The drive for infrastructural renewal is welcome, but the fee for mass housing is excessive
The Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, is without a doubt, one of President Bola Tinubu’s anchor men. Since assuming office, reviving the federal capital city from the slumber imposed on it by the lacklustre eight years of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has been Wike’s charge. And right from Day One, he has committed himself to restoring the Abuja Master Plan, improving on infrastructure, and securing the lives and property of the residents. Wike’s success in convincing the president to pull the FCTA out from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) to enable him utilise generated revenue for the development of Abuja indicates the extent he intends to go to be able to deliver on his self-appointed mandate of infrastructural renewal.
To raise revenue, Wike appears focused on efficient collection of taxes and levies, including contravention fees, ground rents, and certificate of occupancy fees, warning that those who fail to pay upon deadline or are in contravention of land use regulations would have their land allocation revoked. He has since walked his talk by revoking some allocations. Promising judicious application of funds, Wike also said recently that he had saved N110 billion within three months by paying closer attention to wage and related bills. He pledged to deploy the funds to the provision of basic infrastructure, including provision of mass transit buses and taxis to commute citizens from the satellite towns to the municipal areas.
While we commend these bold steps, we, however, implore Wike to exercise caution in the implementation of his policies to avoid unintended consequences that may impose hardships on the very citizens whose interests he wants to protect. One of such policies is the review of the guidelines on mass housing with respect to the issuance of Certificate of Occupancy (CofO). At a recent meeting with stakeholders, the minister said owners of houses in the mass housing estates will now be required to pay a flat rate of N5 million within three months. Upon appeals, Wike reduced the fee to N3.5 million to be paid within four months. He also directed that those who already have CofO in other schemes would need to recertify with the payment of N50,000 to link their National Identification Number and Bank Verification Number to the land document.
By the Mass Housing Policy initiated in 2000, and the guidelines approved by Federal Executive Council in October 2009, developers, after the completion of the estates, are supposed to forward the list of subscribers to the Department of Mass Housing, which will then issue CofOs to the house owners. Many years after, the developers have refused to comply with this guideline, largely because of the duplicity of government officials charged with the responsibility to oversight the implementation of the scheme, leading to huge loss of revenue to the government.
Therefore, Wike’s policy review is correct, timely, and will bring more funds to the coffers of the FCTA even as it seeks to sanitise the chaotic land administration system. The issuance of CofO will also free house owners from the stranglehold of property developers as it grants them title and makes their houses bankable. However, as the stakeholders have complained, the fee is still high, and the deadline, arbitrary. Given that the scheme was initially meant for low and medium-income earners, it is difficult to see how the people would be able to afford the whopping sum within the stipulated deadline.
We implore Wike to have a further rethink of the fee and deadline. The fee ought to be affordable, and rather give a tight deadline, application for CofO should be optional while focus should be on speeding up the process of acquisition of the document, which currently takes several years to obtain.