By Aleke Linus Ikechukwu
An estate developer and former minister of sport, who is also the immediate past national tresurer of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as well as the current President of the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria Hon. Bala Bawa Kao’je in this interview with Linus Aleke x-rays the causes of housing deficit in Nigeria and suggested possible ways of addressing it. He also gave insight on the incessant crisis rocking the ruling People’s Democratic Party as well as his position on proposed national dialogue. The excerpt:
Recently, vice president Namadi Sambo in a housing summit revealed that Nigeria needs additional 18 million houses to be able to meet the housing need of her citizenry; what in your view is responsible for this huge housing deficit in the country?
Nigerian government allowed itself to reach the level of having a deficit in the country in terms of housing up to a level of 18 million as mention by the vice president because of neglect. Before now subsequent government in Nigeria has never taken the issue of housing seriously, it was just a kind of eye service that had been given by government towards provision of affordable housing in Nigeria. I think, there are few regime in the past that you can say have played fairly reasonable role in providing housing and one of such regime is that of president Shehu Shagari. During his time I know there was some move to provide affordable housing in Nigeria. But that was not also properly implemented, by the end of it there were many negative things that happened in the sense that most of the projects were left unconcluded after his ouster from office by the Buhari led Junta. But aside from President Shehu Shagari some few governors also tried reasonably in the past to provide housing, for instance chief Lateef Jakande did his best in Lagos but if you look at it generally you find out that today most of our governors have been providing housing but the rate at which they provide this houses does not go anywhere to clear the backlog of housing needs of Nigerians in their various states. I fill that the country is far-far left behind because other countries have to take the bull by the horn and face squarely the issue of housing. In Nigeria we are yet to see that, government makes promises that they never fulfill when it concerns the issue of housing which is shelter over the head of man. Apart from the air that we breathe I think that the next thing that is very important to mankind is shelter which we are lacking.
You served in some of these government that neglected provision of housing though in the sporting sector, as an estate developer what do you think is responsible for this abysmal neglect?
Well I think I should look at it from the point of view of government policy even though polices in most cases in Nigeria do not have a continuous effect on successive government. Generally government in Nigeria makes polices during their time and those policies die as soon as the person behind it exits. There is no continuity and that is one major problem that we have in governance in Nigeria. For the fact that subsequent government in Nigeria refused to adhere to long and midterm plan of policy execution which has retarded most of the thing government intend to do in Nigeria. I do believe that if government from independence had had a good plan in terms of housing there is no way we will be having a deficit of up to 18000000 million houses today. Because our population in 1960 when we got independence is nowhere near what it is today; therefore if there had been a plan designed to cater for housing provision from 1960 and that plan had been adhered to continuously even if they are providing few houses. Let assume government had been providing at least 500 houses every year from 1960. Calculate how many houses government would have provided by today. The issue of deficit would not have been there, there were periods when you don’t hear of any government particularly at federal level building any house. And this neglect now has resulted to a point where it has become extremely difficult for the government to afford to reasonably provide affordable houses for her citizens. I am not saying that there is no way out of this problem, there are ways out of it but government must come out to spearhead that move.
In other climes, provision of housing is not left for government alone the private sector also play a pivotal role in the provision of shelter, how has the private sector contributed to the housing provision in the country?
Yes I agree with you totally even when I was talking I was not saying that the government should bring out money and start building houses for people everywhere. No I do not mean that, that time has passed long ago. There is no government anywhere in the world that would be able to provide all the services on its’ own because the resources are scarce and in some cases not available. What I am saying here is that the government has to partner with the private sector to be able to make a head way in the provision of affordable housing. Why I mention government is because there is no way private sector will thrive on its own without the government providing the enabling environment. Government must play the key role of a leader even if government is not bringing in the money directly but government should be able to stand in front to make such money accessible to the private sector to enable them put it into use. There are many avenues I understand where funds can be provided through government machinery into partnership with private organizations to bring in money. I understand that World Bank has some money made for affordable housing which attracts very low interest rate. And there are many other bank around that the government can also influence. Why I am calling government is because it is only government that has that level of influence to be able to attract huge direct investment into housing development through some of the platform that we already have and in partnering with the private sector a lot of thing can happen. I will give you one example the federal mortgage bank is there poorly funded even though I know the federal mortgage bank has its own challenges. And the reason why the challenges are still there is because not much had been done to really come up with better ways to implement the activities of the federal mortgage bank to make it a win-win situation for all. Where they can become a kind of bank where money that government attracts from different sources can be brought in under some certain kind of understanding and be giving out to other private sector developer who will also contribute their own quota. If such a partnership is to work the private company will have their own land where they are going to build such houses and I think that rather than only basing everything on the issue of private sector developer getting a land and building houses and giving them through mortgages system to up takers who will in turn pay over several years. There is need to streamline the way this method is carried out; the mortgage system in the country need to be strengthened properly to enable them carryout their activities without much hindrance. That is working with the up taker of the houses who need a mortgage, through that mortgage institution and the developer who has build those houses and is making the houses available to an up taker. So that there should be some smooth transaction between the developer, the mortgage finance institution and federal mortgage bank so that the beneficiary can quickly get the funds that they requires to own houses. And a developer can after completing a particular houses, give them out through mortgage institutions to the up takers who now has to source the money to pay from federal mortgage bank. The time required is very important for everybody to care about. The buyer who may buy one or two bedroom flat from a developer can pay for a period of say twenty or twenty five years if he is working or depending on how long he still has to stay in any organization working. But one other important issue is that a developer should have a certain date to be able to work out of the loan. There are so many bottle necks that exist between the mortgage institution and a developer and between mortgage institution and federal mortgage bank and also between the three people who are suppose to partner to make sure that housing is provided without too much hindrances. Therefore these things must be checked and corrected properly because so far what is going on in Nigeria does not give the key players opportunity to abridge the 18 million deficits in the country.
