In an interview with Mr Lookman Oshodi of Arctic Infrastructure, we learned about how slums in Lagos state can be reduced and the different ways the Lagos state government can solve the housing deficit issue. Below is the interview by our correspondents- Esther and Lekan with the Project Director, Mr Oshodi.
NREH: Good morning sir. First and foremost, we would want you to give us a brief introduction.
Mr Oshodi: Okay Lookman Oshodi is my name. I work with Arctic Infrastructure as the project director. What we do at Arctic Infrastructure is that we work at the entire value chain infrastructure that is, from infrastructure planning, design, construction and development management operations and maintenance. We are very active in the housing sector. We are active in the water and sanitation, energy and transportation sectors. In all these sectors, we work across the value chain. That is what we do and for some time, we’ve been on this for quite a while because in the housing sector we believe that we have very strong footing in terms of the processes of making housing available to majority of citizens in different parts of the word, not in Nigeria alone, we have participated in quite a number of international projects. With that, I think that will prepare us to really be ready for the task ahead in view of housing, infrastructure, health care, any level of infrastructure in Nigeria, we are fully prepared.
NREH: Thank you very much sir. In relation to what you said, can we have a brief overview of the plans Arctic Infrastructure has to aid housing solutions?
Mr Oshodi: Arctic Infrastructure has been working with different partners within housing delivery because we realize that if we go alone we can go very fast but if we go together we can go very far. So far, we have developed quite a number of partners that we have been able to provide a plan for. Let me mention that sometime ago, while I was working with urban spaces innovation in Lagos here, we are able to develop a policy which we believe should be a good outlet for low income earners to have access to adequate housing and that plan was submitted to Lagos state government. With different partners especially with Heinrich Boll Stiftung we are working on another housing delivery process as well so this is a kind of policy influential project.
The title of that project is “housing types and mortgage system for the low income groups in Lagos state”. We are targeting the low income earners because if you look at the population composition of Lagos state in terms of people who are here, we have low income groups in the majority and of course, the housing need is so much imparted on these particular set of people. There is little or no attention in terms of housing delivery to them. If you go to the market, housing market generally, by the time they mention the prices, you will discover that it is far beyond the means of these people.
So our thinking approach, the plan is that there should be a system in place that will make this category of people have access to housing without necessarily impacting negatively on their income and of course, not just housing, if you look at the type of housing they have now, it is more of slums, informal settlement. The Lagos state development plan acknowledges that 70% of the city is in form of slums and informal settlement. So, if you have that kind of city with a huge number of weak population, definitely, the hopes on certain people or organizations to have that forward thinking approach. One, how do we reduce the 70% to a tolerable level? Just as we know, there is no country devoid of informal settlement and all but the percentage is the key issue. If you are approaching a percentage that goes beyond 20 or 25% , that means that there is a housing crises but here, where we are talking about 70% of informal settlement, that means we have a huge number to deal with.
So, the issue now is, how do we bring down this percentage to the barest minimum? The approach is that we don’t use force; it is through innovative strategies and approaches that we can make houses available to the low income people. We are also reaching out to other institutions to collaborate and make the process better. It is a long term process.
NREH: From my understanding, for a while, the Lagos state government has been embarking on discouraging slum proliferation. Do you mean that the Federal government has given you the liberty to upgrade slums?
Mr Oshodi: You know, our organization is more of a problem solving organization. When there is an issue of city crises relating to infrastructure, when there is deficit to transportation and housing sectors or the health care system, our organization comes in and begin to look at available alternatives that will make things work on behalf of the team. We work at the level of consultancy to governments, not only government in Lagos state but in different parts of Nigeria and also globally, I must say that.
It’s not that we have the liberty to go to slum communities to do anything. For that to happen, there has to be financial resources in place and the government has the key platform to make these things happen. What the government can do is to seek opinions and ask how to go about it.
We also bring the key parties together. One of them is the slum dwellers themselves. You see, to get solutions to certain problems, you really need to involve those who are in this problem. With their involvement, you begin to have a broad understanding of what is happening there and why we have such situations. Their opinions and enlightening will help to properly understand the situation. They are there, they understand the situation and can properly explain. The idea is to get them to have the capacity to transform the situation.
NREH: Still on the slum matter sir, you said that there is a bench mark, say 25% and at the moment, Lagos state is on 70%. Do you think it is possible that it is significantly reduced?
Mr Oshosi: It is possible. I strongly believe that it is possible and in getting there, there are quite a number of steps even though it may take a bit of time but then, we can get there.
One of the first steps to take, there is this idea about KNOW YOUR CITY. It is all about the city data, who comes in, who goes out. A city without a data really cannot achieve anything. I remember during the era of the former Lagos state government. They set up an institution, Lagos state resident registration. That is what that agency is supposed to achieve in terms of data mobilization to really know who we are and how many we are. Who is where and at what time in Lagos state but unfortunately, just like the way we set up institutions in this part of the world, we don’t monitor things so we are not really sure if that agency is still doing what it should but that agency is still there. The key thing is that the city needs that data if we really need to reduce the number of slums.
That’s one; two, is that what is the plan of reducing the 70%? What plan do we have? What are we targeting? How many years? In Lagos state today, there are quite a number of plans but when you look at those plans, they deal more with physical planning and development of Lagos state and unfortunately in development, it is not about the physical development of the housing itself. There are certain other social and economic characteristics which need to be critically considered in developing the plans. Most of these plans don’t have key ingredients.
Instead of saying in the next 20 years, we should be able to reduce the slum percentage to 20 or 30%, with the plans available now, it will take us another 50 years if all those plans are implemented accordingly. Considering the quantum of slums we have in Lagos state and considering the rate at which they are increasing on a daily basis, it will take time based on the plans we have. If we are able to get the plans right, another key area is the institutions. What level of institutions do we have that can make our plans work?
Part II of the Interview will be up next week.