By FRED ITUA
Housing is a major problem in Nigeria, particularly in big cities like Abuja and Lagos. In Abuja, for instance, there are thousands of empty houses, with no occupants and government appears helpless on how to fix the issue.
That is not all. Although not officially confirmed, it is believed that over 60 per cent of Abuja residents are not home owners. The problem in Abuja is further worsened by unavailability of affordable mortgage schemes for residents.
Chief executive officer of Fesadeb Communications, producers of Housing Programme on AIT and Housing Time on Raypower and promoter of Abuja Housing Show, Mr. Festus Adebayo, is an expert in the real estate sector.
His annual Abuja Housing Show is the biggest in West Africa and one of the biggest in the world.
In a recent interview with FRED ITUA, Adebayo proffered solutions on how to fix the deficit in the housing sector. He also spoke on the forthcoming housing show and countries expected to participate.
Speaking with Abuja Metro on how this year’s edition of his popular housing programme would be different, he said it would be an avenue where solutions would be proffered.
His words: “This year, the Abuja Housing Show will be different. People have always asked us what we have done with the ten previous editions. This year will be unique. This year’s edition is not a talk shop. We will be gathering to look for practical solutions to housing problems, which we could not address during the 2016 edition of the show. There are a number of issues on ground regarding housing in Nigeria but one of the biggest issues is affordability. The houses that are available, Nigerians cannot afford them.
“Check the salary of civil servants. Look at the salary of a director in a government ministry and tell me which of them can afford a house of N30 million. We will be looking at how to address the issue of the National Housing Fund. This scheme will be 24 years old this year since it was established. We want to do an appraisal of what the fund has achieved. It was a fund that was established with the objective of making available funds for Nigerian workers to get homes.
“This means, they are expected to pay just 10 per cent and then spread the rest within a 25-year period. How many Nigerian workers have accessed that fund? Is there anything wrong with the scheme? These are the questions that will be answered during the show. Our main focus is on how to solve the Nigerian housing problem through innovative finance and infrastructure solutions.
“We cannot talk about housing and leave out the issue of infrastructure. People live in Gwagwalada. Coming to the city centre is a challenge. How do we address these infrastructural deficits? Abuja Housing Show will be like a Mecca this year, where people will find answers to housing problems. So many Nigerians travel to America to attend builder shows. Some go to the United Kingdom to attend construction expo. Abuja Housing Show is what we are using to attract investors. This year, there will be over 400 exhibitors. There are over 10 countries participating in this year’s show.
“Some of our brothers and sisters want to own homes in Nigeria. They know that they will return to Nigeria one day. But they are afraid to give their money to their brothers. They do not want them to snap another man’s house and pretend that they are building it for them. How can they get homes here?
“Can we create a mortgage system for them? These are the issues we will be looking at. Governors will be involved. In fact, we are looking at how we can reorientate the attitude of these governors about the importance of housing. There is also the issue of sourcing for finance for housing projects in the capital market. We will look at this too. This is an area that has not been utilised.
“There are shares and dividends lying wasted. We can use these funds. Why can’t the Federal Government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, have an intervention funding for housing? You are not a man until you own your house. We have decided to invite an expert from the World Bank on bank guarantees for house financing.”
Adebayo is not leaving out the role of governments at all levels in contributing their quota to the development of the housing sector. He said the federal and state governments, as well as key players in the private sector will chart a new way forward.
He explained that: “We are working with (minister of Housing, Babatunde) Fashola’s ministry to ensure that we provide affordable houses for Nigerians. Through the Abuja Housing Show, we will look at what the Federal Government has been doing in that regard. We will look at how affordable the houses they are building are for Nigerians. We want to advice this government on how to solve the housing deficit. Remember we also have FISH, that is, the Federal Integrated Staff Housing, being anchored by the Head of Service. We will be collaborating with them too on how to solve the housing problem.
“We will specifically address the issue of deficient houses. South Africa, Singapore and other countries in Africa have got their housing scheme right. What is wrong with us? Why can’t we get our own right?”
Although there are several ways to access mortgage in Nigeria, many people appear not to be aware.
o address the issue is for the Federal Government to muscle the political will and make it work.
“The only way to address poor mortgage finance in Nigeria, is for the Federal Government to have the political will and make it work. When the government says it wants the mortgage system to work, it will recapitalise the Federal Mortgage Bank to the tune of N500 billion they promised. That will make the Mortgage Bank have enough funds to give out to primary mortgage institutions. Then, you will have a monitoring team to follow up.
“We also need to know the number of houses or mortgages we have created in a month, a year or so. We can use that to monitor whether Nigerians are accessing the funds. The Federal Government needs to work with the commercial banks to ensure that they are housing-friendly. That is the only way we can solve the problem. We need intervention funds.
“Let the Federal Government budget a certain percentage of our annual appropriation on housing. Let us encourage our National Assembly members to go into constituency projects that will focus on housing. Once the demands are increasing, prices will be forced down. Look at houses that were built during President Goodluck Jonathan’s era. Now, nobody is buying those houses in Abuja.
“We must ensure that the Federal Mortgage Bank works. The CBN too must work. CBN should monitor the activities of the Mortgage Bank which is under its control. Let the state governments help us. If a civil servant in Abuja cannot have a house in Abuja, he can get in his home state,” he said.
Mr Adebayo, suggested that the government can approach the capital market to raise sufficient funds to address housing issue in Nigeria. He also referred to millions of unclaimed dividends lying idle. He said these pool of funds can be channeled into the housing sector.
He explained further: “There is the pension fund. We have huge amounts there. Why can’t we use part of it for infrastructural development? Why can’t we use part of it to solve the housing problem? They are untapped funds. There are also funds from unclaimed dividends. All these pool of funds should be channeled into housing. Go and look at the poor allocations given to housing in all the states. They are insufficient. The housing sector is capital intensive. There is no money anywhere. The private guys going into housing are there for profit purposes.
“The new innovation is Islamic Banking. This banking is unique. It does not attract interest rates. Islamic banking can help us. Today, one of the banks is financing a housing project at no interest rate. Another Islamic Bank has a department for non-interest banking. All the banks are about to do the same thing. The challenge now is how to change the mindset of developers to key into the non-interest banking.”