STACKING BRICKS

Nigeria 2015 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Akon Etim Eyakenyi, Hon. Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, on meeting a growing demand for housing, engaging the private sector, and opportunities for foreign investment.

Akon Etim Eyakenyi
BIOGRAPHY
Akon Etim Eyakenyi is the Hon. Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban development for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A former Commissioner in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism, for the Akwa Ibom State Government from 2000-2005, she is an educationist, with over 23 years experience. She holds a Bachelor of Education, Master of Education and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the University of Calabar.

What factors account for Nigeria facing a housing deficit estimated at 17 million to 23 million homes, and how does the Ministry aim to reduce this deficit?

First and foremost, let me say that the figure of 17 million is yet to be ascertained. We have instituted a committee to take a proper census so that we can be certain about the housing deficit we have. Having said that, addressing your question, several socio-economic and political factors have led to the huge housing deficit in the country. For the most part these include rapid population growth and the rapid influx of our population into urban areas from rural communities in search of greener pastures, the low-income capacity of many who want to own their own houses, and the high cost of housing inputs. Other factors are the low priorities accorded urban planning and good urban governance leading to housing shortages, high land values and the cost of building materials, and the proliferation of slums. It is, however, in recognition of the fact that these multi-faceted problems need to be addressed that the Government decided to establish the Federal Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development as a free-standing Ministry in April 2010. It is the umbrella policy arm of the federal government with the sole aim of ensuring adequate and sustainable housing delivery and maintenance of a conducive living environment that would meet the needs and aspirations of Nigerian citizens. Fundamentally, the Ministry was established to reduce the housing deficit through the development of both the National Housing and National Urban Development Policies respectively. These are presently been actualized through an inclusive and participatory process involving all relevant stakeholders in the built environment in general.

How will the Ministry mobilize private sector funds to provide sufficient capital outlay for housing development?

Right from the time of its establishment, the Ministry has been in the process of mobilizing the private sector by engaging its two parastatals, namely the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), and the Federal Housing Authority, as well as through Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements, and the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC) which was officially launched by the President on January 16, 2014 to increase mortgage penetration in the country. The Ministry is collaborating with the Coordinating Minister for the Economy/Minister of Finance to ensure the effective launch of the project. Furthermore, I am happy to say that our determination to attract sufficient capital outlay for housing development has been boosted by the large number of competent developers and builders that have shown interest in participating in the process of mass housing delivery programs. And this has been coupled with a positive response from Nigeria's State governments with respect to the provision of unencumbered land for the construction of mass housing projects in the country. Attesting to this is the fact that we have received confirmation of the provision of land from 14 States, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, for the start of the mass housing delivery program in the country.

How do you envisage the role of the Ministry as the industry regulator and facilitator?

The key functions of the Ministry that have been consolidated over time through our mandate, include the formulation of policies and setting of standards. Our role also includes coordination of activities in the sector, providing oversight, monitoring the implementation of policies, and enforcing compliance with regulations and standards. The Ministry is also involved in the provision, upgrading, and maintenance of housing stock infrastructure, including Federal ministries' public buildings and the promotion of sustainable development of livable, functional, and productive towns and cities. The Ministry also supports State governments in the realization of the National Strategic goals in the housing and urban development sectors, and above all the forging of partnerships with key stakeholders, including the organized private sector and development partners to advance the national agenda on effective land administration and management.

One of the goals of President Jonathan's National Transformation Agenda is the delivery of one million homes annually to Nigerians over the next five years. How will the Ministry achieve this and how do you assess the current progress in this regard?

The mass housing delivery program is one of the major goals of the present administration. Under the Transformation Agenda and the President's National Vision 20:2020, the provision of accessible and affordable housing is one of the strategic national imperatives designed to guarantee the well-being and productivity of Nigeria's citizenry. It is in the quest to achieve this that the Government has come up with a plan to build a million houses in the next few years. The Ministry will achieve this by mobilizing the private sector to key into the program. We are already receiving proposals from both internal and foreign organizations who want to bring their resources and expertise in to drive this program. The Ministry is also liaising with State governments and authorities to provide unencumbered land for this program.

What opportunities does the Ministry offer to foreign firms who are interested in supporting the Ministry's mission to ensure adequate and sustainable housing delivery, as well as the maintenance of an acceptable living environment for every Nigerian?

Opportunities abound in this sector and they are not only for Nigerians. There are also opportunities for foreign firms through the Ministry's international cooperation policy which is aimed at fostering closer cooperation for building institutional capacities and addressing the developmental challenges of sustainable land administration and management, affordable housing and urban development in Nigeria, as well as funding innovative solutions to common challenges. Some of our international foreign collaborators include the World Bank, the Department for International Development (DFID), Cities Alliance, Shelter Afrique, and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), to mention just a few. Furthermore, our major areas of cooperation include, but are not limited to, policy development and strategy; institutional exchanges and linkages; and property development, such as public housing home ownership schemes and estate renewals. We are also cooperating on new construction methods through the application of technology; and housing maintenance and services, including facilities management, housing finance and new building materials exploration. Data gathering, processing and management, including security and tracking; as well as capacity building, including ICT training, professional development, and artisanal vocational training are other areas where we are collaborating. Urban planning and new town/city development; infrastructure development; the twinning of cities; and last but not least, investment promotion and facilitation, are all important areas of work for us too. In a nutshell, this is some of what we have been doing in the Ministry as part of the President's Transformation Agenda in the housing and urban renewal sector to address and redress the deficit of more than 17 million homes in the country.