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Using ‘FISH’ as a tool to unlock challenges of affordable housing

By Anthony Otaru, Abuja
26 June 2017   |   2:06 am
After a hard days’ work, staff deserve a roof over their heads where they can rest and prepare for another day of service. This has to be achieved at a cost that will not erode the entire disposable family income but must be at par with recommended sectorial allocation of income to meet the housing cost.

HOS Mrs. Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita and Chairman FISH Mr. SKY Adelakun, others at 2017 FISH Summit

In Nigeria, Public Servants are faced with several minuses of poor salaries, lack of efficient transportation, poor remuneration and lack of houses even after retirement. These negative narratives, experts argue, has continued to encourage massive looting in government treasury, indolence, lack of dedication, commitment to duty and corruption among the rank and file of the public service in the country.

This brings to the fore therefore, that Housing is one of the fundamental components in Employer—Employee relations.It defines a deep level of concern and care to welfare of staff and in reciprocity, a return of high commitment to service.

After a hard days’ work, staff deserve a roof over their heads where they can rest and prepare for another day of service. This has to be achieved at a cost that will not erode the entire disposable family income but must be at par with recommended sectorial allocation of income to meet the housing cost.

From the colonial introduction of the Civil Service administration, the establishment of government offices was always accompanied with corresponding housing for workers.
These were termed, ‘’Government Quarters, Clerks quarters, Tin Miners Camp and Coal Camp’’ just to mention a few. In the early years of Nigeria’s independence, educational institutions were developed with adequate staff quarters but loss of employment resulted in eviction from the prime housing neighbor hood and served as a deterrent to duty.

This is definitely, one of the objectives of the Federal Integrated staff Housing [FISH] programme. Adequate affordable housing can become the turning point to creating a dedicated and purpose driven Civil service. It is obvious that good housing will also restore pride in civil servants; portray governments social responsibility commitment which will be an enduring catalyst to getting it right in Nigeria.

In 2014,the FISH programme was conceived and developed by government arising from insufficient inflow of funds to the federal government Staff housing Loans Board [FGSHLB] to among other things, ensure adequate funding for the board through collaboration with the National Pension Commission, National Housing Fund, Sure-P, MDG and Special facility from the Minister of Finance and the Director-General, Budget Office, Group allocation of parcels of land in different locations by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Lands and Housing to build housing estates for different categories of Civil Servants, provision of Infrastructure on the acquired land through funding from Sure-p, MDG and the Ministry of Finance as well as other socially responsible corporate organizations like, Julius Berger, RCCG.

It was also to ensure a pre-approved structural and architectural designs for housing specification, Increase in the number of Federal Civil servants to receive loans towards purchasing of houses through the programme, appointment of group of developers to build houses on build and transfer basis at negotiated rate, improved loan deduction from staff salaries and prompt remittances to the Loans Board to facilitate further Loans to new applicants.

The creation of FISH programme was therefore; to enhance the mobilization of resources to the FGSHLB to immensely reduce the housing challenges facing core civil servants, improve their efficiency and effectiveness.

As a successful follow up, the Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita inaugurated an 11member FISH committee Chaired by the Permanent Secretary, Common Services, Office of the Head of Service, Yemi Adelakun at a short ceremony held in Abuja few months ago. The committee members were drawn from all MDAs and other stakeholders in the housing sector.

Available records shows that since the FISH programme was launched at a Housing Finance workshop in Abuja early this year by President Muhammadu Buhari, more than 23,000 civil servants had registered to become beneficiaries

It is now very clear, that no less than 16,000 civil servants are expected to benefit from the programme in the first phase of the scheme.Speaking at the just concluded FISH Housing Summit, 2017 in Abuja, the Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita signed a Memorandum Of Understanding [MOU] between FGSHLB and the Nigeria Mortgage Refinancing Company for a N13 billion mortgage refinancing, the occasion also witnessed the signing of an MOU between FISH programme and the Family Homes Funds, another government institution established to provide affordable housing under the Ministry of finance,

‘’We also hope that in the near future, a FISH Mortgage Bank will be established, all these efforts are geared to provide adequate funding at low interest rate for the delivery of affordable housing to Public servants whose affordability index are rather low’’.

