Interview

Housing Expert Speaks on How to Solve Housing Deficit in Nigeria

Lookman Oshodi is the Project Director, Arctic Infrastructure and member of the technical committee for 2018 Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation. In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, he gives an insight on the way out of the housing problems bedeviling the country.
What do you consider as the best approach in tackling the nation’s housing deficits? 
The first step is for the states to key into the existing housing policy of the Federal Government and make adjustments to reflect their own priorities in housing. Capacity building across the board is very important to understanding the dynamics of housing in Nigeria. For instance, while Gombe State may not necessarily set housing as its top most agenda, Ogun State needs the understanding that by virtue of its location, it stands to produce the most viable, accessible and large scale housing market not just in Nigeria but the entire West African sub region. Many states require the involvement of local governments to play active roles in housing delivery process.In the area of funding, a number of initiatives are coming up to make funding accessible, but currently they are disconnected from one another. There is also the need for that cohesive approach that will bring all funding initiatives together and sensitise them to housing providers in Nigeria on the ease of accessibility and the benefits.What roles can infrastructure play in addressing the nation’s housing deficits? 
The success of any housing system rests majorly on the supporting infrastructure. Housing will remain inadequate qualitatively and quantitatively, if infrastructure is absent. Over the years, the deficit quantum of housing in Nigeria has remained stagnated at between 17 to 20 million, depending on where you are getting the figure. This could be more because majority of housing available lacked critical adequate housing indicator and infrastructure.

A well-developed infrastructure, comprising good transportation system, water and sanitation, energy, healthcare, education and connecting technology among others will attract tremendous investments into the housing sector. It reduces the production cost of housing, increases supply of units, improves land value around housing, creates better physical and economic accessibility for the beneficiaries, improves social and environmental quality of Nigerians and improves the nation’s prosperity index. If well conceptualized, planned, executed and delivered, infrastructure is a backbone of reducing housing deficit in Nigeria.

According to a survey, Nigeria needs about N10.63tn ($67bn) to tackle infrastructure gap. What role should private sector play in meeting the huge financial outlay? 
The private sector has significant role to play in attracting funding for Nigerian infrastructure needs. In any infrastructure investment market, private sector possesses ability to navigate the complex market and rapid turnaround period. Whether on or off the investment road show, private sector has comparable advantage in attracting infrastructure funding, especially when funding partners are gradually realising that state led infrastructure in many cities in Sub Saharan Africa are not fully yielding the desired results.

In Nigeria, the private sector had made huge funding commitment to infrastructure development. Majority of housing in Nigeria are the products of private capital, the fledging energy sector currently relies on funding from the private sector while infrastructure for tax model is being introduced in the road sector. All these are considerable history of private sector financing of infrastructure and pointer of interest to make further contributions.

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However, for private sector to make effective contributions, government must play substantial enabling role and create accountability platform that will draw private sector funding. At this stage, the Nigeria needs to be very clear on the type of economic model it wants to pursue, social, capitalism or clear hybrid system. A bit of social, welfare, capital and communal models without concrete loop end leading to the multiple mis-interpretation on the part of state actors, inconsistencies, policy somersaults, nepotism and obscured transparency in infrastructure procurement process are all inimical to private sector interests. They are doing substantial damage to the private sector contributions in bridging the infrastructure gap.

Do you think the present administration’s housing policy can bring about solution to homelessness in the country? 
To measure the sustainable solutions on housing of any country in the world, the first indicator is the housing situation in about five flagship cities. Observations in these five cities can give valid opinion on the success or otherwise of the housing delivery structure. In Nigeria, housing situation in Lagos and Abuja will readily come to mind. Then, situation in Port Harcourt, Enugu, Kano, Kaduna and Ibadan can provide answers to the assessment of the present administration’s housing policy.

The administration is doing its best within the complex housing environment, but there are still milestones for us to cover as a nation. However, housing question in Nigeria is a resolvable dilemma if we set our priorities right and address the fundamental issues.

