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Govts And The Challenge Of Slums

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OsinbajoASIDE the intermittent lamentation by public officials of the problems and dangers inherent in slum dwellings all over the country, it is high time the authorities pay more than lip service to the issue; as a means of promoting the welfare and well-being of citizens. Notwithstanding the economic recession afflicting the country and attempts to redress it, any effort to assuage the plight of slum dwellers can only impact a holistic approach at making Nigeria a better place to live in.

The disclosure by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo the other day, that 40 per cent of African population live in slums where the rights of children were not protected is merely stating the obvious. The challenge of providing decent accommodation for the teeming urban populations remains an uphill task for most governments in Africa. Not even the rising rural-urban migration has inspired any concrete change in government’s attitude to seriously tackle the suffering of millions of poverty-stricken citizens living in squalid condition in and around urban centres.

The ugly situation has obviously been compounded by the fact that most African countries are battling with economic realities that have impacted negatively on the capacity of the governments to provide basic social needs, like housing, a basic necessity; in many cases, it is not even included in government programmes. And often when it is considered, it is elitist-inclined, of benefit to only a tiny fraction of the populace. Consequently, the masses of the people that swarm the cities are left to occupy make-shift shanties that serve as accommodation.

Hopefully, Professor Osinbajo’s observation, delivered as a guest lecture at the Dorcas Oke Hope Alive Initiative, 12th Foundation Day Anniversary in Ibadan, Oyo State may pass off as the beginning of government’s awareness of a neglected task. The lecture, with the theme, ‘Child abuse and the challenges of the African Child,’ was delivered on his behalf by his Chief of Staff, Ade Ipaye.

Osinbajo said studies have shown that 40 per cent of African populations live in slums because of poverty. In such a situation, child abuse would be rampant. He said, UNICEF records indicate that 39 per cent of Nigerian women, for instance, were married before they attained 18 years. He pointed out that everywhere in Africa, life is a living hell for slum residents as majority of the children in the slums have lost one or both parents because of preventable diseases. HIV/AIDS kills a record number in the slums, mostly women and children. He said nearly 2 million children aged below 14 years old are HIV positive in sub-Saharan Africa. Most are abandoned and left to die.

The slums are notorious lawless enclaves, where there is no security. Violence is rampant; people are killed arbitrarily and randomly. Trauma is high particularly among children.

Ironically, despite the abuses that were perpetrated against children, he said only two states in Nigeria, Lagos and Akwa Ibom, enforce the Child Rights Act, which was passed in Nigeria in 2003 in line with the United Nations framework for the protection of children. So far, 24 states have domesticated the law but only two are active in enforcing it. The non-enforcement of the Child Rights Act across Nigeria provides room for child abuse.

Professor Osinbajo might have captured the ugly state of affairs in the squalid habitations, but the UN-HABITAT gave a higher figure of slum dwellers; indicating that in 2012, around 33 per cent of urban population in the developing world or 863 million people live in slums. Out of this number, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of slum dwellers with 61.7 per cent.

This is followed by South Asia, 35 percent; Southeast Asia, 31 per cent; East Asia, 28.2 per cent; West Asia, 24.6 per cent; Latin America and Caribbean, 23.5 percent and North Africa, 13.3 per cent among others. While the slum problem is a global issue, Africa clearly leads the world in slum concentration.

Slums are blighted and overcrowded residential communities, usually in cities that have very poor housing condition and lack basic amenities such as roads, water, sanitation, light, etc. Poverty and unemployment are the essential factors that promote the existence of slums. Slum dwellers face hellish living with associated psychological traumas.

Reports say the Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project (LMDGP), a US$200 million slum upgrading credit facility from the World Bank, begun in July 2006, was designed to provide essential services and infrastructures in slum communities in the city.

So far, the project is focusing on slums at Amukoko, Ajegunle, Agege, Badia, Ijeshatedo, Iwaya, Ilaje, Bariga, and Makoko. The impact is still low, and many other areas are yet untouched.

Under the project, multi storey school blocks, drainage channels, primary health care centres, roads, boreholes among other projects, are expected to be built in the communities.

The Lagos State Government should ensure that the funds are judiciously utilised and the projects are diligently executed.
Virtually every other city in the country is afflicted with the slum nightmare. State authorities should rise up to the challenge and embark on urban renewal programmes, with high-rise buildings as an option to counter space constraint.

In the long run, governments need a backward integration that re-focuses on agriculture as panacea to slums mushrooming. A better life in villages with necessary amenities could help to decongest the cities and reduce the slums.


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