There are so many unoccupied houses under lock and key in all the major cities across the country because they are not affordable even when there is a deficit of 18 million, what is responsible for such contrast?
Well you know Nigeria is a nation full of corruption and that is why you have many houses that are locked up and nobody sees it. Anybody who works hard to make money will know the best way to use it to benefit him. But here in Nigeria there are so many people who have become rich on a corrupt manner and because of the major staking by government in trying to fight corruption. It has become a little bit difficult for people to keep huge sums of money in the bank because they will not be able to explain the sources of such funds. So they put these funds in paying already made structures paying money cash directly in most cases in dollars. I am happy recently the Central Bank of Nigeria is crying over the dollarization of our naira. That has been going on for quite some time, dollar is moving all over, and in some circle you see more dollars than you see naira. And that is very unfortunate that is effect of corruption therefore we will continue to see such kind of houses until when government buckles up to fight corruption. I mean people who are corruptly enriching themselves true illegitimate means and generally speaking when we are talking about provision of houses, we are talking about provision of houses to low and middle income earners. Those who have not been corrupted yet, those who are corrupted will not look for your house because they have enough money to go and build mansions for themselves. So we are much more concerned about the down trodden; those who cannot afford it, who had not been corrupted, who have no other means order than the salaries they are earning per month. Those are the people we are targeting as far as affordable housing is concerned. I know that we have a large number of people who had build houses that they cannot afford to build through legitimate means but that is left for government to find out who such people are. Apprehend them, investigate them and find out how they come about such wealth without being involved in any manufacturing business or any other known sources of funding.
Country like Turkey already have surplus in terms of provision of housing that can serve her unborn generation up to two decades if the country decides to stop building now; what can be done in Nigeria to achieve similar feet?
Well to be honest with you this country you just mentioned, the kind of leadership they have had is not our own kind of leadership. Because as I said earlier leadership must be focused, leadership must look far into the future not present situation. Turkey is self sufficient in many things; light never go on and off in Turkey, they have stable electricity, they make virtually everything for themselves. What and what do we make here by ourselves? Turkey’s leadership knew right from inception that they have the burden of providing housing to the teeming population of Turkey and they had a programme operate continuously over many years. Whether up takers are there or not government provides some money to build house every year in every state of Turkey. So if you are doing anything continuously you will conquer it. We have not been doing anything. I don’t know if Nigeria has been doing anything continuously apart from the oil exploration which had been done for several decades. But even that had become a problem to this country because there are many things that were left undone. The issue of housing had always been neglected by government and that is why we are now at a deficit of 18 million. That is very unfortunate I know many country where the problem of housing had been sorted out. In fact they have houses waiting for youths who are just coming out of school to take one-one bedroom even if you go to nearby Egypt you find houses already build by government waiting for young youths who had graduated from school, who just got a job to come and take the one-one bedroom houses; some are moving to two bedroom, some when they want to marry moves bigger apartments like two or three bedroom. And these houses are available in many countries of the world. How were they able to do it? It was because of consistency in government policy toward provision of affordable houses. Because they know it is going to become a problem one day therefore why do you have to allow it to degenerate into a problem. Today electricity supply has become a problem in Nigeria why because there was neglect, there was no focus, there was no plan, and long term planning to make sure that as the world is moving we will not be left behind. So unless you continuously expand on those things you know you require in your country, you will have deficit and that is why we are having deficit. So we should not blame any person but we should blame ourselves particularly our past leadership.
