Mr. Jide Oke is the immediate past Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS). In this interview with Jude Njoku, Mr Oke who until recently was the Head of the Property department of Oceanic Bank Plc, speaks on how homelessness can be checked in Nigeria. Excerpts.
What approach should be adopted to stem the rising rate of homelessness in the country?
The best way to house Nigerians is to provide the enabling environment to those who are in the industry whose job it is to build houses and for everybody that is in the country.
Again, if you are talking about mass housing, you must be looking at affordable housing. And for you to have affordable housing, there are some people who are the vulnerable group. How do you take care of them, that is the low-income earners? People who are in the middle and high income can take care of themselves but the vulnerable are the low-income earners.
How do you provide houses for them and take them away from the slums or under the bridges? If you are going through the Third Mainland Bridge, you will see people living on water. What is the implication to their health? What of the children that will come from these people, what is the implication to the society? These people will take it on the society.
So we must look at housing beyond the face value, we must look at how somebody who lives in a decent house will relate outside or behave if there is an argument. Such are the people who will immediately resort to violence because of where they are coming from. But if a man is provided with a decent housing, he will know how to behave decently outside.
That’s how to analyse the importance of housing. Government should understand that. So, to house Nigerians, you must provide the enabling environment; you must ensure that they have access to land. For instance, mortgage scheme is completely dead in Nigeria and that’s why I am happy that the board of the Federal Mortgage Bank was dissolved.
I just hope that with a new board, there will be some kind of positive move so that they will look at housing as something that is very dear to every Nigerian. For instance, we are talking about sites and service. It can also help. If you provide sites and service, middle income earners can go there. What you need is to lay out the scheme, provide the infrastructure there, lay the roads, provide drainage, provide power and water and let people go and build their own houses.
Nigerians will go there and build houses for themselves. For the low-income earners, let affordable loans be open to them. Let them be able to access these loans. Why do people who live abroad behave more decently than some of us? It is not because they are richer in any way but because there are welfare schemes in place. They can get access to Council Flats which is affordable and they can pay over a number of years.
That should also be available in Nigeria. The mortgage scheme should be revived and revitalised. In Nigeria, the National Housing Fund (NHF) is dead. A lot of people contributed to NHF. What has happened to that fund? The money has gone down or disappeared. Somebody should be asking questions. What has happened to the pool of funds that was amassed from the NHF.
If people can have access to the funds through the Primary Mortgage Institutions (PMIs), we will have affordable housing, even if it is N3 million. They can build small small houses. Jakande of course, you may not like what he did, you may think that the houses he built are ramshackle and substandard but people are living there.
Let state governments come up with such schemes so that low income-earners can go there. It might just be some kind of minimum standard for people but they would at least be able to meet their needs. If government can do that, provide land. In Lagos now, land is like gold and so many of us have been pushed to the hinterlands and a lot of people commute from Ibafo, Isheri, Ojodu Akute in Ogun state to come to Lagos and work because land in Lagos is like gold.
Again, we must look at the Land Use Act, it is something that must be amended to make access to land more friendly. More importantly, government should come up with schemes that will meet the needs of the low-income earners. Everything should not just be for high income people who want to live in Marwa Gardens, Lekki or Magodo GRA. What about those who prefer to live in Ajah or Ikorodu or Epe?
There should be schemes for them so that these people will not take it on the society. When you do housing, it will have a concomitant ripple effect on the entire sector. People’s psyche will improve for people to contribute meaningfully to the society. Lets have some satellite schemes. Lagos State government should think of some cheap schemes that they can do for the people far away in Ikorodu. Locations should be provided where people can live decently in Nigeria instead of under the bridges and on water or in squalor like Badiya.
The Federal Government recently came up with a policy which increased the tariff on imported cement and restricted the importation to a few key players? What’s your take on this policy?
Yes it looks good, that’s the way to encourage and ginger activities in the country. But it is like putting the cart before the horse. There are certain things that must be in place; you don’t just carry out some programmes for its sake, programmes must be holistic, you must look at the implications. That’s the problem we have, people just play to the gallery in this country.
They just take steps to let people think that they are performing. But have you thought about it, have you carried out analyses of what would be the implication? You want to shut the door to importers, you must first be sure that the producers or manufacturers who are inside have enough to go round.
Government should have sat down to do the analyses. What is the total consumption of cement in a year, find out what is the production capacity of the people inside and what they can do including the importation.
Find out how much they would need to meet the gap. You should find out whether the three importers would be able to meet the needs of Nigerians without constituting themselves into a monopoly in such a way, that they would not horde the product and also hike its price to the detriment of Nigerians.
In construction, cement occupies about 50 per cent of the total material content of any building particularly because Nigerian system of construction is cement- driven which means that a lot of developers rely on cement. It makes it an important material input for construction.
It is just like you saying that you are reducing the importation of fuel in Nigeria. Do you know what will happen because everybody put his car on the road since we don’t have an effective transportation system. Government cannot toy with that, the same thing applies to cement to construction. The same way fuel is to Nigerians who are using cars is the same way cement is to people who are into construction in Nigeria.
So, before they embark upon such a sensitive policy, the must find out the total capacity of people like Dangote and other cement producers to meet the needs of the people. If you cannot answer that question, you don’t do it, rather, Government should provide incentives for the local producers of cement such that they can at least stabilise in their production.
These are people who are battling with so many issues – issues of power, tax and all that and you are now saying that those who are bringing in the product as a way of subsidising and complementing what is produced internally, should be shut out.