How to Achieve Nigeria’s Transparent Housing Scheme – Ayuba
Ayuba Wabba is the President of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). In this interview, he laments the non-inclusion of labour in government’s efforts to provide affordable houses to workers. Excerpts:
Fish is one of the major housing programmes being implemented for workers by the Federal Government, how do you see the programme?
I am not sure that labour has been fully carried along in this project or programme, am not sure if we have contributed to the concept and what will be the role of workers and their unions. But I am also aware that it was one of the suggestions made in the palliative committee. So it is when actually adopted that we can now look at the details; what will be the responsibilities of the workers whether the houses would be affordable and what also makes it different with other housing projects, because the problem of housing in Nigeria principally is about affordability. Because for instance in Abuja, there are many houses that are empty, but they are beyond the reach of ordinary workers.
Workers especially in the major cities like Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos oftentimes earn same as those living in less expensive states. Do you think government can create a housing scheme that will capture the real target?
Part of what makes houses expensive here in Abuja and other major cities is the cost of land and the first thing to be done for workers to access cheaper houses or affordable houses is that deliberate effort must be made to allocate land directly for the project. Secondly, government should come up with a template, a model of houses that are affordable and then have workers to buy in and build those models.
That will actually crash the price, but what is happening now is that there are a lot of intermediaries who buy the land from government and also build expensive houses because they want to maximize profit. First the cost of the land alone in some areas in Abuja is more than N20 million, N20m can build a decent house for many families, so this is the main issue in all our major cities; cost of the land is a major determinant of the cost of such building.
Secondly you must also look at the type of houses you build. Again the issue of mortgage; we must be able to work out mortgages that are less expensive. Around the world we have mortgages with interest of two percent, but in Nigeria the only mortgage you get with six percent is at Federal Mortgage Bank which is also workers’ contribution. Also, more importantly is the type of houses – you must be able to aggregate between the lower income earners, the middle income earners and the high income earners. There must also be an interconnect because in most of these policies they don’t even carry the workers organisation on board so that makes it very difficult.
The government had partnered with labour unions but it ended in a scam?
No, it’s not true! It’s not partnership, what also affected that project was lack of land and, there were some processes that were not followed up by the developer. Essentially the union and workers actually made their own part of the bargain and the project was supposed to be affordable housing for Nigerian workers. Workers are supposed to pay 10 percent equity and the arrangement was that the developer will build the houses; our own responsibilities were only to provide off takers and guarantee they pay something.
We agreed that it is at the point of giving you your key that you will now begin to pay over the period of 18 years and the interest is very low – just about two percent. The arrangement is that we are going to bring investors from outside country, who are to build the houses. The off takers are to make down payment of 10 percent which is not supposed to be accessed by any of the parties. But along the line without our knowledge, when we reached the first tranche of N2.5 billion to the delivery on the houses, the account was closed.
It was at that point that the issue of land came up. We had to refund the money to the subscribers. As I am talking to you now, over 88 percent of the fund has been recovered. There is claim that land was bought with part of the deposit. That is in the process of recovery by the EFCC because when we went to do ground breaking, the FCDA told us the land was not meant for housing, that it was a green area.
One would have expected labour to clarify all these things before entering partnership?
We did all that. Part of the process of verification is the fact that ground breaking must be done by the minister of FCT. There was even a delegation of the foreign company that was supposed to bring the fund, they went there and the report was positive.
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