…Thousands of civil servants, families stranded
From MURPHY GANAGANA, JOHN ADAMS (Minna), ROSE EJEMBI (Makurdi), LINUS OOTA (Lafia) EMMANUEL ADEYEMI (Lokoja), LAYI OLANREWAJU (Ilorin) and GYANG BERE (Jos)
Public workers in Nigeria, especially the low and middle cadre of civil servants at the federal and state levels, are suffocating under a heavy burden of finding suitable and affordable accommodation. Many of them are reportedly suffering trauma-induced mental and behavioral disorders.
They consist of men and women of middle age still in service, but more so, the retirees, who had spent three and a half decades of their productive years labouring and dreaming of returning to a place they could call a home someday. Sadly, they’ve ended up becoming victims of failed government housing projects, and thereby robbed of dignity and their hopes of owning the roof over their heads dashed.
Once an ebullient and optimistic public servant, 69-year-old Andrew Acha, who worked with one of the federal government agencies, daily nursed the desire to return to a warm home of his own. But it remained a tall and unfulfilled dream till he “expired” and was retired. Looking gaunt and muttering some inaudible words at intervals to no one in particular, a shack on the bank of the River Benue in the North Bank area of Makurdi, Benue State, now serves as shelter for the old man.
Mrs. Fatima Abdullahi, a widow and mother of three, is among the over 34,000 civil servants in Niger State struggling to cope with the high cost of rented accommodation, despite the huge investment made by successive administrations in the state to provide housing for civil servants.
Abdullahi, who is a staffer of the state Ministry of Education lost her husband 10 years ago. Despite that she has worked for 25 years, the woman has not been able to raise funds to acquire a flat in the housing estates built for civil servants by the government. Unable to afford the N150,000 rent for the two-bedroom flat where the family lived before her husband’s demise, she relocated with her children to a cheaper accommodation in Minna, the state capital.
Interestingly, Abdullahi is a teacher on Grade Level 9, earning a monthly salary of N34,000, but she could not meet up with the requirements to benefit from the state government’s housing scheme for civil servants. “We were asked to make a down payment of 10 per cent of the amount involved, which was between N190,000 and N290,000 for a two-or-three-bedroom bungalow, while between N19,000 and N29,000 would be deducted from our salaries every month to pay the balance. How many civil servants can cope with such condition with the amount we receive as monthly salary?” she queried.
Speaking at the recent launch of the Federal Integrated Housing Scheme, which is aimed at mitigating the housing problem confronting federal civil servants in the country, Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita, admitted that a large proportion of civil servants live in slums and unplanned settlements because of their inability to own a house or rent decent accommodation in an organized setting. She disclosed that only 20 per cent of civil servants own houses, but gave assurance that the 500,000 housing units said to be underway for federal civil servants would soon become a reality, with the promise by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to build 5,000 houses in each state yearly for public workers, for the next three years.
But Kingsley Njoko, a staffer of the Federal Office of Statistics, in Minna, who has put in 25 years of service, would not invest optimism on such promise. Njoko is among the 2,300 federal civil servants in Niger State, and lives in rented apartment with his family despite that 2.5 per cent of his salary is being deducted monthly for the contributory housing fund. He said he had stopped hoping of owning a home through the government intervention scheme, since there appeared no end in sight to the waiting game. “The 2.5 per cent government is deducting is criminal; they should stop it because there is no sign that they will give us the houses. It’s been over 10 years since they have been deducting my salary, and there is no hope that we will get our houses from the government; it is a fraud, and it must be stopped,” Njoko said.
Fatima, Njoko and Acha are not alone in this predicament. Millions of public service workers across the country do not have decent and affordable accommodation. Only a few of them have a home; the majority live in squalid conditions.
Ironically, findings by Sunday Sun reporters revealed that hundreds of collapsing, abandoned and dilapidated buildings in estates built by the federal and state governments for public servants are scattered in states across the country. Most of them have been overgrown by weeds and now inhabited by reptiles, while others have become safe haven for drug addicts and men of the underworld. Yet, the number of homeless families in the nation’s public service increases by the day.