What is your position on the national dialogue?
Well you see as a politician and also as a professional, I will hate to be in a country where people keep complaining and nobody wants to listen. So for me, this plan by the current administration to organize a dialogue in the country is very important. Why is it important? Because too many people are complaining, so it is pertinent to give them the opportunity to come together and vent their anger. Let them come and say what they want; let people talk, people will come and say what they want and you will see how you can provide such people with what they want so that everybody will go back home peacefully. And we will continue to live together as one Nigeria.
What do you think can be done to ensure that the outcome of the dialogue is implemented and not end up in government archive like the previous exercises?
Implementation or lack of it can be due to a number of reasons; one thing in this country is that governments have that kind of attitude of not fully implementing some of the thing that they want to do. Even our budget in most cases are not properly implemented. But when we are talking about the outcome of a conference not been implemented, you totally blame it on the leadership. During the military, you blame the military leadership who had call for it and had refused to implement it the way it is required or the way it is asked by those who made such recommendations. But when you are talking about dialogue or conference during a democratic dispensation, you have to blame those who organize such a conference if it is not implemented. For instance; here in Nigeria, we have the national assembly of course as far as I am concerned, because we have national assembly does not mean we should not talk we should talk but before we start such an issue the national assembly must be in total agreement. As of today it is only the senate that have been talking or supporting the confab, we have not had from the other house that could be a source of problem for lack of implementation. If we have this dialogue and we talk and come out with very good recommendations. These recommendations as far as our setting now is concern has to go to the national assembly and the national assembly has to seat down look at it in total and work on it and then send it to the state assemblies for their own input because for anything to be passed in our constitution it must be agreed upon by everybody. By everybody here I mean the national assembly agreeing on it and sending it to all the state assemblies in Nigeria to also agree on such thing and pass it by 2/3 of their number then it becomes a law that can go into our constitution.
Some had advocated for referendum while others are of the view that it must go through the national assembly as you had explained above, what is your view on referendum?
I disagree with those advocating for a referendum, because our setting is not a setting that can take a referendum. By referendum you mean that when a recommendation is made it will be open to the public to decide if it is to be accepted or rejected. Now if we are going to do that it means that we have to do something with our national assembly because already the powers to make laws is given by Nigerians to the national assembly. That power has been taken away from me and you and has been vested on the national assembly which is composed of membership from all the state of the federation both in the senate and house of representative. Unless they are not there or that they have agreed; for instance if it is taken to them and they say ok Mr. President we have seen this recommendations we think it is easier for us to subject it to referendum so that Nigerians generally can say ok we all agree to it then it will work. But if on the contrary, I don’t think it will work. Even if I am supporting referendum on that platform I am only wasting my time because I am supporting something that might not likely happen and even if it does it goes against our constitution.
Some stakeholders in the north have been expressing fears that the dialogue can lead to the disintegration of the country; do you share the same view?
Well any person who expresses such views is voicing their personal opinion and not that of the people of the north. I beg to differ from the above view not because I am a northerner but I like to look at myself as a Nigerian always. I hate to look at myself as a northerner or I would not like to see somebody say that he is a southerner and brag about it. I always like to look at myself as a Nigerian for the fact that Nigeria did not make itself but by God through the British Empire at the time and based on the agreement of our leadership from various part of the country. So for me to wake up today and just claim that I am from the north and I has nothing much to do with my brother who is from the south, I think I am just deceiving myself. But what I will say of course is that people should not be talking about disintegration because if you were born into a system and because of minor issues you want to pull the system down. Our being together is better than our being divided. If we get divided we are already finished as a country because they will no longer here of Nigeria again around the world. Do you know that there are many countries that people do not know whether they exist; there are so many countries in the world today that me and you or President Jonathan or Obama or Cameron of UK does not know whether such countries exist? There are many minor small countries that mean nothing, why should I aspire to belong to category of a country that is insignificant in the eyes of the world. Nigeria today is a country that is very significant, anywhere that you talk about Nigeria they know that Nigeria exist and that we are important. We are not important because we just have oil no we are also important because we have big population which is an economic weapon. So if somebody say that he don’t care if we disintegrate I care because we are going to lose a lot. For example if I am from Bayelsa state and we want to have our own country what will I achieve if I belong to such country that will be insignificant. Even the oil that you are bragging with will finish one day and when it finishes what happens? Today you can see that even the oceans are drying because of the global warming so people need to be reasonable and try to think of the future. I don’t see anything wrong with people complaining about may be neglect which is the more reason why I support the national dialogue, let people come and talk.
