Abandoned buildings become refuge for priced-out residents in Lagos


Despite his professional stature as a commercial lawyer on Victoria Island in Lagos, Adekunle Adigun who earns 40,000 naira ($130) in monthly pay is still priced out and cannot afford a permanent place to live in Nigeria’s commercial capital.

For that, he turns to a man known as Papi, who leases space to Adigun and hundreds like him in abandoned and often unfinished buildings in the Lagos Island district – for about 200 naira ($0.65) a night.

“It is not ideal and it is a little scary, but everybody knows everybody so we are safe,” Adigun, 27, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as he sorted through bags of clothes in front of a bar.

Lagos is a megacity of about 20 million people in 2017 – which was initially designed to house 6 million people. Its attractive location on a lagoon has only fuelled its population, which the U.N. estimates could double by 2050, and rental prices, according to real estate experts.

Estate agent Moses Fiarama said that “a lot of the houses in Lagos are overpriced”.

“If we consider the minimum and average wages of the people living in Lagos, we can’t say the market for houses is working properly,” he added.

With urban planning far outpaced by the city’s growth, an overabundance of businesses has packed its island portion, said Oluwatos in Ajani, a Lagos-based financial analyst for BlackHouse Media.

“The mega-city plan is essentially a gentrification project,” he said.

“The government displaced a few waterfront communities, people that have existed in those spaces for generations,” he said. “Of course, there is no home for them.”

Idris Salako, commissioner for the Lagos state ministry for physical planning and urban development, said the government wants to make the city “a 21st century economy and destination for investment”.

“A lot of structures that are uncompleted or abandoned in the city may be distressed and not fit for habitation,” he said in a phone interview.

“Some of them are on drainage channels or unoccupied because of high rent or sales value. This government is working to resolve a lot of the problems.”

Adigun spends the night with more than 20 people in a bedless 100-square-foot room facing Tafawa Balewa square in the city centre.

Morning brings a scramble for water to shower, and by 5am the water is often cut off, he said.

While cheaper housing options exist on the mainland, Lagos’s traffic jams can add more than four hours to a daily commute, Adigun explained.

When he lived with family in Oworonshoki, northeast of Lagos, he spent more than two hours getting to work in the morning.

The government is trying to improve access to homes through initiatives like an affordable mortgage finance scheme.

A spokesman for the housing ministry in Alausa said that many structures on the island as well as the mainland were marked for demolition.

But demolition orders are rarely followed, said Ajani, with ‘landlords’ like Papi instead renovating the decrepit buildings to collect rent.

While police raids on such spaces have increased of late, no arrests result as money exchanges hands, explained Papi, who added that, at most, he must sometimes escort tenants to new spaces for the night.

At the same time ambitious urban planning projects like Eko Atlantic City have received a mixed reception among locals.

Dubbed “Africa’s Dubai”, Eko Atlantic is being built on Victoria Island next to Lagos. Developers say it will become a new financial headquarters for Nigeria as well as solving chronic housing shortages in Lagos.

Detractors argue that shiny urban centres like Eko Atlantic are designed for wealthy elite, and do nothing to help poor communities living on their doorstep.

Most Lagosians are priced out, said Fiarama, the estate agent, adding that “the Nigerian minimum monthly wage is 30,000 naira ($83). How will they afford rent that is upwards of a million naira?”

Back in the Lagos Island district, Adigun has given up on his living conditions improving.

“Now I’m looking for jobs outside Lagos. I hate it here,” he said. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)