Absence of data, hindrance to housing provision in Nigeria —Experts

For close to six years, the song from stakeholders in the housing sector has been that housing deficit in Nigeria is 17million, and till date, this position still remains the same.

Just about a month ago at the 2016 World Habitat Day, held in Lagos, speakers, still held to this figure which a senior advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, who was also a guest speaker at the event, described as inaccurate figure, due to lack of census and veritable data from research.

Arguments by the observers are whether Nigeria as a nation has conducted any census in the past 16 to 20 years where actual population has been established, or whether every policy of government is just a projection based, or whether those in charge of housing delivery conducted separate census from which 17 million housing deficit in Nigeria becomes article of faith.

Speaking recently on the importance of shelter among human needs, after food and clothing, UHHABITAT Representative in Nigeria, Kabir Yari, harped on the need for adequate data to get things right as far as housing provision is concerned.

“‘Housing At The Centre’ which formed the theme of just concluded world habitat day was chosen to create awareness and highlight the importance of decent housing to individuals and society at large. It is also to draw attention the plight of low income earners with regards to access to adequate and affordable housing.

“As towns and cities continue to grow leaps and bounds, the requirement for housing increases,” he said, adding that “Nigeria is said to have a deficit of 17 million housing units and providing for this huge backlog is our challenge both to the government and its citizens.”

Another puzzle is the believe that in Nigeria, about half of the total population lives in the urban centres of which 60 millions live in informal settlement often not adequately planned and with a deficient public utility facilities and services.

Question still being asked again is: what is the total population of which half is living in the urban centre, and what are the numbers of these 60 million people could be found across the 36 states made up of the federation? Take for example, the figure of those in Lagos, Benin, Ibadan or Kano?

Reacting to the issue, former President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Waheed Kadiri, identified other problems associated with inadequate housing provision, though slightly related to non-availability of reliable data.

Kadiri identified massive population growth, uncontrolled rural-urban migration, rapid increase in household formation and aerial expansion, especially, in places like Lagos, Port Harcourt, or Kano.

Other factors he identified included revocation of right of occupancy, rising land and rental values, import minded living, change of use, for example, converting residential homes to offices, warehouses, places of worships, among others.

“However in all these, the truth is that low income earners have not always been part of the equation by property markets which is predominantly controlled by the elite,” he said.

To the immediate past Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development in Lagos State, Toyin Ayinde, there is the need to know the population of the prospective house owners in each state to effectively determine the housing needs, the house types required, among other factors.

“As far as I’m concerned, the case in our country is like a head of family that doesn’t know the number of his children, how would he be able to meet their needs?

“Besides, does it mean that for the past five years, both governments in every states and private developers do not build houses, no matter the number and if they had, how many are they?

“What is the population of the younger people five years ago and how old are they now? What are the housing demands in each states and what is the purchasing power of the would-be house owners? We need to get the right data on the sundry questions or else, we will just continue to dance in the dark”, said Ayinde.

Notwithstanding, the general consensus is that housing is only being adequate when it guarantees security of tenants, saddle with adequate public utilities and services affordable, habitable, accessible, carefully adequate and satisfying.

As for definition, it was observed that definition of adequate housing by the UN Habitat is a big challenge, particularly to a developing country like Nigeria.

For example, a research commission by UN Habitat in 2016 found that with the exemption of informal housing for low and high incomes cities, all other housing types in the market are unaffordable and public housing is not affordable in any city regardless of GDP per Capital.

Currently, about 881 million African are living in slum, the African slum population is projected to grow over one billion in 2030 to 1.2 billion in 2050.

In Nigeria, it is projected that over 60 percent of overall population lives in informal settlement without adequate space, including drinkable water and sanitation.

The urban poor are important in governing and providing shelter in African cities and town given the absence of government support and investment they are compelled to provide for themselves. As a result, their houses are consorted without adequate infrastructure like water sanitation and energy.

The central challenge facing many government and urban managers is how to recognise and appreciate the effort of the urban poor and to build their own investment to progressively solve the shelter crisis in African cities.

Apart from absence of reliable statistics, other challenge is that desire to introduce sufficient number of new housing unit on annual basis to meet demands for new households and provision of housing for new migrants into the city will require a major policy shift of putting houses at the centre of urban planning.

As it stands, it’s imperative that UN habitat’s mandate for promoting socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities, including adequate housing for all can only be achieved if it works with government to ensure availability of credible data.