By Ezra Ukanwa – Abuja
In an Exclusive interview with the United States Habitat Youth Humanitarian Ambassador, Nigerian Youth Ambassador to the United States, Secretary-General Nigerian Youth Congress, and Convener Go and Get Your PVC and Youth Must Vote campaign, H.E, Amb. Raymond Edoh, recently in Abuja has this to say about the Nigerian Housing situation. He also made some useful suggestions to the government and others stakeholders on how to address identified challenges of housing development in Nigeria.

As a UN Humanitarian Ambassador of Habitat Youth Program, what do you have to tell us about the Nigeria State of Habitat?

At the moment, the habitat state of Nigeria is nothing to write home about but that doesn’t mean that we are not going to improve as a country in that sector. Remember, we are a developing nation, and there is hope for Nigeria. As a nation, we found ourselves in this habitant deficit because the agencies responsible in collaboration with the government of Nigeria are not doing their job as expected. You would have imagined if the town planners, developers, and surveyors are working very effectively and in synergy with each other following the federal government-approved plans for the Nigerian lands just as it is been done in developed Nations like the US, UK, and the likes, the country would have in reality outgrown the deficit and this is the major reason why we have been experiencing demolition in some parts of the country, especially FCT.

By October we’re gonna be 62 years as a nation, which is a good one. But to be frank with you, we are nowhere we need to be when talking about housing in Nigeria. There is no doubt that we have town developers in the country where they are only functional in certain cities in the country.

Etymologically speaking, Housing in Nigeria, coupled with the poor duty discharge of Town planners has birthed a major deficit in the sector. As a UN Ambassador in this sector, what are Nigerians expecting from you as an individual in this regards?

As a UN humanitarian Ambassador on habitation, I know Nigeria’s habitat sector is going to take a new dimension with the help of God, because lots of programs are lined up already ready for execution. By the time we are done with all these, Nigerians will have a feel of changes in the sector.

There must be houses that are habitable for Nigerians. It hurts me when I see Nigerians in houses that are not habitable. It hurts me when I see Nigerians who don’t have houses at all. We have the resources as a nation. We are a blessed nation. But what is happening that we can’t have these basic needs?

It would shock you that a whole lot of Nigerians sleep under the bridges. You can go to Lagos, you will see what I’m talking about. A whole lot of Nigeria even in Abuja, I’ve seen a few places where people sleep under the bridges while a government is running. We have resources and just a few people will loot the resources meant for the populace. It is not the best. I will make sure I work in collaboration with the federal government. I’ll make sure I synergize with appropriate bodies and stakeholders like NGOs, and international organizations to make us improve our habitable standard in the country. It is very much unfortunate that even our friends abroad when they come to Nigeria, places we take them are Abuja, and Lagos. But even in this Abuja and Lagos, we can not take them to the countryside of these cities. Why? Because there are no habitable houses. Secondly, people are not living up to expectations. And these are the major reasons why insecurity becomes the order of the day. They have no places to sleep. They have no source of income. There are no companies to engage these people, and the other day this administration came up and said there are no civil service jobs. But, by the grace of God things are gonna take a new dimension.

However, regarding the poor discharge of duties of the Town Planners resulting in lots of challenges, and now blames are channeled to them. To me, it shouldn’t. Yes! The question we should be asking ourselves is, why are they not discharging their duties as expected, or why the poor discharge of duties? We should now look at, okay, what is their budget? Is their budget efficient enough for them to discharge their duties as expected?, what is their scope of duties, has it been reviewed in the last 20 years? Once it is not, then automatically there is an issue.

Specifically in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Housing is a big Challenge. With your money, you wouldn’t see a house to rent. What do you advise the government to do?

The truth about it remains that until we understand that we have a problem, we might not have solutions to them. Now that we have understood that we have a housing deficit challenge as a country I think that’s the starting point. And what I advise the government at this point is to create windows to empower domestic companies whose main aims and objective is housing to embark on massive projects. There is nothing bad for the Nigerian government to say okay, we are rolling out 1 million housing estate in Abuja, we are rolling out 5 million estate in Lagos, we are rolling out 10 million housing estate in all the 36 states of the Federation. We have the resources to embark on such projects. All that would be needed is effective payment plans according to categories of beneficiaries. Of course, it could be categorised as civil servants payment plan, business owners payment plan, students payment plan and payment plan for the ordinary citizens.

