COVID-19 AND THE RIGHT TO HOUSING IN NIGERIA
‘Bunmi Afinowi LL.M (UNILAG), PhD (UCT)
Lecturer, Department of Private and Property Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos
The stay home directive is premised on the ground that people would be safer from the pandemic in their homes, that their homes are adequate to keep them safe and prevent the spread of the pandemic. The question then is, how adequate
While the lockdown and stay-home directives are aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, it highlights the problem of the inadequacy of housing for the majority of the populace. The failure of the government to fulfil its obligations to safeguard the adequacy and the right to housing make the stay-home directive particularly unbearable for the citizenry, especially the urban poor. For instance, the lockdown makes remote working and learning an imperative. However, the lack of energy supply in most homes makes remote working a futile exercise, also, most people’s livelihoods entails leaving home. In terms of safeguarding public health, the absence of essential services such as waste disposal, water for sanitation and hygiene, sewage disposal and ventilation in most homes pose a major setback in this regard. The absence of these basic services not only makes housing inadequate but could also promote the spread of diseases between households, especially an easily transmitted disease such as the COVID-19 coronavirus. Particularly in houses where tenants have to share
While Nigeria does not explicitly provide for a right to adequate housing, it is recognised as a fundamental objective and non-justiciable obligation of the government under Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria[xi]. In line with this government objective, there is the National Housing Policy (NHP) 2012, which iterates the need for qualitative, affordable and adequate housing. In line with international standards, the NHP recognises adequate housing as entailing factors such as accessibility, safety, comfort, functionality, affordability, and the provision of energy and other basic resources such as water for sanitation and hygiene all provided to ensure an improved quality of life and ‘continuous maintenance of the built environment for the daily living activities of individuals/families within the community’[xii].
During the pandemic, the living conditions of many inhabitants of the country made it impracticable to practice ‘social distancing' or isolation (in the event of exposure to risks of COVID-19). In general,
In the case of The Social and Economic Rights Action Center, and another v. Nigeria, Comm. No. 155/96, (2001). The African Commission held that there was a nexus between the right to health, the right to a clean environment, right to housing and the right to life. In the case above, the Commission highlighted the secondary obligations of the State to protect and fulfil these rights. Due to the non-justiciability of the right to housing in the 1999 Constitution, the decision in the above case provides a viable means for civil society and citizens to hold the government accountable to its obligations on housing rights by linking it to fundamental rights like the right to life and the enforceability of socio-economic rights. In addition to government action, self-help has become the order of the day as far as the provision of basic amenities is concerned in Nigeria. This is due mainly to the bureaucracy that characterises government action and slows down the provision of public services such as
For instance, in the thick of the lockdown, many communities received threats of armed robbery attacks, the communities formed vigilante groups
The novel COVID-19 pandemic has brought to fore the relationship between the living condition of the citizenry and public health. It exposes the deficiencies in our urban governance, especially the housing sector of the Country. This calls for a rethink and upgrading of the status of the right to housing in Nigeria. It also highlights the need for the government to fulfil its housing obligations to protect, fulfil and respect[xiii], irrespective of one’s socio-economic status in the society.
[iv] Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 ‘Implementation Guidance for lockdown Policy’ Quarantine Act, COVID 19 Regulations 2020 of March 2020, and the ‘COVID’19 Regulations No 2, Quarantine Act of April 13th, 2020
[v] Regulations 7, 8,
[vi] Section 21(1) of the Public Health Law of Lagos State
[vii] The Social and Economic Rights Action Center and the Center for Economic and Social Rights v. Nigeria Comm. No. 155/96 (2001)
[viii] Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights
[ix] Articles 6 and 14 of the African Charter
[x] Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
[xi] Section 16 of the 1999 Constitution of the FRN. By virtue of section 6(6)(c) the Constitution prohibits any action to enforce the rights provided for in Chapter 2 of the Constitution
[xii] 2012 National Housing Policy of Nigeria, adopted in June 2012
[xiii] UNHabitat, The Right to Housing, Fact Sheet No. 21/Rev.1
No 5 - This blog article is written under the auspices of the British Academy supported Critical Thinking and Writing Workshop for Urban Studies Researchers in Nigeria.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria.