Barrister Festus Adebayo, is the President of Shelter Rights Initiative and the convener of Abuja International Housing Show. In this interview with TOPE SUNDAY, He bares his mind on some critical issues in the housing sector.
As a Lawyer, what led you into advocacy for housing development?
The situation is not interesting, if you go from Lagos to Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, you will see the way people are living. In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), many empty houses are not occupied. During weekends, the traffic is less congested, which points to the fact that people move to the outskirts from the city; because they can’t afford rents in the city. A situation where a civil servant can’t afford to own a house after 25years in the civil service is very pathetic. As a lawyer, it is the poor condition of living by many Nigerians that’s made me an advocate for housing development in Nigeria. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria demands that government should provide shelter for its citizens, but when government is not living up to its responsibilities, some of us have to rise and remind the government of this particular duty. It is the importance of housing that has led me to the position I find myself today- an advocate for Nigerians to be housed.
With the efforts you have put into organizing the annual Abuja international Housing Show and your advocacy work, are you satisfied with housing development in Nigeria?
My objectives have not been achieved. Alhaji Lateef Jakande the former governor of Lagos state built 30,000 low cost houses during his tenure. He is still alive and will not be happy that no government has come near since he built those 30,000 low cost houses. He was the first and last to have ever done that in the history of Nigeria. So, my objectives have not been achieved.
However, we’re creating the awareness every day and we’re sending signals to the local, state and federal governments. We’re engaging government agencies in charge of housing every day, the National Assembly members, the Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Mortgage Bank, primary mortgage institutions that are in the system. As I speak with you, the only thing we’ve been able to achieve is the engagement and awareness we’re creating that is bringing some of them to respond. Today, we can boast of the Ministry of Housing in some states in Nigeria. It was never the case before.
The only set back we have is at the federal level, where we used to have Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, but all of a sudden, the APC government changed it to Ministry of Works, Power & Housing. All the ministries were merged under Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN. But states like Lagos, Ogun, Kwara, Enugu, Rivers and many other states in the northern part of the country have specialized ministries whose responsibility is on housing because they see it as important. So with this we can say we have achieved something in that regards. The advocacy will continue until the appropriate authorities do the right thing by providing affordable housing and affordable mortgage system to Nigerians. We won’t stop until a graduate can walk into the nearest mortgage bank and get himself enlisted to own a house.
What is your assessment of the APC led government at reducing Nigeria’s housing deficit?
I score them average. There is no pass mark for them. As the APC government plans to return to power 2019, Nigerians are interested in what the government has done in the area of housing. It promised and failed, so the government should go to the drawing board and tell Nigerians why it failed and proffer solutions because a lot of Nigerians are living in slums and need better houses.
But what is the way out of this huge housing challenge that Nigeria faces?
The housing deficit in the country is more than 17million housing deficit, but the factor responsible is the lack political will by successive governments in Nigeria to give the housing sector the desired attention. If there is a political will on the part of the government, it would have demonstrated what it did or what it is doing in Agricultural sector too.
The Anchor Borrowers Scheme policy was formulated and implemented for farmers to get loan at nine percent to make accessible and affordable and stress free for farmers. If it is extended to housing, it will therefore be easier for a developer to take a loan and build at a lesser rate. Developers building at nine and 23 percent respectively will have different results. So, if the government has the political will, it would have told CBN what to do. It is just to send letters to the commercial banks for every unused fund, pension money or money recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to be diverted to the housing sector at six percent or single digit interest. Any developer that has evidence of financial capability should be given access to land. Development control should stop granting building approval as a source of making money. Instead they should facilitate housing development. The money people pay for building approval, interest rate etc. are some of the reasons houses cannot be afforded by the people who need them.
Experts in the built environment are now advocating for subsidy for the sector. What is your take on this?
Maybe they are talking about intervention fund. Subsidy is a scam, as we see in the petroleum sector with queues everywhere in our filling stations. We are clamoring for intervention funds for the housing. It must go beyond the level of National Housing Fund. The latter is a deduction of 2.5 percent of basic salary of workers every month and that is what Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria is managing. What we are saying is that government should be committed so that people can have access to a pool of funds to borrow. The money could come from one percent of our budget or from pension fund or from the unclaimed money in banks or billions being recovered by the EFCC. They should be made accessible to Nigerians for affordable housing. For Nigerians to benefit from the anti-corruption regime of buhari, the government should divert the recovered money to the housing sector.
What other problems would you say is confronting the sector?
The cost of building materials is also creating problems for developers. When cement is sold at #2,400 per bag, how is it possible to talk about affordable housing? Can’t we search for an alternative to cement? What is our research Centre’s doing? Do you mean that after many years in the established research Centre’s our Professors can’t provide alternative to cement, that we can’t build a house without cement? That’s the reason Abuja Housing Show every year brings people all over the world, especially countries that are doing very well in the area of housing, like Malaysia, Singapore, Canada etc. We bring them to Abuja Housing Show to rub minds with them on how to do it better.