Documenting Rights in Nigeria’s Slums

An estimated 70 percent of the 23 million people who live in Lagos, Africa’s largest city, live in slums, often with no government services such as roads, water, and sanitation.

Residents of these unregulated and overcrowded settlements have little security of tenure and live under constant threat of eviction. The government does not recognize these communities’ legitimacy and government policies include the routine clearing of these settlements, often without notice or compensation.

The Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation (Nigerian Federation), an affiliate of Slum/Shack Dwellers International, and its supporting NGO, Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), are working to change this. The Federation and JEI promote community organizing within slums and empowerment through savings groups, community data collection, and partnerships across urban areas to encourage pro-poor government policies.

JEI also trains members of the Nigerian Federation as paralegals who work to protect their communities from eviction, resolve conflicts, and improve access to key services. Not surprisingly, the paralegals find they spend much of their time working to resolve individual and community-wide conflicts over land.

To improve efficiency and effectiveness, the Nigerian Federation is working to address some of these issues further upstream, by advocating for changes to government policy. This requires more detailed information about land tenure in dozens of communities.

“We want to generate a deep body of knowledge that allows us to advocate for greater tenure security for these communities,” said JEI founder Andrew Maki. “We need to start a discussion with government officials based on real information, not on anecdotes or preconceived notions.”

JEI and the Nigerian Federation are partnering with Cadasta Foundation to gather sophisticated and detailed information about informal settlements and residents’ claims (both customary and formal) to the land they occupy.

Cadasta developed a tailor-made digital questionnaire that allowed Nigerian Federation volunteers and paralegals to quickly and easily use hand-held GPS- units and tablets to capture and input a robust set of data from focus group discussions and interviews in more than 30 communities across Lagos.

The survey, which covered communities that are home to 26,000 households, includes information on: who, if anyone, collects rent from residents; who are the communities’ leaders; how long these communities have occupied their land; who claims the land both under formal law and under customary law; and other data.

“The platform presents the data in a way that is quite useful,” said Maki. “As we get deeper into our analysis, it will prove even more useful.”

A report on tenure security in Lagos informal settlements and a workshop with government officials and experts from across the region is planned once the Nigerian Federation completes its analysis of the data.

The communities involved in this effort now have key statistics about themselves and land tenure patterns across Lagos informal settlements – a vital step toward making themselves and their needs visible to the government.

Further, the data collected by the Nigerian Federation and JEI allows the communities to build their case for rights to the land they reside on by documenting their use of the land. This data also empowers communities to hold the government accountable if they
are forcibly evicted.

“Too often people only think about rural areas and farmland when they talk about land tenure,” said Maki. “Frankly, land tenure is far more complicated in urban areas. Understanding land tenure relationships is a critical first step in improving security of tenure, preventing forced evictions, and recognizing the rights urban poor.”

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