The un­blem­ished truth about Nige­ria’s hous­ing ‘cri­sis’ I

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT COMMENT & DEBATE - Top­sy­fash@ya­hoo.com (SMS 08070850159) with Tope Fa­sua

We keep re­peat­ing that Nige­ria suf­fers 17mil­lion units hous­ing deficit. That is sim­ply un­true. The guys who push that rhetoric prob­a­bly know what they are do­ing be­cause the fig­ure alarms ev­ery gov­ern­ment and pushes them into cer­tain sub­op­ti­mal de­ci­sions. The sim­ple way to look at it is that in Nige­ria up to 10 hu­man be­ings (old and young) can live in a house; say a 3 be­d­room flat, and they’ll not be said to be ‘home­less’. We are not yet that kind of so­ci­ety where a man and woman live with only their chil­dren, even though we are get­ting there.

So, 17mil­lion units of houses could eas­ily trans­late to us hous­ing a fresh 170 mil­lion peo­ple, which is our en­tire pop­u­la­tion. Are we then say­ing all Nige­ri­ans are presently home­less? Some peo­ple have even taken pot-shots at our pop­u­la­tion fig­ures and other sta­tis­tics. Seems like we may not be as many as we say we are. Pol­i­tics got the bet­ter of us as we in­flated away in or­der to get a big­ger share of the na­tional cake. Late Prof Ali Mazrui once mocked us for not be­ing able to count our­selves de­spite be­ing Gi­ants of Africa.

And so, in re­sponse to this alarm­ing hous­ing deficit, gov­ern­ment is pushed into em­bark­ing on dif­fer­ent schemes on a yearly ba­sis, just as they try and sup­port some builders. The Fed­eral Mort­gage Bank has sup­ported many hous­ing schemes around the coun­try. But the re­al­ity is that Nige­ria has been tak­ing all the wrong de­ci­sions and the ef­forts so far have not had any salu­tary ef­fect on so­ci­ety. We have been pro­vid­ing what our peo­ple don’t need and what they can­not af­ford. To that ex­tent in ev­ery state cap­i­tal in Nige­ria to­day are many hous­ing units, which are un­oc­cu­pied with no hope in sight that they will be any time soon. In some parts of Nige­ria, peo­ple ab­hor liv­ing in block of flats, even though they must be told that as pop­u­la­tion in­creases we can­not con­tinue to sprawl. We must leave much land for farm­ing pur­poses. Yet the hous­ing deficit, which we may now re­view down­wards dras­ti­cally, re­mains alarm­ing.

What coun­tries do is to be hon­est with them­selves in things like this. The hous­ing needs of a coun­try are tied to its ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, it’s pace of de­vel­op­ment and its cul­ture at large. Coun­tries think of when young chil­dren will be­come adults and start to cater for them­selves. They then chan­nel ef­forts into pro­vid­ing tiny lit­tle ac­com­mo­da­tion that fit the needs of those young­sters whom their par­ents usu­ally show the way out when they are around 18-years-old. The gen­eral re­al­ity is that na­tions will con­tinue to ur­banise as they de­velop. In many coun­tries around the world, it is not com­pul­sory to at­tend univer­sity, and young­sters usu­ally be­come use­ful to so­ci­ety by learn­ing a trade, skill or craft right af­ter se­condary school. There­fore, a youth at­tend­ing some tech­ni­cal school or train­ing should be able to rent or start to own a tiny stu­dio house. Later on, that same youth may come into his own and de­cide to get mar­ried or just get some­thing big­ger/bet­ter. Then he wants to move into a one-be­d­room or two-be­d­room house. And it goes on like that. At the tail end, old peo­ple move into smaller units and leave the big du­plexes for those in their primes.

Also, ru­ral homes are kept for as long as they can be. Many ru­ral homes have been stand­ing for 300 years, but that is be­cause they were prop­erly con­structed and they are not fun­da­men­tally or struc­turally com­pro­mised. Ba­sic hy­giene fac­tors have been reck­oned in their con­struc­tion such that to­day, they re­main func­tional and help to re­duce the hous­ing deficit. Some have even be­come tourist at­trac­tions, earn­ing money for the coun­try. Our cul­ture also holds that any­one who can­not boast of a house of his own, is a fail­ure. We also be­lieve the big­ger your house, the big­ger your suc­cess. Many Nige­ri­ans live for the im­age they por­tray out­side. What is more? We see the ac­qui­si­tion of mul­ti­ple houses as a sig­nal of suc­cess

But in Nige­ria the sys­tem is bro­ken.

