LEX Files, Series

Lex Files: The Right To Housing

By Adebayo Okeowo, Nigeria:

From South Africa to Nigeria, Kenya to India and Brazil as well as many other parts of the developing world, housing remains a core problem. In this instance however, Nigeria will be the focus.

Nigeria should be progressively realizing the right to housing as allowed for under international law (Article 2(1) International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights). But on the contrary, it is rendering its citizens homeless in their millions, thereby driving them further into poverty. According to Amnesty International, over 2 million Nigerians have been displaced since year 2000 as a result of demolitions. The situation is so bad that in 2006, the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) categorized Nigeria as one of the three worst violators of housing rights the world over.

The statistics on the number of homeless people in Nigeria is shocking but of greater concern is the spate of reckless demolitions which never adhere to due process or minimum international standards. It is a human rights violation for the State to fail in its duty to provide adequate, decent and affordable housing for its citizens. It not only violates the provisions of Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) but also goes contrary to Art. 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)! Furthermore, the insensitivity of the Nigerian government to the deplorable housing situation shows that little value is placed on human dignity and this is totally unacceptable.

From Abuja to Lagos to Port Harcourt, it has become the norm for the poor to be forcefully evicted in a commando fashion, accompanied with such brutality which leaves people injured and some dead. Lack of prior notice or insufficient notice, no consultation, forceful removal, lack of compensation or the inadequacy thereof and absence of resettlement are some of the issues that characterize a typical demolition exercise in Nigeria. The United Nations under Article 7 of its Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development Based Demolitions and Displacement has stated that forced eviction plunges the victim into social segregation and intensifies inequality. It further constitutes gross violation of a range of internationally recognized human rights including right to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treating treatment and so on.

More grievous is the lip service the government pays to court judgments and in most instances, there is a total disregard to court orders and injunctions. It will seem government deliberately destroys the res (subject matter) and makes reparation unduly prolonged, if ever it is obtained. Therefore you find that as some poor victims of demolition in the Makoko slum community of Lagos State are passing the night in their boats, multi-million naira worth of estates are being bought up by the filthy rich just adjacent them on the horizon

It will be erroneous for anyone to conclude that I am against urban renewal. The aim is not to propagate a condition which is antithesis to development and progress. It is however impossible to accept the constant displacement of the poor under the pretext of an ambiguous overriding public interest and especially in the face of very robust provisions on demolition under international human rights law. To emphasize the importance of the right to housing, the African Commission had clearly set a precedent in the case of SERAC vs. Nigeria where it held inter alia that the right to housing includes a right to be protected from forced eviction.

It becomes imperative for Nigeria to act in good faith and uphold its treaty obligations. Let there be urban renewal and development but not at the expense of society’s poor.

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