Al-amin Abubakar —
Ahead of the 2023 population and housing census, professionals in the real estate sector have listed strategies to generate accurate data that will ensure proper planning and development in the built industry.
The census, initially planned for next month, is the first for the country’s estimated population, which put at over 200 million to provide statistical data relating to the number and condition of housing units and facilities, as available to the households pertaining to all living quarters and occupants in the country.
Currently, the housing industry lacks accurate data, which is more in demand by commercial users such as construction industry, financing institutions and manufacturers. of housing fixtures and equipment.
There have been several estimations and projections about housing deficit in Nigeria, which are greatly at variance with one another. The quoted data on housing deficit of 17 million and 22 million have been queried by many, including the Minister for Works and Housing, as they are not backed by benchmark statistics on the current housing situation, which is vital for developing national housing and human settlements programmes.
According to the United Nations, the housing census must provide information on the supply of housing units, together with information on the structural characteristics and facilities that have a bearing upon the maintenance of privacy, health and the development of normal family living conditions.
“Sufficient demographic, social and economic data concerning the occupants must be collected to furnish a description of housing conditions and also to provide basic data for analysing the causes of housing deficiencies and for studying possibilities for remedial action,” the report said.
However, experts have argued that there may be tendencies, which could challenge the integrity of the census because of the quality of information at the disposal of the public.
They said the general notion of getting more resources from the government through inflated figures of population would raise its head and enumerators may, therefore, be compromised to do the bidding of their hosts.
President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Mr. Nathaniel Atebije, who said consultation with the body was scanty, told The Guardian that if integrity is emphasised and adhered to, then “we may have a credible census.
“Town planners depend on population figures to conceive all levels of physical development plans and distribution of activity areas in settlements, as well as in the country as a whole, but the collaboration between the institute and NPC was scanty. Indeed, information could only be gleaned from either the website of the Commission or on pages of newspapers or other media.”
Atebije said there should have been stakeholders’ engagement from the outset of such an event. “Professionals, who use the data should be involved in the creation of formats for data collection and census should not be conducted in the same year with national elections.
“These are too big national events that the clamour for positions in government by politicians would naturally becloud the information dissemination about the census. For instance, most Nigerians are more concerned about the problems generated by the last general elections, that only very few are conscious of the census programme.
“Besides, senior officers, who would handle critical aspects of the census need to be taken through continuous instruction on integrity, truthfulness and transparency; they should be made to understand the importance of the tasks (which could be positive).
“Let there be a minimised emphasis on population as a means of attracting resources. There should be penalties for persons who inflate the figures of the census to the extent that it can serve as a deterrent to others,” he said.
He hoped that a more accurate census would be realised this time because of the use of improved technology in the process. “However, I think the housing data would be closer to reality than the population figures. We can verify houses through the images because they are stationary but not so for human beings.
“With the information available in the public domain, the National Population Commission claims they are well-equipped. This is a common claim in Nigerian Institutions, even if to justify the amount of funds expended on them.
“But the process of implementation and delivery would usually reveal their deficiencies of doing less than the promises made. The challenge also remains that there are areas where the level of insecurity is high and inaccessible. These are real facts and indeed can inhibit comprehensive and all-inclusive exercise,” he said.
According to him, the housing census will give statistical information on housing demand and supply; and give an impression of the deficit.
“Developers have been producing houses without recourse to valid statistics; though, there seems to be none. This is responsible for inappropriate policies and programmes on housing by both government and private developers,” he said.
“In cities, the number of homeless people is tremendous in contrast to the rate of house vacancy, especially in the state capitals. The government policies of indiscriminate allocation of flat rates of constructing houses across Nigeria would now have an informed basis; and government intervention will be more rational.
“Investments of the private sector in housing are more of land grabbing and business interests than meeting the needs of the population. The expected impact of the housing census on the real estate sector will be a boost and provision of direction of the quantity and sizes of buildings that are needed by Nigerians, as well as where they are to be located.”
President, Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), Micheal Shonubi, said it is a most welcome development, particularly for those in the built environment, as it will ensure that the country develops accurate data required for proper planning.
“Planning, which is the bedrock of any development for any nation, has been almost absent in Nigeria due to lack of accurate data as most of the data used hitherto have been based on projections.
“It is also important to note that the government got grants, as well as financial assistance, including training of personnel from foreign donor agencies to aid it in the tasks of carrying out the tasks. I am also aware that preparation for this exercise has been on for some years with the delineation of enumeration areas done by staff of the agency.
“If the agency is allowed to carry out the task conscientiously, without interference from the politicians, the outcome will be pleasing to everyone.
“With the outcome, hopefully, the government and various stakeholders in the sector will have the basis to plan for the provision of additional housing stock, as well as infrastructure, particularly in the new expanding urban areas all over the country,” Shonubi said.
President, Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Enyi Ben-Eboh, told The Guardian that though, the institute, a major stakeholder in the outcome of the process was not consulted, “adequate stakeholder engagement cannot be overemphasised in matters of this nature for diverse insights and contributions.”
However, he said the entire construction industry and all its relevant stakeholders have very high expectations. “For one, it will put paid to the mystery surrounding what exactly our housing deficit is and as you know, accurate data is a pre-requisite for any informed decision, particularly, in formulating a blueprint for sustainably tackling housing in Nigeria.”
According to him, the housing census will make available adequate data on the housing and an analysis will help various shareholders in making informed decisions on resource allocation and intervention for government on one hand and the private sector which badly needs this information to guide investment options.
“Investments may begin to flow into areas hitherto not within the radar of real estate investors. For professionals within the sector, it will also guide tailor-made solutions towards housing delivery as the old model of one cap fits all will become obsolete.”
The Vice Chairman, Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Lagos branch, Gbenga Ismail, said census of any kind is a process used for planning. The last census was in 2006, so, it is long overdue. “Census helps the government project future needs so my expectation is that this exercise will bring to the fore all the developments that have happened in the last 17 years in terms of population and household buildings.”
Ismail, who doubles as Vice President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, stressed that the biggest impact is data accuracy. “The real estate industry needs data for economic analysis. We need to know supply and population to project demand. This census will help us with total supply, while the population census will help with demand.
“Better needs to be qualified. Right now this is the first, so we need to see the outcome. Best outcome is data accuracy. So, information from the field must be clear and transparent,” he added.