Lagos Island: Tenants Rally for Rent Relief

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Working-class residents on Lagos Island organized a demonstration for house rent relief on January 7th tagged “Lagosians Walk for House Rent Relief.” The procession protested the high house rents caused by rising living costs last year. 

Members of the Take-It-Back movement (TIB) Lagos Island Chapter played an active role in mobilising for this mass action of Lagos Island working people and youth through several streets and areas on the Island, such as Adeniji Adele, Tom Jones, Tinubu Square, Igbosere, Catholic Mission Street and Campbell Street. 

The people’s demands were clear: housing costs had become unbearable for tenants, and the government had to step in to relieve the people of this back-breaking burden. The demonstrators stopped to address other residents of the Local Government Area at numerous points on the way. They were received with thunderous applause. 

Some of the points they raised dwelt on the fate of young poor working people who are just setting out in life and need to rent accommodation. Apart from the super-high annual house rents, such new tenants will, in addition, have to pay huge amounts such as rent agreement commissions of different sorts. These added up together amount to N1.2 million for a studio apartment, in a country where the annual minimum wage is just N360,000.

As the protesters noted, this dire situation is pushing a significant section of young people to crime and other social vices, all in a bid to make ends meet. In addition, many more people now live on the streets and sleep under bridges. This robs them of their dignity and leaves them vulnerable to both weather and unsavoury elements.

Housing is a fundamental human right. In Section 16(2)(d) the Nigerian constitution provides for the state to direct its policy towards ensuring that suitable and adequate shelter is provided for all citizens. But these have been empty words. The housing deficit in Nigeria is huge and widening. 

It quadrupled over the last three decades! The Nigerian working masses needed 7 million more housing units to provide shelter for all in 1991. By mid-2023, the figure had soared to 28 million! And those affected are, of course, poor working people. The rich few live in their mansions and estates. The government expressed concern when it announced that it would need N21 trillion to address the deficit. But our rulers fail to acknowledge that politicians in government have stolen even more during the same period.

It is also worthy of note that, while politicians in power have failed to address the housing challenges of working-class people, they have been quick to render scores of thousands of people homeless. 

We have witnessed dozens of demolitions of poor people’s homes over the last three decades, since the destruction of Maroko in 1990. One of the most recent of these demolition exercises took place in Oworonshoki six months ago. Over 10,000 people were thrown out of their homes, as they watched bulldozers raze the houses they once lived in, to the ground.  

In almost all cases, these lands which provided homes for thousands and tens of thousands of working people were later sold to the super-rich. This practice started from the very first case, i.e., Makoko, which has been turned into an elite suburb of Victoria Island.

We deserve suitable, adequate and affordable housing as a right. But we will not win the realisation of this right unless we unite and fight. The “Lagosians Walk for House Rent Relief” effort is a step in the right direction. 

SWL salutes Lagosians who organised or joined this demonstration, including TIB activists. It must not be a one-off effort. And its spirit needs to be taken beyond Lagos Island to the nooks and crannies of Lagos and all other states of the federation. 

There were attempts to form a Nigerian Tenants Association in the 1980s/90s by sections of the left. This did not translate into a movement because it was not rooted in the self-activity of working people as tenants. The event in Lagos today shows that it is now an idea whose time has come, emerging from conscious resistance by working-class people and youth. The radical and revolutionary left needs to help catalyse the yearnings of working people across Nigeria for humane and affordable shelter into a mass movement for housing and tenant rights. 

by Baba AYE

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