A recent survey on the housing needs of Nigerians showed that out of the over 160 million Nigerians, only a tiny fraction of the population has access to decent accommodation. The Federal Ministry of Housing had put the housing deficit in the country at 16 million units, with over N50 trillion required to minimally address the situation.
The story of Mohammed Garba, a civil servant who retired from the Niger State Ministry of Information is pathetic. After 35 years of service, he could neither afford a truckload of sand nor a bag of cement to mould blocks, let alone owning a house. Today, paying the annual rent for the three rooms he is occupying with his wife and six children has become a heavy burden he contends with at the end of each year. Though he was paid his gratuity at retirement five years ago under the old pension scheme, his monthly pension of N23, 000 is irregular and he is on the verge of being thrown out of his present abode.
“How to pay my house rent and feed my children in this present situation has been a concern to me. I had applied for a house at the Talba Housing Estate, but the government did not approve my application. It said that I had only five years left in service at that time; that only those who had 15 years and above left in service were qualified,” Mohammed, who spoke in Hausa, lamented.
After the disposal of the only Federal Government housing estate at Maikunkele, Bosso Local Government Area of the state built in 1980 by the administration of ex-President Shehu Shagari on owner-occupier basis, there is no other federal housing estate in the state. Between 2000 and 2010, attempts were made by the federal government to construct some housing units, but the projects were abandoned with less than five per cent of the work done in some instances.
The federal government commenced construction of another 1000 housing units of one, two and three bedroom bungalows at the Zariawa Housing Estate in Suleja under its Public Private Partnership arrangement, but it was abandoned after 10 per cent of the project was achieved. In the same vein, the Federal and Niger State governments during the tenure of former Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu, jointly embarked on construction of 2000 units of houses in different locations in Minna and other parts of the state at a cost of N6 billion and the project was supposed to be completed before the end of that administration, but it was eventually abandoned.
However, the state government had also embarked on massive construction of housing estates across the four major cities in the state for its civil servants; these included, 254 units of two and three bedroom bungalows at the Aliyu Makama Housing Estate in Bida, built at a cost of N900million; 750 units of two and three bedroom bungalows at N1.2billion, and the 500 Talba housing units in Minna, (N1.6billion). Similarly, the 500 units two and three bedroom bungalows at M.I.Wushishi Housing Estate, Minna, gulped N1.8billion of the state funds.
Sadly, the workers who were the targeted beneficiaries could not afford the cost of the houses. As a result, only 3000 out of 34,000 civil servants in the state have been able to own any of the homes. The lucky few reportedly paid through the nose. While they bought a two-bedroom bungalow at N2.9million, a three-bedroom bungalow was offered at N3.9million. They were required to deposit 10 per cent of the amount to qualify for the houses. Though some of the civil servants were said to have acquired a few units of the houses, they allegedly resold them due to inability to service the loan being deducted from their salaries for a period of 15 years.
The situation is not different in Benue State where a widow, Mama Torkwase, agonized over her fate whenever it rained. As the cloud started forming and turning dark on a breezy Sunday evening, it was obvious the rain was going to pour heavily. The old woman knew it was going to be a long night for her and her family: she and her children would have to keep vigil to collect rain water right inside their bedrooms, the living room, kitchen and toilets. Unfortunately, Mama Torkwase, a retired civil servant, is not alone in this demeaning battle for survival. Several civil servants in Benue State who had initially counted themselves lucky to have acquired a home in the government-owned housing estates, share her dilemma each time rain falls. They are gripped with fear that their houses might collapse at any moment.
The condition of civil servants living in residential quarters in the state can best be described as hell on earth, as almost all the buildings are dilapidated, having been in bad shape for many years without any form of maintenance or renovation.
For instance, at the Graceland Estate, which has about 70 units of flats, road network is bad. Several of the buildings have been taken over by weeds. This deplorable situation has seemingly defeated the laudable objective of the project. Residents of the estate blame the Federal Mortgage Bank for not releasing money to the developer to complete the project.
Msugh Adzaagee, a staff of the Ministry of Lands and Survey, who occupies one of the houses in the estate, lamented that six years after the flats were handed over to the respective owners, he could not be proud of having a decent home as the basic facilities were still lacking.
