NIGERIA’S URBANISATION CHALLENGE

Nigeria’s urban populations now account for close to or exceed half of the total population; and the urbanization rate is among some of the fastest growing in the world. Olatunbosun Oladapo writes

Urbanization is indeed a global phenomenon that has transformed and continues to alter landscapes and the ways in which societies function and develop. Cities offer the lure of better employment, education, healthcare and culture; and they contribute disproportionately to national economy. Urbanization is one of the major demographic and economic phenomena in developing countries, with important consequences for economic development, energy use, and wellbeing. According to definitions, the word ‘Urban’ varies from country to country. While some regard urbanization as the shift from a rural to an urban society, and involves an increase in the number of people in urban areas during a particular period, others view urbanization as the increase in the number of people into an area to swell the population of a place; the physical growth of a geographical location. United Nations Habitat in 2006 described it as the increase in concentration of people in cities rather than in rural areas.
It has therefore been muted and confirmed that most of the expected urban growth will actually take place in developing countries. Unfortunately, these are the countries that are ill-equipped to handle such enormous surge in population. Consequently, majority of the population increase will be accommodated via informal strategies. With the United Nations Population Fund, UNPF recently confirming there is 54 percent of the world’s population currently live in cities; in a place like Nigeria which is still largely rural, the density of those living in cities is around 40 percent but there are some notes where there is huge concentration, particularly Lagos. And in spite of Nigeria’s current position, Lagos still ranks amongst the top twenty mega cities of the world. While this is considerable good for the image of the country, there is an underlying issue which is the high rate of urbanization relative to infrastructure. This is a country that is relatively high in infrastructure deficit.
Nigeria over the decades, have epitomized the harsh reality of the disastrous effects of human negligence and its effect on the socio-economic and cultural disposition of its people. Endowed with enviable material and human resources, the country has become synonymous with a decidedly criminal infrastructure deficiency and seeming unwillingness to tackle the persistent challenges therewith.
Challenges such as insecurity, lack of easy access to funds and interest rates have been identified as critical factors militating against urbanization in Nigeria. This is considering the fact that one major aspect of urbanization – Housing, has become an albatross with several options and alternatives to ensure affordable housing falling far short of the mark.
In an economy where ‘affordable’ housing isn’t affordable, and where so many issues are either unresolved or are simply unattended to, one can only imagine what the future holds for prospective house owners. Issues bothering on sustainable development in the building industry, housing and design methodologies, public/private partnership as well institutional framework for housing development are just a few that require swift attention, especially because experts have said that Nigeria presently has enormous housing deficit.
On sustainable development, some experts are of the opinion that the development in itself is self sustaining. Speaking with INSIDE BUSINESS AFRICA, the principal partner R.C.O Properties Chief R.C Okafor said” A lot of people get confused with the term ‘sustainable development’. The development is already sustaining itself; it only needs supply of capital to make it continuous. For example, look at the Lekki corridor; it didn’t take a long time to become that developed…”. Other experts hold the opinion that for sustainable development to be really felt by the populace, the government needs to buckle up and be more proactive especially on issues as regards getting approval for a building or even land consent. The Principal Partner, Kola Akomolede had this to say on this issue: “ …for sustainable growth in the housing industry, there is still a lot for government to do. The private sector whom the government is shifting the onus on, is trying. If you look at Nigeria today, about 80 percent of houses are privately built, which is not so in other countries. In London, we hear of council flats here and there. That is a government in action…” .
In a country like Singapore where they have over 90 percent owner occupiers (the largest in the world) where houses were built by the government and sold to the people at affordable rates, with payment over a period of 25 – 30 years, it therefore isn’t rocket to see the robust housing development these countries are embarking upon. The question therefore is: When will Nigeria emulate such?
