Urban housing in Nigeria -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Urban housing in Nigeria

By Samson Nyam


Nigeria, the most populous African country, is facing considerable housing challenges and is in need of sustainable housing solutions that have the potential to be scaled up to impact the almost 15 million inadequately housed people who live there. To a large degree, many of the problems the poor face when moving to urban areas are a result of public sector failure to anticipate and respond to the increasing demand for urban land and housing. This is worsened by inadequate capacity and allocation of public resources to housing delivery. Isolated housing projects in different parts of the country will alleviate some of this housing need.

In October 2005, Habitat for Humanity Nigeria (HFHN), partnered with the MTN Foundation (MTNF), Nigeria, in a 100-house urban project at Karu. The project was successfully completed in July 2007.

The partnership between MTNF and HFHN aimed at alleviating some of the housing need in urban areas by undertaking urban housing projects in each of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. The first zone considered was the north central zone in which Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, is located. Due to the difficulty encountered in obtaining government or affordable private land in Abuja, Nassarawa state was considered due to its close proximity to Abuja.

A needs survey prior to starting the project confirmed the serious low-income housing need in Nassarawa state. HFHN applied for land from the state government but, due to delays in the government’s response to the land applications, an inexpensive piece of private farmland at Karu, Nassarawa state was purchased instead. (A comprehensive approach was taken in identifying the land, i.e. proximity to public transport, schools and play areas.)

The project MTNF paid for the land and legal services involved in obtaining the title for the land. However, until the time the project was completed in July 2007, the title for the land had not been obtained due to bureaucratic delays.

In a context where almost all urban housing development is focused up-market — urban housing development is carried out by private developers for the high-income population — the house design adopted was for a two-bedroom flat targeted at low-income earners. Considering that only a minute fraction of housing constructed in Nigeria is accessible to lower income earners, the project, even though not affordable to HFHN’s target group — the poorest of poor — is providing an affordable solution to decent housing for low- to middle-income earning groups of NGN26,000 pm to NGN70,000pm (USD200 to USD500).

Since the existing staff capacity of HFHN was inadequate to manage and supervise the project, MTNF funded the employment of qualified personnel. Personnel included a registered architect as project manager; two experienced building technicians as site supervisors; and a store keeper to ensure proper inventory of building materials and work equipments.

To facilitate long-term sustainability and community transformation, training sessions in the community formation process and community management post-occupation were carried out. Prospective homeowners participated actively in sweat equity. Most of them met each other for the first time during training sessions. While fulfilling their sweat equity, they formed friendships even before moving into their new houses and community. The new networks developed by these relationships increase peoples’ trust and ability to work together and expand their access to wider institutions. This new social capital is very effective in improving the management of common resources and maintenance of shared infrastructure.


Infrastructural facilities like water and electricity were not available on the land, and the access road was inaccessible during the rainy season. Though it was the government’s responsibility to provide such facilities, discussions with government officials revealed no immediate plans to provide such facilities to the area. MTNF provided the funds to repair the inaccessible portion of the access road and for electricity and water to be provided.

Problems and solutions

The major problem faced in this project was “scope creep.” Since this was the first project in which HFH and MTNF were partnering together, the organizations did not have a clear idea of each other’s roles and expectations. Insufficient time was given to properly planning and defining the scope of the project. As a result, the scope of the project kept changing, which affected budgeting and cash flow. In fact, at one time, construction work stopped on site for two months due to cash flow problems.

This was corrected by clearly defining communication channels between senior personnel of HFH and MTNF. It was decided that details of any change in scope should be accompanied by the cost implication and agreed to by all parties before implementation.


Despite all the constraints, the first phase of the project involving the construction of 100 two-bedroom flats was successfully completed in July 2007. As the homeowners move into their new houses, the lessons learned by HFH and MTNF from their partnership experience in the first phase will be put to great use as they plan to implement the proposed second phase of 100 houses in a different location in Nigeria.

Samson Nyam is a civil engineer by profession. He currently serves as the urban habitat specialist at Habitat for Humanity’s Africa and Middle East area office.

He may be contacted at snyam@habitat.org.