From Lobi to Manor Quarters, Hudco 1&2, Kwararafa, Ankpa and Aper Aku Quarters, Graceland Estate, Federal Low-Cost Estate behind Bush Bar, the owner-occupier housing estates located in different parts of the state as well as Clarke Quarters, the stories are the same. Also left in disrepair are buildings in the Commissioners Quarters, Assembly Quarters, Hospital Management Board (HMB) Quarters, North Bank Quarters, Water Board Quarters, BNARDA Quarters, and Welfare Quarters, among others. Everywhere you turn within the state, these structures stare you in the face with the blown-off roofs, perforated walls and collapsing sections of walls.
With some of the buildings collapsing and others abandoned, sources said the Benue State Government decided in 2006 to sell them off to deserving civil servants and other indigenes of the state. “All the estates are in a deplorable state because Nigerians have the attitude of not maintaining government property. That was why government decided to sell them to individuals. And I tell you that since the concession of the estates to individuals, the buildings have been wearing better look. People’s perception towards government’s property should change. We don’t like to maintain government structures,” John Otokpa, the state Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development, remarked.
At the Office of the Head of Service, Benue State, the director in charge of Service Welfare was not available for comments on the issue, but a reliable source who pleaded not to be named, told Sunday Sun reporter that 538 civil servants benefited from the purchase of the units in the housing estates with the exception of units at the Owner Occupier Estate (Phases 1 and 2).
The source revealed that the beneficiaries were asked to pay 10 percent of the total money within one month and the balance spread over 15 years. Though the money was to be deducted at source, some beneficiaries in connivance with the Accounts Section of their offices defaulted in making payments for several months. He disclosed further that all government quarters had been offered for sale on owner-occupier basis with the exception of the Commissioners Quarters.
In Nasarawa State, 51-year-old Mr Joseph Dako, who works with the state Ministry of Education, occupies a three-bedroom apartment at the 500-unit housing estate located along Doma Road. He said circumstances beyond his control compelled him to shelter his family in an abandoned structure with leaking roof and cracked walls.
His words: “As you can see, some of the buildings have been overtaken by weeds and reptiles; some have leaking roofs, we have been subjected to untold hardship after a windstorm blew off most of the roofs recently, forcing the occupants out.”
He wondered why the houses built by the administration of ex-governor Aliyu Akwe Doma (2007-2011), should fall into disrepair so soon.
When Sunday Sun reporter visited the low cost housing estate in Lafia, it bore the evident look of abandonment and government neglect.
Commenting on the plight of workers, National Vice President, Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ (Zone D), Wilson Bako, an employee of the state Ministry of Information, who resides in the estate said: “The estate requires urgent attention especially during the rainy season. The toilets do not flush and it has been so for long; the zinc roofs and ceilings are bad and leaking, most of the buildings have been taken over by weeds and reptiles.
“I am disappointed in the state government over its nonchalant attitude towards civil servants’ estates. That is what has led to this level of dilapidation, degradation and deterioration. But when a new governor comes in, they change everything in the Government House including spoons; but they cannot maintain the estates where the workers live. The estate is poorly maintained and it poses a health risk to us as we are exposed to various forms of health hazards. The toilets are so bad that most occupants use pit and bucket as latrines, making us vulnerable to several forms of illness diseases. We took photographs of these deteriorating facilities to the state Ministry of Works for necessary action but nothing has been done about it.”
Efforts to get the state Commissioner of Works, Housing and Transport, Mr. Makeri Godwin Danladi, to comment on the issues were futile, but a senior official of the ministry who pleaded anonymity disclosed that the state government had recently approved a sum of N60million for rehabilitation of the 500 dilapidated and inhabitable units in the housing estates.
Sunday Sun investigations showed that there are four housing estates for civil servants in Nasarawa State: Abdullahi Adamu Housing Estate, 500 housing units and the Low Cost Estates, while the Federal Government built two housing estates, namely, the Federal Housing Estate, Lafia, and the Federal Low Cost Quarters at Awe Local Governmen Area.
It was further gathered that the 100-unit Nasarawa Housing Estate and 300-unit Abdullahi Adamu Housing Estate were built during the administration of ex-governor Abdullahi Adamu between1999 and 2007, at a cost of N580 million and N950 million respectively. About 120 civil servants are currently occupying the houses, while others have been privatized and sold to individuals.