As PDP Chieftain what in your thinking is responsible for the incessant crisis rocking the self acclaim largest party in Africa?
I think because many people say that PDP is so big, it has so many people who has diverse interest because of that everyone wants his interest met. One day because of the size of the party it will break because some peoples’ interest will not be met and they will want to fight and fight to finish. But I know despite the fact that PDP is a large party and of course the people within PDP have diverse interest I believe that if they cautiously look at how the party was formed. They would come to know that it is better to trade slowly. Let PDP continue to exist because so far PDP is the only action party the way I look at it I may be wrong but by my own assessment it is the only party that we have that we can send to any party in the world and people will listen to us. Because by the time we bring out the Nigeria map and you look at the kind of followership that PDP has you know it is a Nigerian party. So those people who may have some grievances, it is something that is band to happen but again the leadership must not allow those grievances to scatter the party that is my view and that is why most of the time I support the views of Chief Tony Anene whom I see as a politician, an elder statesman who seem to be looking very far and I will advise the president to as much as possible listen to the advice given by Chief Anene so that we can keep PDP as it is.
What is your assessment of Dr. Bamagar Tukur’s led National Working Committee of the ruling People’s Democratic Party?
Well Bamagar is a good man. He is a very experience father and we like him very much. But personally, I like flexibility the way things are done; I like people who will always try as much as possible to use dialogue to settle problem particularly in politics. Because you know in politics, you need everybody to come along with you if you have to achieve anything. If you have to drive away people, one day you will wake up and look at your back and you would not see anybody. And that thing that you are proud that you are having will be taken away by some other people and that will be the end of you.
Are you part of the crops of politicians in the north that are insisting that President Jonathan should drop his 2015 presidential ambition even when he had not publicly expressed an interest?
No oh! I think you listened to one interview I had in Lagos some three weeks ago I was asked that question when I was having the interview in NTA about the people who are saying Jonathan should not contest and I told them why; why should they say Jonathan should not contest, is he not a Nigerian, is he not the incumbent president. So the issue of Jonathan contesting and not contesting as far as I am concerned is not a problem to me in fact as you see me I am more interested in something that will bring about peace in this country so I don’t care about who is right at the top there but my interest is whoever is there; should look at Nigeria as his own, should do whatever he is doing for the whole of Nigeria. I don’t want to subscribe to the people who are saying this President is our own because he is from the north, I think a president must not care about the fact that he is from this ethnic group or the other ethnic group, a president must be a Nigeria president who have to be accountable to the Nigerian people every day. Therefore Jonathan as far as I am concern can contest in 2015 as long as the laws of the land allows him to do so and beside if he had done four years, the maximum he can stay again in office is four years. Why are people grumbling if we are all healthy four years is nothing but those thing that people don’t want is when they see you as belonging to one area. That is why some people are complaining, he must not allow those who keep on telling him to pay more attention to a particular place to be able to convince him to do so. He should pay attention to Nigeria and not to any part of Nigeria because he is for Nigeria not for any part.
PDP in the past boasted that they will control the leadership of this country for 6 decade or more and in less than 2 decade they are swimming in a deep crisis that may force that power out of their control, do you still believe PDP can continue to maintain its grip on the leadership of this country?
I think what is happening now is a big lesson to PDP; you are very-very right not too long some of our Chairmen were saying that we will rule the country for 60 years, there is nothing that will stop us from ruling for 60 years but we must be careful the way we go about it. Some certain things had not started happening in the party up till today. PDP as far as I am concern is not an institution it is not a political institution. PDP is just a party like any other in the country it is not yet an institution. The ‘power that be’ must build PDP into an institution. Let PDP be on its own, which will even help us to get a better leadership in this country. If we build our party based on institution and not on ownership by some people, we will be better for it. So what is going on now is a big lesson and I hope the leaders of PDP will learn from it, correct their mistakes and let us keep moving to build PDP as a powerful institution. Perhaps there are many others that we can copy even the ANC of South Africa is there, many other parties in other countries, we can copy a lot from them the party activities in China is another good example we can learn from but ANC is even the closest to us today. So we must have a rethink about who we are, where we are and where we want to go as an independent democratic nation.
Do you see the merger of the major opposition political party into APC as a threat to the continual grip of power by PDP?
No I don’t see them as a threat to PDP but they can become if PDP makes them to become a threat they will become a threat and that is why I think that we need to be a little more careful because you have everything in your hands, you don’t need to joke with it because it can slip away from your hand. So I don’t see APC as a threat if we remain a solidify PDP moving and working together, expanding our frontiers, bringing in persons who are not with us yesterday then no party can be a threat to us, we just need to be careful.