Every Nigerian government since its Independence in 1960 has professed support for affordable housing but none has really done anything tangible in this all important industry. A vast number of Nigerians continue to live in substandard houses. The kitchens and bathrooms conditions are obvious tell tale indicators of the homes standards, just as one can judge a restaurant’s food by the cleanliness of the restroom.. Kitchens and bathrooms are the hearts and souls of homes.
Truth be told, federal and state governments are ill-equipped to accomplish this feat. You can see that in the failed outcomes of the American and then Soviet Union housing “projects” from the 1950s to 1970s which appeared great on paper and newly built but became instant ghettos and incubator of crime and other social problems. The mission should not be houses for all, it should be houses for all who can afford them on on a low to middle class income: big difference. Hence the private sector is best suited for the new housing program.
The establishment of grass-root homeowner associations, Mechanic Lien, and Indigene laws are paramount to the success of the affordable and market-driven housing program. I am talking about cozy 1,200 square-feet, 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 car garage homes affordable on monthly paychecks of teachers, average government and private sector workers, recent graduates, budding business people, nurses, etc. These are the the real engines (that can) of growth that will create a sustainable Nigerian middle class, not the few who can afford N10 million to zillion Naira Taj Mahal-like structures with their obscuring high fences of insecurity. If good-paying jobs and other career opportunities are plentiful all over Nigeria and the people foster strong work ethics to sustain them, there would less need for these self-made large penitentiaries called homes.
When it comes to new homes and residential business, arguably, no nation does it better than the United States. And the externalities are boundless! Nigerians can learn a whole lot from the American housing industry: both the good and the bad. Yes, there are lessons of failure to learn and avoid too.
As one of the few Nigerians in the new homes business in America, I fully appreciate the tasks ahead of National Economic Management Team (NEMT) should they take this housing direction. If the NEMT wants to see first hand how the business is conducted here in the States in general and Texas in particular, I will be glad to organize a tour and training for the Team and their staff in Austin, Texas. I can help get NEMT to meet some developers, builders, estimators, sales people, warranty, finance folks, Realtors, etc. To be clear, the Team will need to directly bear the costs of the tour and training and seminar. However, there will be no cost for the role I play. My part will be purely pro bono.
In the same spirit of giving back without strings attached, I would be glad to travel to Nigeria on my dime and provide a detailed report on how the new home business is conducted in America and how to adopt and foster it in Nigeria. Also, it wound be beneficial to enlist some experienced Nigerian Realtors and Brokers in America to lend their expertise to this cause. This will cost little in public sector funds since most of the costs and benefits will occur in the private sector.
The key is private-public partnership where master-planned communities with walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, elementary, middle and high schools, restaurants, medical clinics, vehicle repair, and grocery facilities are cited in close proximity of the residents. Places of worship can be included if they pledge not to create noise pollution: no outside loudspeakers should be allowed. God hears whispers.
Through bond or bank funding, the Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) would pay for infrastructure (such roads, sower, water, electricity, natural gas, cable) installation. After inspections to ensure compliance to municipal codes, the municipality reimburses the MUD who in-turn repays the bondholders or investors. The MUD or the municipality recoups it costs over a long period of time through taxes and fees. This is a simplistic explanation of how the program works in America; it gets more detailed and complicated than this in real life.
Nigerian housing market is too dependent on one raw material: cement. That should not be! While cement is great for the foundation, it is has rather poor R-Value and the price fluctuation is immense and it’s controlled by few hands. By the way, with all the limestone deposits in Nigeria, we should be producing more cement for bring the price down and to export. We should use more wood, steel, wallboard or sheetrock, hardiplank. Each material has its pluses and minuses. For example, increased use of wood would create more fire and termite and deforestation hazards. Also, wood use would expedite construction process while enhancing the utilization of local materials.
For the reader who thinks this program will not work in Nigeria, he or she should understand Nigerians all over the globe are playing positive roles in the development of their host countries. If these battle tested Nigerians can do that here in a foreign land, they can do it in Nigeria if they so choose. Nigerians are perversive in all fields in America. There is hardly any hospital in America where you will not find a few Nigerians as nurses or doctors; the same goes for universities where there are Nigerian students and or professors. With all the negativity focused on few Nigerian fraudsters, let us not lose sight of the sea of Nigerians who are shinning examples of the goodness of Nigeria and Nigerians. I don’t know about you; while I would not want to inherit anyone else’s sins, I am always eager to display pride in my Nigerian heritage. I say it loudly and proudly every chance I get: I am from Nigeria!
According to Abuja U.S. Embassy economist Ajibola Akeju, there are tremendous opportunities in the Nigerian housing sector waiting to be tapped. He too welcomes the public-private partnership approach.”The government alone cannot fill the housing gap,” Akeju explains. “In order to fill the gap we would have to leverage the resources available in the private sector, while also encouraging foreign investment. Government has no business building houses. Government (federal and the sub-national governments) should focus on providing a favourable investment climate, infrastructure, and mortgage insurance to first time home buyers and low-to middle income families. We must however, note that there are challenges to harnessing the huge potentials inherent in Nigeria’s housing sector, and invariably providing affordable housing in Nigeria.”
One reads about some able-bodied educated Nigerians engaging in robberies, kidnappings, Internet scams, drug dealings, and taking unimaginable risks to flee Nigeria. These people blame unemployment and dire living conditions in Nigeria for their criminal activities.
While individual avarice, misplaced priorities, societal pressures, governmental mismanagement, and the culture of poverty are all contributory factors to Nigeria’s problems, making residential housing development a priority is a viable solution that can create 51 million sustainable good paying jobs and millions of affordable homes for Nigeria and its immigrants. Would this happen overnight? No! Is this feasible over a ten-year period if Nigerians so choose? Definitely!!