Prof. Mustapha Zubairu is a renowned architect and town planner. He is the project manager, Niger State Urban Support Programme. In this interview he offered solutions to Nigeria’s lingering housing challenges, among other issues.
Providing housing for the low-income has remained a big task for governments. Do you think, we need a policy for such housing scheme?
Federal Government has already made an elaborate plan to provide housing for the poor and low-income Nigerians. Specifically, chapter eight of the National Housing Policy (NHP) 2012, deals with the provision of social housing for Nigerians with low or no income.
Sadly, what has remained consistent about Nigeria is the seeming inability and will to implement the social housing component of the policy, among others. Nigeria is yet to develop requisite synergy and cooperation among the three tiers of government, to ensure that the states and local governments get the support, and capacity development they require to implement a credible programme of mass, affordable and sustainable social housing for Nigerians.
Federal Government agencies such as Federal Housing Authority, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) that should have been able to provide the state technical advice and concessional finance have neither been effective nor compelled to do so by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing supervising them. FMBN seems to be facing a large trust deficit from the workers who have contributed to the National Housing Fund (NHF), since its inception in 1986, due to their inability to access loans from the NHF or even offered any explanation as why most of them are left carrying only Passbooks of their contributions without any hope of ever securing loans from the FMBN.
Nigeria does not need a new policy, what we instead require is the creation of a robust institutional framework/arrangement where Federal Government through its ministry in charge of housing development, becomes an enabler to the state, local governments and the private sector (real estate developers); to build their capacity, knowledge, skills; make it possible for them to access concessional finance and technology; break the entrenched silo mentality between the federal agencies; and pave way for the provision of mass affordable housing for the poor and low-income families all over the country, in line with the provisions of the NHP, 2012.
What strategies do we need to improve effective demand for projects for low-income families in the urban areas of Nigeria?
Effective demand for housing by the low-income families translates into the provision of housing that they are willing and able to pay for. This can be achieved, if prudence and innovation are deployed in the planning and implementation of such projects.
A few examples of development options to ensure effective demand by the target population are: site and services to allow the family to develop their houses at their own pace. The infrastructure for such project may range from one water tap to one WC; site and services with a core house of between one room and one or two-bedroom bungalow or flat. The beneficiary will add more bedrooms and associated facilities at his/her own pace.
Others are deployment of concepts like sweat-equity with focus on the workers (unskilled to artisans); use of local building materials and renewable energy system and components to reduce their carbon footprint and enhance affordability; using biogas systems for individual houses or neighbourhood to generate methane gas to be used for cooking.
Similarly, it includes recycling of liquid waste from kitchens and showers to be used for watering flowers; architectural design of such houses should be based on zero/passive energy concepts and bioclimatic architecture. This will significantly reduce the cost of services such as electricity and enhance affordability; and above all, to design the houses in clusters or estates that are compact, connected, socially inclusive and resilient.
If the professionals in the built environment apply themselves correctly, the effective demand of the houses will be greatly enhanced by the target population. Similarly, if concepts such as subsidy and cross-subsidy are effectively applied in the implementation of such projects, they will not only greatly enhance affordability but will ensure effective participation of the communities in which the projects are located, thereby helping to build proprietary pride by the beneficiaries in the communities, state and country.
The federal and state governments seem to have abandoned sites and services housing development, do you think the scheme is necessary?
What should be done to revive it?
Acquiring large track of land and subdividing it into plots; and providing required infrastructure before allocation to target population is both time consuming and capital intensive. The demand for land tends to outstrip the ability of the governments to cope.
At state level, people find it easier to acquire land through other means, mostly of doubtful legality, to build their houses. This is why slums have taken over most of our cities, despite the fact that such areas lack basic infrastructure such as water supply and access roads. Land in the slums tends to be cheaper to acquire.
Another challenge of the site and services is that where the plots are available in government projects, they tend be much bigger than those sold in the slums. For example, in government site and services, minimum plot size tends to be 450 square metres (m2). In the slums, it is not uncommon to find plots of sizes ranging from 200m2 to 225 m2.
Sites and services is still a much better option to provide serviced plots for low- income families in particular. Our governments, especially at state and local government levels must acquire the capacity to work in through a bottom-up and stakeholder-driven approach. This way, more affordable plot sizes can be provided in compact and socially inclusive housing neighbourhoods that the target population will have a sense of ownership of and proprietary pride in.
