Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Federal workers call for review of housing loans processes

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Federal workers across the South-West zone in Nigeria on Wednesday unanimously called for a review of the National Housing Fund, NHF, due to the alleged cumbersome processes of obtaining housing loans from the scheme.

They told the News Agency of Nigeria in separate interviews that from their experiences, the processes of securing housing loans, supposedly meant for them, being contributors to the fund, needed to be reappraised.

The workers also called for more effective means of meeting the housing deficits in the country, saying that a seamless and accessible loan strategy must be put in place.

In his remarks, Oladapo Arowosegbe, a member of staff of the National Industrial Court, Akure, said though, the scheme has been deducting his salary on a monthly basis in the last eight years, he has not benefited from it.

Mr Arowosegbe said that he once filled a housing scheme form with the hope of benefiting from the blocks of houses built by the Federal Government, “but up till now, I have not heard anything about the scheme”.

He said it was worrisome that the impact of the scheme had not been felt by most of its contributors.

According to him, it seems that most beneficiaries of the scheme are mostly senior officers in the civil service and those working in Abuja.

“At my place of work, we heard some have benefited, but it seems they are those at the top of their career.

“Early this year, the chairman of our association came from Abuja and promised us that we will all benefit, but to our surprise, nothing has been heard so far,” he said.

Mr Arowosegbe urged the government to fully implement the scheme so as to meet up with its aims.

“The Federal Government should urgently do the needful by allowing all its workers and as many that are contributors, to benefit from the scheme.

“In the past, many workers would not have had their own houses, if not for the scheme. I have a superior, who retired from the service this year, but without benefiting from the scheme.

“So, the government should allow some of us, especially the younger officers, to benefit.

“It should not be only for the civil servants that are in Abuja or those connected to decision makers that should benefit from the scheme.

“All workers must be given access to benefit, irrespective of the location of their offices,” he said.

In Ado-Ekiti, Sunday Adekunle, said the inability of the country to meet up with its housing needs, in spite of the government’s well-intentioned policies, regulations and legislations, to address the nation’s housing needs, was unfortunate.

Mr Adekunle said one of such policies was the NHF, established through Decree No.3 of 1992, known as an Act of the National Assembly.

According to him, the Act mandates Nigerian workers, commercial banks, insurance companies and the Federal Government to contribute to the NHF Scheme.

He said Nigerian workers were, by the Act, mandated to contribute 2.5 per cent of their basic salary to the scheme.

The Act, Mr Adekunle said, also empowered the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, FMBN, as the manager and administrator of the scheme.

He regretted that in spite of the huge number of contributors, who were mandatorily made to embrace the scheme, only an average of 10 out of every 1,000 workers got the loans, as and when needed.

A building and housing expert, Julianah Samson, said the scheme was meant to facilitate funds for Nigerians to own affordable houses, by ensuring loans for contributors to build, purchase or renovate their houses.

Mrs Samson, however, said that not much had been achieved in this regard.

“In spite of the laudable intention of the scheme, it has been fraught with different challenges; ranging from documentation problem, low financial inputs by the contributors and the bureaucratic bottlenecks around the disbursement of funds.

“This, perhaps, was what led to stakeholders’ unions like the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), in the early 2000, directing its members to stop participating and contributing to the scheme,” she said.

According to her, this directive was later revisited in 2013, as the FMBN signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with NECA and NLC on participation in the scheme.

The FMBN, she said, made commitments to address all the issues on the implementation of the scheme, as noted by NECA and NLC, but surprisingly, nothing much had been achieved since then.

Commenting, Sola Abegunde, a civil servant, lauded the scheme, describing participation in the scheme as quite beneficial to both employers and employees in many aspects.

Mr Abegunde identified the low interest rate on mortgage, compared with the conventional market rate, as one of the good sides of the scheme

“The loan tenor is also basically on a long-term basis, though, for whoever that is lucky to have his or her loan granted,” he said.

In addition, he said it was good to see NHF now issuing statements of account to employees and employers on their respective deductions and contributions to the scheme.

“One key issue affecting housing delivery in Nigeria is that the level of housing shortage has not been adequately presented.

“This is as a result of inadequate and inappropriate statistics and data by the managers of housing in Nigeria.

“Although, the reasons for the housing shortage differ across the country, the common problem in Nigeria is the low income of most contributors,” he said.

Another civil servant, Kayode Ogundele, said that instances of a backlog of several years of unreconciled contributions with the FMBN.

Mr Ogundele said though, workers were aware that NHF and FMBN had begun adopting digital platforms to improve their processes, the process still had its lopsidedness.

A retired public servant, Gbenga Oladele, however, faulted both the Federal and State Governments on their housing policies and programmes, saying that they had failed to address the challenges in the nation’s housing sector.

Mr Oladele, also an estate developer, suggested that for an affordable mass housing provision, a special development fund, under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), should be created for both the state and federal housing authorities.

A public affairs analyst, Banji Omoleye, recalled that the current administration promised in 2015 to deliver at least one million housing units yearly and to establish an effective mortgage system, with a single digit interest rate.

These promises, which he said, were meant to increase house ownership by Nigerians, had failed.

According to him, Nigerians are yet to see anything close to what they were promised.

“The number of houses, so far constructed by the administration, in its almost two-term tenure, is abysmally low, compared to its promised target,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kikelomo Jinadu, a civil servant, advised government to investigate the activities of FMBN, as done sometimes in 2020.

Mrs Jinadu said that Section 5 of the FMBN Act mandated the provision of long term credits to mortgage institutions, manage and administer National Housing Funds, but was sad that nothing much had been achieved.

She said that in spite of the large sum of contributors’ money in the coffers of the FMBN, it had failed to deliver its mandate of providing housing for Nigerians.

Mrs Jinadu said that the continuous retention of such huge money, without satisfactory performance, was tantamount to deliberate insincerity and corrupt practice.

In Abeokuta, a federal civil servant, Olawale Ahmed, described the process of subscribing and accessing the mortgage loan as cumbersome.

Mr Ahmed also said that the houses were exorbitant and not affordable for civil servants.

“My attempt to access the loan was turned down by the Federal Mortgage Assessor.

“How do you expect a Level 13 Federal Government officer to cough out N21 million for a three-bedroom apartment or N17 million for a two-bedroom apartment?

“The required documents are always not available to officers that are not at the headquarters.

“FMBN has been turning down civil servants whose salaries cannot pay up for the prices placed on the houses in 15 to 20 years.

“As a Level 13 officer, I have made three attempts and none was successful.

“It is pathetic and very sad that government housing schemes cannot be accessed by civil servants like me.

“In simple terms, the houses are not available to civil servants, but to those who can pay cash down,” he said.

Also, Folashade Taiwo, another federal civil servant, said that the scheme was not working as publicised, alleging that it was designed for a selected few.

Mrs Taiwo told NAN that the requirements needed to access the housing units were not easy to satisfy.

According to her, the only easy way to own houses is when government decides to give them out as gifts to individuals considered worthy of them, such as footballers and others, who had achieved some national feats.

“Some of my colleagues and I started the process in 2021, but requirements that are not easily satisfied by poor civil servants like us, are blocking the way for us.

“That is why you can hardly see anyone among us who can boast of owning an apartment under the housing scheme, unless the favoured ones.

“This is not to say that the scheme is not beneficial. No! What I mean is that it is to a very few people. More often than none, majority cannot access it,” she said.

Mrs Taiwo urged the government to review the conditions in order to make the scheme achieve its intended purposes.

Another civil servant, Ben Duru, also said that accessing the NHF scheme had been so difficult.

“The process is so difficult. We were told to visit FMBN and after that, they were asking some of us to produce Certificate of Occupancy (CofO), which is so difficult to get.

“Unfortunately, government deducts money from our salaries every month for NHF and there is nothing to show for it.

“We have only been relying on our internal cooperative society to achieve some tangible things in life,’ he said.

A beneficiary of the Ogun Housing Scheme, Adenike Banjo, however, said that it was easier to access housing units in the state.

“I will say it was very easy during the last administration. The Office of the Head of Service at that time handled the process very effectively,” Banjo said.

Also, Bukola Bankole, a Senior Staff Nurse at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Abeokuta, said she had benefitted from the Federal Housing scheme.

Mrs Bankole said that though, the processing took some months, she was, eventually, able to get a two-bedroom apartment in Abeokuta.

She added that no fewer than 50 of her colleagues had also benefitted from the housing scheme.

“Some of them were not as lucky as I was to get a house in Abeokuta, but they still got at other locations like Mowe and Ibafo in Obafemi-Owode Local Government area of the state.

“At the end of the day, we are all landlords now and we are all happy,” she said.

Supporting this testimony, an official of the FMBN in Abeokuta, who pleaded anonymity, claimed that the scheme had recorded massive success in Ogun.

The scheme, the official said, had delivered more than 300 units of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments in four various locations of the state.

The FMBN official explained that many Federal Government employees had benefited from the scheme, because their savings were promptly and appropriately remitted.

According to the official, some state government employees cannot benefit from the scheme as their employers failed to remit their savings to the mortgage banks.

The banker also said that many people could not access the loan, because they often choose packages higher than what their salaries could accommodate.

“Many of our intending home subscribers often applied for packages higher than their salaries, which we all know is near impossibility, except they tender another source of income like income of their spouses or any other,” the source said.

The official commended the Muhammadu Buhari- led administration for putting many housing schemes in motion in different states of the federation for Federal Government employees.

Meanwhile, the FMBN in Osun said that contributors to the NHF have access to mortgage loans from the bank, whenever they apply.

