The high cost of construction materials has often been said to be the bane of the development of the nation’s housing and on a broader perspective, construction sub-sector. GEORGE OKOJIE traces the root of the problem in this report.
That the soaring price of staple construction materials in Nigeria had been a thorn in the flesh of stakeholders for long, compelling the end users of the products to continue to clamour for price reduction is incontrovertible.
The stark reality of the lingering problem often linked to high cost of operation by the manufacturers of the products is that it had overtime, frustrated the development of infrastructure around the country, just as it jeopardised efforts by the federal and state governments to reduce the near 20 million housing deficit in Africa’s largest economy.
Stakeholders’ concern is that while the demand for building materials is on the increase, driving up prices, the production of the various construction materials is not likely to reach its peak, given the current strong external economic environment.
Since it is widely believed that shelter is key to human existence, the housing sub-sector of the nation’s economy must be revamped to increase people’s productivity and in turn boost economic development.
Thus, the economic policy question on the lips of so many observers revolve around how the country under the present government would leverage on the prevailing dynamics for a sustainable growth trajectory, more so in a situation where new foreign investors are said to be barred from venturing into cement production in the country by a cabal, who they said is determined to monopolize the industry.
LEADERSHIP Sunday check shows that the leap in the prices of cement and other staple construction materials in the entire country has continued to take its toll not only on the citizenry who are abandoning their housing construction projects, real estate developers and contractors but also major distributors and sellers of the product as well, who are now lamenting low patronage.
In Lagos State for instance, distributors of cement said they get a bag of the 42.5 cement grade from the major manufacturers at the price of N1,745 and sell at N2,000 to their customers.
In Abeokuta, Ajuwon and Akute areas of Ogun State, a bag of cement currently costs between N1,950 and N2,000.
Some of the cement dealers and analysts who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday attributed the sudden increase in price to the devaluation of the Naira, inflation and increase in foreign exchange.
According to Timothy Nnamdi, a cement distributor, he had studied the situation and discovered that the companies cannot be blamed for the increase.
He said the devaluation of the Naira by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the companies’ inability to get gas to fire their plants was grossly responsible for the current cost of producing cement in the country.
“I have been a distributor of cement consistently for over 15 years. These companies are in business to make profit and you don’t expect them to produce at high cost and sell their products cheaply. It is not done.
“I believe the long-term solution lies in Nigeria’s ability to manufacture enough cement in the country, not through importation which seems to be a short cut out of the problem. For this to yield the desired results, manufacturing woes identified as the root of the problem must be resolved,” he said.
It was further gathered from officials of the cement manufacturing companies that there is no way the cement companies can entertain price reduction below what they are giving out now because of high cost of production.
For instance, LEADERSHIP Sunday learnt that one of the major manufacturers, Dangote, currently spends close to N1 billion everyday on power plants, even as most of the spare parts needed for the repair of its machinery are imported at very high exchange rate.
LEADERSHIP Sunday’s market survey in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states showed that Dangote Cement and Lafarge WAPCO Cement which were the two products available in most places were being sold at about the same rate with only N100 difference in some shops and none in others.
Iron rods which are some of the important components of building construction, being an important element of reinforcing cement concrete, is another expensive construction material that must be looked into.
Investigations carried out in a building materials market in Matori, Lagos, showed that apart from the proliferation of substandard iron rods in the country’s market which portends great danger for the sector, the prices are high.
The prices of imported iron rods per ton (pieces) are 12mm at N175,000 for 93 pieces; 16mm N175,000 for 52 pieces; 8mm N175,000 for 210 pcs and 10mm N175,000 for 130 pcs. Local iron rods made in Nigeria, cost N10,000 less per ton at 12mm, N165,000 for 93 pieces, 16mm N165,000 for 52 pieces, 8mm N165,000 for 210 pcs and 10mm N165,000 for 130 pcs.
As a way forward, Mr Bode Adedeji, the 19th president of the Nigeria Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) is of the opinion that it is high time government at the highest level summoned the political will required for rigorous implementation of all the policies and programmes on development of the housing sector.
