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Opinion

Obasanjo’s second term and the economy (I)

Ausbeth Ajagu

There is no doubt that President Olusegun Obasanjo whose mandate was renewed by Nigerians will use the next four years to consolidate on the gains recorded in the economic front and come up with more far-reaching measures to jump-start the Nigerian economy. The Federal Government’s economic blueprint tagged: Framework for Nigeria’s Economic Growth and Development (2003 to 2007) included agriculture, housing, agro-business development, manufacturing and tourism as six priority areas to economic growth.

This is a salutary effort to Obasanjo’s visionary leadership. The country must lay a solid economic foundation for democracy to be sustained. Our population makes Nigeria a force to be reckoned with in the comity of nations. And despite the squandering of riches and wastages and degradation in the land, Nigeria still holds a lot of promise for the future. Despite the tense environment that subsists due to unresolved ethnic, religious and political agitation, and despite lamentations of worsening economy and over what may have been, Nigeria still has a capacity for greatness. With Obasanjo’s visionary leadership, the economy, no doubt is on the path of recovery.

As an operator in the manufacturing sector of the Nigerian economy, I believe that with the creation of an enabling business environment, that sector of the economy would be revived to provides the much – needed support to the entire economy. As a patriot who has followed with profound interes the contributions of the Obasanjo administration to jumpstart the economy, I wish to comment and advise on the following areas:

Housing and Urban Development: One needs to commend the Obasanjo administration for coming up with a new housing policy. Housing industry in Nigeria has been and is still afflicted by a set of problems amongst which are inadequacy of housing stock, shortage of housing finance, difficulty in securing land and inadequate executive capacity.

It is impossible to exaggerate the quality and quantitative housing problem of Nigeria’s estimated 130 million population inadequately sheltered in rural and urban centres.

After the failed sloganeering of housing for all by the year 2000, many Nigerians remain apprehensive about government’s pronouncement on housing. Not a few Nigerians will be in a hurry to forget their bitter experiences in the hands of the Abacha administration’s Housing Policy where up till today, huge funds in many cases sourced through bank loans are still trapped, while the promised houses by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) have remained mirage. In appreciation of the enormity of the problems facing the Housing Policy of the Obasanjo administration. I therefore, make the following suggestions:

The Housing Policy should continue to ensure that both the public and private sectors of the economy continue to provide facilities for workers to acquire their own houses.

Government should strengthen and enhance the operation of the relevant institutions in the housing delivery system. In this regard the Federal Housing Authority should be reorganised into a fully commercialised entity. In the same vein, the Federal Mortgage Bank should be strenghtened to serve as apex institution in mortgage operation.

Furthermore, secondary mortgage institutions as well as Building Societies should be encouraged to develop during the plan period. The supervising authority of the National Housing Programme should be made to undertake construction in phases and not trying to complete all simulteanously considering the lean purse of the government. Since we have six geo-political zones in the country, efforts should be made to complete those in states per zone and with the proceeds realised proceed to the completion of others.

The mortgage institutions need to be empowered to provide realistic long-term low interest loans to those who wish to own their own houses instead of the moribund National Housing Fund.

The Land Use Decree of 1978 should also be revivewed because it has become a major impediment to owning property. Government should also introduce stringent but reasonable property tax to make speculation unprofitable and make several properties now under key and lock available to those who need them.

To be continued.

•Ajagu wrote in from Lagos.