Which areas would you want to see improvement? 
I am not sure if the merging of housing ministry with works and power ministry is translating to housing for many Nigerians. I am yet to see quality housing for people of Ajegunle or Okokomaiko in Lagos and residents of Dutse-Alhaji and Jikwoyi in Abuja. Land accessibility, as also acknowledged by the Minister, is a major obstacle that the administration needs to improve upon. A lot of reforms are being executed in the housing finance sector but they need to be cohesive from the present silos framework. Sustainable building materials require further attention while capacity improvement at all levels of manpower should be strengthened.

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The new trend now in the housing industry is smart homes. How can developers embrace the new technology associated with it? 
The smart home concept is growing in Nigeria among new homes coming to the market. Although, the rate of retrofitting at individual’s level is not too clear, but the trend is largely common in high and medium income communities. Homes in the low -income communities are making sporadic investments in procuring one form of smart home equipment or the other.

Smart home is fast emerging in the country but scope of adoption is still being limited because of broader environment restriction. The concept of smart home becomes seamless and rewarding if there is interoperability with city smart response system such as security, emergency, utility and supplies. How many cities are smart enough to encourage internet of things with various homes?

Smart homes functioning relies on regular energy, internet connection and equipment batteries. Energy supplies in Nigerian cities are too low while it is a considerable challenge to access internet in many cities outside Lagos, Abuja and few other cities. Take notice that basic pre-paid electricity meters that measure households’ consumption on the utility is still intractable. The infrastructure gap in the housing sector is imposing limitations on the full -scale deployment of smart homes, but the market is optimistic with investment opportunities.

The Land Use Act amendment has been stalled. Is it possible to do away with the Act without its amendment? How? 
At present, we cannot do away with the Act since it is a substantive national law, which every citizen must comply with. The act has its both advantages and disadvantages but one thing that is clear is that the act has encouraged multiplication of slums and spread of informal settlements in Nigerian urban centres. Sometime, you may not need elaborate lobbying or conferences to highlight the deficiencies of certain system. The obvious outcomes of such system should be compelling for policy makers to initiate changes. Many citizens have been consciously confined to the realm of informalities because of the provisions and implementation of the Act.

In this case of Land Use Act, it is ideal for states to begin creative ways of working around the Act in making formal land accessible to their residents. Ogun State Home Charter programme is making progress in expanding access to formal land holding while some other states too are working under the framework of Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reform to expand formal accessibility. In any case, it must be noted that the revision and amendment of the Land Use Act is long overdue.

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Rural to urban migration has continued to increase, do you think we need a National Urban and Regional Planning agency to give direction to the development process? 
A process without a direction will find it extremely difficult to achieve any meaningful success. Setting any urban agenda without a coordinating institution means clear direction is lacking for the agenda. Hence, the necessity to have agency to coordinate development services and strengthen resiliency in Nigerian urban centres. Lack of these institutions in many states in Nigeria is evidenced in the chaotic and unplanned situations we are seeing in many urban areas.

What role will such agency play in ensuring integrated housing programme?
Such agency, if established in a state can initiate and set housing agenda for the state. The agency will set policies, and standard for housing development and where possible provides a platform for multi-stakeholder, public, private and community to come together and deliver housing system that can reflect the aspirations of each state.

There have been calls for a virile physical development management institution to ensure proper urban development. How feasible is this? 
Setting up a development management agency could be challenging when a state looks at the initial cost outlay of the system. Cost in this case will include start-up cost for accommodation, equipment and other logistics. Also, the medium to long term operational costs play major roles. However, the cost outlay brings huge returns to the state because it facilitates both local and foreign investment opportunities, improves the livability index of the residents and becomes a bridge to bring many residents into formal economic structure of the state, including taxation.

In ensuring the feasibility of having the agency, the state needs to be creative in engaging partners. especially in the private sector and restructure some elements of cost recovery mechanism in the development services. For the agency to be sustainable and perform its functions effectively, the State leadership needs to shield it from undue political interference.

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