Bosun Jeje, is the Commissioner for Housing in Lagos State. The Law, Sociology and Environmental Management graduate in this exclusive interview told ENCOMIUM Weekly his experience in the ministry in the last two years.
He said the affordable mortgage housing scheme that the government has been promoting in this two years, will soon be rolled out for the benefit of the people. He spoke on other issues such as tenancy law and estate agent.
In the last two years that you have been the Commissioner for Housing in Lagos State, what has the experience been?
When you work with someone like Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), who many have come to know as a very hard working man, if you really want to work in his cabinet, you have to match the way he works.
So, I will say my experience has been that of working hard like the governor to move the state forward.
Are you then saying you are working harder than when you were in the private sector?
I wouldn’t say that. In the private sector, it is easy for one to make decision immediately when the situation arises. In the public sector I cannot take decision the way I like because there are so many interests you have to take into consideration. Most of the times too, you have to get the approval of the executive council or that of the State House of Assembly before your decision sails through. So, the working hard in the public sector includes getting these levels of authorities approving or buying into your own decision. As I do here too, I work from Monday to Sunday too like when I was in the private sector.
What would you say has been your best decision in the last two years that you have been in charge of the Housing ministry in Lagos State?
That of the governor giving his approval or assent to our decisions and ideas as it concerns the housing problems in the state.
What will you say has been the most difficult decision that you have taken in the last two years?
Working hard on a decision or idea and not getting the approval of the governor. It’s difficult to accept sometimes but you just have to abide by it because here we work collectively.
What will you say has been the most challenging issue that your ministry has faced in the last two years?
The most challenging issue for me personally is working with civil servants. Civil servants are quite different from workers in the private sector. So, you have to learn how to work with the civil servants. For now, we are trying to blend the work ethics of the private sector with that of the civil service. Though with a lot of efforts but I think it’s working. Another challenge the ministry is facing is that of managing our old estates because the residents are not co-operating. The residents did not take ownership of the estate. They do not behave as if the houses belong to them. They need to take the ownership so that they can keep them like their own so as to sustain the intention of the government for building the estates in the first instance. That is why we are already managing the new estates from the beginning so that they don’t fall into the same category of the old estates. We are still talking to the residents of the old estates and we hope they will change.
Since you came into the ministry, there has been this project called Lagos Home –a mortgage scheme. When is it going to start?
The programme will start soon. We brought up the programme. We conceptualized the programme. But in doing this, we want sustainability to be our watchword. We don’t want something that we will do and at the end of tenure of this administration, the programme will end with the administration. We want a situation where the next administration will continue with the programme. In doing that, we need a lot of planning and that is what we are doing now.
Right now, we are addressing the supply aspect of the programme. We want to do the mortgage scheme. We promised that. We want to do mortgage as it’s practiced in other societies. In doing that, we have to take stock of houses. We don’t want to start and the houses are gone with the first set and then people are looking for houses. That is why you see us in the three senatorial districts building simultaneously. Once we have addressed that and we have put the modalities on how people are going to access the mortgage –the payment structure and everything, then we will roll it out.
We are rolling it out very soon. We are just crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s right now. So, Lagosians that have been waiting, your waiting will soon be over. The programme will start very soon and it’s going to be to your benefit.
How many units of houses does the government want to build before commencing with the mortgage scheme?
I can’t say the exact number or units of houses, all we want to do is make sure that we have substantial units of houses on ground before the commencement of the programme.
One word that the government has been using in promoting this programme is affordable houses. How affordable will it be for the generality of the people?
I can’t recollect saying affordable houses. What we are talking about is mss houses and affordability has different dimensions and different definitions. What we are saying is ability to pay. That is what we mean by affordable. It is not the amount but ability to pay when you have a house and for 15 years you are able to pay your mortgage every month conveniently. What you pay every month is what we call rent to own. You are paying rent but you are paying it to own the house. At the end of the month, no landlord will ask you to move out of the house. The house is yours. Ability to pay that meager amount is what we call affordable. I say a meager because when we say a house is N1m or N2m or N5m and you divide it by 15 years, you can imagine how much you will be paying every month.
