This is the second part of the interview we had with Mr Lookman Oshodi, project director of Arctic Infrastructure. You can read the first part here. In the second part of the interview we discussed how private sectors can come on board the housing strategies in Lagos state, the explosive population, self-help housing, housing problems in Lagos etc. Read the interview below:
NREH: We see that there is a lot to do in the area of housing in Lagos state. You talked about involving other institutions. How can the Lagos state government motivate private institutions, the private sector and other people to come on board?
Mr Oshodi: Well, one of the key approach to involving stake holders is that one, there is need to have what we call a vibrant housing policy in Lagos state and when we say housing policy, it is not just a policy that will show direction on which way to go, it is a policy that should say Mr A, B, C, D, these are your responsibilities in terms of different institutions that are involved in the housing system. Then, in doing that policy, it should be very clear that in this system, these are the do’s and don’ts. This is the right process for me to take to be part of that system. These are possible incentives for me or these are penalties for me if I go wrong. So, you know, housing process is not about knowing somebody. There should be something that even if I am coming in from Ghana, I should have a very clear process without me knowing anybody. I should be able to lay my hands on something that will guide me, pointers to the steps and directions to take. I don’t need to know anybody. Until we get to that stage, vibrant participation of that sector may not be fulfilled.
As it is today, we still run on patronage, who you know and if we operate on that system, we cannot achieve that hundred percent of private sector involvement. A system that works does not run on who you know. It works based on the guidance available for all the stakeholders, free entry and free exits. Another thing that Lagos state government needs to do to encourage private sector participation is that over a period of time, the helm of affairs in Lagos state has held on to the belief that land is our gold and that is a wrong belief because for me, I believe that when you have gold, for example, I should see that luxury that you have such but unfortunately, even with the land is our gold belief, slums keep increasing, informal settlements keep increasing, infrastructure keeps decreasing. Land should be about creating wealth for people but unfortunately the strategy of creating that wealth has been lost completely in the process so it becomes the process of generating revenue for the state and in generating revenue for the state, people have lost confidence in the land process and they all want to do things in their own way. If you decide to do things in your own way and I decide to do things in my own way, the result will be slums.
For private sector to really go into navigating the land process, you must be strong enough and have a high regard and this shouldn’t be. We must have a transparent process where anybody can decide that they want to invest and check the data base on the internet. So that data base can give me information of where to go and how much I can invest. If I don’t have that resource, I go to other parts of the city whose data bases have been developed for me to do what I really want to do. That is not the case here, we still deal with file and papers, go to section B, go to Alausa. With that private sectors cannot be really motivated to be part of the process.
Another key area if Lagos state government really wants to address the issue of housing is that housing where we are, we deal with self-help or self-built housing and maybe as an average income earner I need a house, what I will be looking for is to go to somewhere close to Isheri and begin to build a bungalow even if it will be 10 to 15 years to complete , I just start something and if I have up to 2 or 3 rooms in there, I can come in with my family. That is the general perception of what housing is like in this part of the world and that is self-built housing but if we have a very vibrant or good housing system, there is organized housing system. Organisations not individuals build and as an average income earner, if I need housing, I will approach an organisation, they will give me the allocation after looking at my income profile. It reduces the headache of … I need approval, Mr A needs land, Mr B needs land because one organization gets a large plot of land and begins to build massive number of houses . People approach the organization and begin to take their allocation. We need to move from self-build approach and begin to look for organized systems. Lagos state needs to begin to work in that direction because if we look at the city of Lagos today, where we are talking about 23 million people or so and if we look at the way the city is spreading, it is already a congested city.
NREH: Concerning the exponentially increasing population, do you think that Lagos state government is taking the right steps because it looks like population explosion is imminent if urgent steps are not taken?
Mr Oshodi: We seem to be taking the right steps but the government can still do more. Like in the case of the past government, the use of force was used. It was either you are in Lagos or you go back to your state. In those cases, people will be hurled into trucks or dumped under the bridge somewhere to deflate or reduce the population of the city but then, those are like strategies used during pre-industrial era in the 18 something, using those techniques now will be archaic in my opinion.
So, in this government, just like what you think of doing when the population is reducing, you attract more people. The opposite is the case when you begin to think of what to do when the population is increasing. For example, one of the key steps taken by this administration is this rice initiative taken by Kebbi state. The strategy behind that is to reduce the inflow of the number of people coming in from the north down to Lagos by investing in Agriculture so that within that, people can be engaged and earn income. Lagos then becomes market for those products and when you have products and then market, it makes it easier for you to earn income. Keep in mind that many of those that are coming in have the bottom line to earn income and if you are earning income somewhere, why would you want to come to Lagos?
There are other things that can also be done in reducing the population of Lagos state. You will observe in recent times that many other governments have been coming to see how Lagos is working to learn one or two things. Lagos can set up and aid or support office to assist other states in development because if one of the ten members of the family is rich, he is still poor if others are poor. They will keep coming to ask for help because you are rich so what you would rather do is to ask how to make the others become rich. Lagos should set up an office of assistance to begin to assist and build up other states. It is a long term strategy but it can start at any point in time.
NREH: So sir, what are you doing with The Working Group/The Working Committee?
Mr Oshodi: what we are supposed to achieve within a year is that some activities have been lined up. One of them includes Lagos Housing Summit and another is different discussions with both house of assembly and Lagos state government, that is the executive and the legislative arms of the government. In the past one year we have been able to develop certain policy documents which we share with relevant policy makers at the legislative. We work to really engage the lawmakers and the key personnel in the administration of the government to bring them to the table to have discussions on policies. In the nearest future, all those policies will become something that will change the face of Lagos because our thinking is that if we put things in place, it will become easier for private sector to come in, whether to collaborate or whether to help the process when we have those platforms on ground. We have worked to develop those policies and we have the intentions to put it across relevant policy makers. The Working Group will put in effort to ensure that that objective is achieved.
On the issue of housing summit that we are proposing, we received an offer from the Lagos state ministry of hosing to collaborate in that, to put resources together. That discussion is still on. Lastly, we are looking at demonstration projects because all these boils down to how the man on the street will have adequate housing and our thinking is that as we move along in developing the policies, we should be able to have something that will demonstrate what it looks like, what we are talking about. The Working group will be putting effort.
NREH: It was such an insightful session. Thank you very much for your time sir.
Mr Oshodi: You are welcome.
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