An emerging trend is to constructively engage the private sector in the provision of sites and services and construction of the houses through a four P model –Public-Private-People-Partnership. A pilot project is currently being developed by Niger State Government with financial assistance from the German development agency- GIZ.
What will you consider as the major impediments to housing delivery in Nigeria?
Sadly, Nigeria is yet to develop a credible housing delivery system across the three tiers of government. All of them are in the field trying to build houses; leaving no body in charge of the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the implementation of the NHP; assessing the Impact of the policy at the three tier of government; and developing synergy that is vital to harnessing the symbiotic relationship between housing and urban development.
There are numerous challenges within each of the five components of housing-land, finance, infrastructure, building materials; and labour. Federal Government, through its line Ministry, has to assist the states; councils and private sector to address these challenges to enable them embark on the development of affordable housing.
We have to rid the housing delivery system of the entrenched silo mentality among the agencies of Federal Government; and rebuild the trust of Nigerians in them, especially FMBN.
Examining various housing programmes of government, are we in the right part to bridge the housing gap? What should be the best approach?
No, we, as a nation, are not on the right path. The few housing projects initiated by both federal and state governments, across the country, do not appear to be based on the NHP. We need to develop and institutionalize an effective and sustainable housing delivery system in Nigeria.
What role do you think government should play in ensuring mass housing?
First and foremost, Federal government has to assume full responsibility of an enabler to provide the assistance required by the states, LGAs and private sector to eliminate the following challenges: Taking the Land Use Act out of the 1999 Constitution, to allow for redressing its shackling consent provision, among others. Ultimately, Nigeria must embark on a journey that will lead to the full commoditization of land for housing and related development;
• FGN has to enable the states, LGAs and private sector to have access to concessional finance for housing and associated infrastructure development. Here lie the potentials of the National Mortgage Refinancing Company (NMRC) to refinance mortgages of the states, LGAs and private sector to facilitate the construction of more houses. Insurance companies including national Social Insurance Trust Fund; and international Development Finance Institutions like the World Bank, African Development Bank can provide long-term finance for mass affordable housing across the country;
• Urban infrastructure is characterized by, among others, high capital-output ratio. Concessional sources of finance has to secured to enable the states provide required infrastructure for their housing projects;
• Emphasis must be placed on the extensive use of building materials with low carbon footprint; and selection of suitable technology to be used in their production. We must take advantage of the growing smart city technology such as Advanced Meter Infrastructure, Smart Street Lights, Smart Buildings with suitable IOTs and Open Data in the design of our buildings and management of the houses and estates; and
• FGN should facilitate the training and certification of artisans in the use of conventional building materials; and training of a new generation of workers in the use of smart systems and components.
The cities have been weakened by urbanization and lack of clear policy to make them livable? How do we manage cities and ensure better urban administration?
The population of Nigeria was estimated by the United Nations as 195,190,643 as of May, 2018; with urbanization rate of about 50 per cent; and projection that the population will double within the next 30 years. An essential attribute of the demographic change is the equally high rate of slum formation, where up to 69per cent of the country’s urban dwellers live.
There is the necessity for the FGN to facilitate and fast track the reform of the cities and towns in the states to enable them to rearrange their financing, management and governance so as to be able to provide themselves modern infrastructure facilities and services on a self-sustaining basis.
As the former Managing Director, Federal Housing Authority, are you satisfied with the performance of the agency? What are the challenges and what steps should be taken to reposition it?
I really cannot say what is happening in FHA now. However, my experience when I served briefly as its MD/CEO was that the then Federal Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development was charged with the responsibility of supervising the activities of FHA. In reality, the Ministry turned out to be the biggest competitor to FHA, as it was involved in the direct construction of houses in, virtually the same sites as FHA and targeting the same market. I am still convinced that the viability of FHA is hinged on its ability to partner with the states, LGAs and private sector in each of the six geopolitical zones. The broadly peculiar culture, geography and socio-economic characteristics of each of the zones, will allow FHA to spearhead the provision of large scale affordable housing projects that are socially inclusive and acceptable to the target population in each of the zones.