At the estate along Doma Road, it was observed that most of the buildings had been abandoned, with almost all the fittings removed by vandals. “This project began in 2008, but suffered setbacks leading to its abandonment by the Aliyu Akwe Doma administration which conceived it. The present administration has not made any headway,” said a security man keeping watch over the premises. It is the same tale at the Federal Low Cost Quarters, Awe, built by the General Ibrahim Babangida regime in the late 80s. The estate, which was provided with basic social amenities at the time of construction, has now turned into an eyesore, with the building dilapidated and abandoned even as public service workers in the state search for accommodation.
Some residents, including Mr. David Danjuma of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), are dismayed over the situation. He said several occupants of the estate have relocated due to poor maintenance, lack of infrastructure and insecurity. “Our transformer broke down in 2010; we called for replacement, but there has been no response from the government, which seems to have abandoned us. All the zinc roofs have corroded, our toilets can no longer be used because there is no water supply and we share these apartments with reptiles,” he narrated.
Public servants in Kwara, Kogi and Plateau States do not fare better, even as no fewer than 45 housing projects for workers running into billions of naira are in various stages of dilapidation and have been abandoned.
In Kogi State for instance, a 20-unit one-bedroom bungalow project expected to be sited in each of the 21 local governments areas of the state at a cost of over N2billion, is yet to be completed, more than seven years after the contract was awarded.
Specifically, the Ibrahim Idris administration had awarded the contract to ease accommodation problems of local council staff in the state; presently, some of the buildings are completely abandoned and have become hideouts for criminals, home to lunatics, and all sorts of reptiles.
Similarly, a housing estate comprising 50 units of one-bedroom flats located close to the Army barracks in Lokoja, the state capital, built in 2006 for junior federal civil servants working in the state, has also been abandoned because, according to sources, the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing had insisted in offering the flats to civil servants at a whooping price of N3million naira at that time. Ironically, the houses were later abandoned as the workers felt the amount was outrageous and unaffordable; but the uncompleted buildings provided shelter for hundreds of families displaced by the recent major flooding incident in the state.
A civil servant in Kogi State, Jaiyeola Abodunde, narrated how his dream of having a home at the now abandoned 500 housing units at the Ganaja village was painfully aborted. He accused the state government of not showing genuine commitment to the issue of providing accommodation for public service workers.
In Kwara State, an attempt at building public housing estates did not materialize until the military regime of 1975, when 281 housing units were constructed at the Kulende Housing Estate, where good amenities were provided for civil servants allocated homes in the estate. Sadly, the buildings are now in a state of disrepair.
At the Adewole Housing Estate, where a total of 552 housing units were built by the state government in 1978 for middle level civil servants, moneybags have acquired the homes, and turned the area into a paradise of sorts as the workers for whom they were built could not afford to buy them.
In 1972, the National Council on Housing (NCH) was inaugurated to coordinate housing programmes of the Federal government across the country, during which the government embarked on the construction of 54,000 housing units nationwide.
It was during the period that the federal low cost housing estate was established at Oloje area in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
Occupied initially by civil servants and private individuals, some of which had bought over the houses, others were sold to top flight business entities and politicians, but the majority of civil servants did not benefit from the project.
Residential quarters for civil servants in Plateau State are also in deplorable condition; the housing estate for federal civil servants located at Federal Low Cost, Jos, has been begging for attention with successive administrations turning a blind eye.
The structures which were built in the second republic with a view to giving some comfort to public service workers now currently have lizards, snakes, and other dangerous reptiles as the ‘landlords’ while drug addicts have turned a few to their hideout. The few residents in the estate use the deserted houses as toilets and waste dumps.
Sunday Sun investigations revealed that houses in the estate that are fairly habitable are either occupied by relations of top government officials or their cronies. Some of the properties have been converted to commercial purposes for sales of various commodities while hundreds of civil servants are living in squalid conditions.
Investigations also revealed that temporary structures have been built in certain sections of the premises of the federal secretariat in Jos, the Plateau State capital, to serve as accommodation.
Without a doubt, civil servants are passing through harrowing times with no end in sight to their dream of owning a decent accommodation and roofs over their heads.