KOLA AKOMOLEDE, Vice President, Africa chapter, International real Estate Federation (FIABCI) argues that there is the need for government to accept housing as a social responsibility and therefore make budgetary allocations in the same way as they allocate to health education, works, and sports.

If there is any sector that has suffered neglect most in 56 years of Nigeria’s independence, it is the housing sector. There was little or nothing to write about our state of housing at independence but we cannot be said to be better today.

Except for one or two regimes, successive governments have always treated housing as a non – important subject. Our colonial masters who ruled us before independence could not care about housing for the public.

They merely concentrated on provision of staff quarters for senior civil servants who were British in exclusive areas called Government Residential Areas (GRA).

Hence for several years, there was no public housing schemes for the common man. Ironically, the British government that ruled us during these colonial years was involved in massive housing schemes in their own country through local council flats.

There was no ministry for housing until the workers strike of 1964, which forced government to establish a ministry for housing. But this was soon to be merged with the Ministry of Works later with little or nothing provided for housing in budgetary allocations. This was the situation until the Alhaji Shehu Shagari regime whose campaign slogan was “Food and shelter” came and created a ministry for housing. The subsequent military regimes again merged the ministry with works until the second coming of the Obansanjo regime who recreated the ministry of housing only during his second term. The Buhari regime has again merged the ministry with works and power! Above is a demonstration of how important our governments think housing is.

Mortgage finance is the bedrock of any housing provision scheme. Here again, our government has not done enough. The colonial government set up the Nigeria Building Society (NBS) in 1956 in conjunction with the commonwealth Corporation. This was transformed to the Federal Mortgage Bank (FMBN) in 1973 when government acquired 100per cent interest in the NBS.

During the Babangida regime, the National Housing Fund (NHF) was established to collect money from workers for the mortagage sector. Unfortunately, its implementation has left much to be desired. The Jonathan regime came up with the idea of the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC) but the effect is yet to be felt.

As at today, housing purchase remains a “cash and carry “matter, which is not the practice in civilized parts of the word. It is infact one of the reasons why corruption will be difficult to stop in Nigeria.

Over the years, the Federal government did not see housing as a social responsibility of government until the preparation of the 3rd National Development Plan. I had mentioned earlier the establishment of the LEDB, on the creation of Lagos State; the body was transferred to Lagos State which merged it with Epe and Ikeja Area planning Authorities to form the Lagos State Development and property Corporation (LSDPC).

There was therefore no other organ to carry out housing schemes at the Federal, level. However, in 1972, a National council on Housing (NCH) was inaugurated to coordinate the housing programmes of the Federal government all over the country. In that year, the federal government embarked on the construction of 54,000 housing units throughout the country. 10,000 of these were to be constructed in Lagos State being where the problems of housing were most acute. The NCH was the body responsible for the execution of the programme.

 In 1973, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) was established to replace the council. The first and perhaps most important assignment of the FHA was the construction of the Festac Town. The name was derived from the fact that participants at the festival of arts and culture were accommodated there before the houses were allocated to the public. It was a gigantic and very ambitious project but was abandoned half way. As at today, part of the land acquired for the scheme are still undeveloped. The FHA went further to build more houses at the satellite town in Lagos and some in Maitama and Asokoro in Abuja.That body would have made very significant impact on housing provision in Nigeria if it had sustained the tempo. Unfortunately, I do not know of any estate built by the FHA in the last 17years of the civilian regime!

The Shagari regime embarked on a very bold and ambitious housing scheme of building houses in all local government headquarters of the country. However, the programme was marred with politics and corruption as the contracts were given to political supporters who have no experience in construction.

On the other hand, some of the state governments through their housing corporations made some sporadic efforts at housing provision in their respective states. But these are just like a drop of water into the ocean. However, kudos must be given to the Lagos state government of Ahaji Lateef Jakande. Through the LSDPC, the State built low and medium income estates all over the state like in Ijeh, Iponri, Abule – Nla, Amuwo – Odofin, Ojokoro, Abesan, Iba, Ijaiye, Ogba, Ogudu, Omole, Alapere, Ebute Metta, Dolphin, Ikeja, Lekki, Ikorodu, Badagry and Epe.

Just like the FHA, you will have to ask several people today to know where LSDPC is having its current or next housing estate! All said and done, the housing situation in the nation continues to paint a grim picture.

This is manifested in high rents, overcrowding, slums and shanties. Many people sleep under over – head bridges while some live in squalid abodes good only for pigs! And there doesn’t appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel as far as the housing problem is concerned especially in the light of our current economic situation! The current minister in charge of housing has promised us the construction of houses all over the country I however doubt if this will be possible in the light of the economic recession!

Yet our population is increasing daily in geometric progression while the provision of housing is increasing (mainly through private investments) at an arithmetic progression! To redress this trend, there is the need for government to accept housing as a social responsibility and therefore make budgetary allocations in the same way as they allocate to health education, works, and sports. Housing is no less important as these sectors.

 

The private sector has been trying but the high cost of building materials have always affected the number of units they can produce. The Federal Government must do something in this regard. Custom and Excise duties on building materials can be waived to bring down the cost. Special grants or low interest loans can be given to local building materials manufacturers to enable them produce more and at lower costs.The problem of easy acquisition of land created mainly by the Land Use Act (LUA) need to be examined. Several areas of the LUA need amendment but this cannot be done easily as the Act has become part of the constitution. Our request therefore is to remove the LUA from the constitution to make it amenable to amendments.

Government must also look into several legal and regulatory impediments to mass production of houses. Getting approved building plan is still a herculean task in several states, to obtain government consent after acquisition of land can be a nightmare! Discriminatory laws and taxes that discourage investment in housing should be removed to encourage the private sector that had been the supplier of houses over the years to continue.

BY EDITOR

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