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Coronavirus fuelling increase in homelessness, squatters, say experts

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The economic fallout from the coronavirus has ruffled the low-income earners and created a new generation of homeless Nigerians in major cities, especially Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt.

The homeless individuals, include those laid off by companies and self employed; whose means of livelihood could not sustain their families, in the wake of economic uncertainties.

In fact, most of the people experiencing homelessness could not pay their rents; their only option is to squat with relatives or friends, while many others find succor in slum settlements.

Before now, most of the known squatters in major cities are drawn from Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), unsettled by armed conflicts, migrants and job seekers. But a new wave of squatters are emerging due to economic difficulties.

A report of COVID-19 impact monitoring survey recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that Nigerians are losing their jobs, as individuals and firms face undaunted challenges.

Statistics show that the poorest households have the highest share of Nigerians who stopped working (45 per cent), while 35per cent of the wealthiest households were also affected.

The households reported income loss since mid-March 2020 stand at 79per cent, while incomes from all sources were also affected.

One of the squatters, Mr. Emmanuel Iyawa told The Guardian that, he relocated to Mowe, a border community in Ogun State, after he lost his job with a blue chip company.

Iyawa, who is currently staying with his childhood friend in a room apartment, said he could not pay the rent for his three-bedroom apartment at Ayilara Street, Surulere.

The economic downturn also affected his wife, who was a rallying point, as her business at Tejusho market suffered a setback.

Another victim, Mr. Lawrence Ukpolo, was not that lucky. He could only find a space at an uncompleted building at Badia; where there was no toilet.

With a family of five, Ukpolo was eased off in his job in a hotel in the Mainland after the lockdown. He was forced to manage the makeshift room in Ijora-Badia.

The sorry tales of Nigerians who are homeless is not limited to Lagos, as the same goes for Mr. Chukwuma Ibe, who could only get a space at Karimo, Abuja, after he lost a cashier job in a new generation bank.

Ibe told The Guardian that his present abode is a makeshift house erected near the Karimo Furniture Market. “I would squat on the city’s suburban slums until another job comes my way,” he said.

Experts examined the trend and agreed that the government needs to wade into the issue of homelessness among Nigerians and proffer a lasting solution to the menace.

The Chairman, Imo State Branch of Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Dr. Cajetan Ohiri stressed that when a tenant could not afford his rent, he has no other option than to look for a lower and more affordable accommodation.

This phenomenon, he said, is called gentrification and could lead to rising squatter settlements.

According to him, this form of urban behaviour is more prevalent among the lower income class and can be seen around the nooks and crannies of urban centres, especially within the high-density areas.

“Long term and strategic planning have always been panaceas to prevent this kind of ugly development. Integrated economic, social and physical planning are more sustainable in preventing urban squalor”, he said.

Dr. Ohiri said the governments on the short-term should provide palliatives to subsidize household expenses on food, health, and shelter.

He also urged government to institute programmes, aimed at reducing employment and creating more profitable jobs. “By so doing, equilibrium could be maintained in the socio-economic system of every polity and reduce gentrification, squalor and squatter settlements in our cities,” he said.

On his part, urban development expert and Vice Chairman of Lagos chapter, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Lookman Oshodi, called for social and economic reform, through the formulation of robust economic development strategies that captures education, housing, land use, agriculture, transportation, water, and sanitation.

According to him, social and economic reform can reduce the incidences of internal economic migration and squatting across the country.

Oshodi also urged governments to expand the accessible rate of household stimulus introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria to prevent the rent scenario from getting to the peak in the medium term and long-term.


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