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The paradox of huge deficit housing

By Luke Onyekakeyah
10 March 2020   |   4:34 am
The oft quoted huge housing deficit in Nigeria may be mere exaggeration considering that there are millions of unoccupied houses of different descriptions scattered all over the country.

The oft quoted huge housing deficit in Nigeria may be mere exaggeration considering that there are millions of unoccupied houses of different descriptions scattered all over the country. This fact puts to question what constitutes the housing deficit and how were the figures obtained. The point is that the 17 million housing deficit often cited may be a farce when viewed critically.

To start with, what is the source of this prevailing statistics? How were the figures arrived at? When we talk of housing deficit, are we talking about houses not built by government at all levels or private houses or both? On that account, what is the way out; is it by government or private sector intervention or both?

Across Nigeria, there are millions of unoccupied housing units; are those included in the housing deficit? For instance, some researches have shown that in many towns and villages in rural Nigeria, thousands of people have built houses that are locked up without anyone occupying them. Are those houses part of the deficit?

In Anambra State, thousands of people have erected mansions as village homes that are put under lock unoccupied. Most owners of such houses are in the cities where they live in substandard houses that can’t in any way compare with the houses they built and left at home! It would be wrong to include owners of big houses in rural Nigeria among people facing housing deficit in the cities.

Viewed from this angle, the huge housing deficit may be more in the imagination than reality. The problem in such cases is location – where people chose to live at a particular time rather than lack of housing in the real sense of the word. Also, lack of effective housing development policy contributes to the problem. Surprisingly, Nigerian authorities have accepted the unproven huge housing deficit and often refer to it anywhere the issue of housing is being discussed.

For instance, not long ago, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, while speaking at the 2017 Housing Summit in Abuja, lamented that Nigeria’s housing deficit is too high to be acceptable.

The Vice President who was represented by the then Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Suleiman Hassan, said affordable housing was a strategic national imperative to guarantee the wellbeing and productivity of the populace.

He said, “As at 1991 when the National Housing Policy was promulgated, Nigeria was said to have a housing deficit of seven million units. For close to a decade now, the figure has been put at 17 million, thus putting to question the reliability of these statistics. As a matter of fact, the housing deficit is estimated to be between 17 and 20 million housing units at a growth rate of 900,000 units per annum.

It is gratifying that Prof. Osinbajo raised doubts about the veracity of the figures being paraded whose source we don’t know. In the same vein, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the other day while addressing reporters during a tour of federal government roads and housing projects in the South-East and South-South decried the much-talked about huge housing deficit that Nigeria is said to have, describing it as farce.

Fashola thinks that the figures are unduly exaggerated, considering the fact that millions of houses built by individuals in the villages are left unoccupied while the owners are in the cities looking for accommodation. Also, too many houses in Abuja are unoccupied owing to none affordability.

While not dismissing the fact of inadequate housing for the teeming population, the Minister hailed the national housing programme of the Buhari administration, which he said is being implemented in all states of the federation that provided land for the project. The aim is to provide affordable and decent housing for Nigerians. These on-going projects across Nigeria are expected to reduce the housing deficit to a large extent when completed. Interestingly, ready buyers are on standby to buy the houses as soon as they are completed and put for sale.

It would be recalled that successive governments have demonstrated interest in tackling the challenge of housing deficit without much success. It is on that ground that the Buhari administration should strive to make a difference and not fall into the same trap like the previous administrations. Funds should be made available to complete the housing projects and have people occupy them without them lying fallow.

The role being played by private developers who are developing estates in many cities is noteworthy. Of recent, many people are packing into their purchased apartments and houses in housing estates in cities. Many of the estates are found in Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, among other places. Investigation shows that those who have purchased houses in the estates expressed satisfaction that they are saved the troubles of acquiring land, obtaining title deeds, dealing with dubious contractors and battling with the high cost of building materials, etc. For them, buying ready-made houses is the way to go.

At this juncture, it needs to be stressed that the spate of housing demolition in Nigeria’s urban centers has become an issue of serious concern. It is dislocating the social order. The trend is aggravating poverty and other anti-social behaviors. Amid insufficient housing for the teeming population in our major cities, some state governments have, in recent times, intensified action in knocking down the few available houses without providing alternatives.

The affected residents were thrown into agony, pain and misery. The trend does not make for social harmony. In Lagos, the most populous city in the country, the authorities have from time to time embarked on the demolition of “illegal houses” in many suburbs of the metropolis. There is resentment and utter despair among the affected residents.

The London based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), not long ago indicated in a report that Africa’s urban population is growing at a fast rate and now greater than North America’s. The report further indicates that Africa has a larger urban population than North America and has 25 of the world’s greatest growing cities. Lagos, undoubtedly, is among the fastest growing cities in Africa. The fact is that while populations in the Western world are moving to the outskirts of the cities, the reverse is the case in Africa.

In Nigeria for instance, experience shows that populations are steadily moving from the countryside to the urban centers. This partly explains why the 2006 population census figures of hitherto high-density areas of the Southeast depreciated. Most of the active populations in the area have moved to the cities leaving the countryside empty. The same scenario applies to the other parts of the country. As more people concentrate in the urban centers, the authorities face greater challenge. In about 15 to 20 years from now, there would be a shift in the concentration of population from the rural to the urban centers in Nigeria. The neglect of the rural areas is a factor to blame. Our rural areas are problem prone areas without basic necessities of life.

In Nigeria, there is gap between rapid urban growth and the capacity of government to plan and manage the situation. The authorities are clearly ill prepared to manage the burgeoning urban population. One critical area that will continue to cause embarrassment to both the government and the citizenry is the issue of housing. Ours is a government that has done very little to alleviate the housing needs of t he citizenry. Few functional housing schemes are found in some states of the federation and an insignificant number of people live in those houses when compared with the country’s population.

In the absence of a definite housing development plan, people tend to erect their own houses indiscriminately without recourse to order. The houses are in different shapes and forms. Their location is indiscriminate. Experience shows that without regulation, houses spring up like mushrooms in a given place. The houses are built without access roads, water and sanitation. In some cases, there is no electricity.

It is important to stress that no house can be built anywhere on the cityscape without the permission of the planning authorities. The permission could be legal or illegal but the fact is that the planning authorities concerned allowed it and are quite aware of it.

It is on this basis that one frowns when the same authorities that compromised their duty and allowed people to erect buildings “illegally” turn around to demolish them. The policy of demolishing buildings without alternative accommodation for the affected people leaves much to be desired. The action neglects the urban poor who dwell in those houses, thereby aggravating high level of housing deficit leading to overcrowding in slums and public health effects.