Just as it is experienced in other parts of the world, there is also a need for the sustainability of the Public and Private Partnership in ensuring sustainable housing development. This would encourage the private sector provide the necessary financing while the government provides the conducive environment by providing adequate security, good road network, efficient health care system as well portable water. The challenge therefore is ensuring that the public sector lives up to its responsibilities. Speaking on this development, R.C. Okafor also said “The synergy is already in existence; the only problem is that the public sector is not up to its social responsibilities. What we only ask is to create conducive environment and infrastructure and private capital would take care of the rest. Give us good roads, water, electricity and all others and private capital will do the balance”
Other experts have proposed the concept of social housing, where housing can be provided for the people who in normal circumstance won’t be able to provide housing for themselves. AdeolaOlufon, the Principal Partner of AdeolaOlufon and Co highlighted this recently, “I’m an advocate of what I call social housing in order to solve the urban slum problems like we have in our rapidly growing urban areas in Nigeria, particularly Lagos. The government must wake up and provide housing for people who cannot normally provide houses for themselves; it is wrong for a government to provide houses for people who could normally provide houses for themselves through medium and high income houses. These are people whose needs can be met through the normal economic processes of demand and supply”
For curious minds however, a question that keeps begging for answer is: How do we ensure affordable housing? This is knowing fully well that the so called “affordable housing” in Nigeria isn’t quite affordable. Speaking on this issue, the Principal Consultant, Ibukun Efuntayo and Company had this to say: “Affordability does not mean low cost, as there is no low cost housing anywhere, simply because the so called low cost housing isn’t really low cost; especially since the recent re-emergence of the middle class, who are the ones who sustains any economy. Therefore affordability simply means tailoring the housing development to suit the needs of the targeted class. Housing also does not mean everyone owning a property. Housing basically is getting people off from under the bridge into a shelter. Another way of ensuring affordable housing is by having a virile mortgage system with single digit. If there is no mortgage system, forget about affordability”
Also, a very salient issue that has been raised overtime is that of institutional framework which guides the activities of the industry and its players. A lot of experts hold reservation on the power the government reserves in this regard. Land, which it most paramount factor in housing, is owned by the government (going by the Land Use Decree of 1978), experts hold the view that the process of acquiring land is so cumbersome and expensive, and even when one is fortunate enough to privately acquire, to get the necessary documents to raise funds may take years. Issues such as processes of acquiring land, processes of perfecting titles and processes of getting approval for your building are institutional frameworks experts say government should reform. An analysis recently, showing how long it takes to obtain title of a property, showed that in places like London, one would get his/her title in thirty days, in a place like South Africa, you’ll get it in three weeks, in Nigeria, one would be considered lucky to get it in six months; suffice to say there are many testimonies of people who take years before getting theirs.
Like every sector the world over, the issue of quacks parading themselves as professionals is often prevalent. This unpalatable development eats deep into the fabrics of every profession hence there is a need to develop measures to eradicate them. Experts have identified measures such as advocacy and encouraging professionals in the sector to up their game as a means to bridge a disparity between them, while emphasizing that the menace cannot completely be eradicated.
Finally, it is quite expedient to advice government on ways to further improve this sector. Firstly, access to land should be made possible and at a price that people can afford, as the price is so high and people are scared to even come forward with their intention of purchasing. Secondly, access to fund; here is a country where people buy houses like they buy clothes from a boutique- Cash and Carry- This is not done in other countries of the world. Housing is capital intensive, and you don’t expect one to pay cash in acquiring a house worth 50 million naira, which also is a reason for the malaise of corruption the country currently faces, hence the reason to provide a robust mortgage system, where people can walk into a bank, obtain a loan and pay back over a period of 20-30 years at an interest they can afford as it is experienced in other countries. Thirdly, on institutional framework, provision of approved building plan, land title, certificate of occupancy and all others must be hastened so as to ensure swift and qualitative housing delivery.
If all these can be looked into as treated as a matter of urgency, private capital is more than able to finance and power Nigeria’s housing development.

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