December 23, 2021

Need for another look at our housing situation

One day, one trouble

By Adekunle Adekoya

JUST about a fortnight ago, the Federal Government launched a portal for the sale of about 5,000 housing units completed under the National Housing Programme. Works and Housing minister, Babatunde Fashola said that the portal is open in 34 states, and the FCT, and urged “government at all levels as well as Nigerians to use this opportunity and apply for the houses”.  Prices begin from N7.2 million.

Earlier, last month, during an investigative hearing at the House of Representatives, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila said that the housing deficit in the country has reached alarming levels, adding that the deficit is estimated at between 17 to 20 million units, and the country would need a humongous N6 trillion to overcome it.

However, Minister Fashola does not agree that there is a housing deficit in the country. In a July 15, 2021 conversation with newsmen at the State House in Abuja, he stated that there exists a  significant number of empty houses, particularly in the urban areas and as such,  the country cannot be said hold such a figure, and added that an official census must be conducted to give a definitive response to Nigeria’s housing deficit situation.

These are recent posturings by Nigerian officialdom on the housing situation in the country. As I see it, there is no clear understanding of the nation’s housing situation. Also, the diverse cultures of our people seem never to have been taken into account in formulating housing policies.

I will not go out on a limb to side with or refute positions taken on housing and its deficit, or surplus. What does housing mean to an average Nigerian? A bungalow? A flat? A duplex? Block of flats? Detached or semi-detached? Rented? Owned? Or the Nigerian coinage — “self-contained”?

Now, our Federal Government is asking those of us interested to come and buy a one-bedroom flat/bungalow for a princely N7.2 million. My take is that any Nigerian who has N7.2 million in his/her kitty, today, is not in need of a one-bedroom house, while those in need of such a dwelling do not have one per cent of N7.2 million.

A freshly-minted permanent secretary in the federal civil service who earns between N1,741,808 to N2,271,280 will need all of his gross pay for about four years to buy the house. Where then is the hope for the common man for whom the house was designed? Or was it not? Maybe I’m wrong.

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The response of the Nigerian government, through successive administrations to issues of housing has been staccato and un-coordinated, at best. Recall that the Land Use Decree, now an act, was promulgated in 1978. The law grants all Nigerians access to land, and allocations are done through issuance of certificates of occupancy (Cs of O).

You and I know how easy it is to get that. In 1992 the Babangida administration enacted the Urban and Regional Planning Decree 88, followed by a declaration of “Housing for All by year 2000.” We’re 21 years after that declaration and the housing problem is still there.

Despite various official interventions by way of one law or the other, fellow Nigerians, including those that wield the levers of power, are still buying land from each other. I am of the view that a fresh look needs to be taken at the housing situation, factoring culture and needs.

We lived in large towns and cities long before the British came; adopting their housing style, lock, stock and barrel, without consideration for our culture is inimical to our development as a people, and is partly responsible for the progressive decay in the system of entrenched, inter-personal, familial relations that drive our economy.

Dancing to the subsidy palongo

I know, and agree with a lot of Nigerians — experts and laymen — that the subsidy racket has to end. I also agree with the Bretton Woods institutions that have repeatedly advised Nigeria to oust fuel subsidy from our economy.

Now that we know petrol subsidy will go next year, the only thing we can do is to brace up for the challenges that will come with it, and those challenges will be hefty, from what I can see now.

Our Federal Government will be selecting 40 million of us to get N5,000 each as transport grant to help mitigate effects of subsidy removal. Good thinking, except that I don’t know what N5,000 can do for any Nigerian now, beyond paying one-way fare from one town to another WITHIN a local government, or a town.

If in four years government spent N2.93 trillion on subsidy, and will now spend N2.4 trillion transport grant for 40 million of us, we are having an unusual waltz — a dance with music provided by unseen, unknown, unheard artistes. Government magic!

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