Nigeria’s housing challenges are surmontable, says Eyakenyi



Dr. (Mrs.) Akon Etim Eyakenyi, is the immediate past Federal Minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Development. A former Commissioner in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, Akwa Ibom State is also an educationist. Since she left office, a native of Oron Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom, in her usual nature has been going quietly about her business. But, when she showed in Uyo, during the 3rd convocation and 5th matriculation ceremony of the Uma Ukpai School of Theology and Biblical Studies, The Guardian’s AYOYINKA JEGEDE engaged her and spoke on the legacies she left behind for the housing sector, challenges, and the way out of the nation’s housing defict.

Ma, how did you find your service to the country as the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development?
My 14months sojourn in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development was a rewarding one. I want to thank God first for the opportunity He gave me and I thanked immediate former president, Dr. Ebele Jonathan for finding me fit to serve under him as a Federal Minister. I also thanked particularly my former governor Dr. Godswill Akpabio for recommending me to the president for that appointment.
The Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development in charge of the housing sector of the economy was an interesting one. If you want to categorize the most important things in life apart from food, shelter is the second most important thing in life and that was why the administration of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan paid specific attention to that sector to ensure that Nigerians have shelter over their heads particularly the civil servants, most of whom who serve for 35years and they would retire without being able to put money together or get a mortgage to put up a house of their own.

What exactly did you do for the civil servants in terms of housing provision that was outstanding?
What we did in the Ministry first, was to look into the policy guiding that sector. The National Policy on housing, the code guiding the building sector. We had to go in, reviewed it and ensure that it was put into use. Apart from that, we came up with policies to build houses, knowing very well that the government funds or resources along with the budget was not enough for building of houses across the nation. We developed the Private Partnership Program (PPP) relationship between the government and the private sector. This made some of the private investors to be willing to invest their money in that process. Under my watch and with the support of the former president, we gave unencumbered land to investors and investors brought their money, built and worked out the beneficiaries of off takers, I mean, the civil servants and that made the process much easier. We commissioned various housing estate projects across different states in the country like Kaduna, Kano, Abeokuta and Lagos. Other states in the federation also benefited from this approach.

Did you make any positive impact on the mortgage sector?
Yes we did. We Like I said earlier, we ensured that Federal Mortgage Bank (FMBN) funded and supported the developers to have money to build the housing estates and sold at controlled prices. We went beyond the routine to interact and interface with manufacturers and merchants of building materials and that gave us leverage to purchase some of the building materials at reduced prices and invariably, the cost of construction was forced downwards.

Apart from that, the land that came from government was also free. The investors did not pay for it. That also enabled the investors to agreed to our terms on the pricing. All of these helped to reduce the cost of construction. We ensured that, whatever structure we came up with, was affordable and within the reach of Nigerians, particularly, civil servants. The idea was to ensure that government workers have less to worry about functional shelter. To also help the civil servants, the administration came up with the establishment of NMRC, Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Commission (NMRC). Its responsibility was to assist the Primary Mortgage Institutions (PMIs) to give loan to the civil servants, who were willing and ready to take the mortgage facilities to build the houses and they would pay over a period of time.
The most important legacy we left behind was that of the development of Houses for Nigerians to take over. I’m very happy and I encouraged the new administration to continue with that good job because when you talk about building, it affects the total economy of any nation. Besides, as we opened up more construction sites, more people were directly and indirectly employed. No doubt, the more construction sites also impacted positively on the economy of the area as many, who were hitherto idle and hungry took to selling food stuffs, water, drinks and other things like that which helped to boom the economy of the area. If the housing sector is encouraged and we have more building projects coming up, it would cut across the country.

What are the challenges of good affordable housing in this country?
One big challenge is the provision. That was why during my tenure, we focused more on constructing more housing estate, which I believed, if any government does with right approach and policy to back the step, the nation’s housing challenge would be meaningfully addressed. We also noticed the bottlenecks with our mortgage sector hence, we introduced the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Commission (NMRC) programme to ease the problems of mortgage. That of course was a major issue because if you have the supply of home and it is impossible for people to buy, then there will be a problem. But, with the NMRC, Nigeria’s mortgage industry would become more active and that will be to the benefit of Nigerians and the country at large.

Do you think corruption contributed to housing problem in the country?
I won’t say so. Corruption can only affect it if money is released for a particular purpose and it is not used for the purpose it was meant for either diverted or embezzled. If it happened before my time, then it is wrong. During my time, we ensured none of that occurred as we put in place a system that tightened loose ends in all our dealings.

Can you say you succeeded as a Minister of Lands, Housing and urban Development or not?
What is important is your background. Your foundation as a woman before you get take a public assignment matters.  When you know and hold unto God as well as recognize him as the one who brought you to this world and gave you the capability to get to whatever height you are in life, then it would be difficult to do otherwise. Also, the training one had matters. When you are disciplined and committed, when you looked up to serve and not to be served, when you are there as a servant with the sole aim of rendering services to the people, then you will be able to carry people along. I can say with all humility that we made a success of our ministry and task. What made me succeed was first I knew who I was in the Lord and the grace of God saw me through. Then my commitment and watchword are that whatever I find myself to do, I ensure I put my very best for the service of the people.

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