By NBF News

The Federal Government has requested for the opening of the regional office of Shelter-Afrique in Abuja to serve the West African sub-region. The government also pledged its continued support to the agency towards the delivery of affordable housing to people on the continent.

Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Nduese Essien, said this while addressing the 29th Annual General Meeting of Shelter-Afrique in Munyonyo, a suburb in Kampala, Uganda. He also called on African leaders to implement the Abuja Action Plan for slum upgrading and mass housing delivery in the continent.

The Ugandan meeting was attended by delegates from over 34 countries in Africa as well as development partners and non governmental organizations.

Essien, who led the Nigerian delegation, said Africa could fast-track its development by creating strong institutions and mechanisms for service delivery to its people.

He said the Action Plan was adopted in 2008 during and African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development, held in Nigeria. The minister insisted that a full implementation of the development blueprint would resolve the challenges in the continent's housing sector. According to him, Decisions one and two of the Action Plan addressed financing options for slum upgrading and provision of affordable housing.

He, therefore, advised member states to begin the process of reviewing the progress made so far based on the templates adopted during the meeting. He also called for closer South-South network within the continent and with other South regions and organizations in Latin America and Asia towards slum upgrading and housing delivery.

'In Nigeria for instance, some steps have been taken by the present government under President Goodluck Jonathan to ensure the implementation of the plan. Currently, we are planning to organize a national slum summit, nation-wide urban renewal and slum upgrading programmes, construction of 500 affordable houses in all senatorial districts of the country and encouragement of mass housing development through Public Private Partnership.

'In the past, emphasis was focused on direct construction of houses, a situation which failed to address the core problem of the sector. 'Currently, we have initiated some reforms to guarantee maximum access to land for housing and farming activities by all income groups. 'Again, we have incorporated urban renewal and slum upgrading programmes in the national budget as well as request for funds to provide infrastructure in areas earmarked for low and medium income housing development'.

As part of measure to reduce abuses in the utilization of housing funds obtained from Shelter-Afrique, the minister said such facilities should be negotiated in consultation with national governments. He decried situations where developers abscond with loans obtained for housing delivery and assured that the Nigerian Government would ensure strict compliance with terms of agreements reached between it and the agency.

'Africa should move towards addressing the housing needs of its people, more than ever before and Shelter-Afrique could assist in driving the process,' he said. The minister later held a closed door meeting with the leadership of Shleter-Afrique at the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort.