White elephants

  • Teachers in rural areas have more important needs than houses

The housing shortage in Nigeria has ironically given rise to a boom for the private sector property operators. However, because it is a capital intensive venture, houses built by the investors are often not affordable to middle and low income earners. Even though politicians make promises to improve the housing sector, it does not often happen that either state or even the Federal Government invest in houses.

The announcement that the Federal Government plans to build houses in the rural areas for teachers has been received with mixed feelings. This is because, while teachers really need comfortable accommodation for optimal productivity, the proposal might not solve the teachers’ problems, given other extraneous circumstances.

Indeed, the promise by the Federal Government to build houses for teachers has been a recurring decimal with various administrations. In 2012, the then Minister of State for Education, now governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, inaugurated a technical committee to work out the details for the implementation of the Housing for Teachers Scheme (HATS). The then People’s Democratic Party (PDP) administration claimed that it was  embarking on the housing scheme because teachers were the foundation for the transformation of the nation.

The story then was that the Federal Mortgage Bank (FMB) and the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) were said to be all aware of the efforts. Until the party left government in 2015, not much was achieved. We therefore thought that the present All Progressives Congress (APC) government would continue where the last administration stopped so as to have a more solid plan. But it seems not much research went on before the new announcement. However, we believe that building houses in the rural areas is really not what the teachers need at the moment.

Does the government know the number of teachers in the rural areas? Is housing their main problem? A good study of their needs would reveal that their priority might not be houses being built in the rural areas as most of them already go from the cities to the rural areas because there are amenities still absent in those rural areas, causing rural – urban migration. There are no good roads, no electricity, no potable water and other amenities that the teachers want for their families’ comfort. The Federal Government should not embark on what seems like a white elephant project. Again, is the Federal Government going to build for only the federal government schools or is it going to build for state schools too? What happens when the teachers are transferred?

Some states like Kano had equally been promising to build houses for 5,000 teachers in the state. So, at what point would the two tiers of government sort out the needs of the teachers? We would have expected that a thorough planning ought to precede any announcement. There has to be an alternative way of handling issues that affect teachers who are some of the least paid in the civil service. The governments should enhance their capacity through training and better pay and let the Federal Mortgage Bank take up the housing project. The bank must be made viable and teachers empowered to own houses through a well-planned scheme that makes for more economic viability. As far as we are concerned, the Federal Government has no business going into building of houses for teachers. It should rather enhance their capacity to be able to access loans and pay for their houses. Governments should rather concern themselves with the provision of security and other vital infrastructure that the teachers and other Nigerians can use to enhance their productivity.

For so long, teachers have been the weeping boys/girls of the civil service. Their role is too important in any nation and as such, their welfare should be taken more seriously with better planning. When a teacher is comfortable, the productivity increases. What we have presently where teachers are treated as though they do not matter is not good enough. But, then, building white elephant projects without adequate planning would just drain resources and not achieve much. Governments desirous of development invest in education and the welfare of teachers is an integral part.

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