Pepple defends her administration, scores self high

Ex-Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Ms Ama Pepple, has said her administration brought benefits to Nigerians. The former Head of Service of the Federation former Permanent Secretary in the Federal Civil Service Commission, as well as many ministries and agencies, said apart from the policies she pursued in the housing sector, the administration should be given credit for various achievements among which is constructing a mausoleum for the first indigenous President of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe among other things across the country. She spoke with FRANCIS ADINOYI KADIRI in Abuja

How was your tenure as a minister?
Without being immodest, I believe my tenure was very successful and that we made a lot of progress in the housing sector, in very many areas that were not given attention before.
I believe the peak of my career as a public servant in Nigeria, was as Head of Service of the Federation. And like I tell people, the minister’s job was a bonus that God, through President Jonathan, gave me.

As Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, would you say you achieved all you set out to achieve in the housing sector?
Nearly all. And I believe if others build on what I have already done, the housing sector will make a lot of progress.

How about the housing policy?
I have formulated the housing and urban development policies. When I got there, there was no housing policy. Since 1993 or so, there was no housing policy, no urban development policy. So, when I got to the ministry, I saw  that was the first thing we needed to do. How could we make progress in the sector if we didn’t have a policy that will guide us? I put a committee together, an all inclusive committee which included professionals and  ministry officials . I put them together and I am happy to say that in less than a year of becoming minister, we took the proposed policies to council and got approval, precisely, I think in June, 2012. That was less than a year after I was appointed minister. And we were following up on the guidelines we laid down for ourselves.

Can you expatiate on the guidelines?
When I got there, they had a Public Private Partnership (PPP) unit, but the PPP unit was not really working because when you don’t have enough funds for housing, the best thing to do is to open it up to the private sector. And you need to create an enabling environment for the private sector to be able to function. So, we strengthened the PPP unit and we sent one of the members of staff for training locally and abroad and she became certified. She is an architect and she became certified as a PPP expert.
People talk about PPP but if you don’t have an expert in the field, it is like you are talking from the top of your head. You cannot really focus on what PPP should be. And I think training that young lady to be an expert, helped us. So, some of the houses we built, we provided the PPP.
There was also the public-public collaboration which we were also trying to do in one of the states to provide houses for their health workers.

We also tried to strengthen the Federal Mortgage Bank. We were asking for more funds for them so that they can give mortgages to more people because they handle the National Housing Fund and they are giving mortgages to civil servants at six percent interest and they could pay back in a period of 15 to 20 years, which I think, is very good for civil servants. But they don’t have enough money even now as we speak. I thought they would be recapitalized even with like N100 billion or N200 billion so that the more funds they have, the more mortgages they can create for Nigerians. I hope the new Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company which had just been launched by Mr. President will help to overcome this challenge.
We were also trying to reorganize the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). We started that work but unfortunately, it wasn’t completed. It should have been nearing completion now.

We had many other projects we were doing. We wanted to start the rent-to-own policy because we felt that we could take care of the people in the informal sector. You know the National Housing Fund caters for workers, people who are on a salary. But we believed that we needed to reach majority of our people who are not in formal employment, even people selling tomatoes in the market and  selling yams. We started that and we also started the Cooperative Housing Policy where people such as journalists, can decide to form a cooperative and through that, they  will have access to housing. We launched it in Lagos state and we were doing like 400 houses at a time. It should be completed by now because even towards the end of last year, they were nearing completion. I think the Lagos one, they pay N10,000 per month. I was told some of them, some months they will not pay and later, they will come and pay like five months, maybe they have done some business or market has been good for those who are traders. I think in the long run, it is very good as long as you can have shelter over your head.

Another issue that was worrisome which I addressed, was the National Building Code. By the time I got to the ministry, there was a building code that was passed. It went to Council, but there was confusion that the National Assembly needed to pass an enabling law for it to become operational. And you are supposed to revise it every three years. When I was there, they had not done any review. In fact, at that time, based on the time that the first code was passed, they should have done two reviews but they had not done anything. I put that up, set up a committee, they completed their work, we had a stakeholders’ forum at which they approved it with some amendments.

So, we were at the point where the committee was to put all those amendments together and then, take it to Council for approval. I don’t think that has been done yet. I believe that was a big achievement for me at the time. When I heard that they had not done any review and we had so many incidents of building collapse, I decided that one of the ways of stemming it, is to put this code together, enforce it and  ensure that the professional bodies in the built environment enforce the code. It is not just enough to put a code together without enforcement and sanctions.

How about the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) whose mandate is to carry out this function?
They are not directly under us, even though they were part of the people who did the review process.

Housing is still a major problem in Nigeria. What is the way out?
That is why I told you we started all these. And if you drive round Abuja, you will see a lot of estates. They are empty. They cost a lot.

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