Gov. Ugwuanyi hands over keys to an allottee

Laurence Ani

Given how increasingly elusive it is bringing the dream of mass housing to fruition, any promise to provide one often sounds more like platitudes invoked by politicians to secure the people’s votes than anything else.

With Nigeria’s current housing deficit estimated at 17 million and a moribund mortgage sector hobbled by rising interest rates, the dream of affordable mass housing has never seemed more forlorn. “Interest rates are high for both developers and home buyers, and the tenor of debt remains too short. As a result, we have to find a way to accelerate the provision of affordable homes,” the country’s finance minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, told heads of global finance corporations recently at the World Bank/International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington.

The grim situation becomes even direr with the further disclosure that the deficit figure rises annually by 900,000. However, the solution that Adeosun craves may actually have begun in Enugu State. Last year, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi launched an ambitious mass housing programme that reduced the burden of the usually huge equity contribution on the public to a tolerable level. The Ugwuanyi administration paid over 50 percent equity contribution for Enugu State civil servants between grade levels 01-10 for the purchase of 100 units of one-bedroom flats at Elim Estate, Ibagwa Nike, Enugu.

Barring radical gestures such as that implemented by the Enugu State government, owning personal homes was more often than not a Herculean task even for senior level public servants, let alone workers below the mid-level cadre. Indeed, with the country’s N18,000 minimum wage this should not come as a surprise. So, in realistic terms, the rather meager disposable income of the Nigerian worker makes total fulfillment of mortgage obligations largely impracticable. Viewed against this intractable backdrop, Governor Ugwuanyi’s intervention takes a greater significance and, even more so, given that the successful allottees have since taken possession of the apartments.

The gesture was not one driven by electoral consideration; it was essentially the fulfilling of a pledge to provide decent and affordable housing expressed during the gubernatorial campaign and boldly re-echoed at his inauguration on May 29, 2015. “We will deploy government services to create fair and equal opportunity for every willing citizen, to make a living and create wealth, educate our children and enjoy life in a peaceful and secure environment,” Ugwuanyi said in his inaugural address.

The governor’s vision is being implemented through the Enugu State Housing Development Corporation which has since established various categories of estates complete with the requisite infrastructure. It is a vision that has earned the Ugwuanyi administration a resounding accolade, albeit one for which it would rather be modest. Ugwuanyi, despite the impressive scorecard recorded in just two years, betrays no obsession for the limelight. For him, building mass housing projects, fixing roads, constructing bridges, establishing new schools and hospitals and expanding their capacities are just a part of the raison d’etre for governments anywhere they exist. So he would rather not gloat about these.

Yet, such mindset does not diminish the sheer scale of the projects especially at a time all but a few states are able to meet the most basic statutory obligations such as paying salaries and pensions. It’s instructive the mass housing programmes as well as many other capital projects were carried out despite the drop in allocation to states from the federation account (Enugu State is actually one of the least recipients of this monthly disbursement. It has nonetheless been adjudged as one of only three states capable of meeting their recurrent obligations, according to a report published last year by BudgIT, a data simplifying firm) That’s credit to the governor’s creative deployment of resources and his ability to inspire a new thinking to bolster the state’s revenue base.

Of course, paying salaries and pensions and executing infrastructural projects (as Enugu and a few states do) may truly be considered reasons that make the existence of states expedient. But they become really big issues when governments can neither pay their workers and pensioners as and when due, nor create opportunities to enable the people to acquire the most basic human needs.

To the beneficiaries though, such arguments are merely academic. That is the reason the most profound message about the impact of the Governor Ugwuanyi administration’s housing policy could be gleaned from this simple statement by a female beneficiary. “Without this laudable initiative, I could not have conceivably become a home owner,” she declared proudly on receiving the keys to her apartment from the governor.

* Ani resides in Enugu and his writings could be read further on Twitter @AniLaurence and laurenceani.blogspot.com.