Over the past six years, the living standard of the average Nigerian has reduced, and the evidence is beyond doubt. A contributing factor is the country's rising population, which leads to an increased demand for basic human needs like food, water, housing, and more. The high consumption contributes to ecological degradation and increased conflicts in the country. The persistent insecurity and other natural disasters have led to the displacement of millions of people and are considered a significant contributor to the lack of basic human needs.
For the average Nigerian, their main concern is the lack of basic human needs – air, food, water, are shelter are the four basic human needs required for our survival. Failure to provide for these human needs make our existence incredibly difficult. Out of the four basic humans needs, the only basic human condition that is readily available for Nigerians is the air we breathe. Community leaders are no longer silent about the increased level of hunger, the lack of clean water, and the shortage of accommodation in their lands.
As the days go by, the reality is dawning on Nigerians that the Buhari administration cannot implement policies to improve the livelihood of the growing population by providing basic human needs. Therefore, the next government will have to take responsibility to do so, and it is vital to begin planning as early as possible. These basic human needs can be provided simultaneously with security, safety, social stability, and the law.
One of the tasks of the next government should be designing a policy that will provide decent homes and a suitable living environment for Nigerians. In recent years, Nigerians have seen more homes being destroyed for a different reason than being built by the government, including Borno State, where 4000 houses were recently commissioned. This issue is more worrisome in the Northern part of the country.
Building houses are found to be more viable than building roads and bridges because they are paid for by most of the occupiers. However, the price of infrastructures like roads and bridges are solely borne by the providers – the government. The sources of these funds are usually from loans which represents a heavy fiscal burden for the respective governments. Unlike other public infrasturucture, public houses would cushion the financial pressure for the government as payments are made in the form of rents, mortgages, or sales. In my opinion, the new housing policy should be thinking beyond the provision of 300,000 houses across the country. The plan should target building tens of thousands of homes across the 774 local governments within a short period and should replicate the larger versions of those done across the country in the 1970s.
Nevertheless, the structure of government housing policy can be a complex business because it involves many players. The planners should be able to understand the complexities around engaging with private companies who will be involved in housing development and construction. Other issues include mortgages, subsidies, and the level of savings required for the beneficiaries.
It goes without saying that a successful housing plan will provide an enormous amount of jobs in the country. Building houses can go beyond providing basic shelter because it can help provide a stable environment where children can learn and succeed academically. With 44 percent of the country's 200 million people being under 15 years old, a housing policy can be a key to building a formidable working generation that will drive the country to be among the global elites in terms of productivity.
I one of my previous columns, I mentioned that education is one of the goals that can eradicate global poverty. A growing body of research also posits that as schools and teachers bear principal responsibility for children's education, a supportive and stable home environment can complement the efforts of educators, leading to better student achievement. Thus, a well-planned housing policy in Nigeria can create better educational opportunities for communities and build stronger economic foundations for families. Studies have found a strong link between successful housing policies and higher educational outcomes in developing economies. And communities with higher educational attainment tend to have lower birth rates.
World Bank data shows children born by a fertile Nigerian woman living in a more urban area is between three to five children, while a more rural family may have as many as ten. Due to lack of housing, these families find themselves in disturbing social issues like crimes, homelessness, and street begging. These issues contribute to other social issues like inequality and the poverty rate in the country. It is worrying for everyone, especially for the children who did not choose to be born into a specific community.
The evidence provided by the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index shows that 46 out of every 100 people live in extreme poverty due to deprivation of health and education and a lower living standard in the country. We can use housing policies as a tool for alleviating poverty. These policies can create facilities that will make the more inferior groups rise to a higher economic position. Doing so will demonstrate government assistance as a commendable investment in Nigeria's future.
Research in developed economies, like the US and the UK, has shown that housing developments create strong community development organisations. The housing communities tend to build collective bodies that provide internal support, regardless of residents' income and educational levels. Having such kind of virtue can be very useful for the Nigeria’s development. Also, the investigation across countries in Latin American and Asia shows that the history of so many social issues arises from unstable, unaffordable, and poor-quality housing. Housing policies we contributed to alleviating these issues. Individuals with access to housing opportunities rise on the economic ladder, and the benefits of such opportunities are essentially connected to the community at large.
The success of the housing policy will depend on all those players involved, including potential beneficiaries. They should be able to understand their role and how the policy is designed to work. That is why the next government should start planning because it will be disappointing for Nigerians to have another government that will spend five months thinking of how to provide basic human needs.
Dr Nasir Aminu – Cardiff Metropolitan University