Last Friday, inside the Conference Room of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in Mabushi, Abuja, was an assemblage of prominent stakeholders. They comprised of top government officials, media executives, businesspeople and local contractors. The atmosphere was fine. Something significant had brought them together. They came at the invitation of Mr.Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, Minister of Works and Housing. It was not an ordinary gathering. Over 5,000 housing units are up for sale online across 34 states of the federation. For that purpose, the portal that will open the door for Nigerians to apply for the available housing units has been officially launched.
The housing units range from 1, 2 to 3 bedroom bungalows and blocks of flats in any location of their choice. It’s all part of the promise made by President Muhammadu Buhari in his 2020 New Year message that his administration would deliver 13 housing estates in 2020/2021 under the National Housing Project Plan. By the official launch of the portal, the Works and Housing Ministry has delivered on that promise. And Fashola explained the decision by his ministry to sell the houses online. The decision, he explained, was to bring credibility, and transparency to the exercise and reduce human intervention, as well as give all categories of buyers a level playing field. This is good thinking. The idea to adopt online sale of forms and limit human intervention is not to indict the ministry staff, but as the Minister puts it, “is to make the system more accountable, and people seeing credibility if they win or if any of them are not successful, they will equally know that the system has at least given them a fair chance”.
It’s also a response to the sensed urgencies of the moment. As the Minister said, not only will this provide jobs and economic growth, it will also act as the “endgame of our economic objective”. Beyond that, he explained that the government did not just set out to build houses, the project was designed to serve other purposes, the first of which is to test what sort of houses Nigerians will like to live in so as to make policies that will guide its agencies and parastatals, as well as other stakeholders to build what could be acceptable in the markets. Again, this is strategic thinking.
In practical terms, it’s a way of telling parastatals like the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) that the National Housing Programme (NHP) of what they need to do in order to succeed in their mandate, and why they have failed to deliver in the past. Fashola was right, because, if in doubt, take a tour of some of the houses built by these government agencies, some of them still remain empty. That’s why the Ministry, prior to the construction of the 5,000 housing units had to conduct a national survey across the six geopolitical zones to find out what is acceptable. The findings were revealing. For example, it was found that, while the Northern part of the country has a preference for bungalows and a large expanse of land which encouraged building horizontally, in the Southern part of the country, there seems to be an almost general acceptance for blocks of flats, which tends to make building vertically necessary.
It must be said that the 5,000 units is grossly inadequate, but as the Minister said, the NHP “is a pilot scheme, to galvanize private sector participation”. It makes sense to understand that the purpose of the housing project is part of the government’s efforts to meet some of the objectives of the administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), especially at this time that the coronavirus pandemic has upended economies and livelihoods. At the time the federal government conceived the 5,000 housing units in 2016, the country was in recession. It is cheering that over 1000 local contractors were engaged in the construction of the houses. That no foreign contractor was engaged, speaks volumes of the capacity of our indigenous contractors to handle critical projects that will create jobs and stimulate economic growth.
This much is clear: housing is one of the essential needs of life. Ensuring that citizens have shelter is a challenge to the government and the private sector. Despite the existence of FHA and FMBN whose major mandate is to facilitate sustainable housing solutions, Nigeria is in serious housing deficit, both in rural and urban centers. As of 2018, Nigeria was reported to have a 20 million housing deficit (though the government has disputed the figure), the highest in Africa, with an urbanization rate of 4.78 percent. While the United Nations (UN) recommends between 8 and 10 dwelling units per 1000 people, Nigeria has only climbed up to as high as two dwelling units per 1000 people. It’s not acceptable. That’s why the current effort by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing should be seen as Fashola’s bold step towards bridging the housing deficit in the country.
It should be appreciated considering the role of housing as a tool for economic development. Sadly, in Nigeria, it accounts for only 3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while in other countries like USA, Britain and Canada, the contribution of this sector is between 30 and 70 percent of their GDP. It is estimated that about N59.5trillion will be required to remedy the gap. The sector is so critical to human development that it cannot be neglected. It has the capacity to produce a tremendous multiplier effect on the broader economy of any nation through forward linkages to the financial markets and backward linkage to land, building materials, furniture and labour markets. But limited access to finance stands as a major obstacle that requires immediate intervention by government. According to World Bank Report (2015), the contribution of mortgage financing to Nigeria’s GDP is almost zero, with the real estate contributing less than 5 percent and mortgage loans and advances at 0.5 percent of GDP. Until now, successive governments in the country failed to walk the talk on providing affordable housing to the people. The few they built were hijacked by cronies.
As the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mr.Mustapha Isah said at the launch of the portal, the current effort by the government and the Works and Housing Minister, should be seen as an innovation and an indication of commitment to housing delivering at the national level. What Fashola has done is a replication of his vision and simple rules of strategy when he was Governor of Lagos state (2007-2015). Those who were close to Fashola during this period, say he liked to measure the success of the policies and actions of his government in terms of their impact on people in different parts of the state. It worked for him with admirable sense of efficiency and speed.
That is what working with emotional intelligence does. Creative people are often motivated by opportunities to develop mastery and a sense of purpose. Good leaders succeed when the know what the people need and how to make better things happen by solving the right problems. Housing, by far, is one of the problems Nigerians want the government to tackle. The current housing deficit has been compounded by the high cost of building materials, poverty, poor access to the mortgage, and the rate of urban migration.
Altogether, there is a need for a sustained National Housing Policy. Over the years, many housing policies that would have bridged the gap was either halfheartedly implemented or outrightly abandoned. For instance, in 2000, ‘Housing for All’ came into the light but was stopped by bureaucratic red tape. In 2002, the Housing and Urban Development policy became law as a modifier of the Land Use Act. In the face of these housing legislations, the problem of housing continues to fester. Perhaps it’s fair to say there’s hope, optimism and fresh possibilities on housing for Nigerians.