PASCHAL ONYEMAECHI INTERVIEW

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Who is Dr. Paschal Onyemaechi?

My name is Paschal Dozie Onyemaechi, I live and work in Abuja. My background is Financial Economics and my research interest is Public-Private Partnership, low-income housing and Urban Development. I hold a PhD in PPP and Urban Development  from Leeds Beckett University, UK.

 

Please let us know a little into your childhood and growing up days.

I was born in Lagos and brought up in Eastern Nigeria. Growing was fun, I have good memories of my childhood, even till teenage. My secondary school was at Snake Island, Lagos. So, I would have to take a ferry for about 15 to 20mins everyday to get to school. We had  dedicated teachers, good learning environment , excellent support from the government. Yes, in Lagos State then, I didn’t pay tuition, the Military Administrator then, Col. Buba Marwa gave us excecise books for free. You can see why I said it was fun.  The unfortunate thing now is that my father, John Onyemaechi who made good effort to support this early beginning passed on a few months ago. May God rest his soul.

 

What’s your area of discipline?

I started with Finance and Economics and now majored in Public Private Partnerships-(PPP) with bias to low-income housing and urban development.

 

Why did you go along that direction, why PPP and low-income housing? 

Finance and Economics was my background in my early learning. As time progresses, I became more determined to engage in studies and research that is capable of bringing solution to critical development issues. For instance, I read a publication by United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat, 2004) which was a yearly country report. The report had statistics on human development index and housing in Africa and experiences from other developing countries. According to that report, Nigeria has about 14 million housing deficit and majority of urban dwellers in Nigeria live in poor housing condition. It further explained that the proliferation of slums was high and that this has great consequences on the quality of life, standard of living and the economy of Nigeria. That report aroused my interest and gave me some concerns; and thus I decided to read more to find out what has led to this development and the possible remedies. That was how I found myself in PPP housing.

 

The Minister of Finance said recently that Nigeria has 17million housing deficit. How can we tackle this as a nation?

Very good. First, we need to prioritize shelter as a basic need of man, like food and clothing. Then, we need to create a space for the poor in our national housing policies and programmes. Over 80 percent of the housing deficit figure you gave is within the low-income in the informal sector.  That is, the market woman, traders, okada riders, taxi drivers, gatemen, low cadre civil servants, etc. We need to recognise by our actions that this category of income earners and citizens have right to basic shelter and they will need assistance to achieve this basic need. The impact of any housing policy and programme, that is not focused on enhancing access to housing for the low-income in the informal sector will be minimal. To focus on the low-income in the informal sector, the government will need to create a special  pro-poor housing programme aimed at enhancing access to housing for the low-income, the urban poor and those at the bottom of the income ladder. One is the leading objective of that housing programme will be to enhance access to affordable housing for the bottom 40% percent of our population. This will require enhancing access to housing finance for the focused group and that is the crux of the matter. The structure of funding available for housing  development in Nigeria has not provided a confortable space to accommodate the low-income and urban poor in the informal sector . As a result of this elitist and commercial centered funding structure, affordability to the focused group is not guaranteed. The Nigerian affordable housing market is the informal housing market, the self-built, meaning that if the low-income have good access to a suitable housing finance, they can achieve housing with minimal help. The only feasible solution is to bridge the gap with appropriate framework and suitable funding. You know the government may not fund that sector adequately due to budget constraint and competing needs, that is why they embarked on PPP. Unfortunately, the low-income informal sector is not attractive to the private commercial sector due to the many informalities associated to the sector (especially in Nigeria).

However, there is a promising framework that has capacity to overcome these challenges and achieve the desired result within a record time.  The new framework proposes to effectively and efficiently coordinate and harness the huge opportunities in the third sector to raise equity based fund that will serve as a lending basket to intervene directly in the informal sector.  The framework has presented a workable criterion suitable for administering housing finance for the low-income in the informal sector and even provided a kind of a “way out” to some of  the long standing inhibitors created by the land Use Act.  I think that is the way forward, it will certainly be the beginning of the much-needed   breakthrough for the Nigerian housing sector. The new framework which is named “Build for Nigeria” has been evaluated by leading experts in PPP housing and I agree with their opinion that the model is suitable not just for low-income informal sector housing but for implementation of  social housing ,slum upgrade and  affordable hostels for indigent students at Nigerian universities.

