New Homes Industry: The Key To Job Creation And A Better Economy in Nigeria

Deborah K. Vick

At her recent swearing in as Finance Minister for the second time around, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala reportedly declared, “I am here to create jobs.” That is music to the ears of all Nigerians, including the reported and staggering 40 million job-seekers and those who know that lack of employment is a major contributor to the high crime wave in all corners of our Motherland. Combined with passage of indigene law, Nigeria will foster deeper housing roots and policies capable of ameliorating sectarian crimes, such as the ones that often occur in Jos and other parts of our “One Nigeria”.

I understood Mrs. Iweala’s “I am here to create jobs” comment to mean that she will work hard to create an economic environment that is conducive to the private sector creating good paying jobs for Nigerian citizens and immigrants. I will come back to why the “immigrants” part is critical to Nigeria’s development and prosperity.

It will not be easy!

President Goodluck Jonathan should be commended for the heightened emphasis he seems to be according to the improvement of Nigeria’s economy. I hope both the President and Finance Minister succeed for the good of all Nigerians, but like many Nigerians, I will hold further praise until I see measurable results even as we support only their worthy efforts. Nigerian history is full of false starts and wasted opportunities.

However, the President and the Minister cannot and should not be expected to do it all by themselves without our support. Nigerians everywhere should get all hands on deck and contribute to worthy causes of any administration. Both job seekers and the employed must have strong work ethics and provide superior services that make their employers’ businesses prosper so they can hire more people and stay in business for a long time. Every employee should work it as if it were his or her father’s company.

In the world’s more efficient economies, the private sector is the engine of growth and job creation. Nigeria does not need more government or public sector jobs. It needs more sustainable private sector workers.

This and every administration should be vocally criticized when they pursue the wrong agenda. That is constructive and good for all. Each administration should be judged by how it improves the lives of the people in the short and long run with the people asserting their responsibilities along the way too.

For the first time ever, I wrote to Nigerian President in May 2011 to ask him to put development of Nigeria’s new housing industry at the top of his economic agenda for the betterment of all. I stated the potential externalities of the new home industry for the Nigerian economy. In that missive, I expressed my willingness to contribute pro bono to that effort. I made it quite clear that I neither seek any monetary/political reward nor do I desire to return to Nigeria permanently any time soon.

Being content in America does not preclude me (or others) from making trips to Nigeria (at personal expense) to help organize seminars and tours for educating Nigeria’s budding homebuilders who wish to learn the American new housing methods. Certainly, I do not have all the answers but since this is my passionate profession (new homes) here in America, it is my wish to give back by contributing the little I know to new homes development in our beloved Nigeria.

I respect Mrs. Iweala’s decision to return to Nigeria to serve. I believe she will perform well in her encore as Finance Minister. After being at the top of one’s career overseas for many years, it can be tough to uproot one’s family. Leaving one’s family abroad and returning home to work in Nigeria is a heavy commitment too, regardless of how much one earns there.

Nigerians inside and outside the country should respect those who go down this path to help, and not to loot the coffers. The leaders who ask these professionals to return to their homeland should be recognized and praised based on positive results, not lip services.

It was reported that President Jonathan recently formed the National Economic Management Team (NEMT) to spearhead his economic agenda. The names and agencies that make up the team appear impressive. If egos are checked at the door, and bureaucratic inertia is not allowed to engrain, monumental good can come from this team. Nigerians everywhere have been waiting for the “coming” to come.

It will be to the welcome credit of the Jonathan administration and all the NEMT members if they achieve tangible success. Nigerians should be cautiously optimistic.

Contrary to what some at home may think about those of us in Diaspora, we all want Nigeria to improve. We want to have the viable option to return to Nigeria for good. We hunger to contribute our share to the development of our Motherland. We want to take our children to Nigeria to show them how great and free life can be there, not only to show them how good they have it here overseas. We all love Nigeria (too), perhaps, more than Nigeria loves us!

True Nigerian professionals abroad were not swayed a few years ago by the past administration’s “Clarion Call” to return home, because that was perceived as a rudderless call. Nigeria has disappointed so many of its people so many times that the few who have found greener pastures overseas will not be easily lead into the lion’s den again. They see footprints pointing inward without any footprints coming out; and they know that those who entered were consumed by the hungry lion in the den.

It is heartbreaking when loved ones in Nigeria strongly urge their folks abroad not to return home due to the conditions there. It hurts each time I hear that warning: stay in America and do not come back. Content Nigerians abroad do not see any glamour in riding around in armored vehicles at insane speeds with deafening sirens blaring, as are commonly the cases when the lowest ranked persons in the government move around town back home.

Lack of security, stable electricity, adequate healthcare, and poor roads affect all. Not being able to jog or ride your bicycle ten miles down the street without fear of being run over, kidnapped, bombed, or robbed are very sad states of affairs in Naija.

Some Nigerians in Diaspora don’t find it enticing to have helpers for chores they are used to doing themselves.For the creation of good jobs to take off and be sustained in Nigeria, both the leaders and the people should consider the following:

1. Fostering the Real Estate industry via public and private sectors partnership.

2. Passing and enforcing the Indigene law, which makes any city or state where one lives for 6 or more consecutive months one’s new residence with full and equal rights.

3. Enforcing Federal, State, County, City, Property, and Sales Tax laws; no sacred cows. Corruption and waste would be curtailed when governments are funded by taxes paid by the masses. Looters would be castigated in public squares if they embezzle taxpayers’ hard earned money. Stealing oil money is one thing; stealing tax revenue is an entirely different matter.

4. Schools need to be reorganized, locally controlled and administered. Parents should be prepared to pay the true cost of educating their children. Schools should be rated every year and the scores made public, so failing schools are closed and teachers retrained.

5. Every Nigerian should become a stakeholder with full responsibility and authority to be steward of the community and the nation. We must not allow foreign oil companies to pollute and destroy our environment with impunity.

6. Citizens and immigrants must be willing to pay for and defend the system or rule of law.

7. We ought to lay the groundwork for a network of radio, television, and print media to become the people’s vanguard.

8. We should commence the much talked about national identification program to track and maintain records of individual activities and behaviors. This is not a police state thing, but a basis for commerce and accountability, just like the American Social Security Number system.

9. Decentralize and privatize electric power generation and distribution.

10. Decentralize police and other law enforcement agencies as they are in the United States whose system of government we aspire to emulate.

The Chief Executive Officer of DN Meyer Plc, Bola Olayinka, says that “Available statistics show that Nigeria is bedeviled with a housing deficit of about 17 million, thus requiring 50 years to bridge the gap.” What a goldmine! Any nation would be glad to have the opportunity in housing that Nigeria has. NEMT should make single family housing a top priority.

For the reader who does not know much about the housing industry, let me take a few moments and scratch the surface of this critically important economic powerhouse; pun intended.

Some economists believe the American economy, and to a greater extent the global economy, will recover only after the U.S. Housing market recovers. Housing is that critical.In 2008, America’s National Association of Home Builder (NAHB) estimated that the economic impacts include the following:

• 3.05 jobs and $89,216 in taxes (from building an average new single family home).

• 1.16 jobs and $33,494 in taxes (from building an average new multifamily rental unit).

• 1.11 jobs and $30,217 in taxes (from $100,000 spent on residential remodeling).

As used here, taxes are shorthand for government revenue from all sources, including construction-related fees imposed by local governments.

I know that average American homes cost more than average Nigerian homes, however, due to automation, styles, amenities, and technology constraints, more workers are needed to build a home in Nigeria. For the sake of the argument, let us assume it will take the same number of workers to build the average Nigeria home. Using the 17 million housing units deficit and 3.05 jobs per house figures, Nigeria could create 51 million jobs in a hurry and achieve full employment.

The World Bank estimates there are 40 million unemployed Nigerians now. Single family home business alone is capable of curing the unemployment problems in Nigeria. I know this a simplistic view but it is a realistic one.Housing will also create lots of indirect jobs such as:

1. Police Officers

2. Firefighters

3. City inspectors to oversee construction codes compliance

4. Water and waste water professionals, etc.

The economic externalities are endless, and so are the social benefits.

After people buy new homes, they go on to buy refrigerators, curtains, stoves, and all the home’s furnishings. These spending sprees create more demand for goods and services, and even more jobs.

Immigrants should be encouraged to dig in roots in Nigeria. When they do, they become givers instead of just takers. Immigrants have unique and empowering potential to improve society. When embraced, immigrants enrich the host country socially, culturally, financially, academically, and other wise… Just look at the nation of immigrants called the United States of America.

There are many more social benefits to home ownership than meets the eye. In any society, you would be hard pressed to find homeowners causing problems that diminish their property values. Homeowners pay more in taxes and work harder to earn money to pay their bills and maintain their neighborhoods. They quickly become the middle class backbone on which a stable and prosperous society is built. Nigeria needs a viable middle class as fish need water and humans oxygen.

If the mortgage business is expanded in Nigeria, more people will be able to buy homes on installment terms that will spur more lending and banking activities. In the wake of these economic activities will be more high paying jobs for everyone.

However, Nigerian home buyers must understand and be responsible for their side of the borrowing business. If you miss as few as two payments, you will be due for late payment fees, damaged credit history and foreclosure and eviction: No excuses. You don’t shoot or kidnap the bank manager because you lost your home via foreclosure.

Here in USA, those who did not fully understand what they were getting into during the housing boom ended up burning themselves and nearly breaking the back of the American economy in the process. Just ask those who swallowed the easy housing credit of the past 20 years and ended up financially comatose following the 2008 bust. You can’t use your home as ATM either.

The housing market can be full of peaks and valleys. It can be a roller coaster of dizzying proportions. Both the government and the mortgage consumers need to know what they are getting into. When done well, the benefits can be immense. Your house is your home. It is not just an American Dream to own a home; it is every citizen of any nation’s dream to have a good place to call home. Your home is your castle!

I strongly urge the NEMT members to eschew petty rivalry and seize the enormous potential of the residential housing industry, with its good-paying and quick-creating jobs. To unleash the full creativity and competitive power of this industry, all that the federal, state and local governments have to do is create an environment that is conducive for the private sector to flourish and accomplish the rest. I hope that is what the Minister means by, “I am here to create jobs”.

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