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EDITORIAL

Time for state-of-emergency in Nigeria’s housing devp

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IT IS not an overstatement to state that Nigeria is currently facing a housing disaster and it is rattling the country’s economy.

  THERE’s no need reliving how terrible the recurring incidents of building collapse in many parts of the country  with  losses of human lives has been. But with two persons dying recently in Kano when a three-storey turned rubble in Beirut GSM Market, another four persons killed in a two-storeythat came crashing down in Kubwa satellite town of Abuja before similar calamity befell Lagos over the weekend when a seven-storey building collapsed in Lekki, claiming five lives in death toll with many still trapped or injured – all in just two weeks . 

The  phenomenon has taken  centre stage again. Pundits reason that  the fact that people are  desperate  to make do with just anything serving as shelter over their heads make them  ignore structural signs preceding some of the calamities. 

Given inadequate housing supply consistently driving many Nigerian urban dwellers into destitution and homelessness, many citizens opt to live in dangerous structures even when they know the suicidal condition.

Hence,  it is common to see Nigerians living in death traps, even if it is a 15-deck building finagled from approval for a two-storey, constructed by quack workmen with fake or substandard materials crassly below par even for one-storey. Should anyone in all honesty blame these unfortunate victims?

  THIS is where the country’s bleeding urban housing deficit comes for probing. And, with no end in sight yet, the problem is not restricted to quantity or stock but extends to quality of available housing units.

Inadequate housing units across country  and its resultant effects, such as growing overcrowding in homes and density of population in  neighbourhoods increase pressure on citizens for such  basic amenities even when they are unfit or in rapidly deteriorating environment.  

Available statistics are  so eerie to be ignored . The level of housing shortage in  Nigeria is alarming  and what quacks do in sharp exploit of the development is bizarre and extremely obnoxious.

  FOR instance, a report recently published by Bank of Industry (BoI) projected 28 million housing units, estimated at about N21 trillion, as what may bridge the gap in the country’s grave housing deficit. That the report provided no time frame within which the number should be delivered does not stymie the shortfall daily tails pining into crisis level.

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Hence, it is not for nothing that United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) projects that 75 per cent of Nigeria’s currently estimated population of 216 million will be living in cities by 2050, up from projected 60 per cent by 2025.

  THE agency expects this pattern of rural to  urban migration amid growing population to create an annual housing requirement of at least 700,000 units but also terrifying on similar count that no fewer than 19 Nigerian cities have population figures exceeding one million yet the country delivers  about 100,000 units through cut throat  private developers.

  UNLIKE elsewhere in developed countries where the  housing sector traditionally contributes immensely to society and economy, Nigeria’s case differ. 30 per cent and 70 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the  economies of United States, Britain and Canada, respectively come from the sector. In Nigeria, it yielded a paltry four per cent  in 1981, before decreasing to 2.08 per cent in 2011, and rising to eight per cent in 2013, following redenomination of GDP computation.

  ALTHOUGH these indices risk being dismissed as mere academics, the fact that investments in housing account for between 15 to 35 per cent of aggregate investment worldwide and the industry employs  approximately 10 per cent of global labourforce – apart from homeownership being a benchmark of household wealth as standard of housing indicates economic development and living standard in a nation – notches it on a rung that any country underrates at its own peril.

  NOTWITHSTANDING the importance of the sector, Nigeria’s ambivalence in the area is worrisome. This is underscored by  housing policies of successive administrations in Nigeria , all of which never noted that housing has been universally accepted as the second most important essential human need and  right to adequate housing is noted  in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948. 

Nigeria’s Vision 20:2020 for instance  conceived a financial system with housing sector  as a driver contributing at least 20 per cent to the country’s GDP by 2020, adding 10 million new houses to national housing stock by  developing one million units each year with at least 50 per cent in urban centres. 

The vision envisaged  about 202,000 dwelling units comprising 50,000 units in Lagos and 8,000 units in each of then 19 states for construction under Third National Development Plan (1975-1980) with N2.6billion budgeted for the projects for which only 15 per cent of the houses were completed by the end of the plan period.

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  SIMILARLY, an elaborate National Housing Programme was embarked upon in 1980 targeting people whose annual income did not exceed N5,000 for one-bedroom houses and three-bedroom for people with annual income not exceeding N8,000. The estimated target under the policy was 200, 000 units to be delivered under the  Fourth National Development Plan (1980-1985) for N2.6 billion but only 47, 500 were delivered across the then 19 states before N1.9billion was again budgeted for housing on the implementation of National Low-Cost Housing Programme.

  UNDER the military dispensation, housing still featured in policy formulations leading to building of Gwarinpa Phases I and II Housing Scheme in Abuja in 1996, by Federal Housing Authority in response to increasing demand for decent accommodation in Federal Capital Territory (FCT) following influx of people from Lagos and other parts of the country.

But these modest interventions nosedived with the coming of civilian administrations since May 29, 1999. At a point, federal government contemplated a new National Housing Programme targeting 5,000 units every year but this was not implemented beyond policy somersaults fiddling with ‘owner-occupier’ and ‘private-public partnerships’ or similar jargons that still came unstuck. In fact, there was widespread allegation that what happened was large scale sale of government houses to cronies that ‘paid’ for them below market price.

  GOVERNMENT also toyed with mortgage financing to boost housing development, targeting about 3.7 million housing units to be delivered in 2, 800 units in 14 sites across the country, including 200 houses in each of the six geopolitical zones in addition to Lagos and Abuja. Yet, this initiative came home dry and skint like others before it, because only 32 received their keys by December 2018 out of 55, 000 civil servants that subscribed.

  FROM these gory details, it becomes easier for anybody to see that Nigeria is neck-deep in the storm in the country’s housing sector for which only a declaration of state-of-emergency may salvage the situation. In doing this, federal government should set new targets including doing everything to deliver social housing at least by 60 per cent  by 2030.

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  FIRST, with housing as catalyst of economic development, efforts should be made to expand people’s earning capacity, not just by increasing minimum wage to those in paid employment but fool-proof incentives should be extended to Nigerians in self-employment to spread its multiplier effect across board.

If this is not done, not only will the few available housing facilities remain out of reach to low income earners, even if they are labeled low-income housing. This position is premised on the calculation that workers with N30,000 minimum wage, which adds up to N360,00 per annum, for instance, cannot afford two to three-bedroom accommodation going for as much as N500,000 even if they had nothing else to provide for their families and dependents.

  GOVERNMENT should also consider direct participation by monitoring private developers to ensure that their investments are not only brought to the level of ordinary people in need of homes but their finished products are also subsidised, in the emergency situation, to make them affordable while framework is strengthened to provide single digit lending for more people interested in home mortgage financing.

  NATIONAL Light also calls for recalibration of the Land Use Act of 1978 to disentangle land ownership from feudal strings still operative in the legislation thereby making way for easier access to land for many more people beyond rhetoric or sloganeering. We serenade this call because despite numerous amendments and ‘reorganisation,’ many Nigerians still do not find land ownership easy, especially in urban centres.

  BUT the emergency we recommend may  become   nothings unless there is a reality check on the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to bring provisions of Section 16(1)(d) within species of human rights enforceable under Chapter IV. We root for this position because constraining right to adequate shelter to its present status as a matter of Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy makes mockery of serious business. We say so, again, because except right to adequate and suitable shelter is actionable in Nigerian courts, there will be no basis of taking governments to account on whether the goal is delivered or not.

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