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It is no longer news that housing is one of the major problems in Nigeria today. Not just housing as it were – but a decent and affordable housing for that matter. Housing experts have come up with the statistics, and that it would take over 17 million housing units to currently mitigate the present housing problem. Seventeen million is a lot, isn’t it? Whether the Nigerian government will be able to make this happen is story for another day or whether they would continue to allow the private sector develop these houses at a very ridiculous prices that are far beyond the affordability reach of most of the people that are in need of these houses.
I think there is need to examine why it is so difficult to build affordable houses in Nigeria. Let’s examine for instance, a two or three bedroom apartment (all en-suite) for an average middle income earner with a household size of say, four (father, mother and two kids). We can further assume the head of that household earns N200,000.00 monthly, irrespective of what the wife earns in this context. According to the last housing review, a ministry of finance document stated that it would cost a whopping $50,000 dollars to develop a 3-bedroom apartment in Nigeria, that is about N20,000,000 naira if you convert that to naira at the rate of N400. Although the document said Nigeria, I know this cost would have been on the basis of building in most Nigerian urban cities anyway.
This is absolutely ridiculous, in a country that is battling with housing problems. The cost of building a house in Nigeria is out of this world and the government is struggling to stem this challenge. Most Nigerians live in their own houses, and many of them can tell you the gory tales of how they got the houses completed. From one loan to the other, credit and thrifts societies money and the likes. I remember it took my dad almost three years to complete his 3 bedroom apartment in a suburb of Lagos – not even close to the urban centers. Building materials are just too expensive and most Nigerians do not just want to resort to our own traditional way of building (using the traditional bricks). Imagine I earn N200,000 naira per month, and I want to build a 3-bedroom flat say in Ikeja, it means it would cost me 8 years to build that house (assuming all my monthly income went into that only).
What the government should be doing is to ensure that cost of building in the country are reduced to the barest minimum, and then encourage the private sectors and individuals to fill this housing gap. There is no year that government has ever met her housing target for the populace. It has always been one challenge or the other. The reason is because the government is trying to do or achieve what the private sector can easily achieved within a short time, given the right support and enabling environment to operate. The housing deficit had grown to this stage simply because government had promised to build houses through its various and unsustainable housing policies and have failed thereafter.
Private individuals should also be encouraged to make use of local materials to build. The challenge with Nigerians most times is our appetite for anything that is foreign – foreign design, foreign bricks, foreign this and foreign that. And this leads me to housing choice. Most of the times, it is not about the cost, but about the bogus and the thirst to want to build the best house in town. Nigerians love big houses and no doubt, big houses has its own cost. There is a cultural belief that with big houses and big cars determines the kind of respect you command in the society. Most Africans don’t believe in building small, everything must be big and shinning. If you think this is not true, take a look at our urban residential neighborhoods, you would simply see what I am talking about.
For Nigeria to really overcome this housing problem, then there is need for us to examine these two areas. The government must ensure that it encourages the private sector housing developers and private/individual builders by ensuring that cost of building in the country is drastically reduced, and that people are encouraged to use locally made building materials. Affordability should be the end game when building a house. For instance, there are so many housing estates in the nation’s capital that are empty because their rents are either too expensive, or the cost of disposing of the properties are not affordable. Until we get to this point, I am afraid the housing problems in Nigeria would persist, and the deficit would continue to increase as the population grows and the need for accommodation increases.