 

What is the issue with student hostel accommodation and how can we address this?

This is an area of great concern, the contradiction is that we  expect to have expert thinker, best doctors, distinguished scientists  from our universities and other institutions of higher learning whereas we house the students in such a poor environment that can  only promote crime.  Students from lower income backgrounds, unable to afford the high cost of decent apartments, now squat in shantytowns and indecent environments that are grossly unbefitting to undergraduates and the nation’s upcoming leaders. In many institutions, the acute shortage of decent hostels, where less than 40% of the student population is catered for, has led to overcrowding, squatting and bunking that has made life and living herculean for students. Hence, our bright minds are degenerating into cultism, drug abuse, yahoo-yahoo, robbery, kidnapping, and such other nefarious criminalities. A leading expert and university administrator once said that “only animals can survive in some of the hostels in our higher education institutions”. This is not so elsewhere, even in many African countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, etc. The issues are similar to those responsible for low-income housing deficit, hence there is need for a policy change. However, let us not lament on the problem, I am happy the “Build for Nigeria” model is set to address this issue adequately.

 

What happened to government housing policies over the years, how did we get here?

Over the years, government policies have focused its housing policies on the formal sector with little or nothing for the informal. Nobody has account of where the poor live and toil daily. Both the government-led approach to housing and the current private sector-led approach to housing delivery have neglected the poor and low-income. And where are these category of people found, the informal sector of course. Focusing on the poorer groups will drive policy change that will enhance access to housing finance, access to land for housing, approvals, etc. This is the same with students’ hostel, a focus on affordability to indigent students at public tertiary institutions will be the way to go.

 

What is the role of the private sector in all of these?

Very good. I will talk about the role of the private developer and the Nigerian private sector. The role of private developer under the PPP framework operated by federal and state housing agencies as at today is basically to bring in finance for the project and deploy expertise to construct the houses. Of course, they will participate in the sale of the completed houses. This is why PPP is yet to make significant impact in delivering affordable housing for the low-income. There are inadequacies in the policy framework, institutional framework, legal framework and financial framework. Let us leave that for another day. Nigeria is yet to articulate a housing PPP specific national policy to regulate the practice at both federal and state levels. For now, each housing agency has its own PPP housing guideline and sometimes with the help of the ICRC who are the custodian of the National Policy on PPP, the agencies manage to move on. Such loopholes will allow people who have wrong motives to take advantage of the system. That is why experts are happy with the new framework; not only did it address the existing inadequacies, it introduces  a multi-party PPP system which was identified as the leading success factor for PPP in low-income housing in countries like India and Malaysia. For instance, under the “Build for Nigeria” pro-poor PPP housing model, the private developer is to deploy expertise to build the houses while the funding is provided by the third sector. Now, for the Nigerian private sector, housing provision should not be left for the government alone.  God forbid, there is an urban housing crisis in Nigeria tomorrow, everyone suffers, the people, the government and businesses suffer.  The growing inequality in Nigeria calls for concern of everyone. In some countries like USA, UK and even South Africa, there are laws ensuring that the operations of the private sector promote economic equality.

 

Is there a need for public enlightenment in this regard?

Yes, I think so.  Since the aim of the Build for Nigeria pro-poor PPP housing model is to enhance access to housing for the bottom 40 percent in the informal sector, everyone needs to know about it, everybody needs to support it. I say this because, if a man is not guaranteed of shelter, he will do everything wrong to achieve that, hence corruption, crime and criminality, lack of order in our society, armed robbery, kidnapping and the rest. So, who is affected by all these? All of us. Government, private companies , investors etc. You see, this is  why I advised that the rich cannot sleep with closed eyes unless the poor have slept. Half of what we spend in securing extra guns, bullet proof cars and more security dogs can address social housing gap.