Social Housing Bill Suffers Setback In Senate

BEVERLY HILLS, CA, October 30, (THEWILL) – The Senate on Wednesday suspended the final passage of the Social Housing Bill that seeks to provide mass housing for the poor and low income earners as Senators explained that the action was as a result of faulty procedural and legal technicalities in its proposed implementation.

Nonetheless, Chairman, Senate Committee on Housing and Urban Development, Senator Bukar Ibrahim, while presenting the report at plenary, explained that the passage of the bill would be a big relief to the poor masses as it would afford them the opportunity to own houses without stress.

He told the senators that various sources of funds from the private sector had been identified for the smooth take off and sustenance of the scheme.

However, the bill could not scale through on the argument that its passage would create legal and procedural problems that could affect its implementation.

Senator Nkechi Nwogu, in her contribution, noted  that the sources of funds contained in the report included  unclaimed dividends, deposits of deceased people without next of kin, dormant accounts in banks, five percent of ecological fund and two percent of the oil and gas proceeds.

She  said recovering people’s personal money either in form of dividends or in dormant bank accounts to fund the housing scheme  would be a difficult task  because there was no law that barred access to personal funds in banks after a period of time.

Other contributors to the debate noted that there was no identifiable  or sustainable source of funds for the scheme.

Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe) however advised the committee to look at the practice in other countries with the same socio-economic environment like Nigeria  with a view to adopting their social housing scheme.

Also contributing, Senator Victor Lar,  said  “For the scheme to be successful,  an agency that would see it through should be created,” adding, “the National Housing Scheme could be established for the management of the fund.”

However, the Chairman of the committee argued that there was no need to create an additional agency since there was already a Ministry of Housing.

According to Senator Ibrahim, the executive had pledged to support whatever move by the committee to recommend rising of funds from the private sector for the mass housing scheme.

“There was no law that stopped the committee from raising funds from the sources identified. We will still go back to the government.

“Governments at all levels are not doing anything to provide houses for the low income earners in the country. They left the task to the private sector alone which are not building affordable houses,” e said.

Vice-Chairman of the committee, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, said the bill was a major component  of the National Housing Policy of the Federal Government and observed that Nigerians will be grateful to the senate if the bill scales through.

Ashafa said “the bill will provide houses for those who don’t have income at all, those with low income, and workers in the middle income category.”

He however said the bill stipulated that houses for low income earners would attract a token and that the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria should be brought into the scheme.

Senator Shola Adeyeye  suggested the utilisation of savings and loans to power the scheme as it was being done in advanced countries.

A member of the committee, Senator Ben Ayade (Cross River, PDP),  said various public sector avenues to raise funds for the scheme were explored but did not work because the government did not have a policy in place for a social housing scheme.

Ayade said the “FHA does not provide social houses for the poor who are not having money and these people constituted 60 percent of the population.”

While deferring  the bill, the senate suggested that the committee should go back to the drawing board, discuss with the Ministry of Housing and its agencies on how best to implement the scheme.

Senate Presisident David Mark , said the committee should be given proper guidelines because of the importance of the bill and that it will be in the best interest of the nation to pass it  into law.

He described the bill as a good concept but insisted that the committee should look at the legal aspect of it to enhance its success.

Mark urged that senators make all efforts to save the bill but maintained that a fund needed to be established to sustain the scheme.

He also asked the committee to put in place, guidelines to save it,  being an important bill and to also identify “where   the funds will be warehoused,  what are the sources of funds, legal issues that could arise over  unclaimed dividends and marry the bill with the Federal Housing Authority Act.”

At the end, the senate resolved that the committee should go back , identify the lapses in the bill and re-present a fresh one that would not have any procedural or legal implication.

Meanwhile,  the senate at the plenary,  confirmed the appointment of Justice John Inyang Okoro as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

By Emma Uche, Abuja