You can imagine that you are paying for a house within a period or a period of 10 to 15 years. You can imagine how relaxed people are gonna be. If this could be achieved, then, Nigeria would be a better place. But, how would this be possible when there are no jobs? This is a big treat to the nation’s development.

Any plans to incorporate the youths category in your housing plans?

To start with, we must agree that the economy is not favorable at the moment, Nigerians are suffering, they don’t have food to eat so I agree with you that they may even see the house and can’t afford to pay, as mentioned that youths and students suffer it most. That is why it is very important that the Nigerian government look inward on how to boost the economy. The Buhari administration when it came in, it stopped importation. A good idea, but not stopping the importation is the issue. Before you stop importation. What are the alternative measures? You don’t just wake up and then give directives without remedy measures. Economic issues should be diagnosed critically. Production is a key factor in any economy, so long as there is no production as expected, another problem has been created. Because if you’re not importing, you must produce, when in a situation whereby you’re not importing and you are not producing. That’s a double tragedy.

You can see the free fall of the naira against the dollar on a daily basis and yet nothing seems to be happening and nobody’s doing anything about it. However, I understand that the Nigerian government is doing its best but I think the best is not enough. This thing can be curtailed with just strategic policies. Simple strategic policies that wouldn’t cost you nothing.

Coming back to your question, students are well incorporated in the national project. Because for us to have a good learning experience, good learning and sound learning, there must be good infrastructures. There must be habitable houses for the students, there must be fantastic homes for these youth until. If we don’t do that for them, they will find it difficult to do that to the generation coming after them. So, in our plans and programs, we will make sure that all state and federal universities, polytechnics, and colleges of Education are properly incorporated.

In a situation where there is no conducive environment, there is no conducive ambience, there is no conducive housing for them to feel at home, to feel caretered for, they will continue to travel out of the country and as such it would be horrible for the nation.

As a UN Humanitarian Ambassador, many believe you are financed by the UN government. If not true, how would you react?

Well, I am not financed by the UN government at the moment but we are also calling on them to help and come to the Nigerian aid, so that we can also grow and solve this problem in this particular sector. But those that might have the perception that I’m being financed are simply wrong.

Even if we are getting finances, it would be going straight to the organization’s account. No donor would send money to a private account. And as an Ambassador, I would make sure that the money sent in by our donors is used for what it is meant for.

I’m doing it for humanity, and that’s my joy. I’m doing it for a better Nigeria. We have no other country we can call our own. If we can sacrifice for other nations, then why should we not sacrifice for our nation , Nigeria. I’ve been privileged to work in lots of developed nations, I know my contributions to the nation, so, it should be a thing of joy to come back home and do the same.

What are your plans scoped within the Housing sector for the Nigerian youths?

The Nigerian Youths are the focus here. They are our priority. Until we are able to satisfy the young people, we have achieved nothing.

The youths make up the Student, the working class, and that’s our target group. Until we have affected these groups with our projects, programs and policies, we wouldn’t relent.

However, there is a need for the government to create an enabling environment to help us influence these projects to the very grassroots.

We understand that widows, orphans, physically challenged, other vulnerable groups of people are your concerned set of people aside the youths. Do you also have them in mind in the Housing concerns and plans?

The physically challenged, the vulnerable groups in the society, the widows, the orphans, so long they are Nigerians, we have them in mind.

They are incorporated in our programs and they are rest assured that we’ll carry them along. And the beauty of it is that all of them have associations. So we don’t need to go here and there scouting for them. They have a formidable body already. And then, of course, they’re already stakeholders in our programs. So everything that’s gonna be happening there, they are wholly covered, and there is no way we will do the housing thing, and they wouldn’t be carried along.

On a general note, what advice do you have to the Nigerian government and the youths?

