A simple internet search yields a common result that housing deficit in Nigeria is about 17 million units. But two important things have happened recently: the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that we are of 198 million people, and international agencies put current poverty figures at 87 million people. Intuitively, if population and poverty have increased, the number of people out of homes must have increased and the deficit in housing, worsened.

It is so distasteful when you catch red-handed the insensitivity of the government and its agencies. I have only recently learned about the Federal Housing Authority’s Diaspora City launched in 2017 to build houses and estates for Nigerians living in the diaspora! The plan is a tripartite arrange among three government agencies – Federal Housing Authority (FHA), Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing, and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). So it is a wholly government initiative as they have shaken hands with the presidency.  And the sole beneficiaries are Nigerians living and working abroad including those in the diplomatic missions. Planned in two phases, the Managing Director of FHA, Professor Mohammad Al-Amin justifies that it would meet the housing needs of Nigerians in diaspora and foreign mission as well as serve as another non-oil revenue stream for the country. Describing the trend in diaspora remittances he implied that the government needs to extract its own portion of it. The ICPC chairman, Barrister Ekpo Nta claimed that the agencies cared so much about the stories of family members who swindle or embezzle funds repatriated by their relatives abroad for projects in Nigeria. Nice try guys, but we got you!

Any discerning mind familiar with housing and settlement crisis in Nigeria would notice the sheer absence of sincerity, only cheap popularity through optically elegant projects. The discerning mind would also wonder why there is not a mention of housing deficit particularly for Nigerians in diaspora as necessity for this initiative. There is not one! Nigerians in the diaspora who can afford home-ownership already own homes or know their ways around. I have argued in an earlier essay that there are numerous “ghost estates” largely unoccupied across the target cities of the Diaspora plan. Why are Nigerians abroad not buying them? The FHA should have pondered. The overt justification for this initiative is the greedy look at the diaspora remittances, and the covert strategy is to allocate land and properties to hand-picked agents of the establishment. Paraphrasing Fela Kuti, this is absolutely “government magic” in broad daylight. I am particularly still in distaste about the private-sector-led Eko-Atlantic city in collaboration with Lagos state government, and now this?

The 17 million housing deficits does not include Nigerians “living” abroad, so what explanation could justify an initiative to build houses for Nigerians not living in Nigeria whereas Nigerians in Nigeria have no homes to live in? The web-page of the FHA, exposes the intentions of the government: beside the diaspora city shenanigan, the list of current projects (as well as past projects) are luxury apartment buildings in Apo, Abuja. Where you would find low-cost housing, it is about bungalow projects in Otta, Ogun state. Even worse, you would find that the time span of its “future projects” is still 2009-2013 in 2018, five years after! Noticeably, there seem to be false cultural notion or synonymity between affordable housing and bungalow within governments: this is only convenient as in decent climes; affordable housing is almost synonymous with condominiums. Another important observation on the FHA web-page which resonates across other sectors of the economy is how funds are immediately available when governments and its agencies want to build luxury units or projects that yield easy returns, but when it is about low-cost housing or risky projects, funds become insufficient, they begin to seek partnerships. No wonder the Diaspora city plan is an inter-agency collaboration to ambush the diaspora remittances.

The glut of estate agencies and realtors in the country and the abnormal profits they continuously extract suggest that social housing scheme can also be profitable if the government ventured. But I wonder why government shy away from affordable mass housing projects. The only explanation would be poor comprehension of the importance of housing in enhancing standard of living and development. Housing is a major part of household consumption and savings motives in developing countries. Therefore, improving housing conditions and costs would have significant welfare implications. It is critical for city development and urban planning. Government needs to return to the housing market with the urgency to solve the growing housing and settlement challenges in the country. It would have to be consolidated on a social optimum model – it is disturbing to see private sector technocrats appointed to positions of public office using the same capitalist-profit-making models of the private sector in place of social/service models in public sector, being therefore practically unable to differentiate the philosophies of both sectors. This insincerity and penalization of the poor masses has to stop and now!

(Published 15.07.2018: https://www.businessdayonline.com/morecompanies/real-estate/article/diaspora-cities-for-what/)