The promise by the Federal Government to build one million new houses for the citizenry yearly may well be seen as a campaign gimmick, but it is a promise that requires close scrutiny nevertheless. With the nation’s present housing deficit put at 17 million units and climbing, this is perhaps the time to harness all the national resources to substantially reduce the huge national housing deficit.
As Mr. Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, acknowledged while making the promise, it is basically the responsibility of every government to provide shelter for its people. That this has not been the case in our country is one of the great failings of successive past administrations.
Apart from lack of clear and sustained commitment to address the housing problem, it is also time to change the strategy that has been previously engaged in trying to deliver the very important infrastructure. Government, even with all its resources, cannot deliver adequate housing for a country as thickly populated as Nigeria. What is required is proper collaboration between government at all levels and the private sector through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) models that are presently available to address the housing deficit.
This is why we endorse the present effort by President Muhammadu Buhari administration to begin to redress the huge housing deficit. The All Progressives Congress (APC) government must be reminded of its campaign promise to deliver to the people one million new housing units every year. The Power, Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola’a prototypes of the national housing units are currently being built in some states of the country. These, he said, are being checked for two key elements, affordability and suitability, before they can be passed on for an aggressive PPP collaboration. At that point, the now resuscitated Federal Mortgage Bank would be engaged to give loans guaranteed by government to intending and suitable individuals to acquire the houses that would be provided through the national housing programme.
This plan is very important going forward and it is based on our past failures on the housing score. Our earliest recollection of a national housing programme was perhaps in the Second Republic under the presidency of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Even if “Housing for All” was one of the two cardinal programmes of the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN) administration, the few houses that were delivered were mostly inadequate and some of them mired in political and land disputes in some of the opposition states. The housing programmes of the successor military administrations and even until recently, under the same Fashola as Governor of Lagos State, were not far-reaching enough. There were serious issues of transparency and suitability in some of them and where these challenges were absent, affordability became an issue.
If the country ever hopes to bridge the present massive housing deficit of over 17 million units, a new approach must be evolved, and we are glad the present government is taking this into account. The approach must embrace a lot of flexibility. It must adequately factor in the peculiar cultural and local diversities and preferences of the people. What may be acceptable in one part of the country, say the predominantly Yoruba South-West, may not be unacceptable in the Muslim North.
These are some of the factors that must be carefully considered in the new attempt to correct the huge national housing deficit. In addition, government can only provide the enabling environment and template for a new national housing programme, but the abundant resources of the private sector must be embraced and properly channeled to meet the housing deficit.
The imperative of a housing sufficiency in any country cannot be in doubt. It is, in many cases, the parameter for measuring economic development and the prosperity quotient or the lack of it of countries. We are presently hugely lagging behind on this important infrastructure and the new resolve to correct it must be sustained.