is problematic since privately constructed houses are expected to comply with official planning laws and other costs incurred during the construction of the house.

“Huge resources including effort, time, materials and money have been devoted to planning the Nigerian environment at the national and sub-national levels. Nonetheless, the various challenges that have been, and are being addressed have hardly diminished. In fact, the problems of housing shortages such as physical deterioration, poverty, inadequacies and inequality in the service delivery system have escalated. The incidence and growth of these problems seem to outpace the capacity of the government to take them on. Nigerians are faced with the fact that their cities are in trouble and that there is an urgent need to do something that will ameliorate the emerging problems.”

The President Bola Tinubu-led federal government in October announced its plans to build 34,500 houses across the country in a move aimed at addressing the housing shortage in the country.

The Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Mr Ahmed Musa Dangiwa, stated this when the Executive Governor of Taraba State, Agbu Kefas, paid a courtesy visit to the ministry in Abuja.

Dangiwa said as part of the first phase of the ‘Renewed Hope Cities Project’, the Federal Government aims to construct approximately 34,500 houses across the country.

This initiative will be carried out via a combination of the Federal Mortgage Bank, Federal Housing Authority, and Private-Public Partnerships (PPP).

He said: “With this project alone, we aim to create over 240,000 jobs at 7 per housing unit. This is in line with Mr. President’s goal to create jobs, lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty and grow the economy.

“In doing this, the government was building for the 80% of Nigerians who fall within the non-income, low-income and medium-income brackets. We are focusing on affordability but without compromising quality.”

He also said the ministry was collaborating with the National Population Commission (NPC) to determine the actual housing deficit in the country.

Dangiwa said: “Our in-house estimates show that for us to meet the housing needs of Nigerians, we need to build about 550,000 new homes per annum over the next 10 years.”

The minister also disclosed that the Ministry had communicated with state governors, requesting approximately 50 hectares of land at no cost for Renewed Hope Cities.

According to him, this approach would enable the Ministry to offer the houses at a price that Nigerians could afford.

He also sought the governor’s support as the ministry intended to revise the Land Use Act of 1978 to streamline land administration and facilitate access to land, making it a more efficient, rapid and cost-effective process with the enactment and adoption of the model mortgage foreclosure law that establishes mortgage registries.

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