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Why national service plots scheme wanes, by FG

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PHOTO: ITE Build & Interiors

With rapid growth of urban areas in Nigeria like most developing countries in the last few decades, major urban centres have witnessed housing shortages leading to the proliferation of slums and squatter settlements.

The inability of designated government agencies and bodies to provide sufficient and affordable housing units for the poor majority in urban areas and lack of necessary asset and financial holdings to acquire a “decent” house by majority of the people moving to the urban areas have further compounded the problem.

Due to a growing understanding of the dynamics involved in the development and expansion of squatter settlement, governments develop a number of innovative housing schemes to solve the “dilemma” of housing.

One of such initiatives adopted by the Federal Government, was the National Sites & Services (S&S) Programme, a housing delivery strategy originally promoted by the United Nations System and the World Bank in the 1980s.

The concept was adopted and first domesticated in Nigeria by then Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in 1986.

The key characteristic of the approach was the use of the beneficiaries’ “sweat equity” and other internal resources (community, financial and so on) in the actual construction and development of the houses.

With the intention of improving the environmental quality of squatter settlements and provide it with the basic necessary infrastructure; sites-and-services schemes became the byword for solving the problem of squatter settlements.
 
Under a wide variety of types and variations, the scheme involves the provision of plots of land, either on ownership or land lease tenure, along with a bare minimum of essential infrastructure needed for habitation.

The scheme amongst others aimed at increasing the pace of affordable housing supply in Nigeria without compromising wholesomeness of estates and neighbourhoods as well as addressing peculiar housing needs of different categories of persons with special focus on the middle income earners.

The programme was also meant to encourage individuals, corporate bodies and other employers of labour to join government in the task of reducing national housing shortages and promotes community cohesion and shared responsibilities.

Domiciled in Urban & Regional Development (URD) Division, which later transformed into a Department in 2003, the initiative was received with maximum enthusiasm by stakeholders.

According to a source, the first phase scored remarkable success in all parameters of evaluation including; number of land freely released and acquired from State Governments; number of plots allocated per annum; number of secured titles issued; number of housing units started and completed and level of basic services provided in each site.

For example, during its first phase, about 8,083 plots for residential, commercial and industrial developments were allotted to people in Enugu, Lagos, Anambra, Imo, Kano, Kwara, Ondo and Rivers. Out of these number, Lagos received the lions’ share of about 80 percent, as a total of 5426 plots were allotted to members of the public in the three sites located at Isheri –Olofin, Abesan and Satellite town.

At the Isheri-Olofin site, a total of 2,479 plots were disposed in three categories, involving 248 plots given out under the low income category, 1390 residential plots allotted in the medium income category and 841 plots allotted to others.

The Guardian learnt that as at 1992, about 10 States were covered and more than 9,000 allottees had already benefitted.

Laying credence to this, Head of Department, Urban & Regional Development (URD), Federal Ministry of Housing, Abuja, Mr. Chike Anikamadu said the scheme played visible role in arresting the proliferation of quasi-slum communities through strict guidance of private sector drive for housing supply.

One of the glowing stories of the sites and services programme, he said, was the successful execution of self financing highbrow estates for the rich at Banana Island, Ikoyi Foreshore, Osborne Road (Phases I & 2 in Lagos and the generation of surplus funds to treasury to cross-subsidize funding of estates for the low income earners.

According to him, the scheme continued to expand satisfactorily for several years, covering at least 25 States and the FCT, with the existence of multiple housing estates and sites within each benefitting State and more than 25,000 plot allocations issued in addition to issuance of C of O and other registered titles.

However, recent findings by The Guardian showed that the pace of implementation of the once applauded National Sites & Services Programme seen by stakeholders in the built environment, as a game changer in efforts at addressing the nation’s housing deficits has slowed down.

Realities on the ground also suggest that the federal government and other stakeholders in its implementation have abandoned it for the Private Public Partnership arrangement (PPP).

Lamenting the situation, an astute infrastructure, urban and international development expert, Lookman Oshodi said the change in focus is a demonstration of government’s inconsistency in implementation of a good initiatives.

Oshodi, who was one of the brains behind a recent training programme in Lagos on “Public Private Partnership for Affordable Housing and Housing Finance” in search for better approaches for solving housing finance challenges for the low-income earners and fundraising for housing projects, said the concept should be given more vigour in addition of other innovative ideas to minimise the nation’s housing deficits.

He explained, “By Sites and Services, it means that the state government provides the site free from all encumbrances and Federal Government designs the site, provides infrastructure and allocates to the public to build.

“But in PPP arrangement, state governments will provide the land and Federal Government will approve developer to develop, build and sell to the public at agreed price.”

Providing the historical development of the concept, Oshodi, the Project Director of Arctic Infrastructure (AI), a private organization with broad focus on infrastructure delivery, urban development and the environment, said the genesis behind sites-and-services schemes is not new.

According to him, low-income people have always been housing themselves, albeit “illegally”, in most urban areas of the developing world.

The key departure from earlier housing schemes, like low-cost housing or subsidized high-rise housing units, is that it recognized the ability of the low-income households to build their own house, provided an opportunity was given.

Particularly in face of the failure of the conventional housing approaches, coupled with a number of studies that pointed out the ingenuity and perseverance of squatters to house themselves, providing sites and services only was touted as a answer to the problems of housing the poor in developing cities”, he noted.

But, Mr. Anikamadu said the scheme slowed due to several factors, ranging from challenges in areas of funding, legal/constitutional complications, operational issues to emergence of new and competitive global trends in housing.

According to him, the programme took unflinching space in the history of this Ministry as one of its most impactful housing delivery efforts leading to the deployment of tremendous budgetary allocations and human resource to drive the process, however, in the past few years, no fund or budgetary provision was made to further drive the process.

Stressing that the programme was anchored on a silent subsidy element in which the Federal Government would provide basic services on every site but the cost implication of this element, he said, has continued to rise in the midst of dwindling public funds.

According to him, apart from initial installment of basic infrastructures, completed estates are supposed to be commissioned and properly handed over to well-organized Residents Associations who will form the arrowhead of continuous maintenance of completed estates.

“To the contrary, infrastructural services on many of the completed and functional estates had continued to suffer some degree of deterioration in the face of neglect by the community and government alike.

“There had also been zero budget allocation to this initiative over several years now”, he said.


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