SOCIAL HOUSING: Why States must emulate Yobe Govt, by AIHS Convener, Barr Festus Adebayo

Barr Festus Adebayo, Convener, AIHS.

Abuja International Housing Show (AIHS) is the largest gathering of housing sector industry policy makers and operators in Africa. In this exclusive interview with the Convener, Barr Festus Adebayo, he discusses the sector’s legacy challenge of funding as well as the effort made by the Federal and State governments in Nigeria to provide affordable shelter for low income earners, stating that the Mai Mala Buni-led government of Yobe State is top on the list of States that have made remarkable progress in social housing.
Francis Kadiri reports.

The 15th edition of Abuja International Housing Show is ongoing, and is a paradigm shift from what it used to be. Tell us how you started and developed the show to his enviable extent.
Fifteen years ago, we convened the maiden edition of Abuja International Housing Show (AIHS) on a small note, but with a very clear vision. I am happy that we have made remarkable progress over the years and we have been able to achieve set goals even as we continue to set new goals.

The idea is not to serve Nigeria alone, we want to attract participants from beyond the shores of this country – we want housing sector policy makers and operators in the continent of Africa to come and share their views and proffer solutions to challenges. So, we aim to go international and even global in the interest of generating ideas that will lead to provision of shelters for low income earners. We want AIHS to serve as platform for interaction of industry leaders as well as leading brands. We know that government and private sector need to meet and brainstorm on challenges and the need to fashion out the right policies that will address problems. The AIHS has served as the platform for many years, and we will intensify our efforts.

The vision is to enable Nigerians to own their own homes irrespective of economic class. The AIHS operates on the idea that home ownership is not an exclusive right of the rich, we believe that if the right policies are in place, the middle-class and low income earners can be supported to own their own homes. Our greatest concern is for the downtrodden – the poor who have not the resources to easily build of purchase homes.

This is the 15th edition of AIHS, and we are happy to have made very enviable progress. For us, we still believe that there is still so much to do, and I say the journey has just started. In the remaining days of the conference, various industry leaders and top government functionaries will discuss industry challenges and policy issues aimed at addressing myriad of problem bedeviling the sector.

What is the lineup of activities for the next three days?
Apart from the interaction between government and private sector leaders, the Chief Executives of best brands will interact with themselves and that has been done in the first two days of the ongoing AIHS conference.

The youth event holds on Wednesday as well as a competition on affordable housing designs. On Thursday is a day assigned to Shelter Afrique, during which it will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN). I hope you are aware that Shelter Afrique and REDAN are working to float a bond.

The bond is a response to the challenge of housing project financing, which has been a major challenge of estate developers in Nigeria. Developers in Nigeria need to get money from Shelter Afrique in Dollars, not Naira. This is because Naira – Dollar exchange rates can change, and it can be very consequential for project execution. The only way they can receive the fund in Naira is to float a bond, and that will take place on Thursday.

How many exhibitors are working with you in the ongoing 15th AIHS conference?
There are three hundred exhibitors consisting of public and private sector.

To what extent has the show affected government homes ownership policies?
Over the years, AIHS has influenced various policies of government. The idea that brought about the formulation of some of the policies in place today was initiated during stakeholder interactions on AIHS platforms.

What is the vision of AIHS for the Nigeria housing industry?
Affordable housing is our key vision, and we are achieving it by getting relevant stakeholders to discuss the goal and implement decisions reached. We want all Nigerians to have access to own their own homes. Presently, the situation is not pleasant.

There are people who have worked for thirty-five years, yet they have no access to home ownership as a result of affordability challenge. There are people who graduated from school and take up jobs, yet they have no hope of owning homes of their own. The cost of building materials in daily on the rise, yet incomes are not increasing.

There is inflation everywhere, and the cost of livelihood is on the rise.

The Minister of State for Works and Housing, Engr Abubakar Aliyu recalled what happened in Yobe State when he was Deputy Governor: He said the state government was building affordable housing at cost of eight hundred thousand Naira per house, and the beneficiaries were relieved. There is need to subsidize housing cost for those who do not have the financial capacity to own a house.

Our vision is to see a Nigeria where social housing will a prime focus of government, where governments at all level will have the political will to connect agriculture with housing, which will lead to increase in productivity.

What policies have changed since AIHS stared 15 years ago?
Apart from stakeholder interaction, AIHS has done so much in the area of advocacy. We have been able to push some ideas to government. Recently, the Federal Government established the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC). I am very happy to inform you that the idea for the establishment of a mortgage refinance company is one of the things we advocated for.

Our advocacy for low income housing policies led to the establishment of the Family Homes Fund (FHF) which creates opportunities for people to own their homes. So, we are working and we are achieving set goals.

Recently, government decided to provide mass housing at cost of two million Naira for one-bedroom homes, while two bedroom houses will be sold for two million, five hundred thousand Naira to Nigerians. This is another commendable result of policy advocacy, and we want stakeholders to remain committed to working together to ease home ownership for low income earners.

As a platform, the AIHS has consistently advocated for better a mortgage system and the review of Land Use Act. From what has happened so far, we are succeeding and we are happy at that.

Which State government would you say is a role model in terms of provision of affordable housing?
Yobe State government is the indisputable answer. The Yobe State has built uncommonly affordable houses for low income earners. Apart from ensuring that the houses are affordable, it also subsidizes it by fifty percent. The government of Yobe State is so committed that if a subscriber is able to pay thirty percent of the supposed fifty percent, government could decide to write off the remaining twenty percent. This is unprecedented, and it must be commended.

What is your assessment of the performance of the mortgage sector in Nigeria?
One of the problems is access to land. The Land Use Act is a barrier, and that has to be addressed. State governors must be committed to addressing the problem. States want quick money from housing, but it doesn’t go that way. When land is costly and unaffordable, houses will also be costly because developers who invest a lot of money buying land would want to recoup their funds.

How can the Public Private Partnership policy be improved for better homes delivery?
The PPP is a good idea and it must be sustained. Government provides the land, while a competent developer builds the houses with his money. It’s a joint venture that leads to the provision of homes. When there is efficient PPP, set goals will be realised because private sector businesses are agile and profit oriented. There is so much corruption in government and you may not get desired results if government is entirely in charge of housing provision. Do, it is good that the organised private sector is involved via the PPP. For this reason, the AIHS advocates that the Ministry of Housing should be concerned with policy formulation, not building houses.
The government should create enabling environment where private sector can thrive.

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