Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN)

By Mac Durugbo

The much orchestrated figure of 17 million as Nigeria’s Housing deficit has assumed such mythical status that today one needs not quote any source to make it believable; after all there are so many Nigerians seeking accommodation in the cities across the country. One common thing, though, among all those quoting that figure is that it is always an estimate. An article recently published online began like this: “With an estimated housing deficit of over 17 million units, the foreseeable future of the housing sector in Nigeria presents a grim picture for the faint-hearted.”

At yet another event, the head of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, Ahmed Dangiwa, was quoted to have put the country’s present housing deficit at 22 million units saying the bulk of the said deficit was in urban areas like Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja.  Even the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was quoted to have said at the 2017 Housing Summit in Abuja that Nigeria’s housing deficit was too high to be acceptable, adding that although, no nation had been able to provide all the housing needs of its citizens, the housing crisis in developing countries including Nigeria was very bad. The Vice President, who was represented at that occasion by the then Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Suleiman Hassan, said providing affordable housing was a strategic national imperative to guarantee the wellbeing and productivity of the populace. He still went ahead to say, “As at 1991 when the National Housing Policy was promulgated, Nigeria was said to have a housing deficit of seventeen 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”.  And recently, at a One-Day Sensitization Forum on Land, Housing and Urban Development in Abuja, the Managing Director of Shelter Afrique, Mr. Andrew Chimphondah, upped the figure to 20 million units.

And that is where the myth comes in. If for close to ten years the nation’s Housing deficit has been put at 17 million units, then there is need to interrogate that figure. And one man who has set himself to demystify the myth is Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, the current Minister of Works and Housing. He is, probably, the only one who has bothered to investigate the myth over the years. As Minister in charge of Housing, among other portfolios, he has often been confronted with this figure and for, perhaps, the umpteenth time he has queried its authenticity and sources.

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But when, recently, the Minister attended an even on Housing in Abuja where the issue came up, he took time to, not only debunk the figure as unfounded, but to disprove the notion of an existing housing deficit.Dismissing the much touted figure as Nigeria’s housing deficit, Fashola said he had investigated all the quoted sources of that figure, including the World Bank, and none had confirmed it. Wondering where the 17 million figures came from, the Minister quoted a recently published Nigerian Bureau of Statistic’s survey which put the actual figure of Nigeria’s households at between 35 and 40 million nationwide.

He then argued, “Let us assume that one family lives in one house and you are saying that 17 million is the deficit; that means that more than half of Nigeria’s population is homeless. Is it a reality?” He said for investors in the Built Industry, even in the event of existing housing deficit, there was need to plan with the correct numbers so as to get the market right. The Minister disclosed that the Ministry of Works and Housing has set up a team and is hiring research companies to go round major urban centres to do an audit as a sample of how many houses have been virtually unoccupied for six months and above. “That will tell us whether we should be producing more or change strategy.”

Prior to that event, the Minister had always argued that those quoting housing deficit have failed to take cognizance of the many unoccupied estates in major urban cities across the country. Investigations, he said, have shown that people in need of accommodation have distanced themselves from those unoccupied houses either as a result of the high rent or the houses are not acceptable to the people. In Abuja, for example, in spite of the scores of housing estates across the territory, hundreds of people are seeking accommodation. This is because those houses are unaffordable by prospective tenants who are usually asked to pay a year’s advance rent in lieu of their yearly income. He has also pointed out that most of the people who are seeking accommodation in the urban cities left their bungalows, duplexes and many bedroom flats unoccupied in their villages and towns. So, his question has been, “Are those unoccupied houses part of the deficit?”

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There are also unoccupied housing estates dotting parts of the country today as a result of the default of past national housing programmes. Most of such estates built under the Low Cost Housing programmes of successive administrations, including the Military, have fallen into dilapidation as a result of the fact that they were unacceptable to the end-users who were neither consulted nor asked to make any input during the planning stages. In some areas, the estates were built in the middle of nowhere thereby making prospective occupiers vulnerable and insecure. In other areas, houses built under the Low Cost Housing Programme, were taken over by the rich and affluent who now rented them out at high rates to the same low income earners for which the programme was meant in the first place. In such cases, affordability became a problem. In the end some of these houses have remained unoccupied till date.

All these informed the novel strategy adopted by the present Housing Ministry, under the supervision of Mr. Fashola. Soon after assuming office as Minister of Power, Works and Housing in November 2015, the Minister commissioned a team of Architects, Surveyors and Town Planners across the country with a mandate to consult with Nigerians in the six geopolitical zones on what manner of houses would be acceptable to them. Those consultations carried out between 2016 and 2017 produced very interesting results. For example, aside the fact that most Northern States of the country preferred bungalows with courtyards and most Southern States preferred blocks of flats, there are also peculiar cultural and religious preferences. The results have been inculcated into the on-going National Housing Programme now going on in 34 of the 36 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory.Also to ensure the affordability of the houses, the government has empowered the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria as a facilitator to grant mortgage loans to Nigerians at very affordable interest rates while it stands as guarantor to such loan seekers. In addition, there are so many in-built innovations to make the programme both inclusive and sustainable. By this novelty, the present administration surpassed its predecessors, not only in terms of ensuring the acceptability of the houses but also in terms of their affordability.

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So, while we wait for the outcome of the Ministerial audit of houses in major urban centres that have been virtually unoccupied for six months and above, the issue of whether or not there is a housing deficit in the country and the correct figure remains inconclusive. And as long as this situation remains, it is important that the issue of housing deficit be laid to rest. The reason is because there is need for Nigerians to look at the positive side of things. The Federal Government has embarked on a most ambitious Housing programme nationwide with the long term intention to make it self-sustaining and sustainable. The present pilot programme is meant to test acceptability and affordability; as soon as the programme passes both tests, the Private Sector is expected to take over and engage in reproducing the houses yearly. This will ensure direct and indirect job creation on sustainable basis nationwide. Already, the Federal Housing Authority, the Federal Mortgage Bank and other Federal Housing agencies are engaged in various Housing projects nationwide while the Organized Private Sector operators are itching to enter and take advantage of the programme. It is a huge investment that has the potential to turn Nigeria’s Economic fortune around for good.