When I relocated down East and started looking for accommodation in Enugu, I faced a lot of challenges. It was hard finding an apartment that was conducive, safe and relatively affordable. People advised me to pick up any available house I see and settle down first before I can make out time to find something that suits my “taste”. It was made to look as if I was looking for something unattainable because, as they all said, I can never find an apartment that will meet all my specifications. But then, most of the apartments these agents showed me were quite unfit for humans to live in.
The way our people sit in their houses are both funny and unfortunate. One of the apartments I was shown was built at a point where floods from two different directions converge and then make their way together into a nearby river. The house was tastefully built, with all the fittings intact. But anybody that lives there will not be able to leave or enter his house anytime heavy rain falls. Each time I pass that street and look at the house, I can’t help but wonder what the people that live in the ground floor pass through during rainy seasons. Things will be made worse for them considering that there was no drainage constructed on that street.
Another apartment that was shown to me was also tastefully built, with wide rooms and high ceiling. And it was relatively cheap compared to the area it was located. But two things “killed” that house. The first one is that it is near a very busy road and it is sited at a sharp bend. The next problem is that high-tension wire passed through the compound – not over the roof anyway, but it was so close to the front balconies that somebody on the second floor can extend a pole and touch the wire. And people live in that compound.
There are so many other challenges I can’t even start mentioning here but I want to believe the message is already passed. The truth here is that Nigerians don’t consider their safety and that of their tenants when they build houses. The desire to live and operate in “good locations” must be the reason behind this. Today we are talking about flooding and pipeline explosions. We hear of people coming out of their houses late at night only to get electrocuted by high-tension wires that cut without their knowledge. We hear of trucks failing brake and ramming into nearby houses and shops. We hear of buildings collapsing. The list is endless. But who should we blame for this?
Some people will turn around immediately to remind us that the government approved the building of those houses; and they are right. No house is built in Nigeria today without the owner “settling” those in the Ministry of Works. But I am yet to see any erected structure that was pulled down by the Ministry because of the risk it poses to would-be occupants. But that is a story for another day.
If you ask me who to blame for what is happening today in the housing sector, I will point my finger at both the land owners and their tenants. From what I gathered, people buy land these days based on how much rent costs in the area and not based on the features of the piece of land. When they acquire this land, they erect structures on it as soon as they can and then sit back and wait for tenants to come begging at their doors. Tenants will fulfil these landlords’ dreams by packing into the buildings without considering their safety. But if the landlord was made to wait for a year or two before somebody approaches him with half the amount he pegged for the rent, he will think straight before acquiring another piece of land.
As I blame the government for approving the sale and erection of structures on unsafe areas, I also blame the tenants that patronise those “greedy” landlords. Nigerians should learn to get maximum values for their rents. They shouldn’t let these estate agents talk them into renting unsafe apartments. The ideology of “move in first and then find better apartment when you settle” should not lure anybody into taking what will endanger their lives. Let’s leave these landlords to live in their “death-trap” houses alone.