Not only do we now all want to at­tend univer­sity - ex­cept that we have mil­lions of lit­tle chil­dren who are not even en­cour­aged to at­tend any­thing at all. As we crowd into univer­sity no one gets much-needed skills around which so­ci­ety re­volves. We there­fore im­port plum­bers, brick­lay­ers and what­not from Togo, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire where they have been prop­erly trained. Add to this, the great prob­lem of cor­rup­tion which en­sures that our na­tional fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal is grossly and shame­lessly mis­ap­pro­pri­ated and ends up in the hands of an in­sanely greedy few in­stead of be­ing in­vested in the peo­ple as they do else­where, and we are set up for a big dis­as­ter in the near fu­ture.

Ru­ral homes? Sorry. Most of them are fall­ing where they stand to­day, hav­ing been al­most to­tally eroded and cor­roded over time. There were no stan­dards set when th­ese houses were be­ing built - mostly around the early 20th Cen­tury and in re­sponse to the stim­u­lus of colo­nial in­flu­ence. The trend of build­ing houses with bad ven­ti­la­tion, and of course no pro­vi­sion for hy­giene is­sues has con­tin­ued till date in the ru­ral ar­eas. Th­ese are houses that eas­ily suc­cumb to the el­e­ment; thun­der strikes (they will say it’s their en­e­mies), heavy down­pours and floods, as well as sim­ple ero­sion. Could the gov­ern­ment have helped stan­dard­ize the mud houses to make them more durable? Yes they could. But they didn’t. So in­stead of hav­ing tourist cen­tres, we have build­ing col­lapse to deal with. It’s not as if we un­der­stand the value of th­ese things. The Brazil­ian House in Tin­ubu, La­gos was re­cently de­mol­ished to make way for a shop­ping plaza re­cently. Who cares? Nav­i­gat­ing the psy­chol­ogy Let us also look at our psy­chol­ogy as a peo­ple. As peo­ple who ex­pect magic in ev­ery­thing, we no longer do grad­u­al­ism. There’s noth­ing like climb­ing the step rung by rung - from stu­dio to one be­d­room to two to three and then if lucky, a du­plex. We be­lieve God has or­dained for us to ‘dom­i­nate’ the world and so, from squat­ting with peo­ple, we want to build our own houses. Our cul­ture also holds that any­one who can­not boast of a house of his own, is a fail­ure. We also be­lieve the big­ger your house, the big­ger your suc­cess. Many Nige­ri­ans live for the im­age they por­tray out­side. What is more? We see the ac­qui­si­tion of mul­ti­ple houses as a sig­nal of suc­cess. Else­where, it is not like that. In Ger­many, most peo­ple don’t bother own­ing houses till they die. In the UK, Nige­ri­ans are the chief ac­quir­ers of mul­ti­ple houses.

Else­where - in most coun­tries that work - peo­ple don’t buy land to build be­cause places are planned. You buy from a scheme.

At least I know a bit about a place like the UK and also Sin­ga­pore. In the UK you get reg­is­tered with your lo­cal coun­cil and ap­ply for a place to live. They have sev­eral ar­range­ments where you can get a fairly easy rent as you wait for your own al­lo­ca­tion. Every­body is even­tu­ally on a mort­gage so you are not ex­pected to pay fully for a house where you are lucky to get one. 5% or 10% down pay­ment is enough and the rest is spread over 25 or so years. In Sin­ga­pore, the chal­lenge they had was with space. And so they knew that they have to de­velop ver­ti­cally. Al­most ev­ery Sin­ga­porean to­day lives in those sky­scrapers and no­body feels like a fail­ure for liv­ing among other peo­ple in hous­ing pro­vided by gov­ern­ment or pri­vate de­vel­op­ers. More next week.

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