Tackling The Housing Needs Of Nigerians

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Penultimate Monday was World Habitat Day. As usual the
United Nations (UN) set aside the day as in every year, to reflect on the state
of human settlements and basic right to adequate shelter. But attention given
to the programme in Nigeria still remains worrisome.

Last year, for instance, the Minister of Housing, Ms Amal
Pepple told Nigerians that the country was in deficit of housing units to the
tune of several millions. Yet, the budgetary allocation to that sector seems
more like a mockery of the challenge which housing has come to represent in
Nigeria.

Although, a number of housing projects were embarked on by
the Federal Government in some states, the number of houses that were
demolished across the country this year alone and the thousands of people
rendered homeless should serve to worry governments at every level.

With the theme “Changing Cities, Building Opportunities” for
this year’s World Habitat Day, people in the more advanced countries of the
world  would understand better the
dynamics of changing cities without depriving anyone the right to adequate
housing. Indeed, that housing is one of the three most basic needs of man is
fast losing meaning in some parts of Nigeria.

Nigeria has not stopped amusing the world by seeking
development without first addressing the housing needs of her people. In fact,
a lot of social problems, including diseases, crime and poverty are being
traced to the paucity of housing and the lack of political will to implement
the housing policy of the country.

Successive governments have over the years started and left
behind several un-completed housing projects across the country. In some cases
people who contributed to a National Housing Fund are still un-attended to,
while some government Housing Estates are left for illegal occupants to run
down. These structures have become dens for criminals and hard drug peddlers.

We think that it was high time this trend changed. It is
time government took audit of all uncompleted housing projects with a view to
completing them and putting them to use. It has also become imperative for
states to build low cost houses for indigent
citizens to occupy and pay for over many years.

The Tide is also not unmindful of the need for private
sector involvement in this sector. In many advanced countries, the private
sector plays key roles in the development of housing and by extension, the
cities. Even pension fund managers invest greatly in the sector because of the
inherent benefits. The housing need of the people is what nobody should take
for granted.

Sadly in Nigeria, housing has become a subject only the high
and mighty can discuss. In addition to not being able to own houses, the
arbitrary increase in rent has put unbearable pressure on the masses and made
the development of slums inevitable.

Experts have continued to lament the negative influence of
Nigeria’s Land Use Decree on housing. The cost of land, the cost of building
materials, the lack of planning and the absence of mortgage funds have
continued to make housing inaccessible for quite a lot of Nigerians. In some
cities people have continued to live in houses built before the Nigerian civil
war.

Thankfully, the Rivers State Government is taking a number
of steps to bring a breath of fresh air in this area. The Greater Port Harcourt
City Development Programme is in tandem with the theme of this year’s World
Habitat Day. The Greater Port Harcourt City will dramatically change the face
of Port Harcourt, enlarge it and create opportunities never envisaged.

The Tide is also optimistic that the plan to bring in some
Germans to provide prototype houses would become realisable. The plan is for
the Germans to provide 1,000 units of pre-fabricated houses in six months which
might later be replicated in all the local government areas of Rivers State.

We are aware also  of
the construction of the M-10 road that we hope would open more areas for
development in Rivers State. Of course, the Rainbow Housing Estate is nearing
completion, while the building of quarters for Civil Servants has continued to
interest government.

While the Rivers State Government unfolds its laudable
plans, we think that it should also provide the environment for multiple
players in the sector. Indeed, the Rivers State Property and Housing
Development Authority and the Pabod Finance and Investment Company need to be
made more functional.

But on the short run, a way to tackle the housing needs of
the people must be evolved by government and operationalised. Uncompleted
projects must not continue to remain so, while the impediments to the ownership
of houses by the people must be eliminated.