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Refugee Day: War, disaster and government failures

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
23 June 2022   |   2:48 am
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, among other aims to celebrate

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, among other aims to celebrate and honour refugees from around the world. 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.

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; while other refugees were forced to flee their homelands at a moment’s notice, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

A larger number of people in today’s world and Nigeria, in particular, 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 a violent crisis or natural disaster-induced displacement; but due to government’s failure to adhere strictly to the dictates of the global call for the implementation of the right to adequate housing which of course.

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 also confirmed that economic inequality has reached extreme levels in Nigeria and that Nigeria’s housing sector is in a complete crisis and there is no current national housing action plan or strategy.

Thirdly, Coordination and communication between federal and state governments seem 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 being half an hour drive 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.

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 in 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 also observed that 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. 

Therefore there is need for government to develop the political and socio-economic situations in the country. 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 democracy and the nation.

Utomi is the programme coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; jeromeutomi@yahoo,com/ 08032725374