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‘Government needs to accept housing as social service’

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Olubukola Ejiwunmi


Mrs. Olubukola Ejiwunmi is the first female yet to become president of the Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA). In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, she x-rays issues of housing, incursion of foreigners into architecture practice, among others.

The involvement of women in architectural practice seems limited. What do you consider as the major factor? In what ways can the female folk be encouraged to play their rightful roles?
The involvement of women in architecture seems to be limited because a woman is multi-tasked. She looks after the house as well as works as an architect. Architecture is not an easy profession. From sourcing for clients, taking briefs from clients, preparing sketch designs, final drawings, supervision on site, and co-coordinating other professionals on the project. It is an all-encompassing assignment, and it takes a lot out of a woman, especially if she is married.

Another factor may be the moral challenges associated with sourcing for/getting jobs from clients. Yet another factor may be the time taken to qualify as an architect. From first and second degrees to the mandatory youth service, to the required minimum of two-year pupilage prior to writing professional exams, an average student will spend a minimum of about 9½ -10 years. This is excluding the time that may be spent on school closures due to strikes. This is also assuming that she gets a job as soon as she is done with youth service. For a late starter, the length of time involved may not be favourable. To encourage women to take their rightful roles, we should start from the secondary school, if not earlier. They should be encouraged so that they can be in the profession from career talks in school. Some years back, we established an Association called ‘Female Architects of Nigeria(FAN). Other professionals have such female wings. Female Architects were encouraged to join FAN and later made them more inclined to join the main NIA body. I am happy to inform you that many female architects have their own architectural practices; while others hold high positions in the establishments they work with. Others have ventured into landscape architecture, interior decoration, specialisation in some aspects of the building project and specialisation in some building materials. We are very much involved.

The disruption occasioned by the advent of COVID-19 also brought about some positives among several professions around the world. What are some of these identifiable positives in architectural practice and how can architects benefit from the pandemic?
This is a very good question and an extensive one too. The positives brought about by COVID-19 are quite numerous. The fact that a lot of people have to work from home is a positive for the female architect in particular. This helps her to multitask and still have time to focus on her work. Secondly, travel time and cost is eliminated for routine design work and meetings. Meetings can be done online, while drawings can also be forwarded by internet and discussed on. Also, due to the difficulty of procuring imported building materials and the increase in cost of such materials, Architects are constrained to use locally manufactured materials. This will of course boost local production, enhance the economy and create more jobs for the populace. Furthermore, COVID-19 made architects to start thinking of contact-less/contact free items and fixtures like doors, door knobs, taps, showers, wash hand basin, water closets, and light switches. We have to start thinking of introducing de-contaminating units in our public buildings.

Spatial arrangements in our designs have to be redone to suit social/physical distancing. For instance in public buildings, like educational institutions, larger spaces are to be provided to ensure adequate social distancing. The same goes for public facilities like hospitals, churches, mosques, hotels, offices, shopping malls, bus terminals, airports, cinemas, and event centres. The architectural and engineering designs should henceforth introduce social distancing features like automated entrance doors, automated flush for water closets and wash hand basins, water fountain as well as light switches. This is to curtail the frequencies of physical interaction with people. It has also been observed, that our airports are better organised. People are orderly and they observe the COVID-19 protocols. It is a well-known fact that a large number of people are required to do concreting at a construction site, when it is time to do slabs, and columns. As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, people have to resort to pre-mixed concrete. But not everyone can afford the big trucks of Julius Berger or Lafarge, so smaller trucks are being put in place for small quantity of premix concrete.

One of the major hiccups in housing production is the issue of rivalry among professionals in the built environment. How has it fared with architects and other professionals, especially in the issue of design?
I think to a large extent each professional knows its role in the production of buildings in the built environment. However, some still want to arrogate to themselves roles that don’t belong to them. It is universally known and accepted that architects are the designers of buildings. Other professionals come in to assist the architect realize the dream of the client.

Foreign incursion in the field of architecture has remained an issue. How can it be tackled?
This problem has been with us from time immemorial. As long as corruption has not yet been eradicated, it will remain with us. It is not that there aren’t competent Nigerian architects who can do the designs, but because of the public relations in foreign currency, foreign architects will always be preferred. The government should obey the laws of the institute and give their jobs to Nigerian architects. Also, Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON), which is the regulatory body of the profession, should discipline any erring professional conniving with foreign architects to circumvent its laws.

