A lot of articles have been written on this subject matter. However, the truth of the matter is that no amount of articles written can ameliorate the ever facing problems of housing in Nigeria without proper implementation of suggestions and solutions as proffered by these articles. Of a truth, one of the continuing challenges posed by unprecedented urbanization in developing countries, including Nigeria, is the provision of adequate and affordable housing. Over the last three decades, Nigeria, like several developing countries, has emphasised public housing schemes, but with little success.
According to the 2006 Census, Nigeria has a population of over 140 million people (but we are over 170 million today), and working with this figure, providing adequate and affordable housing in Nigeria is definitely an issue of dire national importance. The housing-for-all program initiated during previous military regimes fell far short of target, but at least ignited the current awareness and modern mortgage industry in Nigeria.
Also, going by the estimates of the Federal Housing Authority, new housing construction in Nigeria is about 10,000 units a year. To meet ever-growing demand, the country needs ten times more or at least 100,000 new housing units annually. Existing housing stock in Nigeria is so dismal, yet studies show a direct correlation between affordable housing and better living standard. Recent pronouncement by the Institute of Architects, that Nigeria could achieve a housing target of 40,000 units annually is quite realistic. But, actualisation of this goal is another matter. What with a seeming lack of willingness by the government agencies in charge of housing to tackle this problem as well as politicisation of housing?
Nigeria’s housing needs have been high as a result of population growth, which has averaged 3.0 per cent per annum, rapid urbanisation due to rural-urban migration, the high cost of building materials, ineffective and insincere housing policies, etc.
Nigeria’s drive toward “housing for all”, as contained in the National Housing Policy, which aims at providing affordable housing for all, has so far been what it is, all on paper and no serious effort, deliberately or otherwise, at implementation and continues to be an illusion and a frustration to the larger population. Successive efforts to meet every set target have failed as housing deficit now stands at over 16 million units in Nigeria. The target date for accomplishing the “housing for all” goal was 2000, about fifteen years ago, and while the objective has not changed, a new deadline for accomplishing this national objective has not been set, despite its inclusion in President Yar A’dua’s 7-point agenda.
As with almost every other developmental sector in Nigeria, the outlay on housing has been rather low, and does not seem to warrant the priority it demands. Most urban dwellers in Nigeria today live in dilapidated houses lacking basic amenities, unsanitary conditions or running water. In fact, most urban areas are the worse for wear as far as infrastructure and housing are concerned, and this mostly due to our notorious maintenance culture or lack of it. Estimates show that Nigeria needs an average of 1 million housing units per year not only to replenish decaying housing stock, but also to meet rising demand.
The problem of affordable housing in Nigeria is further exacerbated by the constraints imposed by the Land Use Act, a moribund and repressive Act that hinders mortgage financing and creates enormous obstacles to private sector involvement in the housing industry and which has constrained the transfer of titles and made mortgage finance extremely difficult. As a result of the Land Use Act, obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy (popularly known as C of O) has become a big time avenue for large scale corruption. Ask anybody in Nigeria today, and they will tell you that it is impossible to attempt to legally obtain a C of O for a land you have just bought, without bribing several officials in the states’ ministries of Lands and Housing, often with very large amounts of money.
The need for social housing should also be looked into. Public housing is a form of housing tenure in which the property is owned by a government authority, which may be central or local. Social housing is an umbrella term referring to rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, by not-for-profit organizations, or by a combination of the two, usually with the aim of providing affordable housing. The common goal of public housing is to provide affordable housing. In the United Kingdom public housing is often referred to by the British public as “council housing” and “council estate”, based on the historical role of district and borough councils in running public housing. Additionally, local planning departments may require private-sector developers to offer “affordable housing” as a condition of planning permission. This accounts for another £700m of Government funding each year for tenants in part of the United Kingdom.
We must not confuse “affordable housing” with “public housing”. As defined above, public housing seems to be a remit of the governments (federal, state or local), and as such, since they have taken the moral and constitutional responsibility to provide housing for their citizens, such housing should be low-cost and affordable. On the other hand, affordable housing could be provided by both the governments and private house builders or developers, but with the latter, affordability is discarded. As these housing providers are in it for the profit, houses provided by them are inevitably not affordable to the majority of Nigerians, and this is the case at present. Also the governments do not regulate this sub-sector of the industry and therefore, they are quite free to set their own high prices and there is no regulation of the quality of their houses.
The government cannot effectively control the selling price of these houses built by private developers sinse it does not control the cost of building. It’s plans for a major house-building programme must therefore not be based on price control schemes but on increasing the volume of accommodation in the country as this is the most important way to tackle the crisis of unaffordable housing in Nigeria. Also, promoting home-ownership should be an underlying objective of any government’s programme. Home ownership offers unparalleled opportunities for people to accumulate wealth, but for many citizens, it is not an option, and the provision of social housing for rent should be given equal priority.
And with hundreds of Nigerians working in the housing industry, especially in housing management and related sub-sectors in the UK alone, the time is ripe for Nigeria to start providing affordable and social housing to her citizens, managed by these housing professionals, in association with their counterparts in related industries e.g. surveyors, civil engineers, estate agents, valuers, mortgage bankers, etc.
Finally, actual implementation of policies and complete eschewing of diverting funds meant for provision of housing or for any reason at all should be religiously pursued by all concerned with the aim of reducing housing problems to its lowest decibels.