Dr Moses Bunmi Ajayi, a former President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners and past President of Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria, is the Principal Partner, MOLAJ Consultants. In this interview with DAYO AYEYEMI, he speaks on the inability of government to match the nation’s growing population with affordable housing provision. He expressed concerns on the issues of rental housing and importation of building materials.
Are you not worried led by Nigeria’s large population and huge housing shortfall for low and medium income groups?
The fundamental issue you raised has serious and wider implication. This is the issue of large population and growing population with no economic base to engage that population’s usefulness. We have a large army of unemployed youths and semi-unemployed even when they are selling handkerchief. A lot of them are unemployable and these unemployable people are in three categories. There are those that have certificates under questionable circumstances; or their certificates and capabilities don’t match each other. There are those in the north who don’t even have any education at all; and there are people who are in-between. The major problem is that they are the largest percentage of the population. Now they are at the age where they have a lot of energy; they are at the age where they are supposed to be very resourceful, but they found themselves in a situation where the economy does not make any provision for them. Socio-economic situation does not provide for them, so what do they do? A lot of them go into crime in one direction or the other. In the north where they don’t have education and somebody has successfully given them guns, they started using their guns to make money through kidnapping.
In the south where a lot of them have university education, they started 419, and because they have knowledge, they stay at home with their laptop, doing business. They start their own business, but unfortunately most of the businesses are fraud. You cannot talk of housing in isolation. Even in developed countries nobody will give you mortgage if you have no job. It’s not free distribution of money apart from the country where the population is very small and there are more houses than the population. Under normal situation, you need to have a job before somebody can give you a mortgage because once you break your mortgage payment, you lose your house. When people have no job, how can they pay mortgage? How can they build houses? Unfortunately, in this country, all the laws that have to do with houses are in favour of the tenants and against the landlords. Consequently, a lot of people are not putting their money into rental houses any longer because the tenants will not pay rent and will take you to court. The case will go for five years and at the end of the day, he will run away. So a lot of people are not putting their money into rental housing. That is why rental housing is very scarce and very expensive. Rather, they put money into real estate to build and sell.
Who are they selling to?
They are selling to privileged people. They are selling to guys who have very big jobs. So housing cannot increase at the rate at which population is increasing. It is not possible because there is no real mortgage. You must earn income before they can start talking about house. And don’t forget government needs the same money to create jobs, build houses and do mortgage financing. The private sector which is supposed to do a lot of these things is limited by government’s laws and regulations. These are not helping the matter. Government in this country does not help anybody, even when you have an idea, government will help you to kill it with regulations. Once you have to take permit from somewhere, you are in trouble. Someone in-charge thinks that this is an opportunity. I have one case in my hand. Somebody wants to build a supermarket that would have created jobs for 200 Nigerians. He changed his mind and moved out of the country.
When he brought his design, the assessment fee the government’s agencies asked him to pay was N13 million. After that they asked him to pay infrastructure development level (IDL) of N33 million. The person who was going to supervise the building from LABCA asked for N6 million. Everything was about N50million. The man just decided that with that money, he could start a business abroad.
Can you link this to plethora of vacant houses in Nigerian cities?
Yes! Go to Ikoyi, Lekki and Ajah, empty houses are more than the occupied ones. This is because the economy is down. When they were building those houses, their developers were looking at economy that was growing very well. The economy is down now and the middle class that is supposed to buy houses is no more there.
What are the solutions to issues of job opportunities for youths so that they can own their homes?
If I had my way, there would be a form of restructuring. It is not going to be a political restructuring that people are talking about, but restructuring about the issue of economy. Government cannot run business. That is what I am taking about. The role should be given to the private sector. We should look at all the laws and regulations. Which are the ones that are inimical to private sector development? Let every sector sit down. If people say they are interested in investing in farming, let us sit together to find out the inhibiting problems and discuss them. Government should now focus on private sector running the economy. Government should just give policies and moderate them, but it is the private sector that is putting in the money. They were trying to do that, but they reversed it along the line. Former President Obasanjo and the rest of them that was the direction they were already going by creating the enabling environment for the private sector. The civil servants know that once that happens, they will not be able to make money. However, let the private sector run the economy and use technology.
How do we revamp the Nigerian economy through housing?
All over the world, it has been proven that when you have a depressed situation and you have to wake it up, put money into real estate. That is the experience all over the world. I agree with that, that when you put money into real estate, you will employ many people. That is why you don’t have many useless people in Lagos. So construction keeps a lot of people busy and has a way of contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Government should put a lot of money into real estate development.
What is your take on importation of local building materials?
It is inimical to our economy, and that is why I’m saying that government policies are always against the nation’s growth. If you ask anybody the types of taxes government put on local manufacturing of building materials, you will be surprised. There are places where you can find all these materials such as marbles, tiles and ceiling materials and the rest in Nigeria, but it cheaper when you import than the locally manufactured one. Some of the challenges faced by manufacturers in Nigeria are that by the time you need to get permit from government’s agencies, there is no thinking that this man wants to invest here and let us create enabling environment for him. Rather, they would ask him to bring N500 million and other things. All these discourage investors and they walk away.
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