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Housing

As many Nigerians continue to encounter difficulties owing to the prevailing huge housing shortage, experts suggest measures government should devise in tackling the problem, writes Osaze Omoragbon.

Despite the huge housing shortage across the country, most state governments seem helpless in the face of its attendant socio-economic consequences for Nigeria. Analysts believe that economic development is stunted when the housing sector is underdeveloped. The housing sector, according to Juwon Coker, former Secretary, Nigeria Institute of Builders, is the gauge through which the performance of any economy is discerned and as such should be taken seriously by the government.

Aside being a gauge for economic performance, great psychologists and sociologists such as Abraham Maslow regard it as one of the primary needs of man; without which he cannot perform his social duties effectively. Nigerians need not be sociologists to understand the importance of adequate shelter to daily living. Indeed, many citizens’ standard of living is abysmally low due to their inability to get shelter, resulting in high destitution rate in the country. In a bid to bridge the huge housing shortage (estimated at 17 million units) in the country, the federal government recently launched the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company; tasked with providing liquidity for the housing sector.

However, stakeholders have traced the huge housing shortage in the country to population explosion, urban migration, poor planning, visionless leadership and corruption among others. “Housing shortage is mainly due to visionless leaders,” says Mr. Ben Njoku, a property consultant based in Lagos. The former Lagos State governor, Chief Lateef Jakande is widely reputed for his visionary leadership especially in the area of providing affordable housing. During his reign in the Second Republic (1979-1983) he is reputed to have built over 20,000 housing units in Lagos, popularly known as Jakande Estates, without which the state would have been grappling with massive housing shortage. Nevertheless, the state still faces huge housing deficit which the current administration is trying to remedy through its Home Ownership Scheme. Previous governments (especially the military regimes), it is believed, only paid lip service to easing housing problems without the commitment of the Jakande administration. All around Lagos, Jakande Estates which dot the state’s landscape are now a euphemism for public housing.

However, some experts see a paradox; whereby various state governments try to meet housing needs and then trigger more migration to urban centers which reverses the previous gains made. This has been validated by a 2012 UN report which says that Africa and Asia will lead urban population growth by 2050. Observers are jittery over the likely socio-economic consequence for the country. “Africa and Asia will account for 86 per cent of all growth in the world’s urban population over the next four decades,” the UN Habitat report states. Moreso, with the population of Nigeria expected to increase by 100 million within the same period, experts say the statistics are dire with severe consequences for social stability, equality, growth and development.

The way forward

Many state governments are set to take the bull by the horn including the Lagos State government which has the most daunting task of providing housing to millions of its residents. State-sponsored housing projects are springing up daily across the country. However, industry watchers say without the commitment shown by Jakande, it will be a lost war. “Governments need to summon the vision of Chief Jakande or it will just be a half-hearted effort which will lean towards populism,” says Timothy Asemota, a building engineer. In the last five years, the Lagos State government has built over 1,000 housing units; a far cry from what is adequately needed.

Public supported-housing, experts say, is the best way to ensure the masses get affordable housing. Direct building by government or subsidizing developers will ease housing deficit. Experience has shown that leaving housing to market forces does not augur well for the overall wellbeing of the country. With the prevalence of market failure in Nigeria (unoccupied luxury houses in high-brow areas and the inadequate housing in low-income areas), government is expected to step in to correct anomalies. That is what Jakande administration accomplished within few years before the military took over in 1983,  and is still celebrated today.

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