.Declares: “We remain committed and we will deliver and improve what we met”
The 11th Abuja International Housing Show kicked off in the Federal Capital Territory Monday with the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, advocating a Housing Economy as a viable means of rebuilding the nation and its economy.
In a keynote address at the International Conference Centre venue of the three-day event, Fashola, who explained the concept of Housing Economy to mean “an economy that delivers on a continuous basis at every spectrum of the value chain”, starting from the construction sites. He said such continuous construction would impact mostly on the lives of artisans, labourers, builders and others at the construction sites, which he described as “the most vulnerable members of the society”.
Stressing that the society has a duty to support such people, the Minister pointed out that the construction site has provided a major source of income for, not only construction workers such as plumbers, welders, bricklayers, retailers, but also suppliers of building materials and food vendors, adding, “It is the place where we can impact most on peoples’ lives”.
“Those are the most vulnerable members of our society that we must continue to support”, he said adding that the kind of response that could be received from creating a sustainable housing construction through building on a continuous basis would be “almost unbelievable”.
Recalling his inspection of Housing sites in Taraba, Gombe, Ekiti, Oyo and other states across the country earlier in the year, Fashola declared, “the story I can tell you is that plumbers, welders, bricklayers, food vendors, all say, ‘Thank Buhari for us because we are back to work’. And that is the story; that is where it starts”.
Particularly recalling his visit to the Oyo State site where he met a couple working at the site with the husband as a mason and bricklayer while the wife sold food to workers, the Minister, who noted that the couple relocated from Lagos to the site on learning of the project, added, “Let us just continue to build because the opportunities that it provides for rebuilding the economy and for rebuilding our country are simply prolific”.
On plans to include members of the informal sector in the Housing programme, Fashola said his Ministry was currently working on how to expand and register cooperatives and assist people to key into the programme adding that work in that regard has almost been concluded.
The Minister said the plan had become necessary because within the financing sector it had become important to ensure that those who have legitimate assets and income but were not in the formal recorded form could still be assisted to participate in home ownership.
Using the level 07 or 08 Civil Servant, who earns N50,000, as example, the Minister said although the amount may not be enough, he may have other assets like a farm or his wife’s business that they could put together adding that the plan was to expand the frontiers of how to determine what was affordable and the kind of income that could come into the programme.
“What we are currently working on now is how to expand and register cooperatives and assist people; because we have seen that the formal sector has its own structured organization where they contribute money, they help each other to build it. How can we use that to help them to build for themselves? We are almost completing work in that regard”, he said.
Fashola, who acknowledged that there is a challenge in the nation’s Housing sector, however, said the way to solve it was not to look at the size but to focus on how to solve it urging that the size of the problem should not dampen the enthusiasm to seek for solutions.
Debunking the estimated size of the nation’s housing deficit as not based on any audit or accurate census, the Minister, who stated that life without problems was unimaginable, added, “I always say that it is because there are problems that opportunities also arise, whether in public or the private sector”.
“I think the most important thing I want to say here is that the size of the problem should not dampen our enthusiasm to find solutions. Let us focus more on what we can contribute, what we can do rather than how big the problem is”, he said adding, “I will say this in the context of every time I hear 17 million Housing deficit; who did the census; who did the audit?”
The Minister recalled that barely 15 years ago Nigerians needed to get international direct dialling to be able to call somebody outside the country adding that although it was a big problem, the country just focussed on how to find a solution and, indeed, found a solution with many Nigerians now owning phones.
According to him, although not everybody in Nigeria today has a telephone, “But inch by inch, step by step, village by village, community by community we are connecting”, adding, “That must be the same attitude here”.
Still emphasizing the need to focus on solutions, Fashola, who recalled the time in the country when the only television station available was the Nigerian Television Authority, stated that Nigerians now have more channels than they could watch, adding that Nigerians must adopt the attitude that having overcome many problems in the past, the housing problem could be overcome.
The Minister commended Nigerians for their innovativeness pointing out that the banner, depicting the many brands of exhibitors at the Housing Show was a demonstration that Nigerians were not idle. He declared, “Look at all of those brands, it means that Nigerians are doing something. So we are not idle, we are not inactive and step by step we will get to our destination”.
On the theme of the Show, “Solving Nigeria’s Housing Challenges Through Innovative Finance and Infrastructure Solutions”, Fashola, who said the financing problem would remain for as long as humanity, explained that the growth of global population was not proportionate with the increase in availability of funds.
The Minister explained further, “The public Housing programme in the United Kingdom started since 1918. Next year it will be 100 years old. And, you know what, not everybody in the UK owns a house. There are people who still sleep on the streets. They have only managed to achieve about 65 per cent home ownership”.
“And it varies depending on the economy because even home owners also lose their homes. They have reduced rental and increased ownership; but from 1918 till now, not everybody owns a home and that is just about 65million or 70million people”, he said.
Also, according to the Minister, Singapore, with barely five million people, started her Housing programme in 1962 and has achieved a home ownership of 80 per cent of their population after about 60 years while in Hong Kong, one of the biggest financial centres in the world, people live in cages; in flats cut into pieces “because the average cost of a house is 19 times higher than the average wage”.
“And this is the context in which I said the issue of financing will remain for a long time. But within that we can improve the quality of our lives if we focus on what we can do, if we focus on major progress, if we understand that housing delivery is a long time commitment”, he said.
Expressing the commitment of the Federal Government to deliver on its promises of affordable housing for Nigerians, Fashola declared, “We remain committed and we will deliver and improve what we met”, adding that in discussing financing it should also be understood that there are many other problems such as issues of affordability and issues of acceptability.
The Minister declared, “We have empty houses in many states of the Federation. Why are they not occupied? Can people afford them? Where they can afford them, do they like the way they are built?” adding that these were the problems that must be addressed in order to build for the choice and demand of the off taker.
Fashola commended his team in the Ministry for the work they have done in the last one year during which, according to him, “they have designed a National Housing model that responds to the cultural and climatic diversities of Nigeria”, adding that the Ministry was now building in 33 states of the Federation “as a pilot to then interface with the Private Sector”.
Also present at the Opening Ceremony of the Housing Show which is featuring hundreds of exhibitors and stakeholders in the Housing Sector, include, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Hon. Mustapha Baba Shehuri, Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie Oyegun, who was Chairman of the Opening Ceremony, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, Legislators, Governors, Traditional Rulers and other stakeholders in both Public and Private Sectors.
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