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UNHabitat sets seven-point agenda to transform Nigerian cities

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
27 April 2015   |   12:00 am
WITH debate raging, on ways to overhaul the persistent narrative of extreme poverty in the midst of growing wealth, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN–Habitat) has proposed a seven-point housing and urban agenda, if adopted by the in-coming Buhari administration could transform Nigerian cities into functional, productive, equitable, resilient and safe places to live in.  
Nigeria- image source adesojiadegbulu

Nigeria- image source adesojiadegbulu

WITH debate raging, on ways to overhaul the persistent narrative of extreme poverty in the midst of growing wealth, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN–Habitat) has proposed a seven-point housing and urban agenda, if adopted by the in-coming Buhari administration could transform Nigerian cities into functional, productive, equitable, resilient and safe places to live in.

The proposed agenda, which is consistent with research findings and policy advocacy that the agency have pursued over several years, harped on the need to transform cities as engines of wealth creation and ensure access to decent income, decent housing, safe drinking water, and affordable transportation.

The document authored by Prof. Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka who is currently Director and Chief Scientific Advisor, UN–Habitat and most senior Nigerian diplomat working at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, urged the new administration to enforce properly legislative and planning rules, which will make access to land easier for the rapid housing and industrial expansion that will follow economic growth.

“We suggest that a National Housing Land Bank is established to identify and prepare serviced land for the Housing Programme. In addition the federal government in partnership with State governments should invest significantly in the development of an integrated land registry system by May 2016; the same shouldbe done with digital mapping to cover major areas, at least 50 per cent of our national space in the same period.”

Other key suggestions are as follows, TWO: The housing plan of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to build 1,000,000 homes during its first term should be driven by a market-supported model that has been successful in other countries.

“Many of us are not aware that in China, the former bastion of communism, housing is almost totally private sector driven. Of our country’s projected overall GDP of $1.3 Trillion by 2030, residential estate will contribute $591 billion and industrial real estate $53 billion if the urban plan is properly harnessed to make the Nigerian economy realize its full potential.

“To achieve this goal, we should stick with the plan to urgently construct one million new homes spread across all the 36 states in at least the first two years; the pilot program of up to 10,000 units in each state within the first year will prove the framework a sustainable private-driven housing model.

“Critically, we should promote a Civil Service Housing Programme of between 200,000-300,000 affordable homes targeted at Civil Service professionals for a start. Guarantee of home ownership will lower propensity to corruption for the normally sane average worker and raise productivity. Furthermore, embark on sustainable slums upgrading in key urban areas and ensure livable environment for citizens.”

THREE: Government must focus on Integrated Urban Basic Services . “Nigerian roads are in deplorable states, characterized by poor drainage system, potholes, lack of pavements, combined with a growing urban population often that lead to traffic congestion in the urban areas. By a rough estimate, the infrastructure deficit in the country will require continuous expenditure of almost $14.2 billion per annum, or about 12 per cent of GDP over the next decade. Currently, about $6 billion (about 5 per cent of GDP) per annum is budgeted for federal infrastructure, China by comparison in the mid-2000s expended about 15 per cent of its GDP solely on infrastructure investment.”

FOUR: Leverage construction technology/Partnerships and new technologies. Nigeria has shown itself rather poor at leveraging frontier technologies and partnerships both locally and globally. “We have neither drawn on properly on local professional expertise nor taken advantage of global partnerships. We need to broaden our investment net and take advantage of the global sources of finance to which oil has blinded us. We need to change our attitude to foreign investment, learn to draw investment while protecting national interests.”

FIVE: Evolve a robust mortgage system: our housing finance market is miniscule. Less than 1per cent Nigerians have residential mortgage compared to 70-90 per cent in Europe and more than 70 per cent in the USA.  However, this should not be so, given the depth and growing sophistication of Nigeria’s financial sector and contributions it makes to pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank or the Pan African Housing Finance Institution – Shelter Afrique, in which Nigeria is the largest sovereign shareholder.

“Working with Nigerian and international private partners (credible lending and mortgage institutions) and international agencies including UN Habitat, strategic Nigerian Government entities – the Central Bank of Nigeria, National Mortgage and Reinsurance Company (NMRC), Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority – we can develop an affordable funding structure for the Housing Programme including facilitating Technical Assistance. We will start with financing a pilot phase and syndicating the significant capital required to finance both the construction and home loan elements.”

SIX:Government should urgently bridge the huge investment gap in power infrastructure, as no elaboration is needed. “We need to on-board 10,000 MW of electricity within the next 18 months by operationalizing several already built large scale (300+ MW) power assets complemented by a comprehensive roll-out of embedded (20+ MW) thermal and renewable electricity generation assets.”

SEVEN: Poor political and bureaucratic leadership is a sure recipe for poor performance and ultimate failure. “We are operating in a knowledge-driven globally competitive environment and we need to entrust critical sectors that touch the lives of millions to capable, committed and knowledgeable leadership. Right now the expectation of Nigerians is at stratospheric level.

“Real change is driven by a fundamental change of mindset. We have to up our game as a people, as a nation to lead Africa. The idea of ‘this will not work in Nigeria’ is an excuse to inaction, a worrying negative exceptionalism that allows us to pervert all good policies that work elsewhere and to continue in the path of mediocrity.”

Oyelaran-Oyeyinka explained that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is projected to grow from $525 billion in 2014 to $4.2 trillion by 2040,  Central to this change dynamic is the role of our cities; this time around the “urban Goal” is now a stand-alone goal designated SDG 11.

“Cities are the engines of wealth creation, the centres of manufacturing production and innovation but badly managed cities and towns become slums: the cesspools of poverty, homelessness, high disease burden, pollution, congestion and untimely death through high maternal and infant mortality, and preventable road accident, robbery and myriad criminalities. Our cities have rather than create manufactured goods and services spawn large-scale graduate unemployment.

“We have providentially shown how democratic transition should be done – imperfect yet – but we succeeded, so now we must show the way to a new African development pathway. Urban growth is synonymous with rising wages, green smart cities, and high quality of life. When a governor builds good roads, he/she can “share the value” of improved mobility by agreed and willingly paid taxation. Municipal finance rises when we invest in urban basic services.

To illustrate the power of the 21st Century city, in years gone by, small, medium, large and strategic Industrial establishments were competing for space in Ikeja, Kaduna, Kano, Port Harcourt all seeking the benefits of urban agglomeration: the dense spatial location that reduces infrastructure and transaction costs, locations that reduce information asymmetry.

The cities were magnets for young graduates seeking productive work, high living standards, safety and security. These companies have all been forced to close down; the list is long including Dunlop, Michelin, and many textile Companies while small and medium firms simply morphed into importers of finished goods. In the North, even with the textile industry revival, only three textile companies are functioning; presently only three out of about 13 textile companies are functioning.

Estimates have it that over 900 companies, including multinational, have relocated all or part of their manufacturing facilities outside Nigeria largely in search of reliable power supply. For the struggling firms capacity utilization has dropped steadily from a high of 80per cent in the 1980’s to below 30per cent in recent times.