My advice to the Nigerian government is that they should understand that Nigeria is a nation with lots of diversities and as a matter of fact our concern as a nation should be how do we now take advantage of these diversities to have a formidable nation? We shouldn’t use these diversities to segregate ourselves, to divide ourselves. The beauty of the nation lies on our wonderful diversities, and we can’t afford not to exploit them for the growth of the nation. We should understand that by virtue of being Nigerians, we are one family, a formidable one for that matter. So, I call on the Nigerian government to embrace nationalism to believe in one Nigeria and specifically to the Nigerian youths.

Our forefathers have built the nation. Our responsibility is not to collapse it. Our responsibility is to take it up from where it is to where it should be.

I also want to plead with the federal government to re orient Nigerians by making them have this confidence that Nigeria is one, there is no need for tribalism, favouritism, regionalism, State of origin. A Nigerian should be seen as a Nigerian and nothing more. There is no need for religious bias, there is no need for all these. In the U. A, Once you are an American, you are an American, irrespective of the state the local government you’re coming from. That can be achieved in Nigeria in all spheres ranging from appointments. So longer a Nigerian you are a Nigerian.

It is high time we start operating on a standard basis and not on who you know who’s your political godfather, Who is your referee? All these are not necessary and that is why certain sectors, ministries and agencies in the country are not working as expected because they never came in through merit. So, I call on the Nigerian government to always do the right thing at the right time and in the right place.

Ahead of the 2023 general elections, as the Convener, Go and Get Your PVC and Youth Must Vote, I call on the Nigerian youths to get their PVCs. It is not enough to register, it is not enough to get it, what makes you a Nigerian is by participating in the electoral processes by casting your vote.

Some PVCs are ready for months now and just lying fallow in INEC offices. It shouldn’t be so, go and pick them up.

However, during my investiture as the United States Habitat Youth Humanitarian Ambassadorial ceremony in Abuja on the 22nd of July, 2022, in Abuja, the Federal Capital of Nigeria, in my acceptance speech i said, and would repeat myself. Factually speaking, due to numerous challenges and harsh socio-economic environment, many Nigerian youths are now depending on themselves and driving their own future by creating opportunities and by undertaking different entrepreneurial ventures towards self-reliance.

One of the Undisputed facts is that, the strength of any nation depends on the policy framework and initiatives put in place by the public sector and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to develop and empower the youth in order to maximize their potentials, talents and untapped capacities in nation building. This critical group of individuals is imperative for their increased utilization and subsequent improvement in national development.

Now that we have realized that we the youth in Nigeria are crucial elements in the development process and it has been established that, no nation can develop beyond the quality of its youth. It is recommended therefore that, youth need to be well-educated, trained, guided and supported to actualize their dreams and contribute to national development. But how would this be possible in a country where ASUU and the Federal Government turns education as a meeting point to show muscular strength despite knowing fully well that the catastrophe it brings on the Nigerian Nation can’t be over emphasized.

This is one of the major reasons I initiated a campaign known as “Go and Get Your PVC and Youth Must Vote Campaign” a few months ago. Until we the youths come to the knowledge of our political strengths we would be toyed around continuously.

We understand that one of the most challenging problems the youths of Nigeria are faced with is unemployment, as millions of educated youths lack jobs and sustainable sources of income. You would agree with me that this has given birth to the high rate of insecurity in the nation.

This unemployment varies from Demand deficiency unemployment, Structural unemployment, Frictional unemployment, Seasonal unemployment and Underemployment. These different types of unemployment are caused by several factors of which are; poor economic management, low economic growth and development, low purchasing power and demand for goods and services, lack of technical skills, poor training, absence of diversified investment and production activities. All of these areas we shall be embarking on trainings in a no distance time as it is related to the SDGs number 1, No poverty, 2, zero hunger, and by extension goal number 11, sustainable cities / Communities, respectively.

More also, the way forward for youth development in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general is for sound policies to be put in place and backed up by political will, as well as equipping youth for greater service to the Nation.

The question now is! How can this be possible in a nation that sees it’s youth as a threat to it’s political interest and socio-economic gains? That’s why we the youths must change our mentality of dependence on government and political patronage to self-reliance.

In Europe and America, most youths go to school to get training not to depend on the government for jobs but to develop their capacities as self-employed people and entrepreneurs. Nigerian youth should therefore, have faith in themselves and hope for a better tomorrow even as we all are bent on exercising our political franchise in getting into power good leadership in the 2023 general elections.