Brick as an alternative to cement blocks for housing is strong, durable, and aesthetically pleasing. It can be made from materials found widely across Nigeria, yet Nigerians don’t use it for housing, which is curious. To add to the mystery of its lack of uptake in the market, it actually costs less to build with brick than with block.
Report on a 2012 study by scholars at the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State, shows that the cost difference between brick and block is substantial. It costs between 30 percent and 47 percent less to build with compressed laterite bricks than with blocks, according to the report. Building with baked clay bricks costs 19 percent less per square metre than building with concrete blocks, the report further says.
Bricks in Nigeria are made from indigenous materials which support the local economy all the way up the supply chain; concrete blocks use cement as the major cost input, a material that is customarily expensive in Nigeria by world standards and of which a large proportion is imported, mainly from China.
Despite all of these advantages – delivering technical durability, superior appearance, and better cost – brick is used in only about 10 percent of housing construction in Nigeria. Bricks provide serious room for market expansion, and the dearth of brick homes is a dilemma.
Ron Ashkin, a housing and construction analyst, notes in this report that there is hardly a brick house in sight in Lagos and nearly all of the houses in Lagos, and in most of Nigeria, are built from concrete block. A 2012 monograph estimates that 90 percent of physical infrastructure in Nigeria is built from concrete block.
The question to ask is: why? Brick has been available in Nigeria long before concrete block ever made its appearance. Brick construction has been uncovered by archaeologists studying Nigeria’s proto-historic period, and brick was widely used during colonial times. As a walk through some of the world’s posh neighbourhoods shows, brick is not only acceptable in housing construction elsewhere in the world, but is actually preferred. Outside of Nigeria, homes are built with red brick, and concrete block is used primarily as an industrial or commercial building material.
Brick, as a lower-cost alternative to block for housing construction, is interesting in Nigeria’s housing market where there is a need for an estimated 12 to 16 million new homes. Prospective builders have repeatedly cited high cost of materials and out-of-reach home prices as the primary obstacle to homeownership in Nigeria. Simply put, less-costly building materials mean less-costly home construction, leading to lower prices. Any solution that drives down the cost of housing will expand the market from the bottom, placing entry level homes in the reach of more first-time buyers.