Mr. Babatunde Fashola, the Minister for Works and Housing, is one of the most powerful men in President Buhari’s government.
Before his Ministerial appointment, he was Lagos State governor from 2007 – 2015 and effected several developments especially in the areas of infrastructure. While governing, he was the Chairman of the Governor’s Forum and a member of other committees of the federal government.
He has also continued his good work at the federal. Few days back, he was a guest on Funmi Iyanda Instagram live Chat, where he spoke about his ministries and what they have been doing in the last few years and this was captured by ISAAC ABIMBADE.
The average Nigerians who live in urban areas live in a face-me-and-face-you apartment and the ones who live in rural areas live in small hut, and those are highly contagious environment. What are you doing to change the narrative in that regard?
Let me say first that, up till the middle of March in the first quarter of this year, what my ministry was doing essentially was inspecting all our projects across the nation. Myself, the Honourable Minister of State, were going around inspecting housing projects, road project, driving the president agenda for infrastructure and all of that. So if you go to the Ministry of Works Twitter handle you will see all through we did in the First quarter of this year there. From Adamawa to Akwa-Ibom, Niger, Cross-Rivers, Asaba, Onitsha, Second Niger bridge, Federal secretariat, Housing project here and there. That’s what we were doing. We stopped on the 19th of March and I returned to Abuja 21st of March.
Let me say first of all say that, there is a misconception and I will come back to your question that, now people are not moving around enough; this is a good time to construct some of these roads and that betrays the lack of understanding for the logistics for road construction and I will mention a few things. Most of the materials use for constructions come from Ogun State. So if there’s a lockdown in the boundaries how do you move that?
As for inadequate accommodation is a concern, it is a problem that has become prevalent across the world. Every society that have been to in the world have shanties, slums and all of that. At this moment we are working on a rapid slum clearance programme we want to undertake but it will require a lot like stakeholders engagement who have developed interest there. But the best thing for the people in those places is to use their mask even if they can’t social distance.
In phase 1 of the ease of the lockdown, we said let’s start some construction for example, because of the people who work day to day from the construction site and we work with governors pole and we agree that 11 of our biggest contractors who are executing 53 projects across 26 states should start work. So they are all re mobilising back to the site but we are going under the stringent guidelines about how they work on-site and how they feed at the site.
Our plan in phase 2 of ease of lockdown is that FERMA will start construction and repair works in 92 locations spanning 24 states and as you know the budget is been reworked to build in the stimulus programme.
Finally in terms of our immediate housing commitment, just this evening we had a project in Gombe that we can’t work because of Covid-19 related issue and also compensation issue. I just finished talking to governor of Gombe State about the readiness of our contractors to move to site. And housing will become a critical component of the post-COVID-19 reaction to create jobs because the quick thing we want to first achieve is Job, the echo system of supply, getting people back to work and creating opportunities for prosperity. But there’s a lot of work to be done at the sub-national level because people must remember that it’s the state government that controls the land. It’s the state government that issue planning approval. So what we are trying to do here is to use cooperative as a vehicle for rolling out mass housing. People choosing what they like, building and designing what they like. We are now using our physical muscle as the federal government for monetary policy and fiscal policy and working with Central Bank of Nigeria, the Ministry of Finance and Federal Mortgage bank to grant development loans and mortgage loan.
The issue of who owns the land is a big one. Who actual own land? Why don’t we have a situation where people own their land? For example, I can buy land and I don’t need the government to give me a title before I start building on that land?
First, let me say that one of the defining parameters of development and underdevelopment is the title to the land because the formal system of the economy is built in such a way that a title land has come part of the collateral and asset for economic prosperity. So if don’t have a title, it’s likely you own the land but we (government) don’t know because you inherited it from your mother who inherited form grandmother. So if you go to a bank for example and you want credit loan to invest In a programme and you don’t bring the title to land, what they are likely to do in the bank is to say no collateral. So every piece of land must be titled
And again, at the time people use to just own land in a very loose way. If you go back in history you will see a lot of court cases, you will see a lot of communal wars, you will see people matcheted. Communities were dying; fighting to the death over land and that was what led to the reform of the Land Use Act to vest all land except those reserve for some families, to the state governor as trustee for everybody and that’s why you have CofO where the governor is your trustee.
And I must also say this, there is no society in the world where everybody owns a house, but there is a society where everybody gets a decent form of shelter, ownership and rental.
So we are working seriously with the Federal Mortgage Bank to develop housing for rent. We ate working with the private sector also to see who can have the offtake capacity but truth be told, the government of Nigeria at the centre can not provide all the house that we need. The State government has had a big role to play.
But despite the challenges in the housing, some houses are empty, what are you doing in that regard sir?
Oh yes, that is the disconnect of our real estate sector with our banking and financial systems. If that house were built with funding from the bank system, clearly the owner will be compelled not to keep it empty because it has to generate revenue. But a couple of young people have started a model and they are actually working with a bank to acquire these type of houses that are big. Where in a 3 bedroom ensuite house, instead of renting it out as one flat, they will remodel it and rent it out as 3 different apartments, and people started to pay. They brought that model to me and we want to see who will voluntarily allow us to assist him or her to remodel their houses so that they can start generating rents. So as we talk about the housing shortage, there’s no city in Nigeria where there are none empty houses. And most of those government properties that people refer to in Lagos have been sold and again they have become a private asset and as a government representative, we can’t just work in there now and re-process them because it has been acquired. But as we live by example, we hope people will follow it by converting the houses into smaller, more affordable units and people can occupy and use them.