Anchoring welfare on housing for all (1)
THE 2015 presidential election campaigns are over – campaigns dominated by topical issues like the fight against corruption, creation of employment, stable power supply and the like. Surprisingly, none of the two major contenders said anything concrete about provision of housing! In other climes, housing is usually a major issue of campaign in national elections. For example, the Conservatives in the UK have started their campaign for the forthcoming general elections with a promise on what they will do about housing and which has generated a lot of debate.
The last time that the issue of housing featured prominently in electoral campaign in Nigeria was during the Second Republic. The candidate of the NPN then, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, did not put anybody in doubt about his programme for housing. The slogan of his campaign was “Food & Shelter”. And true to his words, on assumption of office, he embarked on a very revolutionary housing scheme of building housing estates in all the local government headquarters then.
Even though the programme was messed up by corruption and partisan politics, it was a laudable move. If successive governments thereafter had built on that foundation, perhaps our current housing deficit, which had been variously put between 16 and 17 million units, would have been reasonably cut down. Notwithstanding critics’ position, those one-bedroom houses (which they described as inadequate), have provided accommodation for millions of Nigerians who otherwise may not have owned a house.
At the state level, Alhaji Lateef Jakande symbolized his understanding of the housing problems of his people in Lagos by embarking on a gigantic programme of constructing low-cost houses in all parts of the state and sold them at affordable prices to low-income earners. (N5,000 for 2-bedroom flats and N6,000 for 3-bedroom flats)! Again, the critics were at work, they described the houses as inhabitable, good only for pigs! But today, many of the children born in those flats are doctors, lawyers, engineers, surveyors and what have you.
In the Third Republic, nothing significant was promised as far as housing was concerned. Therefore, it was no surprise that in the last 16 years of the PDP government, housing was not given any importance. It took General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) four years to realize the need for a separate Ministry of Housing. And even after the creation of the ministry, nothing tangible was done on provision of houses for the masses. Instead of building houses, the government was busy selling those built by previous governments to themselves and their cronies in the name of monetization.
Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua who succeeded him, had a seven-point agenda; housing was not one of them! Likewise in the transformation agenda of his successor, the current President; housing was not accorded any importance.
One is therefore worried that since General Muhammadu Buhari, the President-elect, did not make any concrete promise on housing the same way he did on fighting corruption, security, power, education, etc, we should not expect any change of attitude in the way our governments have treated housing as a non-important item. This is, despite the deficit of housing units, which is manifested in squatter settlements, slums and high rents, especially in our major cities.
On the individual level, housing is basic to all. After food and clothing, housing is next! When politicians steal money, they invest it in choice property all over the world – in the UK, U.S., Spain, Dubai, South Africa and of late, Ghana! Almost all human activities take place under a roof, except when we are on the road or on the field playing a game. Why then won’t we treat housing as an important need? The President-elect and his party, the APC, are enjoined to reverse this trend by according housing importance in the administration.
The World Bank and IMF are likely to advise only on creating the enabling environment for providing housing needs of the people or allowing the private sector to take charge. This is the same failed approach to supporting previous governments. Yes, the private sector should be encouraged to provide housing for the public, but experience has shown that the private sector cannot provide housing for the low and middle-income groups. And these are the largest groups in the society.
The private sector is in business to make profit and provision of housing for the low-income earners is not a profitable venture. Hence, it will not be of interest to the private sector. Perhaps, somebody can remind me of how many of the private developers in Lagos and Abuja are constructing housing estates targeted at the low-income cadre. I am not aware of any.
There has always been this argument that houses built by government are always more expensive because of the corruption usually associated with the award of contracts for the houses. The question we should ask is, does this affect housing alone? Is there no corruption in the award of contracts for roads, schools, hospitals, airports, etc?
If the answer is no, should government also stop the construction of roads, schools, hospitals and airports and leave them for the private sectors only? Corruption is a monster that should be fought on all fronts and not just in housing provision. This we are sure that the government of Buhari will curb.
The other argument that houses built by governments are more expensive cannot be substantiated. Private developers’ structures are much more expensive because the cost of finance and profits will be built into costs. This is why their prices are always in several millions and not affordable to the masses.
The other alternative is to give land to the people to build their own houses, but this is not feasible for the low-income for obvious reasons. Moreover, it is not an efficient way of utilising land, which is scarce and expensive in the cities like Lagos and Abuja.
To be continued.
•Chief Akomolede is Vice President, International Real Estate Federation (FIABCI), Africa Chapter.