22 December 2012

Nigeria: Kano Workers Kick Over Sale of 'GPS'

Kano — A recent announcement by the Kano State Government to sell houses occupied by its workers in high brow areas within the state capital, is drawing torrents of discontent from the workers who are saying the prices of the property are high.

Kano State Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso said the policy was introduced to enable workers already occupying the houses to own them before they retire.

According to reports, the government hopes to generate N10.8 billion from the sales of about 1,373 residential buildings to an estimated N40,000 workers living in upmarket neigbourhoods around the state capital. The proceeds, it was gathered would be used to develop the new Kwankwasiya, Amana and Bandirawo cities currently being built by the government.

Under the arrangement, dubbed the "owner-occupier plan", the occupants are expected to complete payment in three instalments within 12 months. The first payment is expected to be made by the workers within the first 30 days beginning from the end of this month.

"The whole idea is to ensure that civil servants have a home they can call theirs," a statement by the governor's spokesman Halilu Ibrahim Dantiye quoted the governor as saying.

Kwankwaso also reportedly expressed disgust with the state of decay in most of the houses. "Over the years, governments had defiled the original plans of the GPs by carving out plots from their compounds while some of the houses are in bad shape. So, we better sell them to interested owners who will manage them well and build new houses for our serving workers," the statement reported the governor as saying.

However, the occupants who are largely low and middle income earners complained that the prices fixed by the government on the houses are quite beyond their reach.

Weekly Trust learnt that the prices fixed on the houses range from N21 million to N85million, despite the fact that most of the houses were said to have existed for over five decades and dilapidated.

One civil servant who requested for anonymity because he is still serving with the government, said he was asked to pay N28 million for his three-bedroom flat, which he has been occupying for three decades, even as his monthly salary hardly exceeds N100,000.

"In spite of our low earnings, the government is insisting that we must pay 30 per cent of the price within three months starting from December. We are confused; we don't know what to do now. After 30 years as government's tenants, we believe we must have paid for the houses over the years," he said.

Again, Weekly Trust heard that a house in a neighbourhood which was gutted by fire two years ago, forcing its occupants to erect makeshift structures in its compound was valued at about N30 million.

Another civil servant said his neighbour who was struggling to afford three square meals for his four wives and numerous children was asked to pay N39 million for the house he was occupying.

Again, Weekly Trust heard that a house in a neighbourhood which was gutted by fire two years ago, forcing its occupants to erect makeshift structures in its compound was valued at about N30 million.

The civil servants said after they had explained their inability to afford the prices fixed by the government, they were attached to some banks to help them with the initial payment.

"But the problem with banks is that they would take too much of our incomes and leave us with almost nothing. For instance, someone earning N100,000 would have to pay like N60,000 to the banks, leaving him with N40,000 which would certainly not be enough to pay for our feeding, children's school fees, hospital bills and other daily expenditures. It's not going to work," one of them said.

He said some of them had approached some rich individuals to buy the houses on their behalf, but even the rich are also saying the government needs to reduce the price for them to pay. "We want them to help us with the payments so that we can just pay the government and leave the houses for other less expensive ones," he added.

However, there are also worries among some of the civil servants who abhor the idea of rich individuals buying up their homes.

They claimed that some prominent wealthy individuals had already approached and offered to give them the first part of the amount they were asked to pay. "But we are afraid, because we don't trust them. We fear that after taking up the houses, they might evict us when we least expect it. We are begging the government to suspend the policy for now or at least to reduce the price to levels we can afford," one worker pleaded.

He argued that when the Federal Government sold its houses in some parts of Abuja recently, they were offered at between N3 million to N6 million. "Why should a state government demand such outrageous sums from us on houses that are already very old and poorly maintained?," he asked.

In one of the flats visited at Bompai, a two-bedroom house was rated at N10.8 million which is the least in the neighbourhood, as others were valued at N40 million and above.

Occupants of the houses who spoke under condition of anonymity said the period slated for the payment is too short and therefore called on the government to reconsider it.

"According to the plan we will pay in 12 months, first 10percent within the first 30 days and the next 20 per cent after two months, while the remaining 70 per cent nine months. I spent over 25 years in active service, but still I can't afford to pay for the house I'm living in," a resident said.

"We are sure this policy was not conceived by the governor but by some government officials who are not in touch with the suffering of ordinary people".

Spokesman for the state Ministry of Works, Housing and Transport Muhammad Sani has refused to on the issue and said no other official in the ministry would stick their necks to speak to the press on the matter.

Meanwhile, the Kano state government has enlisted the support of Jaiz Bank to provide loans to civil servants who wish to purchase houses put on sale by the government.

The state Head of Service, Alhaji Shehu Minjibir, who revealed this to newsmen yesterday, said the Jaiz Bank has agreed to borrow the money required by prospective buyers of the houses "at nine percent processing fees".

In another development, Minjibir said the state government has discovered about 8,000 ghost workers in the civil service following the conclusion of a verification exercise which began last year.

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