How to Demolish a Slum

The best way to eradicate slums is to never allow one to develop in the first place. Unfortunately, the approach we take with managing informal settlements is the same we take with every other social issue: rather than treat at the early stage, we allow them to grow, and become malignant, and then deploy extreme measures to get rid of them.

Slums tend to develop in large urban centres for a very simple reason. Everyone heads to the city to find the proverbial golden fleece. While the constitution of Nigeria guarantees the freedom to move to any part of the country in pursuit of livelihood, it also has to be acknowledged that its major urban centres are not able to make the investment in the development of infrastructure and amenities to accommodate the influx of new residents.  In a more statist society like China, the response to this is to control movement of people across provinces using residency permits. Although state governments have attempted to use internal deportations to control influx in the recent past, it is clear that this is not a practical or even sensible approach to managing urbanization and its attendant problem of slum growth.

How then might a state prevent the emergence of slums if they are unable to control migration? There are two approaches, that must be used in tandem.

Fundamentally, there needs to be a massive shift in the mindset of policy makers to acknowledge that citizens have a right to the urban space. By nature, human beings (are) matter, and they necessarily must occupy space. Against the backdrop of equal citizenship, it is necessary to recognize that citizens should equally enjoy the right to the urban space, albeit such rights (as indeed all other human rights) must be subjected to overriding public interest as iteratively defined by prevailing conventions.

What this means is that, the man at Otodo Gbame should have as much right to the urban space as the woman at Ikoyi does, but that these rights must be moderated by overriding public interest. The spirit of this provision is to ensure that policy makers and city managers give equal importance to finding practical, and sustainable ways to facilitate the enjoyment of these rights. What has been sorely lacking in our public policy is any form of consideration for the rights of the lower income earner.

There is no conscious effort to provide truly affordable housing for the poor. For a home to be truly affordable for the poor, you have to be looking at capital costs of between N1m and N2m and mortgage rates of not more than 5%. Can this be achieved? With a lot of commitment and hard work; Yes.

A key to achieving this is creating windows within our current legal and financial frameworks within which the housing sector operates. From the legal point of view, it will be necessary to guarantee access to land to the poor, for example by issuing Temporary Rights of Occupancy to use available urban land on an interim basis. When overriding public interest then places a demand for a different kind of use for that land, the temporary right to occupy is then transferred to another land that ensures little disruption to the lives and livelihood of the poor. In conjunction with this, only building systems which are demountable and movable will be allowed to be erected on such lands, so that when the settlement has to be transferred, minimal costs are incurred. This is important when viewed against the backdrop that conservative estimates of the loss (capital cost only, not considering cost of disruption and loss of revenue from business premises) to demolitions in the FCT in the early 2000s was over N30billion. 

From the financial point of view, it is critical that the Right to Occupancy so created can be the basis of mortgages. This not only creates access to finance, but also helps to achieve financial inclusion for the poor on a more sustainable basis.

Furthermore, research has clearly established that there is a viable market at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP). Anecdotal information also shows that living cost index in slums is higher than that for formal housing. Slum dwellers for instance may pay higher costs for power and water  because of absence of amenities. This inefficient use of resources is further compounded by the massively inefficient and disruptive approach used by government in controlling the emergence of informal housing, all which are bad for an economy already operated in the least optimal methods.

Critically, the idea is rife that slums in Nigeria are almost always demolished not for any overriding public interests but to satisfy private greed. Developers who aim to rake in massive profits by redeveloping lands previously occupied by informal unauthorized settlements are more often than not the faces behind the masquerade. In reality, it does not have to be a win-lose situation. Faced with this challenge on a much larger scale than we see in Nigeria, developers in India for instance have taken more inclusive redevelopment approaches that protected the interests of slum dwellers even as they achieved their profit objectives as this excerpt below highlights.