We totally agree with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Ms Leilana Farthar, that the government should consider imposing handsome taxation on unoccupied houses, especially upper-end mansions and luxury homes.
Leilana, who was recently in Nigeria on a 10-day fact-finding mission, told media men: “There is an estimated housing shortage of 22 million units. At the same time, newly-built luxury dwellings are springing up throughout the cities and made possible often through the forced evictions of poor communities. These units do not fulfil any housing need, with many remaining vacant as vehicles for money laundering or investment”.
The prevalence of unoccupied mansions and luxury estates is worst in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja. Some of them are deliberately left uncompleted for long periods. These attract the presence of squatters of questionable security credentials, including Boko Haram cells.
No businessman or woman who earns their wealth through hard work would build estates and leave them unoccupied. They always do their due diligence to be sure that their estates will attract paying occupants. Many of them are owned by corrupt politicians and top-level bureaucrats who divert public funds and invest them in real estate.
In so doing, these corrupt politicians and their civil service counterparts deny the people the right to benefit from their taxpayers’ money.
The Federal and state governments need to conduct a massive verification and audit of all unoccupied mansions and estates in the major cities, especially Abuja, to ascertain the identity of their owners and their means of livelihood. Those found to have been unlawfully acquired should be forfeited to the government through due legal processes. But those belonging to people who made their wealth through lawful means should be taxed.
The funds generated from this exercise should be invested in the provision of affordable mass houses for the less-privileged members of society. That way, we can restore some measure of social equilibrium. The rich can keep their wealth; the poor will benefit from the bounties of the rich, while the corrupt public servants will pay adequate prices.
It is a serious sign of a dysfunctional society when a few people, particularly politicians and other public sector workers, are allowed to continue to corner the commonwealth for themselves, despite the existence of anti-graft agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, under a government that places top priority on anti-graft crusade.
In Lagos and Abuja, a lot of migrants fleeing from insecurity, terrorism and lack of opportunities live under bridges, yet we have the Federal Ministry of Housing that stopped providing housing for low-income earners since the President Shehu Shagari era.
It is a security time bomb that must be defused.