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High Cost of Cement, Building Materials: Nigerians go For Containers as Alternative Homes

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March 10, (THEWILL)- “I pity the average Nigerian who has plans on building a house. What will they build? God help us.”

That was the damning or rather frightening verdict of Mr. Folawe Adeniran an auto dealer living in Benin Edo state. When he wanted a two-bedroom brick house on a leased land in the ancient city some years ago, the car dealer consulted an engineer who gave him a quotation of N2m for the entire project. Adeniran gave the builder the go-ahead. But just this year, the same engineer gave Adeniran a quotation twice the sum to erect the same building for office use.

“The engineer told me that he had to cut costs to arrive at that figure which excludes workmanship. He cited the cost of cement and sand which is also affecting the price of blocks,” Adeniran lamented to a Vanguard journalist last week. Of course, he didn’t green light the builder this time. Adeniran sought for and got another alternative – a container which now stands erect in place of what would have been a brick house on the plot of land.

In the face of worsening economic conditions for many Nigerians, there is a corresponding rise in the cost of building materials, cement especially. In times past, a mid-level worker with a modest monthly salary of N50, 000 could attempt laying blocks over a long period of time to fence a quarter plot in some states. Price of cement was affordable then and dealers would have fallen over themselves to deliver them right to your site. These days, dealers are nowhere in sight let alone making promises to use company trucks for personal deliveries.

Walking past two block industries recently somewhere in an outlying community near Agbado in Ogun state, a reporter noticed that the sites were ghost-quiet instead of the earth-shaking vibration from the machines in operation. Though there were mounds of sharp sand, broken pieces of vibrated blocks here and there, the ubiquitous labourers were absent. Worse still, the block-making machines had been removed as if never to be operated again. A machinist worth his pallet know what the problem is. Compared to N3, 500 – N4, 000 a bag of cement sold for months ago, a bag is now sold between N8, 000 and N11, 500, thus putting it out of the reach of the average Nigerian hoping to build his own personal home.

Scary as that may seem, people like Adeniran assure Nigerians to fear not because there are cheaper and faster alternatives to homes built with cement blocks. His office in the Edo state capital is an average-sized container refitted to his specification, a padded interior, external cladding thus making it heat-free. “People used to think building with containers attract lots of heat,” the car dealer told the journalist. To make containers heat-free, owners line the interior with cushions and also clad it externally.

For Adeinran, one of the main benefits of turning to containers as an alternative to block houses is the money it saved him. He spent a million naira less than the engineer’s quotation. “I spent N3m on this container,” he recalled, vowing that “If it were a permanent land, I would still opt for container building.”

Another plus for him is that he can practically lift his mobile container home and move on when his lease on the land ends. It is hard to imagine a tenant doing that with a rented apartment not his own.

As Adeniran tells it, “many business owners whose businesses require building on leased lands and personal lands are now using containers to build. That is what the economy has turned everyone to. Business is not smiling because the economy is not.”

Apparently the economy has not been smiling on Mr. Friday Badmus a trader who also lives in Benin. Perhaps because of the rising cost of building materials, his landlord informed him that he will be increasing his rent of N600, 000 to N800, 000 for a two-bedroom flat. Badmus was not amused about the rent increment last November.

“I was so worried because the place I have land was not well occupied by people yet and was thinking about how to raise N800, 000 and still foot my family bills with low sales in business,” Badmus rued. Besides, he didn’t want to borrow money to pay the rent but to manage what he had. Already, there was a parcel of land somewhere. Good helpmate that she is, Badmus’s wife muted the idea of building a container apartment of a room and parlour on the quarter plot of land. The trader didn’t need any more convincing.

“She brought her savings and I added mine and with support from family and friends we had our container building,” the new home owner admitted. “You won’t even know it is built with a container if I don’t spill.”

Originally meant to convey heavy cargoes in ships over long distances on high seas, Nigerians are now finding new uses for those four-cornered iron receptacles, especially following the rising cost of building materials. Not exactly new as homes or offices, containers have been in use in most other parts of the world where they are fashioned into fancy, portable live-in places or temporary offices.

For one, container cribs are cheap to build. A construction engineer Blessing George estimates that construction costs range from N100, 000 – N150, 000 per square meter, depending on final specification and finishing. “These containers are used for transportation and can be converted to comfortable apartments with standard interior finishes and designs. The area where cement is required is the concrete foundation to place the containers. These container houses are mostly used for commercial purposes and personal apartments. The high price of cement which is making people seek for other building alternatives is pushing many to opt for the container houses.”

Nigerian engineers have been canvasing for container houses as cheaper and faster alternatives to regular homes built with cement blocks. In a 2014 interview with Yinka Kolawole of Vanguard, for instance, Managing Partners of THN (Tempohousing Nigeria) Dele Ijaiya-Oladipo and David Aderounmu made a plea why potential home owners should avail themselves of the benefits of container housing.

Apart from its durability built to the specification of International Shipping Organisation (ISO) standards, container homes are by far cheaper and faster alternatives. At the time of the interview, cost per square metre of such structures was N45, 000 and N65, 000. But “it really depends on individual personal preferences for certain things – the finishing, external cladding. For an average two-bedroom, we are looking at about N2.5 million, all in all, that is, you are moving in with only your luggage and movable furniture. And we can deliver in 6 to 7 days.”

Moreover, because of their sturdy structure, container homes easily “withstand high and extreme weather conditions.” Used only as a building requirement within accommodation area, container homes “can last forever. And it’s like any other building, you have to maintain it. In our own fabrications, we don’t usually expose the metal container. Internally, we have wood loggings, plywood, insulations, and depending on your choice, we have plasterboards or PVC.”

Even so, according to Ijaiya-Oladipo and Aderounmu, there are hurdles, one of them being that people easily dismiss container buildings as “‘after all, this is a container.’ What we intend to do going forward is to educate people and let them see what the so-called container actually looks and feels like, and once you enter you realise that it even looks better than a normal building. It’s easier to control, not using cement, no cracks and all that. It’s just about education and doing things that people can walk in and see. We’ve done that with our pilot project and people that have gone inside have been amazed at what can be done with a shipping container. As to the notion that if you have not built with bricks you have not built a proper house, that is a Nigerian or African mentality.”

To be sure, this is not the first time Nigerians will be rooting for and making good use of container housing. Sometime in 2021, Lagos State Government under Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu unveiled digitalised container classrooms at a government-owned model college in Agege council.

In the words of the Chief Press Secretary to Sanwo-Olu, Gboyega Akosile, “the governor inaugurated a nine-classroom block built to replace decrepit concrete structures in Vetland Junior Grammar School.” The “interactive modular classrooms were improvised using standardised reusable freight compartments known as container,” Akosile admitted. “Each of the classroom compartment is adequately-insulated to give comfort and create a conducive ambience for hybrid learning for children in the public secondary school. The project is completed with three laboratories and four staff rooms – all made from container. The classrooms and their ancillary facilities have their dedicated energy source, off grid; they are powered by solar panels, which guarantee constant power supply to enable teaching and learning.”

Now that building materials are beyond the reach of average Nigerians hoping to build their own homes, container houses are sure to make a grand comeback in due time, as Adeniran and Badmus have since demonstrated in Benin. The bad news, for now, is that with the gradual increase in price of cement, some people may not have their choice homes built with brick blocks anytime soon. There is also good news: if you want your own pad, buy a sizeable container or two, find an engineer to refit it to your specification and pretend you’re living in a mansion, complete with all the home appliances you could ever need.

About the Author

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Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

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Michael Jimoh, THEWILLhttps://thewillnews.com
Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

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