To say that lack of adequate, decent and affordable housing has for long remained with us as citizens of Nigeria is to restate an already known and verifiable fact. A challenge that appears to cast a dent on the government’s self chest-thumbing and festival of vain glory.
Worse of all, the skyrocketing population and numerical implosion that does not align with the availability of infrastructure and social safety net on ground has amplified and exacerbated the trend.
With the critical role shelter plays in the existence of man, his security and indeed his sense of self esteem, the sector ought to command an appreciable level of prominence and attention in the agenda list of state authorities in line with the advancement of security, welfare and general well-being of citizens as stated in the constitution.
Sadly, this is sky apart from what is obtainable today. Our dear country still comfortably occupies a lead position in the comity of nations where decent shelter for citizens exists only in the world of fantasy, where citizens are solely responsible for their security and welfare and where decent shelter has become an exclusive reserve of the affluent and moneybags while majority of citizens squat in informal settlements.
According to a report by Proshare, the national housing deficit is in excess of 17 million units. Sadly, housing finance remains in its infancy and very ineffectual in our country. Its mortgage/GDP ratio of 0.5% is grossly inadequate when compared with what obtains in other climes especially South Africa where housing finance has hit 30%.
Far back as 2014, the population of Nigerians living in slums and unplanned settlements in the urban centres alone was reported at 50.2% according to the World Bank collection of development indicators. With annual growth 2.6% according to same World Bank between 2014 and now, your guess on the number of Nigerians living in slum households, which UN Habitat defines as a group of individuals living under the same roof lacking one or more of access to improved water, access to improved sanitation, sufficient living area, and durability of housing can be as good as mine.
Looking at the report of a non-governmental organization, Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa (CAHF) which puts Nigeria home ownership rate at 24 percent, far lower than that of Indonesia (84 percent), Kenya (73 percent), and South Africa (56 percent) one cannot but see a huge gap between the self acclaimed giant of Africa and other nations in terms of provision of affordable housing for citizens.
The organization also remarked that the major issues that continue to affect housing in Nigeria include constraints related to the high cost of securing and registering secure land title, inadequate access to finance, slow administrative procedures, and the high cost of land. It is clear that the mortgage finance industry in Nigeria is still in its infancy as stated earlier, targeting primarily high income earners and largely excluding middle and low-income earners. For the majority of Nigerians, mortgage finance is not an option due to the lack of a robust land tenure and financial system, and because loan repayment costs remain prohibitively high.
With this humongous number of semi/totally houseless individuals in our society, one would have imagined that a serious action would be taken in making housing affordable and accessible for majority of citizens. Expectedly, the government has like the ostrich, pretentiously feigned ignorance of this challenge or at best paid lips services which result and success story cannot be traced anywhere.
Few interventions rolled out by the government to address the challenge of chronic dearth of decent shelter have been suffocated by lack of clear-cut policy, political will, poor monitoring and evaluation, policy inconsistency and avarice. The Federal Housing Authority, equivalent of Federal Housing Administration in the US, charged with the duty of preparing and submitting to the government proposal for national housing programmes, development and management of real estate on both commercial and profitable basis in all states of the federation, provision of sites and services scheme for the benefit of all groups has achieved a very minimal result since inception decades ago. The Authority has been plagued with deep rooted corruption and hijack by those close to the corridor of power. Today, the schemes wherever they are found across the country is on the A list of expensive real estates. They have been sold off to money bags who can afford upfront payment, and place on the shoulder of our citizens an obnoxious recoup agenda, against the earlier installment repayment plan put in place by the government.
No thanks to the high cost of locally sourced building materials and indeed for importation, which inadvertently has made the high income earners, the real estate merchants to feast on the sweat of their countrymen. According to Nigeria and Road Research Institute (NBRRI), a large percentage of materials used in the Nigerian construction industry are imported. The Institute also said in most cases, the locally manufactured materials have relatively higher costs compared with that of other countries. Furthermore, it added that for the majority of materials, the local supply is almost always less than the demand, hence requiring importation of the shortfall to fill the gap.
This may be the major reason why legions of real estates in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and other cities have lied fallow and unoccupied for God knows how long. A trip around Apo, Wuse 2, Kado, Gudu, Maitama, Jabi and other highbrow areas of Abuja will startle any visitor as to how many of these estates that have been overgrown with weeds, occupied by rodents and wild animals when a lot of citizens roam around homeless while some of the structures have been on constant maintenance for spiders and cockroaches. No wonder these citizens who have found shelter under the bridges around the FCT soon metamorphose into dangerous criminals, threatening the rest of us, a glaring indication that lack of housing has a symbiotic relationship with social vices.
Instructively, these developers are not in any haste to bulge in their sky high pricing or give the houses in unit to those who may be interested. In a recent visit by this writer and a senior friend in one of the estates around Kado in Abuja, from the look of some of these structures, they have remained empty in the last four years, an assumption a security man in one of the structures Iliyasu Danladi confirmed. While some insist on total sale, others want corporate tenants who will come and have all the available units while they smile to the bank. Now what is the hope for a level 6 civil servant or low ranking security agents in getting a decent housing under this kind of arrangement?
The activities of some landlords who insist on upfront payment for two years and above before tenants could access their property is to say the least. The immediate past minister of Power, Works and Housing while he held sway as the Lagos State governor had had a reason to wield the big stick to end the practice. Paradoxically, his success in his tripod ministry will be a discourse for next day.
Needless to say that our citizens have resorted to fate in whatever befalls them. No one ever murmurs or complains. All the primary duties of the government have been relegated to citizens. The basic things any government should provide to make life more meaningful to citizens are conspicuously lacking while our people groan in frustration, despondency and total lack of hope.
While the few housed population can sleep with their eyes closed, informal settlers live in fear of government’s harassment and intimidation. They are being hounded around with unnotified demolition of their structures, an experience anyone who has lived in any slum area of Abuja can relate to. The administration of the former FCT minister and the current governor of Kaduna state, Mallam Nasir el-Rufa’i witnessed the unkindest cut of demolition of unplanned settlement in Abuja with brazen impunity, where citizens were displaced without any form of alternative, making them emergency IDPs.
There is no school of thought known to this writer that says affordable, decent shelter for all is possible. However, the rate of housing deficit across the country calls for worry. The rapid rural-urban migration in search of imaginary greener pasture that exists nowhere has also compounded the challenge.
An effective Public, Private Sector Partnership (PPP) arrangement can go a long way in bridging the housing gap that has become a hydra headed monster in our country. Why similar idea failed to record meaningful result in the past is because of lack of proper monitoring and evaluation by relevant government agencies.
The government should also encourage the local manufacturing of building materials through the provision of incentives such as tax relief, technical assistance and product promotion. By so doing, we will end the era where our jobs are being exported to foreign lands while reducing the housing shortage..
The Federal Mortgage Bank should be strengthened to accommodate all strata of income earners for optimum performance. The scourge of lack of shelter does not respect a low income earner.
Enemanna is the political editor ABN TV
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