I remember when I was in Primary school back in the 1980s. It was an interesting time because there was so much going on in Nigeria that my innocent mind tried to grapple with the multiplicity of government inventions and how people reacted to it. Still wallowing under the weight of a Militocracy, Nigerians had begun to adapt to the reality on ground and make the best (or should I say make the worse) out of a situation that was completely avoidable. So many ideas were frolicking around simply to romance the existence of the Nigerian state, while a few individuals were the destiny deciders for millions of people. I can clearly remember the days of MAMSER, Better Life for Rural Women, Structural Adjustment Program and several others, all initiatives of military men trying to achieve good leadership. But perhaps one that really struck a chord in my stringy mind was the “goodies for all by the year 2000.”
Central to the lineup of goodies that were to be realized by the year 2000 in Nigeria was housing, and I remember how I used to fantasize on the kind of house my family will eventually move into based on this wild promissory note the government was handing out. As naïve and inexperienced as I was then, my gut feeling was to question the possibilities of these statements simply because what I saw on ground didn’t in any way match the reality of the direction the country was moving into. All the promises sounded desirable, but not of it felt attainable. No! Not with what we were experiencing at that time. Nevertheless it was a buzz word for government officials and many Nigerians who were feeding from the same table and flirting with the men of risky ways.
It is now nine years after the composition of the song of ‘Beulah Land’, and still housing for all is still unimaginable in Nigeria. What even troubles me most is the fact that even though we are slowly recovering the lost middle class in Nigeria, housing is one promise that is not listed on the rights on these precious ones. The militocrats had totally robbed us of this class of people, and left us dangling on the seesawing extremities of wealth and poverty. But somehow the country has forged ahead and forcefully we see the reemergence of our middle class, comprising of young men and women who are skilled and service oriented. And as this is happening, we are seeing increasing a cultural system built around these developments, especially in the arts and entertainment circles. Yet one thing that appalls me is the obvious insensitivity of our government to the changes in the economic structure of the country. When things naturally change, we respond to it by also creating the capacity to manage that change, but this is not the case in Nigeria, as we allow things degenerate into a crisis before we begin a spiritual response to a common sense problem.
As it is this moment, you need to earn a salary of not less than $2000 a month, and then not spend a cent from it for the next 10 years (while factoring in another 20% for inflation) before one can buy a modest home in a place like Lagos and Abuja, which has a concentration of our middle class. How on earth can the young banker, earning a yearly income of about $16,000 buy a home in Nigeria, when the average price for a 2 bedroom apartment is going for about $100,000? In practical terms, he will need to have access to credit facilities that will enable him purchase such and pay on a monthly basis. However, we know that pretty soon, a 2 bedroom apartment will not do for an individual who will build a family. The price of getting a house is so far out of their reach that renting on a continuous basis remains the only viable option for a young person in Nigeria. When even the government develops properties and put the price at a rate that effectively expunges 99 percent of the country from access, there is something wrong with such a government. All that happens is that the rich are gradually claiming all the property development and reselling at a profit, yet the government watches this happens without a concern for those who make a simple living.
I saw a property in Lagos I was pretty much interested in until I heard the price. I knew it was practically impossible for a rich man to live in a 2 bedroom apartment or even a three bedroom one (at least not in Nigeria). So what then concerns such a person going to buy outright ten of such units if not for the purpose of reselling? This should be restricted to private property developers and not government properties, which should serve and give everyone equal access, especially those who are first time home buyers. A sensitive government will seek how to create opportunities for the rising middle class to afford a home. Owning a home is one of the indications of personal wealth and many of our young people are stripped of the opportunity to accomplish this one thing. If at all any country should struggle to provide basic housing to its population, it shouldn’t be Nigeria. Over 90% of what is used to construct a house is produced in Nigeria, yet our prices are banging only on the doors of money bags. This is a social anomaly and something has to be done about it.
My desire is to see when our young men and women, who have done well for their lives and earned themselves a decent living would be able to afford the basic necessities in life without strain or stress. Most of them are still struggling to make a life not because the opportunities are not there, but the sheer demand placed on them to make it through are enormous. They literally stink on getting to work because of the grinding and sweating on public transportation. Yet they are subjected to the same long hours of getting home to where there is no electricity, only to repeat the same cycle the next day. We need our government to be sensitive to these issues and start with making it affordable for our young women and men to own a home of their own, with easy plans of payment over the shortest possible period of time. This is one way we can secure this new positive development within our country and not let it wane as in time past. Housing is not a privilege, it remain a right of every Nigerian; poor or rich.