TO SAY that shelter is a non-negotiable

need of humans is to restate the obvious.

Even lower animals in the jungle do not

trivialise the instinct for self-preservation

by means of housing development

and management. The pride of place

allotted to housing issues by the Nigerian

constitution is, therefore, a necessity

imposed by nature.

However, to say that the reality of

housing in the country is a reflection of its

prominence in nature and our constitution

amounts to a fallacy. Since independence,

Nigeria has been struggling to ensure that

every citizen has a roof over their head.

If ever there is any other sector that bests

the housing in terms of policies, schemes,

projects and any other form of problem-
solving innovativeness, I am convinced

such can’t exceed one. That is if there is

any at all.

That the question of housing has

engendered countless innovations is, to

me, not a problem. At least, it signposts

the desire of a country peopled by over

170 million people to bridge the housing

vacuum that has made shelter even in a

one-bedroomed apartment in most of our

cities a luxury. The problem lies in the

fact that in the country, housing is still the

issue. A seemingly intractable problem

that was in the 60s a behemoth has

metamorphosed into a seeming spirit that

my compatriots now compete to capture

live, in a survival-of-the-fittest battle.

In my own understanding, the knotty

nature of the housing problem in the

most populous black nation has been

openly acknowledged by the Buhari

administration. Given that drastic

problems are indeed a necessity for

drastic solutions, the government seems

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to have demonstrated that through the

merger of the works, power and housing

ministries under a single mega-ministry

.The mega contraption known as the

Ministry of Power, Works and Housing is,

thus, a public confirmation of gargantuan

nature of devaluation that the lives of

Nigerians have been subjected to, with

respect to these three necessities of life.

To get my drift, my reader only needs

to realise that while power and physical

infrastructure are communal products to

be provided as a large pool from which

individuals are expected to draw from for

personal benefits, housing is necessarily a

personal service to individuals or, at most,

to families. This is where the knotty issues

lie. This is just why the highly expansive

habitable land space of Nigeria has, so far,

provided shelter for far less than 50 per

cent of the population. This is the secret

behind the unavailability of huge existing

and vacant houses for the teeming masses.

Against this background, the leadership

and other stakeholders need to be pinched

with some piercing needle of truth. If

anything, it is a moment of change on the

socio-political and economic sphere. Not

just of political captains, crew or cult as

consummated on May 29 2015. But! Change

of a nation’s long-standing mistaken

attitude that has conferred the identity of

status-marker on house ownership.

For as long as housing is not perceived

and treated as a social product, millions

amidst the populace will remain homeless,

hibernating in public places, while millions

of exotic houses, owned by a few of their

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compatriots, remain vacant or, at best,

under-utilised.

Indeed, the spirited efforts of successive

administrations to achieve Housing-for-
All have been unsuccessful, mainly, by a

methodology that betrays a perception of

housing as an economic product.

In the first place, direct provision of

housing facilities by government, however

massive and well-intentioned, as manifest

in Lagos State under the largely welfare-
oriented administration of Alhaji Lateef

Jakande, can never suffice as an adequate

and enduring solution of all times. It is

tantamount to an attempt by government

to produce and sell food items to most, if

not all, of the citizens. What an impossible

dream that has made supposed low-cost

houses, in most states, unrealisable for the

masses.

Even if political exigencies will always

make direct building and sale of houses by

government unavoidable in Nigeria or in

any other developing country, I feel that it

must come as a supplement to massive and

thriving private investment in a conducive

and competitive environment created

through governmental policies.

In such a context, the social content of

housing investment, will be contributed

by government through regulatory

policies that will not only assist private

service providers to thrive on generally

low costs but also ensure that their

outputs, that is, housing products, are

available and affordable to the various

classes of Nigerians, reflecting their

distinct realities.

Through a social reality-based

revolution in the housing sector, the

market will, at all times, have something,

not just anything, but havens of comfort,

for everyone, particularly the least paid

public servants as well as the mass of self-
employed traders and artisans.

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One major auxiliary of this social

revolution is a highly flexible payment

system that will ease homeownership

through an income-friendly mortgage

system. Through the payment of

monthly stipends by low-income earners,

ordinarily “unaffordable” housing

products will become affordable to a

chunk of the populace.

The social investment contribution by

government will be foregrounded on the

status of housing as a social security item

which the 1999 Constitution describes

as a primary function of government. In

concrete terms, this will logically entail

diverse official mechanisms aimed at

reducing to the barest minimum, the

costs incurred on land acquisition and

processing by private service providers

possibly registered under a special social

security housing scheme by government.

However, it is not the case that every

existing mould of private investors will

automatically serve as a ready material

for the social re-engineering hereby

advocated. A line must be drawn between

purely business-oriented investors on the

one hand and entrepreneurial-investors

on the other. My take is that it is the

latter set that will help, in view of their

relative longer-term profit vision, in

contradistinction to the former.

And, since no barber can be so skilfully

efficient that he would shave another

person’s head while the owner is absent,

the cooperation of the people, whose

interest is to be served through social

innovations in the housing sector must be

pragmatically enlisted. The bitter realities

of the “omo onile” (family landowner)

syndrome, should be seen and treated as a

necessity which is a mother of inventions

that would facilitate the banishment of

homelessness in Nigeria.


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