Experts in the Built environment have warned that the Federal Government’s proposed ban on importation of building materials would have devastating consequences for the housing sector, contradicting suggestions that such a move would be beneficial.

According to them, it would be wrong to force private investors and real estate developers to patronise low quality local building materials.

Recall that concerned citizens had recently suggested a ban on imported building materials in order to give room for the development and usage of local materials.

However, the former president of the Nigerian Institute of Building, Mr Chucks Omeife and Managing Director/CEO, Fame Oyster & Co. Nigeria, Mr Femi Oyedele, opposed the move and urged the government to jettison the idea.

According to Omeife, the suggestion was premature and not well thought-out, explaining that the effect of stopping importation of building materials for now would be catastrophic to the housing sector.

He said: “The reason is very simple. Where are building materials producing companies in Nigeria . They are very few; a lot have closed shop due to the unfriendly business environment, especially the double digit interest rate, lack of power and lack of infrastructure to drive this critical sector of the economy.

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“The idea of placing a ban on imported building materials must be jettisoned for now. However, if government is serious on strengthening local capacity, then it should put in place a plan and the process to do that.”

Omeife warned that banning importation without a running plan to gradually increase local capacity would cause a serious setback in the nation’s quest for reducing housing shortages that is daily increasing for obvious reasons.

The idea, he said should not even be mooted now, pointing out that such move at this particular period could cause panic leading to increase in the cost of imported building materials.

Rather, he urged government to put in place a process of backward integration as it was done in the cement manufacturing sub-sector.

“The first thing to do is to put in place a process similar to the backward integration that was done during the issue of cement even though it was not very successful as anticipated.

“The Nigerian manufacturers do not have the capability to cope with the demand of housing needs at the moment. They will need real time to grow in capacity and to deliver good quality building components.

“The major challenge will be in terms of pricing because of high cost of power and infrastructure deficits which will ultimately impact on purchasing power of Nigerians.

Unlike in China and other countries where materials are being imported, cost of production is being drastically reduced due to technology, mass production and availability of power and other infrastructures.”

Justifying reason imported building materials should not be banned now, Omeife argued that Nigerian manufacturers can’t be competitive giving the prevailing economic situation in Nigeria.

According to him, time would be needed to plan on assisting local manufacturers to gradually increase capacity while importation is gradually reduced over a period of time .

“Anything outside this will be a serious challenge not only to affordable housing initiative but to the general housing provision in the country,” the building construction professional said.

Femi Oyewole, argued that banning imported materials as a way of encouraging the use of local construction materials would not work.

“It will only breed black markets of imported building materials. The world is now a global village where everybody can see what is happening worldwide because of efficient information technology.

“We cannot ask Nigerians with high taste and penchant for quality not to satisfy their needs,” he said

According to him, the nation is not ripe for banning of imported building materials because there are insufficient manufacturers of local materials.

Aside, he said that “Nigerian factor” due to the general moral decadence would set in and that local building manufacturers will rise to the opportunity of the scarce building materials to maximise profit.

He said: “Government can only encourage local building materials by making a policy that all government projects must patronise local materials as a respect for local content law.

“Private investors cannot be forced to patronise low quality local construction materials. To encourage local building materials, government must do a social housing scheme adopting 100 percent local materials. Private individuals cannot start the practice because of stigmatization.”

“A low cost housing is now a challenge in Nigeria. There is no hope for an average Nigerian to get accommodation as the mean income of average Nigerian is not adequate to buy a house as there are more people out of work than in work.

“The way out is for government to see housing as the right of Nigerian citizens and provide social housing for the low income earners who cannot afford a decent home with their meagre income,” Oyedele said.

Nigerian Tribune