Architects were project managers, but recent development in the construction sector meant that the job has been lost to other professionals. How do you feel about this? What should architects do to reclaim this position?
This segment does not specifically need an architect. The choice of who fills the role depends on the deliverables. Architects and other professionals have roles to play in the market share of this sector. Any person from any of the allied professionals can easily fill the role, if the deliverables are clear enough. Architects should ensure they can participate as project managers on projects. Project management can no longer be part of the design responsibilities of an architect, but an architect can be a project manager of projects they are not the prime consultant of.

Lack of innovation on the part of architects has often been blamed for the growing number of housing shortages in the country. Do you agree to that?
I do not agree with this view at all. Architects are full of great designs for the various strata of housing. Architects have designs for low-income housing, as well as medium and high-income housing. We have diverse materials for all the strata of housing. We also have construction methodologies for the different strata.
 
Some materials recommended are clay, bamboo, blocks made from plastics mixed with sand, and timber. But the problem is that the government is not encouraging us in establishing some of these building methods or even the use of these materials.

What do you consider as the major reasons for the housing shortage in Nigeria?
Housing is a social service and should not be left to the whims of capitalists. Government needs a change of mindset and must accept that housing is a social service. Although, the government cannot do it alone, it has to provide the enabling environment for the private sector, and the regulation of such participations. Governments’ policies on ground now are short-term, and do not cut across all governments. However, housing policies should be long-term because owning and paying for a house is a long-term venture. The government should also look into the issues of cost of land, funds and labour.

The past administration of the NIA campaigned vigorously for the introduction of social housing. How feasible is it for the country? What roles should architects play to ensure its take off?
The Nigerian government inaugurated a special committee on National Social Housing Scheme (NSHS), with a Presidential mandate to provide housing for her less privileged citizens. In its pilot scheme, the committee was to build 18,000 units of houses across the Country by the end of 2006. This has obviously failed. We must realize that housing is a perennial problem in Nigeria and it calls for an emergency response. After the 2019 elections, it was expected that the government would move swiftly to improve the investment climate and the country’s housing sector. The Abuja International Housing Show, among others, has consistently called for government’s deliberate, concerted and sustainable involvement. Hence, Nigeria has created, ‘Family Homes Funds’ which is a partnership between the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority.

This fund is committed to facilitate and supply 500,000 homes and 1.5million jobs for low-income earners by 2023. The Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria has launched the National Real Estate Data Collation and Management Programme. (NRE-DCMP). It was designed to ensure comprehensive collation and management of data for planning, pre-construction, construction and post-construction in the housing sector. Nigeria has 34 mortgage banks, 27 commercial banks and seven microfinance banks that can provide finances for housing demands and supply. The CBN continues to support the mortgage market in Nigeria with the proposed creation of the Nigerian Mortgage Guarantee Company (NMGC) and Mortgage Interest Draw Back Fund. There are several opportunities to support the growth of Nigeria’s affordable housing sector. The Nigeria diaspora community is approximately 15 million and their remittances are projected to be N96.5billion (US $3.4bn) by 2023. The continued partnerships by private and public stakeholders in the sector are expected to drive and advance the affordable housing agenda.

So, with all the above mentioned provisions, it requires only the government’s relevant agencies’ determination to ensure the provision of social housing for the teeming masses of Nigeria. Architects, on their own part, are available to provide adequate and relevant designs at any time.

Affordable housing has become a cliché in the real estate sector. What is really affordable housing in the Nigerian context? Can it be attained, and what steps should be taken to ensure affordability of houses?
Housing affordability is a function of three things: namely; household income, the price of the house and the terms of the Finance. In Nigeria, only 27per cent of the Urban population could afford the supposed cheapest house experiment in Luvu-Madaki in Nasarawa State. It was built by the Millard Fuller Foundation (MFF) at a cost of US $8,040 (N3million). Housing becomes affordable when we can save up enough to buy a house, or when we can have an income or streams of incomes large enough to sustain a mortgage. This is why 73% of an urban population are unable to afford buying a house in view of their low income.

The mortgage institutions insist that the pay back on your mortgage must not be more than 30per cent of your income. This is another constraint to accessing a mortgage by many people. Affordable housing can be attained if government and government agencies can concentrate on building for the low and medium income people and ensuring available and affordable mortgage for them. The developers can build for the high -income earners. Another way is to build shell –only houses and the owners can finish the internal at their own pace. Governor Jakande did this in Amuwo Odofin and Oke Afa housing Estate in Lagos. The external finishes and infrastructures were done by the government. Again, it must be emphasized that government should create the enabling environment for the private sector to provide the required housing. The government should ensure that the low-income houses she will build will not be hijacked by the rich and sold at higher rates to the poor citizens. In the past architects have done several designs for low cost houses and given to the government. They are always available to repeat such gesture.


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