Everybody is qualified once you are a tax payer living in Lagos State. What you have to do is pay your initial deposit and you spread the remaining for the next 15 years and you are qualified to own a house.
There is this rumour that the least will cost N7m or N8m with an initial deposit of 30 per cent. How far is this true?
When I hear such amount like N7, N8m, I ask them where did you get your information? Right now, if you ask me the amount of the houses, I wouldn’t be able to tell you because we are still working on the amount we are going to put on each house that will not be too much for people to pay. We are still working on it.
On the payment of certain percentage, that is what is called equity participation. For every mortgage, you have to put something down and the balance is spread. You have to show your own commitment to that project. We don’t want you to see it as a gift. You must show your own commitment. That is why we are saying that you have to pay certain percentage for you to qualify.
There is also this fear that the programme maybe hijacked by politicians or money bags and that the average citizen that the programme is meant to serve will not get it at the end of the day. What is your take on this?
This is going to be a transparent process. It is going to be published for everybody to see. For every time that we roll out the winners of those houses it will be seen by everybody. Everybody will see the process that will produce the winners. I want to allay the fears from the minds of Lagosians. This programme is going to be very transparent and it will be for everybody to see.
The tenancy law also came during your tenure in the ministry. How will you rate the success of the law?
I must say that it’s been very successful. Before the law came into being, you will hear people talking about I paid two years, I paid three years, I paid five years and the landlord demanding different charges. I must say that since that law came into effect, hardly will you hear people saying they paid two years or more. The landlord may have devised another means to collect the two years but it is left for the person to come to the Ministry of Housing and Ministry of Justice to make a formal report that his or her landlord is demanding two years from him or her and then see what will happen. But you cannot stay in your house and expect the ministry to know what is going on between you and your landlord. You must make a report. Don’t also forget that he that paid two years and he that collected two years rents both are liable in the eyes of the law. Because you are not supposed to pay. So, I must say that the tenancy law has been a success story so far.
Presently, we have put the Special Adviser to the Governor on Housing in charge of the tenancy. This is to give more bite to the law. For the law to work, the onus is on the citizens and the government to work together. If the people the law is meant for did not report the offenders to the government, there is nothing the government can do.
What is the government also doing about estate agents people see as exploiters like the landlords?
We have set up Real Estate Transaction Department in the Ministry of Housing. The department will register every estate agent. It is voluntary but whoever wants to deal with estate agents can come to the ministry and check through the list and know the ones that are registered. Those are the ones recognized by the government. The department was purposely set up to regularize the activities of the estate agents in the state and to know the genuine ones amongst them. So, it is also incumbent on the people to come to the ministry to know the genuine ones amongst them. We announced and granted interviews on this issue for people to come to the department to know the registered estate agents that they can do business with.
If you don’t do business with those that are registered with the ministry and you are swindled by those that are not registered with the ministry, there is nothing the government can do to help you.
As a politician, do you think there is hope for this country with the way things are going?
I won’t say the situation in the country is totally hopeless. You can see what the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) states are doing. That is the hope of the nation. I am sincerely hoping that by 2015, the whole country would have realized that the hope of the country is Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). We might have changed our name by that time through merger but they have followed our footsteps and antecedents to know that the hope of the nation is in this party, ACN. You have seen what is happening in Lagos State. You can see what is happening in Ogun, Osun, Ekiti and Oyo States. In all these states there is hope for the citizens. People are very hopeful. When you talk about Nigeria abroad, people think you are talking about Lagos State. When there is hope, you should know where your hope lies. Our hope lies with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) come 2015.
Where does your own hope lie in terms of political ambition in 2015?
It lies with the Almighty God. For now, I will be concentrating on my job as Commissioner for Housing.
THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ENCOMIUM WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, May 21, 2013