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A homeless generation?

By Helen Ovbiagele

After receiving a thunderous applause for the very inspiring/moving sermon he had just delivered, it was time for this man of God to bless members of his church for the new year.

“Now, steady yourself and concentrate on the release of these blessings.  Catch them as they come, and  as they relate to your situation. Are you ready?”

“Yeah, Pastor!  Ride on Pastor!” yelled back the teeming young people in the congregation.

In an authoritative and convincing manner, he began to pray; favour, vehicles, houses, good health, good jobs, lucrative contracts, holiness, open doors, etc. into their lives amidst thunderous ‘Amen!’

“Your miracle is on the way!  Don’t fail to come give the Lord glory in your testimonies soon,” he concluded.

With God, of course everything is possible, but as I reflected on those prayer points later, I wondered how many of them, especially the visible ones,  would come true for the majority of the people in their life time; given their current circumstances, and the conditions that prevail in our dear country.

The first that came to mind was ‘housing’.  Just how realistic is it for the majority of Nigerians, the masses especially,  to own their own houses?  The chances are very slim.

Having a roof which is actually yours over your head, is the ardent desire of many human beings.  It is a global desire which has been in man since the world was created.  Land and houses are so important to us in this country that disputes about them, form the bulk of cases in the courts at any given time, and some people are prepared to kill if their ownership is challenged in any way.

Shelter is part of  human rights.  Any government worth its salt would make it a priority to make owning their own houses easy for the citizens.

One may not agree with every decision that General Obasanjo made while he was president of this country, but deciding that the houses in Satellite Town Lagos, which government had built for the use of members of  the 1978/79 Constituent Assembly, be balloted for sale at very affordable costs to  federal civil servants according to their respective States of origin, was quite laudable. I know a few families who, to this day,  are still grateful to him for that gesture, because they had a house of their own in Lagos to retire to.

The category of  house (4 bedroom, three bedroom, and two bedroom) you balloted for depended on  your salary grade, and a mortgage was arranged with the Federal Mortgage Bank, so that payments were easily affordable..  This made it possible for low salaried civil servants – clerks,  drivers, cleaners, messengers, etc. to own their own houses; a thing they never dreamed possible.

Some sold theirs and relocated to their home towns, while some let theirs out, and returned home.  Whatever the case, the house became part of the deal for a better retirement for them, particularly these days when the government owes many of them, their monthly pensions.

Some have not yet been paid their benefits, many years after they retired.   The sales of the Festac Village houses came before those of the Satellite Town houses, but it was open to all citizens, and high prices meant that the detached houses and the  duplexes went to the rich, while the low earners got the ‘republic’ flats.  Still, this was some relief to many.

Since then, various state governments have embarked on housing projects, but these houses get priced out of the reach of the poor.  The private developers, with an eye on huge profits, are building for the very rich.  Some of their houses have been priced so high that buyers can not be readily found. Developers say that high costs of land in choice places, and the rocketing prices of building materials are responsible for high prices.

Even if you buy a piece of land, it may take you several years, or even forever to erect a house there because of the high costs of building materials. So, your dream of being a house-owner may not be possible unless the government takes serious steps to bring down the costs of cement and other building materials, which we’re told are expensive because of high costs of production and importation.

High costs of building a house means high rents for tenants; and that’s in a country where unemployment is high!

I was perplexed when I read ‘Glut, idle plants hit cement industry.  Dangote lays off 2,500 workers at Gboko cement plant; Lafarge WAPCO cement contemplates downsizing’. It’s a pity that such a large number of people had to lose their jobs, but shouldn’t the glut lead to a drastic fall in the cost of  cement?

‘Hopes of the nations’ industrial re-birth, through cement manufacturing sub-sector, may have dimmed, as lingering product glut, occasioned by unbridled importation of the commodity and high cost operations have assailed local production lines,’ says the news item.

‘Already, the Gboko, Benue State plant of Dangote Cement PLC, has shut down, with over 2,500 workers temporarily laid off, as the company awaits improved business environment to re-commence operations. Other plants that may soon shut down their production lines are Obajana and Ibeshe in Kogi and Ogun States respectively, belonging to Dangote Cement, and Lafarge WAPCO Cement Nigeria Plc’s Ewekoro II in Ogun State.’

The piece said that the President of Cement Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (CMAN), Joseph Makoju,was reported to have said, ‘In the last six months we manufacturers of cement in Nigeria have been storing tonnes of cement and clinkers in our warehouses since there has been significant drop in demand of cement and no market to sell our products.’ He said the association was not responsible for the artificial increase in cement prices in the country, adding that in the past four years, cement manufacturers have not increased the x-factory price of cement.

Oh dear!  This is all very confusing for the layman, isn’t it?  On the one hand, there’s is so much cement materials stored away because there are no buyers, and workers are being temporarily laid off; on the other hand, the prices of cement have soared because of seeming scarcity!

This government should seriously address the scarcity and soaring prices, and bring the costs of cement and other building materials down immediately, even if it means lowering drastically, the costs of importation.  The fact that our rulers can afford to build houses effortlessly, doesn’t mean that they should remain insensitive to the nightmare the rest of us are facing.


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