When Adanna Nwankwo was moving to Lagos, there were so many things she did not think of. Having lived most of her life, sheltered with family, in Awka and Asaba, she had no clue that something as vital as house hunting could be an invitation for multiple harrassments and discrimination.
In December 2020, Adanna, a first class graduate of English and Literature from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, moved to Lagos for her compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
Leaving behind what she described as a calm life, she told HumAngle that adjusting to life in Lagos has been difficult for her, as it is “a hectic town.”
Away from the signature hustle and bustle that the city is known for, real trouble started for her when she attempted to get an apartment closer to her Place of Primary Assignment (PPA).
Adanna works at an office in Ogba, and her uncle, who she lives with, stays at Ajao estate, 12 kilometres away. When the transportation cost, mental, and physical exhaustion were taking a toll on her, she decided to look for a house close to work.
She saved for an apartment and started hunting on January 9. Within weeks, Adanna told HumAngle that while house hunting is hard in Lagos, she did not expect the extra burden that comes with it. The burden of being female and unmarried.
“Most agents do not want to help me find a house the minute they find out that I am a single female corper,” she said with a tired voice.
According to her, the agents work with the assumption that she cannot afford to renew her rent because there is no man responsible for her finances.
Nothing goes for nothing
Very distressed, Adanna relayed her house hunting experiences to an acquaintance who works in the same building as her. He offered to help her with his ‘house agent connections’.
Upon his request, she met him at his office to give details on her dream apartment. She told him about the preferred location and price range. While she spoke, he nodded and assured her that he would “definitely” talk to his house agent contacts on her behalf.
She happily thanked him and announced that she was taking her leave. When she stood up, he gleefully said, “Wow, I like what I am seeing,” grabbed her hand, pulled her down and attempted to kiss her. Adanna told HumAngle that it all happened in a flash and she instantly gathered herself, shoving him with all her strength.
He recoiled but only because there were people outside his office. “The experience angered me,” she said.
“I am angry because I know he wouldn’t have attempted to harass a male corps member. He only offered to help me [find a house] so he could get something in return.”
Where is your man?
A few weeks later, Adanna finally found an agent that did not look like much trouble. Still, she had to endure and smile through his scathing, unsavoury comments.
She told HumAngle that one time, she voiced her dislike for a particular apartment he had shown her and he ignored her comments. When she pressed further, he said, “Even if you don’t like it, it’s your boyfriend that is paying for it so only his opinion on this matters.”
For the other apartments he took her to, the landlords did not want anything to do with her and they did not hide it. Adanna said that they clearly told her that they could not rent their houses to her because they were not sure she could renew the rent as a single female corps member without a man.
She also narrated how a landlord told her that she could not rent the house because she is a single lady and single ladies always bring men to the house.
Adanna never voiced her reservations to these landlords. She always swallowed them, as she moved on with her search.
When asked how she felt about everything, she told HumAngle that she has found them tiring. “They did not want to rent their houses to me because they think that since I don’t have a man, that I won’t have money to pay.”
Adanna’s story is a familiar experience for a lot of young, single Nigerian women in metropolitan cities across the country. In 2018, the BBC did a report on the difficulties young, unmarried, middle-class women face in Nigeria’s urban centres when they try to move into rented apartments of their own who have had to deal with landlords insisting that they can’t possibly earn enough money to rent their own flats without the support of men, be they boyfriends, husbands or “sponsors.”
Writing for Africa is a Country, Olutimehin Adegbeye said that this reasoning—displayed by landlords who are overwhelmingly male—is an unfortunate manifestation of the hostility that Nigeria shows its women in general.
“Our society, at least on the surface, is ultra-religious, and its norms are extremely conservative and patriarchal. Many Nigerians are incapable of recognizing or respecting women’s full humanity if those women are not in social or physical proximity to a man who can “claim ownership” of them, be he a father, a brother, or most effectively, a husband,” she said.
By mid-February, Adanna resigned from searching for an apartment.
“I just dropped the whole house search and decided that I will continue living with my uncle despite the financial and mental costs. Yes, it is stressful. Yes, it is expensive, but I don’t think the whole house hunting is worth it” she said, sounding defeated.