My dear Hon Minister, I had attempted to write you this memo immediately you announced the next stage of monetisation policy where civil servants in Abuja could purchase their official residences at affordable rates. Apart from the intention of the housing scheme to eradicate wastages of public fund in maintaining the structures, it was indeed a great relief that a tall dream and lifetime ambition of several civil servants could be a reality. The incentive is timely and commendable because it would have been difficult for an honest civil servant to afford the cost of a decent accommodation in Abuja even if he pulls all his life saving and retirement benefits for the purpose.
As laudable as your foresight is, there is fear over the implementation of this lofty project in terms of the processes, procedures and execution not to talk of purchasing power of the potential landlords. You may be aware that some lousy individuals who are in the habit of castigating the public servants, have described the civil service as the most corrupt institution in Nigeria not minding that the same clique of bashers are the major beneficiaries of the so-called rot in the system. With apologies to sincere and honest public figures, retirees, contractors and politicians, the sources of affluence of some of those that could afford the luxury of Abuja’s properties, are questionable and shrouded in mystery even when the government put in place mechanisms to checkmate the corrupt cankerworm.
My concern really is the condition attached to the sales of the houses to the civil servants. Your early announcement was to the effect that it would be affordable to civil servants; that the cost of houses would exclude the cost of land and infrastructure; that mortgage and financial institutions would be encouraged to support the scheme; that purpose of the policy is to assist the service and reduce corruption. While many thought it was a joke, I was amongst those who were optimistic, knowing that once you promise, you deliver by implementing any programme to its logical conclusion. For instance your desire to weed out beggars from the streets of Abuja has been fulfilled; your aspiration to implement the Abuja masterplan is a reality; your fearless disposition to the untouchables remain unshaken; your threat to demolish illegal structures is accomplished; your unbending resolve to sanitize the FCT/FCDA is realized, your decision to treat Abuja as if it were a state, as stipulated in the constitution, has seen your emergence as the defacto governor. How else can one describe you than to say that you are the most powerful public figure with dual portfolio of a minister and a governor: an executive administrator who only reports to the maximum authority and receives appropriation from the highest legislative arm in the land. It is not surprising that few months after you gave the assurance about selling the houses, you have successfully flagged off the sales by personally signing the letters of offer to civil servants.
But the dilemma of most of the beneficiaries of the housing scheme is that the prices of some of the properties are so outrageous that they contradict your earlier announcement that the value would be only of the building, excluding land and other facilities. One doesn’t need to be an estate valuer to surmise that based on the quantity of blocks, cement and faded paint used on the property, most of the official offer prices are multifold of their rational worth. For instance the price tags for houses in Finance Estate Wuye, which was financed with VAT bonuses of the staff in the 90s, is too pricey for comfort
Another predicament is that some of the envisaged incentives are either not in place or scarcely available. Most financial institutions, whether banks or mortgage houses are reluctant to provide the initial nonrefundable 10% value of the properties on behalf of the beneficiaries. Since they are skeptical in taking preliminary risk, only God knows other stringent conditions they may stipulate for a civil servant to be granted mortgage facilities for the accommodation. Before the apex bank’s mandate for recapitalisation, most Nigerian banks charged exorbitant interest rate, instead of advancing soft loans to the productive sector of our economy. Already the few banks that promised to assist the civil servants, demand huge monthly deductions from their salaries which invariably would leave nothing for essential needs for family survival.
As I am writing this memo, some civil servants are in pain…pain that after their expectations had been raised so high, their dreams are almost shattered. The fact is that few civil servants can afford to send their children to decent schools; most prefer to use cheap local herbs to treat complicated ailment; their monthly remuneration leaves no single kobo for savings. Who would then assist the poor civil servant in this period of grief and predicament?
The fear, my dear ‘governor’ of federal capital, is that many workers who had been persuaded to turn their backs on corruption would be forced by the present circumstances to walk right back into the monster’s embrace. Already there are strong insinuations that the demand for huge first installment, which is equivalent to several months’ or an entire year’s take-home pay of some potential landlords, is a deliberate ploy to surreptitiously monitor and query their source of the fund. While the no-nonsense ‘big brothers’ in EFCC and ICPC may succeed in restraining the civil servants from malpractices, the touted objective of the reform programme would be rubbished all the same. Already some shylock speculators are hovering around the corner, waiting to manipulate the process to their selfish advantages.
Since no workers in his right senses would ask for immunity period or break, to corruptly enrich himself from WAYS and MEANS and with no valuable asset, (apart from letters of promotion) to trade in stock exchange, what is the way out before they are ejected like refugees from their quarters to be occupied by ‘who-knows’.
In the spirit of debt relief from the Paris Club, may I humbly suggest, sir that the federal government should intervene by reducing the cost of the houses as presently offered by at least 40%? Unlike Nigeria’s claim, for the purpose of getting debt forgiveness, that it is in category of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), most civil servants, especially the junior ones are genuinely in the category of Heavily Indebted, Poor and Risky Citizens (HIPRIC). The government in its magnanimity may consider the fate of the workers by writing-off the first installment as deposit for the houses, so that God almighty would fully answer its prayers too.
If the government cannot extend the working hours for civil servants to get additional allowances, it would not be out of place to allow its agencies on poverty eradication programme especially NAPEP and NEEDS, not the needs at senate screening, to provide secondary jobs after office hours and weekends to enable the workers boost their remunerations. As there are not much to be monetised in the public service, let the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) live up to its name by providing the soft loan required, instead of channeling workers’ funds from National Housing Trust Fund to primary mortgage institutions.
Please, the Mayor of Federal Capital, don’t consider my observations and recommendation as a joke and mere ranting, it is an SOS, believing, hoping and praying that you will use your famed charm to impress on the President to act promptly and keep the civil servants from soiling their hands in corrupt practices in the effort to benefit from the reform of opportunity. The monetisation policy, which the sales of houses entail, should also have human feeling to the plights of workers who have already swallowed other bitter pills towards economic rejuvenation.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Thisday August 14, Financial Standard August 15-21, Daily Trust August 18, 2005