Housing deficit only for urban low-income earners – Ajayi

, President of the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, Sir Oladipupo Ajayi

I came in the midst of a lot of controversies due to many human demands. My team and I set several committees in place to look at the agitations of the two councils that we have – the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria and the Nigerian Institute of Architects. We tried to build a bridge.

The controversial examinations that caused problems between the bodies were resolved with a joint examination acceptable to the generality of architects in Nigeria. Another challenge that was solved was the dichotomy between HND and BSc graduates. We tried to merge them and create licensure for both of them.

We succeeded in resolving pending litigations with 12 cases against the council withdrawn while three are being settled out of court. We can say that we have brought peace to the architectural family in Nigeria. We have also been able to go through the accreditation of all universities in Nigeria which is the core business of ARCON.

I can tell you today that not less than 37 universities have been accredited in Nigeria and abroad. The major thing we did was to provide a home for architects. We had no home for architects before I came on board. We swung into action to retrieve our lands with help from the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola. Today, we have laid the foundation for architects’ home in Abuja.

Since 1969, we have had no home; now, we have two – one in Lagos and another in Abuja. I thank the very intelligent team members around me who have helped us achieve these important milestones. By the grace of God, we plan to complete the buildings.

We worked on BMAS which summarily entails a committee of university professors working on the proposed faculty of architecture and a detailed minimum benchmark for the study of architecture in Nigeria.

They developed a benchmark for the proposed departments with programmes submitted to the National Universities Commission for implementation by universities.

The aim is to accommodate the unbundling of the NUC-approved faculty of architecture to include departments of architecture, landscape design, urban design, interior design, marine architecture, architectural engineering, and so on.

We want to ensure that architects in Nigeria unbundle themselves. Before, architects used to be referred to as designers. As a designer you must know things going on in other fields of your profession such as quantity surveying, building, town planning and interact well with these fields.

As leaders in the profession, we are trained for six, seven years in the university to take courses from these other professions. Without designers, we will not make beautiful cities just like we see in places like Dubai, China and coming home, Abuja.

The people who created these cities are versed in the knowledge of landscape architecture, urban design, and so on. So we came together and found about 15 courses that are offered abroad that can also be offered here in Nigeria.

With an upgrade to faculties we will have more coded architects and create more jobs as more people will need to learn from lecturers. Architects can begin creating modules after they graduate and gain specific licences. We won’t have people who read urban design getting licences to build high-rise buildings.

That’s a very good one. Since 1969 to before we came, we only had 3,000 qualified architects in Nigeria for a population of say 200 million. From the arithmetic this is unacceptable. So we put in place exams to be held sometimes twice a year.

We tried to relax conditions that were obsolete. We made the door open to many people without compromising quality. Now, we’ve been able to produce more architects that can function even in rural areas.

In the past, you may discover that some states in Nigeria had maybe one or two architects and what they’ll do is employ quacks in their building, leading to lots of waste while the buildings they do would lack beauty.

We’ve ensured that our architects are able to work with the local governments to approve plans to ensure the needful in buildings. Before, we used to invite foreigners to design our buildings and we ended up with a lot of problems as their plans did not align with our environment and culture.

Now, with many architects around who can learn on the job, they create beauty in our villages and cities. Architects can now think outside the box and are more intelligent thanks to technology.

Personally, I don’t agree that there is a housing deficit in Nigeria. How did they get the data, 17 million? If they say there is no more housing in Lagos, which category of people is affected? Is it the poor? Is it the bourgeoisie?

My answer is this. There is a deficit in Lagos; there is a deficit in Abuja; maybe in Kano but it depends on the kind of building you want to live in. In Abuja, the problem we have is housing fit for human beings are not in the right place for low-income earners who are the engine of the economy.

They should have a settlement area where they can be close to their means of livelihood. In the past, low-income estates were built in Lagos with prices going for N8,000. A medium flat was going for N32,000 while those of high income went for around N450,000.

Government acquired land and gave some to low-income earners. Eventually low-income earners sold their houses perhaps due to lack of cash but the plan was there.

In China, the government builds low-cost houses in lands on city outskirts where they have access to agriculture and small-scale industries because they are the engine of the economy. Any government that does not pay attention to low-income earners is not helping the economy.

So, the deficit we have is deficit for low-income earners, not for the rich. Why we have scarce housing now is because when you build medium housing in Abuja, it is the rich who buy 10 or 20 and rent them out.

If we have orders in place where people are checked for where they work, tax clearance and so on, with the aid of technology, it would be easy to fish out those who don’t belong in these housing schemes. That way, only the low-income earners get mortgages with single-digit rates. It is doable.

Deficit should be defined. In my village, for example, there are so many empty houses. Is that a deficit? With proper road networks, people can travel from villages to work in cities. There are no deficits in other states of the country outside of Lagos, Abuja, and maybe Kano, Kaduna and Rivers.

It should be defined. There is an urban housing deficit for low-income earners instead of using an envelope to say that there is a housing deficit of 17 million. I don’t believe that.

We can’t continue to live backwards while other countries are going forward in terms of technology. Technology will give more jobs to people. In my days, it took two to three weeks to design four flats. With technology, you can finish it in a day which means you can get briefs for more jobs and spend less time.

I encourage architects to automate their offices so they have more time to do other things and think outside the box.

By this I mean that they don’t need to focus on architectural design alone. You can go into furniture making which is still design, construction, landscaping, horticulture and so on.

I believe in change. Where change is, there are opportunities. When we came on board, we developed Continuous Product Development. It’s a type of training for architects that gets them to learn things like building animation and event planning in addition to architecture.

There are so many things to do under CPD. It retrains you so that in three months, you are exportable. You are not training yourself for Nigeria alone. The architects who came in to design our airports and seaports are not from heaven.

Capacity building is important to compete with the outside world. Learning is continuous; it doesn’t take long to become illiterate in your profession. Graduates should rebrand themselves and take risks to gain returns.

Everybody cannot work in banks or ministries but we will do our best to ensure that architects are employed within local governments in the country.

We will do enough CPD which is post-university training to make our graduates exportable.

If you are not exportable in your profession, you can never make it. That is my advice for the coming generation.