An official of the bank, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, identified three kinds of mortgage plans offered by FMBN in the state.

The source said that a housing estate had been constructed for NHF contributors in the state for them to subscribe to and spread the payment for 15 years.

The bank official also mentioned the availability of the House Construction Loan, to the tune of N15 million, which was designed to be repaid within a period of 15 years.

According to the source, there is also a N1 million Home Renovation Loan for contributors, which is to be repaid in five years.

The official, however, explained that contributors desiring to apply for any of the estate houses must pass through Livingtrust Mortgage Bank in Osogbo.

“Those interested in the construction loan would have to come to FMBN directly with a Certificate of Occupancy to obtain a loan form,” said the source.

The renovation loan, says the official, is an employer guarantor loan.

The official said that workers of the same establishment could apply for the loan in groups, with their employer writing a cover note to FMBN head office in Abuja.

NAN investigation to Living Trust Mortgage Bank in Osogbo, however, revealed that workers earning less than N200,000 monthly, and having less than 15 years in service, would hardly secure any of the FMBN housing estates.

The NHF Desk Officer of the Mortgage Bank, who spoke to NAN under the condition of anonymity, said that houses for sale in the state cost N8.5 million for a three-bedroom flat, while a two-bedroom cost N7.5 million.

According to the Desk Officer, the mortgage bank charges about six per cent interest on the mortgage, with N100,000 processing fee and other expenses like N10,000 for application form with other stipulated conditions.

A federal civil servant, Bamidele Oluwagbemiga, however, confirmed that the conditions attached to the processing of the application, the interest rate and charges of mortgage banks discouraged him.

Mr Oluwagbemiga said the condition of obtaining a “C of O” of a land and the charges of the mortgage bank turned him off when he approached FMBN in 2017.

Also, Shadrach Adebambo, the Assistant Director of Administration, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex, Ile-Ife, said that only few subscribers were benefiting from the FMNB housing loans.

“Only a few contributors living in Abuja are getting houses from the NHF, while those in other states are finding it difficult to access,” he said.

In Ilorin, Lawrence Afolabi, a Federal civil servant with Harmony FM, Idofian in Ifelodun Local Government area of Kwara, said he had benefited from the renovation loan of NHF.

According to Mr Afolabi, I was given a N1 million loan and deductions would be made from my monthly pay.

“The repayment mode is flexible and it does not require high interest rate like the traditional banks.

“The payment method was spread across three years and without much pressure,” he said.

Mr Afolabi explained that the loan had helped him to upgrade and renovate his house.

He, however, said that cost of the houses were far beyond the reach of the Nigerian civil servants, advising NHF to make loans available for civil servants to build their own houses since the housing units built by government were exorbitant.

Also, Binta Mora, the Vice-Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Kwara chapter, said she was a beneficiary of the housing renovation loan by NHF.

Mrs Mora, who is a federal civil servant, said that repayment mode of the N1 million was made easy for workers, saying no substantial amount of loan was available for building of a complete house.

She appealed to NHF to make more housing loans available to civil servants, saying that housing should be a priority and primary necessity for people.

In Ibadan, Dr Folake Olasemi, who works with the University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, said that the scheme could be improved upon by ensuring that all enrollees benefited.

Mr Olasemi said, “The conditions seem rather strict. What will happen to the money of those who do not take loans or get money to refurbish their houses?”

Also, Bolanle Oladosu, a staff of the National Horticultural Research Institute, NIHORT, Ibadan, said she was aware that some non-researchers in her organisation had applied for housing units.

Mr Oladosu said that while the process may be cumbersome, the scheme still works.

“I want a situation where more civil servants will have access to the houses; this will encourage them to become landlords after putting up meritorious service,” Mr Oladosu said.

A civil servant, Janet Afolabi, said that her experience as a contributor over the years had shown that civil servants were yet to feel the impact of the scheme, in terms of actualising its mandate.

“My advice to government is that NHF should be reformed toward meeting the aims and objectives of the scheme,” she said.

Another subscriber, Rauf Ayilara, said it was obvious that not every civil servant could afford acquiring the buildings built by FMBN.

Mr Ayilara, therefore, stressed the need to simplifying the process of accessing the housing loans by workers.

He said that only few of his colleagues, who applied for housing loan, got it in spite of the monthly deductions from their salaries.

Mr Ayilara implored the Federal Government to review the operations of NHF to enable officials in the lower grade cadre to benefit from the scheme.

Sharing his experiences, Romoke Adeleke, said that though, she applied for the loan twice to complete a two-bedroom flat, but didn’t get any approval notice from FMBN.

Mrs Adeleke urged the government to do something urgent to restore the confidence of workers in the activities of NHF.

According to her, acquiring a building before or after 35 years of service is the dream of every civil servant.

NAN

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