Nigeria: 'Govt Should Fund Housing to Boost Economy, Jobs'

President of the Quantity Surveyors Registration Board of Nigeria (QSRBN) Alhaji Murtala Aliyu, in this interview, says the federal government needs to inject funds into housing in the effort to lift the economy and create employment. He also wants government to set up a body to manage assets recovered or confiscated by the anti-graft agencies.

How has your board fared under the COVID-19 pandemic?

The board, as a regulatory body, is managing like every other government agency; we are pushing things and we are also ensuring that standards are maintained despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic. The board regulates the practice of quantity surveying and we are concerned with keeping standards. We are concerned with monitoring the behaviour of license bearers and we are concerned that the appropriate professionals are deployed to the required services. This is our main focus now.

Of course, we have a few challenges, like we cannot call a board meeting physically. So the pandemic has allowed us to realise the potential of virtual facilities; we have held committee meetings using the zoom facility. We have also conducted interview for those who have qualified for license.

But if you are referring also to the effect of COVID-19 on the industry, there are quite a number of things. There are quite a number of effects that the pandemic will have on project delivery. One of them is the issue of the legal dimension. You enter a contract with somebody and there is time frame but this pandemic came and the whole world was shut down and you know that it will affect the time of delivery.

In contracts, there are clauses for the delay in delivery either by the owner of the project or the contractor; in this case it is neither the fault of the owner nor of the contractor; so legally, there is need to sit down and look at the losses on both sides.

Also, there is force majeure, which is an act that will frustrate the contract itself. So far, the pandemic has not been considered as a force majeure. A force majeure is a disaster - like a storm, hurricane, fire or earthquake - that will frustrate completely the delivery of contracts but in this case, it has delayed the delivery.

So, we take it project by project and we look at the merits of the requests by both the owner and the contractor to see how we can remedy any losses.

Another aspect that has affected projects delivery is the supply chain - the local and offshore dimensions. In the local dimension, the ban on interstate travel affected the movement of materials and goods from one place to another. And for the components that come offshore, it is more precarious because up till this moment (then), international travel has not been opened.

The third thing is the site management. You have some protocols to be observed and the way sites operate makes it challenging in project delivery.

There is also the aspect of supervision. You may have resident site officers but the main people supervising the project, especially the experts, are probably operating somewhere in the head office and that is also challenged because you can only relate virtually, instead of going to the site physically to see what has been done.

The supervision to ensure quality assurance and quality control is also challenged by the pandemic.

Finally, there is the issue of regulatory institutions, like you have the development control. Government offices are operating minimally so if you want something approved you might go there but officers that can go there physically and check are not there. So, when you add up all these, you find out that there are a whole lot of issues that will affect project delivery. Recently, sites are opening up and even if they are operating marginally, at least the industry is picking up, maybe not as vibrant as before and this may remain for some time.

What is your advice to the government to boost this sector?

I want to believe that in a country where there is so much gap in housing, government can pump money into the sector because in housing, a lot of labour will be deployed and once the government is able to mitigate the problem of local supply, you will find out that it will ignite activities in the sector. The only thing is that government must maintain vigilance and ensure that all the safety protocols are enforced. But the economy needs to pick up and one way it can pick up is going into the production of houses and also encouraging the private sector developers in boosting the housing market.

There is need for housing so there is market for it. It is something you are sure that when you do it will be taken up and instigate activities in the economy.

The biggest challenge for mass housing has been production of houses that average Nigerians can afford. As a cost expert, how do you think this problem can be addressed?

One major problem we have is the research institutions and the industry disconnect. The Nigerian Raw Materials Research and Development Council has done a lot of research on construction materials. Similarly, the National Building and Road Research Board has also done a lot of research on materials that will reduce the cost of building houses in the country. However, because there is no relationship between the industry and those research institutions to encourage them to produce these materials for mass housing, we would remain in this state of expensive houses.

In the 1980s, most of the housing materials were produced here in Nigeria but the industries are reducing by the day because people find it cheaper to import from China. So long as we don't encourage the production of these materials locally, we will continue to experience these kinds of things, because somebody somewhere will determine how they should be sold.

So government must be deliberate about linkages between the manufacturers and the research institutions to ensure there is a buy-in into our local research to be able to mitigate the housing crisis.

I think the affordability issue also comes to play because the economy itself is slow. If the economy picks up and people are paid appropriately, believe me, sincerely, people will be able to afford the houses. When you look at it in terms of benchmarking, houses are not expensive here, the problem is affordability. So the economy has to be re-engineered so that the masses can afford houses. The benchmark for housing in Nigeria is not outrageous.

The other thing is the government must develop the mortgage market because we have non-existing mortgage institutions. All those stories about Federal Mortgage Bank and the primary mortgage institutions are not real because I don't see them getting N2 billion or N3 billion per annum. So how can they support the mortgage market that will support the production of at least 100,000 houses minimum per annum.

Another thing I said about wages is that people can't save and it is only when you can save that the primary mortgage institutions can support you. So the government needs to address the issue of earnings and be deliberate about developing the mortgage market and standardising housing.

If you buy a house in Abuja, Minna or Kaduna, there should be a semblance of harmony such that you can sell that house and buy a similar house in Makurdi or Gboko. But where a two-bedroom house in Abuja is N25 million and a two-bedroom house in Gboko is N2.5 million you find out that the disparity is too much.

Many properties confiscated or recovered by the anti-graft agencies are left to rot away. Do you think government should create a professional body to be responsible for managing and maintaining them?

It is painful to drive around and see vehicles of all ranges-mostly exotic ones-parked in one place for years and rotting away and eventually getting totally destroyed. You also find property like houses, offices, plazas and hotels locked up. My take will be that the government should set up a body as it did with AMCON to take over assets of banks that were going under.

It is sensible if the government sets up a body either under or outside the EFCC and ICPC to manage the confiscated property. Whether they are confiscated permanently by court order or they are under investigation, if they are ongoing concerns, somebody should be managing them to get the rights or benefits from such properties. Now, at the end of the case, we can use it to say look, you are not guilty, take back your house, take back your hotel or shopping mall and we have received this much managing your property so you are now going to pay us agency fee. That way, the owner of the property will recover his property and also make some money.

Also, just like there is the National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) attached to the CBN to track the movement of money, you can set up a body that can manage the confiscated assets because by the time you seize property and you leave it there for years, it reduces its life cycle and it becomes useless.

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