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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Civil servants call for reform of National Housing Fund

Some civil servants in the South-East of Nigeria have called for the reform of the National Housing Fund (NHF) to make the agency meet up its mandate of housing provision. 

Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN)

They disclosed this in separate interviews while reacting to the impact of the NHF since its inception.

In Enugu, a retired civil servant, Mr Vincent Okwor, said that the fund was meant to provide houses or loans for housing acquisition and other related issues.

Okwor, a former Assistant Editor-in-Chief of NAN, said that, in recent times, the fund had not met the requirements of civil servants and low-income Nigerians it should be catering for.

According to him, previously, it only takes three months to collect your NHF contribution and its interest after retirement but, today, there is delay in this process and at times contributors are short paid.

“The purpose of the fund is not being fulfilled and it needs some reforms for it to function exceptionally.

“I collected my contributed money and its interest in three months about five years ago after retirement; but recently, a newly retired colleague went to the fund but was delayed and was about to be short paid.

“It took him accosting the managers of NHF in Abuja and intervention of a friend working in the fund for his over N100,000 short payment to be restored,” he said.

A serving civil servant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the fund had not lived up to its expectation as even civil servants getting simple housing related loans below N1 million was still challenging.

 “The fund mandate should be looked into again and see how to make it more functional and realistic.

“Myself and some colleagues applied for a Home Renovation Loan in the fund for N1 million and we even paid N9,000 for the facilitation of the loan.

“But till date close to a year, we have not heard from the agency office in the South-East whether the application is accepted or not. 

“So, the purpose of providing little loan, let alone a shelter for civil servants, is not visible any longer,” he said.

Other federal and state civil servants expressed dissatisfaction over non-affordability and accessibility of houses built by governments.

They said that the cost of accessing and acquiring the buildings were beyond their salaries, urging government to do something to alleviate their plight from becoming house owners.

According to them, it is disheartening and painful that after working for 35 years, a civil servant cannot boast of personal house or land.

In Abia, a federal civil servant and contributor to the scheme, Mrs Grace Okonkwo, said that the institution fell short of the expectations of its subscribers nationwide in spite of the monthly deductions from their salaries by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN).

Okonkwo said that she and her colleagues, who also subscribed, had not got the houses they were paying for.

She said: “I’m not satisfied with NHF because deductions are made from my salary every month but I have nothing to show for it.

“For those of us in the Abia office of the institution, it is only one person out of the lot that got a parcel of land in Abuja.

“I think one of the challenges for us here in Abia is that there is no Federal Secretariat, where we can easily take our complaints to or make inquiries.”

For Mr Patrick Ufomba, another contributor to the scheme, the purpose of establishing NHF is defeated.

Ufomba said that, to the best of his knowledge, not many civil servants have been able to access the fund to execute housing project.

He said that he had spent over two decades in the federal civil service but cannot boast of having his own building.

“It pains, especially when money deducted monthly from my salary for that purpose. At times, I feel defrauded because I cannot enjoy the benefit of the contribution.

“The Federal Government is expected to build low-cost houses for civil servants, after which they deduct the money from their salaries.

“Unfortunately, such projects are not seen, especially in states,” Ufomba said.

A federal health worker, Mr Julius Eze, said that he applied for a Home Renovation Loan two years ago but had yet to get any positive response.

“I’m just disappointed that l have not been able to access the N1 million that I applied for since two years ago.

“I met the necessary requirements from FMBN but no official response from the institution on the issue to date.

“I wish that the relevant authorities would intervene so that civil servants can access the houses or get loans as and when due,” Eze said.

A Deputy Director in the federal civil service described the scheme as a scam that should be investigated urgently.

“I appeal to the EFCC and the Code of Conduct Bureau to beam their searchlight on NHF and tell Nigerian workers what is happening with their monthly contributions.

“It is painful that a civil servant at my level would work for decades and not own a house of my own.

“This is unacceptable. Something is fishy and management of the institution has explanations to make,” the lady said on the condition of anonymity.

An official of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in Enugu, who pleaded anonymity, urged the Federal Government to replicate same housing they built for workers at the Federal Capital Territory to states to enable workers at the state level to benefit.

He said, “We only see from television of government workers who have benefited from the FG housing plans in Abuja.

“It is sad that, after retirement, one will be struggling to pay house rent, school fees for children and feeding.

“The highest thing any government can do for its working force is to provide them with personal accommodation, adding that many retired civil servants die because they cannot afford house rent.

A staff of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, who also pleaded anonymity, described Contributory National Housing Fund as a “fraud”, explaining that, in spite of the contributions, many civil servants found it difficult to access housing loans

“I see it as a scam because the purpose of contributing is to enable workers own house but the house is not available for them while few ones built are beyond our reach.

“This is a big challenge to civil servants that earn little; government should come to our aid,” he appealed.

An Enugu State teacher who simply gave her name as Sabina, also appealed to governments and developers to reduce the price at which they sell houses to low income earners.

She expressed dismay that civil servants in the state do not have houses of their own as well as accessing loans from the mortgage banks and other financial institutions.

“How can a civil servant that earns N40,000 to N50,000 buy the lowest house they sell N5.5m, N10m and N15m,” she lamented.

In Anambra, Mrs Chinwe Orizu, the state Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress, said that workers are yet to benefit from National Housing Fund they contributed over years due to non-completion of the housing estate scheme in the state.

Orizu said that the process of the scheme should be made open to the public for easy accessment of information to avoid a situation where contributors would miss the opportunity to own a house or get reimbursed.

