Every society needs a set of laws which stipulates the rights and duties of citizens, as well as regulate the conduct of the society. But law is often perceived as repressive and unpopular by majority of the urban poor in many developing countries who feel that the law has done little or nothing to ameliorate their sufferings. This article examines human’s right to housing in the Nigerian context.
The way and manner forced evictions are carried out in Lagos and other parts of the country shows a system that has no iota of regard for the right of her citizens. Given the importance of housing to the overall development and existence of mankind, it is necessary to first determine the existence of a legal right to adequate housing to warrant a demand by the citizen to fulfill this right and in order to appreciate the need for government intervention in this area.
The right to adequate housing is one of the economic, social and cultural rights, which has been guaranteed by a number of local and international laws. But their enjoyment in Nigeria falls short of the growing expectations of Nigerians in their desire to have them elevated to the status of fundamental human rights. This desire is a fall out from economic pressures, which have led to the emergence of extremely wealthy people on the one hand, who can afford the best houses, and of poverty-ridden people, who live in shacks in the cities and are in constant fear of being homeless on the other hand.
It is never ideal when a great proportion of national wealth is only enjoyed by a handful of persons to the exclusion of the less privileged in the society. Surprisingly, there are a number of international human rights conventions which duly provide for a right to adequate housing. Nigeria is a signatory to these international conventions and has also ratified a number of them.
At the national level, the right to housing is recognised in the constitution and other laws enacted at other levels which impact upon housing. The Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of the 1999 Constitution Provides, inter alia, that the “state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum wage, old-age care and pensions, and unemployment and sickness benefits are provided for all citizens”.
Closely tied to this provision are the various Rent Control and Recovery of Residential Premises Laws and Edicts in different states in Nigeria, which serve to give meaning and significance to the existence of a right to housing. Many of these laws reinforce the position that tenants in residential housing are entitled to adequate housing like their landlords and that tenants should neither be charged arbitrary rents, nor be evicted without due process of law.
Thus, there is a de jure acknowledgement of the right to housing in Nigerian domestic law. However, the housing problem has not generally been approached from a human rights perspective. The socio-economic forces currently at play in the country have cast serious doubts on the ability of the ordinary Nigerian to realize his rights to adequate housing. Rather, from the narrow construction of the fundamental rights provided in the various Nigerian Constitutions, housing rights have been relegated to the background of professional legal discourse.
Considering their importance to the majority of the population, particularly the most vulnerable segments of the society, it has become clear that an approach for the judicial enforcement and actualisation of the right to adequate housing needs to be devised.