Oyo-Ita noted, ‘’The success story of FISH prograMme so far is encouraging, for the first time, it has enjoyed the goodwill of several public and private institutions towards consolidating a public sector programme without the conventional contract awards system, it is a pioneer programme that has been able to galvanize strategic partnership under the Inter-ministerial implementation committee with members drawn from relevant Ministries, Departments and agencies [MDAs] mostly Permanent Secretary, MD/CEOs and Directors General from Ministries of Power, Works and housing, Water Resources, FCTA, Women Affairs, OSGF, FHA, PENCOM, FGSHLB and the OHCSF’’.

She stated that to further reduce cost of housing delivery in Nigeria, professional officers were deployed from relevant MDAs to the FISH operational office stressing that these crop of skilled officers were engaged to pre-approved plans and structural designs in the preparation of FISH prototype houses and provide in-house consultancy and other site services.

She explained that ,’’only few developers have been able to agree to our stringent terms of engagement, they include the American Building Society {ABSI], Brains and Hammers and multipurpose investment and Development company [MDC], they are currently developing 3000 units of housing [1000 each] exclusively as FISH estates, furthermore, we identified developers who who have completed houses in existing estates at negotiated affordable prices for 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom units depending on the finishing and the location of the houses, currently, 12 real estate developers have submitted more than 1500 completed houses of various categories into FISH-P housing pool, more than 20 developers have been screened and selected to participate and construct houses of various units at different locations in Abuja for civil servants’’.

She stated that to further consolidate on the strategic partnership, three mutually inclusive platforms were created with real estate developers, ’’The developers with completed houses on discounted prices, developers with land, funds and technologies to construct houses as well as developers with finance and technology to construct houses on group land allocation from FISH’’.

In his welcome address to the 2017 FISH summit, the Permanent Secretary, Common Services, Office of the Head of Service and Chairman, FISH committee, Yemi Adelakun said that affordable housing is a tough programme to achieve the world over and this is why it is one of the ‘United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals which requires deliberate and concerted efforts of all concerned including government, business and the prospective beneficiaries hence, the need for innovative strategies to deliver affordable housing in the face of increasing costs and economic challenges.

Adelakun stated that the programme is faced with challenges such as Land acquisition, construction finance, mortgage loans, rising cost of building materials, high interest rate on borrowed funds especially those from off-shore investors compared to income of potential housing beneficiaries, all of these needs to be addressed comprehensively for unchained access to affordable housing’’, adding that overcoming these obstacles require new tools, creativity, innovative strategies, a compatible framework of cooperation and synergy for all actors in the system to operate in synergy for mutual benefits.

Also a good will message the President, Nigerian Institute of Architects, Tonye Oliver Braid promised that the Institute will participate in the FISH programme by expanding on the ideas postulated therein, ‘’these have been tested and operated successfully in various economies, what may be needed could be the adjustment to meet a Nigerian operating model, in addition, the institute can provide value added services to assist with bulk purchase/procurement, insurance management, information services and supply could be instituted to create maximum impact of the projects on the Nigerian people.”

In her contributions, the Executive Secretary, Federal government staff Housing Loans Board, Dr. Mrs. Hannatu Fika said that FISH is a special staff welfare intervention initiated by the office of the Head of Service to deliberately and sustain ably address the housing challenges faced by core Federal civil servants in a similar manner done under Post housing Services of the military, Police, Para-Military services in addition to other similar programmes by federal government owned institutions to motivate their workers.Fika assured that unlike other failed programmes of Government, FISH has come to stay and the success is becoming very real on a daily bases.