At 62, Nigeria can celebrate and strive for sustainable housing
The supply of housing cannot improve without improvement in effective demand.
It is not a landmark anniversary. Nevertheless, there are reasons for Nigerians – and the friends of our country – to celebrate the attainment of 62 years of independence of Nigeria on the 1st of October 2022. As we celebrate as citizens, we showcase our uncommon resilience and the strength of our country. We also indicate our hope for a better tomorrow, rather than being held down by the present challenges.
This occasion is also an opportunity to take stock and commit to progress. The housing sector is an important area for review. For hundreds of years before even the colonization of the territories that became Nigeria with the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates in 1914, the people who lived in these areas were very pragmatic with their housing development. Hausa architecture of housing built with mud, stones, and grasses provided functional shelters that shielded the people from the scorching sun and the bellow of dusty wind from the Sahara Desert.
Also evident in Igbo architecture in the same period were cave-inspired tight encasements of pitched roofing, with priority given to warmth and wind aversion. The Yorubas prioritised termite-resistance, which they found in bamboo rafters in that era. These functional approaches to housing development are till this day reflected in the various areas that have become modern Nigeria.
The colonial administration created enclaves of better planned real estate development, with Government Reserved Area (GRA) dotting several cities including Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, etc. Explosion in modern housing development and infrastructure followed the discovery and exploration of crude oil in Nigeria shortly before and in the decades after independence in 1960. Private development was augmented by federal and state low- and medium-cost housing estates to boost modern housing provision.
But with the explosion in population, acceleration in rural-urban drift, and the structural changes in the economy fostered by the emergent rentier oil economy, a crisis of shortage of housing units was building up in the system. By the last decade, a deficit of 17 million housing units was commonly cited by stakeholders. Amongst the identified causes of the shortage are limited access to mortgage, ineffective administration of property right, labyrinthine land titling process marked by bureaucratic bottleneck, and lack of local innovation for the production of modern housing materials to make them more affordable.
The first two tiers of government (federal and state) have remained active in providing support for the housing sector. Indeed, it is fair to say that the institutional and policy architecture for Nigeria’s real estate development have been emplaced. What is required is to strengthen it and keep pace with new trends, which are defined by the pivot to sustainable housing – which incorporates environmental responsibility and social progress.
Partnership between the public and private sector has become more important in the Nigerian real estate development in the important endeavour of fostering sustainability in housing provisioning. As the country marks its 62nd independence anniversary this month, Bilaad is also celebrating its 5th anniversary as an organisation and for our leadership role in the advocacy for sustainable housing and significant contributions to the provision of same.
As Nigeria matches forward towards nationhood, building a sustainable housing sector should be a paramount goal of relevant policymakers and private sector market participants. From the supply side, innovation and improving capacity are key. Innovation should address local sourcing of sustainable housing materials. If housing will become affordable to the people, high dependency on foreign building materials needs to be drastically reduced. This will relax the acute pressure on the limited supply of foreign exchange in the country, which has in recent time driven the exchange rate to what might be termed as stratospheric levels while also fueling inflation.
Innovation will prove to be the ultimate solution to the Nigerian housing challenges, which include limited mortgage access, dependency on conventional building materials – which fuels an oligopolistic market – and lack of effective support for first-time housing ownership. The supply of housing is very important and has been given priority policy support in many countries. In this regard, real investment in expanding access – as opposed to speculative real estate investment – has been recognized and pursued. Nevertheless, innovation in Nigeria’s housing policy should make the sector attractive for foreign direct investment (FDI).
Improving capacity in the sector is not limited to financing; it extends to technical knowhow. Given the strain on public finance, it is expected that the private sector will take the lead in financing. However, policy interventions to improve the attraction of FDI is crucial. With regard to technical capacity, mainstreaming excellence across the value chain of housing delivery can be promoted by policy. Such policy should improve the governance of technical standards as well as development of capacity through the various educational and vocational institutions.
The supply of housing cannot improve without improvement in effective demand. Therefore, the high level of poverty in the country is a major obstacle to the needed expansion in access to decent and sustainable housing. Strengthening economic growth, going forward, is of a critical importance. In the short-term, however, this goal is likely to become more challenging given the deterioration in the global economic climate. Nigeria has been largely resilient to the alarming macroeconomic conditions because of the underlining strength of the economy. This includes untapped productive potentials, latent demand, and a large population.
As Nigerians, we should be optimistic about the future. The potential of the housing sector is one of the reasons for a buoyant socioeconomic outlook. The housing and construction industry is traditionally seen as a mirror of the trend in the aggregate productive economy. But the industry can actually be one of the pacesetters in the economy.
At Bilaad, we are strengthening our commitment to a sustainable Nigerian real estate industry. As we happily mark the first five years of our operations, we also wish Nigerians a happy 62nd independence anniversary.
Bilaad Realty Limited is an Abuja-based company focused on delivering sustainable real estate solutions.
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