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 problemsolving
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 survivalof-
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 to have demonstrated
that through the merger of the works, power
and housing ministries under a single megaministry
.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 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 selfemployed
traders and artisans.
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 longerterm
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.
Oba-Adetola, a housing solutions expert, is
based in Lagos.


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