He pointed out that in advanced economies, the housing sector has been developed and structured to play a crucial role in the overall economic development, adding that the multiplier effects of the housing and construction sector are huge, verifiable and transformational.
According to him, only a comprehensive and well-formulated government policy that addresses all options, including alternatives to cement, can bring relief.
On the need for alternative solution to reduce over dependence on traditional ways of constructing homes, the managing director of Nigerite Limited, Mr Frank Le-Bris said the company has over the years, given priority attention to continuous innovation that ensures being abreast of technology in building solutions.
Though Le-Bris said the products are not costly, “Nigerite has as its vision to be the number one innovative, customer-driven and socially responsible one-stop building component solution provider in our markets.
“And indeed, true to this vision, Nigerite limited has pioneered solutions (products and services) that were and are still unequalled in the building industry. These were borne out of sheer and dogged dedication to competent personnel, research, innovation and investment in state-of-the-art technology and equipment applicable and attainable in other parts of the world.”
Dwelling on the benefits of Kalsi dry construction, he said as a prominent and active player in the building industry over the past five decades,and having been a responsible corporate citizen of Nigeria, the company owe’s it a duty to the industry and the country to champion economic and technological innovations embraced in the developed world through the network of the parent company –Etex.
“We have carefully observed our environment and come to the conclusion that we do not have to wait for tomorrow to bring this avant garde technology to Nigeria.
“Even though, the introduction of this technology has caused us a lot of money in terms of investment in new factory lines and equipment as well as additional personnel, we believe that this is just one of the few things we can do to contribute to the economic and technological upgrade of Nigeria.”
Le-Bris added that it is the future of building technology since the people cannot run away from future realities, saying the world over, dry construction is gaining ground.
“To augment the efforts to cover up the housing deficit in Nigeria, it is common knowledge that housing deficit in Nigeria today is close to 20 million and this solution is being introduced as one of the fastest means of bridging this gap since it takes pretty few number of days to construct from start to finish.
“It ensures cleaner environment at construction sites and thus points to our avowed commitment to environment friendliness.”
According to him, it costs less in the final analysis, just as it helps to beautify the environment though it is not a replacement for the wet construction system.
“It is simply an alternative to it and also provides quicker, effective and cheaper means of renovation. It is all encompassing as it offers products cutting across all parts of a building, except the roofing.
“It is easy to move and construct. As part of our commitment to finding more convenient ways to building processes, we believe it will guarantee a much more convenient method of renovation and construction. It is absolutely safe in its applications and use.”
Since Nigerians cannot close their eyes to developments in the world as far as building solutions are concerned, he urged critical stakeholders to partner with them in the deployment of the technology for mass housing development in the country.
For anyone that cares to listen, the managing director of Bolyn Construction Company, Mr Rufus Akinrolabu, a foremost campaigner for the use of alternative building materials in building production process, said cost of building homes would be easily achieved in the country if the government encourages people to use the materials by building some of its houses with the materials.
According to him, laterite bricks are suitable for use in building without adding cement, noting that sandcrete blocks made from the combination of sand and cement are not superior to clay bricks fired from clay or the laterite bricks gotten from mud.
“Mud bricks are better if they are made in V.S. Ginva Ram type presses where uniform pressure is exerted on the bricks and they are made dense, strong and durable. These blocks are laid in a wall either with mud mortars or cement-mud or cement-sand mortar and must be plastered for protection,” he explained.
Akinrolabu who wondered why it has increasingly become difficult for Nigerians to embrace the use of the materials remarked that the ignorance in the use of the materials that can be easily sourced from people’s surrounding is responsible for their homelessness.
“They lack houses of their own because of ignorance about what to do and they are severally under wrong notions as to the durability of mud houses. Mud houses can be a delight, they are durable and can be made to have long life if builders or owners of buildings are equipped with the knowledge of what to do and what not to do,” he added.
He further argued that, “mud is the qualitative building material for Africa. We only need to apply it properly to reap all the advantages. There is certainly nothing to fear when you use mud – earth for building provided all its rules are followed.”