Mr Christian Beluchukwu, a retired civil servant, said that he never had a house nor being reimbursed the contribution he made while in service because of the tight process involved since no estate had been built by the government for her workers.

Mrs Ada Okafor, a Chief pharmacist with the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching  Hospital, Nnewi, said that years back, she filled a form regarding the process  to claim a house based on their contribution but, surprisingly, till date nothing had been done to actualise the goal.

Mrs Pamela Igwe, a contributor with Purity FM, said that government should make the process to be transparent and easy to access for contributors.

Igwe said that the idea was laudable as the condition of many civil servants were pitiable in housing area and appealed to controller in charge of Anambra national housing scheme to ensure that the projects were realizable.

“This national housing scheme is doable, Lagos and Delta states have achieved it so Anambra can do better.

“We need houses to be called our own so at retirement, we can rest from rent age,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Iwuchukwu Okafor, Federal Controller, Federal Housing Sector, said that national housing scheme projects were ongoing in Anambra  and that efforts were being made to complete them for commissioning.

Okafor said that the national housing projects started since 2016 in the state at Isiagu Community Layout in Awka South Local Government Area of the state.

He disclosed that the projects were done in three stages which involved site location, clearing and erecting of the building meant for all grades of workers.

He explained that the stages entailed building of condominium  which implies building  a detachable structures that contains three bedroom flats , two bedroom and one bedroom flat  for all grades of workers.

“Primarily  the process starts from interested worker picking up a  form from the ministry and presenting proof of contribution amongst others which at the end of the verification exercise flats would be allocated based on the contributory value of each worker.

Mr Chijioke Onyi, a supervisor with the federal ministry collaborated the claim of the controller and said that they were working hard to ensure the problem of housing in the state for civil servants were solved.

Onyi said that some of the challenges they encountered include access  road to the estate and expressed hope that attention would be given to that as soon as possible.

However, some stakeholders in Ebonyi, have decried the lack of awareness from the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) on the possible steps to access the housing fund in the country.

The stakeholders, in a separate interviews, said they did not know how to access the fund or have knowledge of where deductions from their salaries were being stacked.

Mrs Chika Oko, a subscriber, said she had been seeing deductions from her salary but not fully aware of how or where to access the fund.

“I am a contributor and I don’t know how to access the fund for the purpose of house ownership. 

“I am sure some people are just enriching themselves with people’s contribution, because I have not seen a contributor who has benefited before.

“On houses built by the current administration, I have no idea and I do not think there is anything like that in the state because I have not heard,” Oko added.

Mr Mike Chukwuka, a civil servant in the state, also blamed FMBN for lack of information on the Federal Housing Fund scheme.

‘‘It is unfair that many civil servants do not know anything on how to access the fund even when their salaries are being deducted. We should blame FMBN that is managing the fund.

“Yes, I am a contributor, and I have not had any need to access the fund. But I have a friend, who has benefited, but that was when the person retired.

“FMBN should come out to educate people, especially on how to benefit to clear the negative impression by workers,” Chukwuka advised.

Another subscriber and teacher, Mr Kennedy Okechukwu, said that he had not seen any house built for contributors in Ebonyi by the current administration in the past seven years.

Okechukwu said that some of the challenges plaguing the scheme remained lack of information about the fund.

“Many people are ignorant of the scheme and how to access it,” he added.

A retired civil servant, Mr Wilson Okereke, former Deputy Director, National Orientation Agency (NOA), said he was able to access the fund after his retirement.

On challenge, Okereke said that he did not encounter any and added that the process was fast.

He urged the people to stop the impatient conclusion about the housing fund scheme.

“Yes, I benefited when I retired in 2020. I have no idea of anybody, who has benefited while in service,” he stated. 

In Imo, beneficiaries of the National Housing Fund (NHF) said the process of accessing the fund was seamless and devoid of unnecessary stress.

A staff of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr Michael Erondu, described the fund as a reasonable arrangement by the Federal Government but decried the bureaucratic process involved in accessing it.

According to him, the stress associated with bureaucracy of procuring the loan from commercial banks is a far cry from what the Federal Government intended it to serve.

Also contributing, a senior staff of the state ministry of Information, who pleaded anonymity, said that the state’s housing fund had gone moribund.

The source, who hinted that the fund used to be operative before the start of the current administration, expressed confidence that it would be reinstated.

It noted that the fund was seamlessly assessed when it was still available to workers, adding that it provided a viable platform for civil servants in the state to own a house.

A retiree, Mrs Kate Ubochioma, said that she could not enjoy the Fund due to its unavailability throughout the period she worked.

Ubochioma called on the state government to revive the fund for the benefit of civil servants, especially low income earners.  

However, a secondary school teacher, Mrs Chinwendu Ohaya, commended the Federal Government for the fund, adding that she had begun the construction of her own house.

‘I accessed the fund from the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria and it was helpful. I am currently building my own house,” Ohaya said.

Another beneficiary, Mrs Ngozika Hyacinth, said that the long duration for repayment of the loan negatively impacted her salary, amounting to almost infinitesimal amount.

Hyacinth, who works as a nurse, called for a review of the initiative to guarantee a more citizen-friendly process and repayment system.

On the other hand, Mr Anthony Uwa, who pleaded that the establishment should not be mentioned, called for an increase in government support to the fund to enable it serve its purpose.

“It will help restore belief in the system and attract more potential benefits,” he added.

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