In furtherance of the plan to reduce the nation’s housing deficit put at 17 million, the Federal Government has unfurled a programme for the construction of 40 blocks of 12 flats each, in each of the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, who reiterated government’s determination to build houses in all the states of the federation and the FCT, said the buildings would be delivered in one year. Each state and the FCT will get 480 flats, making a total 17,760 flats for the whole country.
Although the17,760 flats appear insignificant in view of the nation’s staggering 17 million housing deficit, this initiative is a good place for the government to begin its intervention in the housing sector. If the government judiciously delivers on this promise of adding more blocks of flats to the nation’s housing stock, and goes on to replicate it several times in the next four years, the housing problems of many Nigerians would be solved.
We commend the government for this ambitions project and urge that it is executed as planned. It is, indeed, a step in the right direction and we urge that it is delivered with the high sense of urgency that it requires. Beyond these flats, we urge that the government also develops a scheme for low income earners who may not be able to afford these flats.
Considering Fashola’s antecedents in housing during his tenure as Lagos State Governor, when he introduced and successfully implemented the Lagos Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme (HOMS), we are optimistic that these promised houses will be built and delivered to the people who need them. The minister has said that he would draw from the Lagos model. That is good but he should use the opportunity to correct some of the criticisms of the Lagos project.
A major one is that the Lagos HOMS houses were very expensive and required an initial deposit that most civil servants and ordinary Nigerians could not afford. While we accept that building of houses is expensive, government policy must always be directed at defending the weakest and most vulnerable in society. If civil servants and privately engaged citizens cannot afford these houses, then, to what purpose is government’s investment in them?
The Federal Government must be careful not to commit huge funds into the construction of houses that the people cannot afford. We must avoid a situation in which only rich Nigerians can buy these houses and they do so only to sell at a huge profit to the moneyed class. This scenario is already playing out in Abuja and we must be careful to ensure that it is not repeated on a national scale.
That is why the minister and all the relevant stakeholders must think through this new housing initiative, or immediately design another that can accommodate ordinary Nigerians. The government must also properly cost the project from start to finish, to ensure that the final product is durable, cost-effective and affordable.
We all know what the average civil servant earns legitimately. The payment structure, therefore, should be such that civil servants can afford the cost of the houses from their legitimate earnings. There is no other way out of this, if we are to be seen to be promoting transparency and honesty.
We call on the Federal and State Governments to properly collaborate on this project to ensure a smooth take-off. There is no doubt that there is no state which is not plagued by housing deficit. States must, therefore, resist the urge to play politics with the project. We recall the federal mass housing programme of the Alhaji Shehu Shagari administration in the Second Republic.
A number of the bungalows built under that scheme ended up a waste as they were inexplicably sited inside bushes and other places that many people would ordinarily not like to live in.
So, the collaboration we call for this time must ensure that states allocate land in very good and attractive locations. The allocation of land for the project should be treated expeditiously. The houses should also be built up to modern standards. All the states and the FCT should fully cooperate with the Federal Government on the initiative.
When these houses are delivered, they will certainly raise the standard of living of their beneficiaries. The building industry, its professionals and other stakeholders will also benefit from the project. Housing certainly ranks high on man’s needs, along with food and clothing. It is, indeed, a measure of our general under-development that millions of our citizens do not have adequate shelter.
We must use the opportunity of this project to grow the local economy. All materials and resources required for the project that are locally available should be patronised. In effect, we should seek to maximize the local content component of this project and indeed, all other projects for the benefit of our beleaguered economy and our people.