Dr. Emmanuel Frank Okafor, is the Chairman of Marcopolo Group of Companies that consists of Marcopolo Properties, Marcopolo Hotels and Suites Lekki Lagos and many other companies. A leading business entrepreneur in Nigeria with chains of businesses spread across trade, real estate and the hospitality industry, Okafor is involved in building beautiful structures across the Lagos city landscape and beyond, to meet the taste of the ever demanding clients who patronized his business outfit due to the very unique architectural designs and finishing of his buildings. Okafor owns baby diaper brands product – Angel Commodities Industry Nig. Ltd. Among other companies in the fleet is a steel company named Unique Steel Ltd , situated along Lekki- Epe expressway, Lagos. Okafor has contributed and continues to impact meaningfully on the society in the provision of gainful employment to young graduates, artisans and technocrats through which they can earn a decent living.
In this interview with PropertyMart, he advised government to partner with private investors in the area of infrastructure development. According to him, removing the cost of infrastructure from the cost of property development, will make houses more affordable to all income earners.
When you began real estate
I have been in real estate for more than 20 years now. I entered real estate because it is ensential to mankind. Accommodation is very essential in the life of human beings.
Staying in business despite high cost of development
Well, my interest in real estate is not majorly to make so much profits. My interest is in the theory propounded by Abraham Maslow on shelter. Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation asserts that humans are motivated by a hierarchy of needs. They act to fulfill basic survival needs before addressing more advanced needs or wants. This hierarchy is shaped like a pyramid, with the lower levels occupied by physical, physiological needs such as food, water and shelter. So it pains me to see a lot of people gallivanting when they suppose to be sleeping. Some of them gallivant due to no where to lay their heads. So by going into real estate I will help in making shelter available to the people. We are therefore not talking of profits instead, we are talking about people having roof over their heads. It is not such a profitable business but the joy in it is seeing people have where they lay their heads after the days job. That is my joy.
Why so much importance is attached to real estate,
Real estate is one of the reliable and important investment types for individuals and institutions. Interest in the price appraisal of real estate has increased with rapid development of real estate sector and its legal infrastructure in recent years. The appraisal of real estate is a main principle for all businesses. Land and property are factors of production and the value of the land is dependent on the demand and supply for the product that is produced. Conducting planned urbanization, choosing settlement areas and estimating their inner or outer transport costs, improving capital markets transparency and reliability require a reliable price valuation of real estate asset. Appraisal in real estate is also important for the tax income of the national budget.
How to bridge Nigeria’s 20 million housing deficit
I think Nigeria need more than 20 million houses to accommodate the citizens. But to bridge this deficit, government will not leave it for the private sector alone no the private sector leaving it for government alone. It has to be partnership and collaboration. Government has to partner with the private sector to actualise this. Left for private sector or the government alone, there will continue to be shortages.
Your views on real estate regulations,
Well, I can say it is getting better compared to what we used to have it. For instance, in Lagos today, you still see a lot of building control agencies doing different jobs all in the way of regulating real estate. From time to time, you see these agencies briefing the press, telling them the new codes and rules introduced in the sector all for the purpose of bringing safety in the environment. You can see what government is doing with land speculators and grabbers. The law of government is catching up on all of them. So, the regulation has really improved, yet they need encouragement to keep doing that.
List of estates you have developed so far
Yes, we have done so much in this industry, we have done Justice Court in Ikoyi, Scripture Estate in Shevron (Ikoyi), we have done Cruise Garden at Ikate; Cruise 1 and 2 in Chevy View Estate, we have done some in BGC, we have been able to do a lot of estates insides Crown Estate, currently we are doing Ivory Luxury Estate in Orchid Hotel Road, and also Harvey Height Court in Ikoyi. We have done quite a number of estates for the past 20 years in the course of our doing business.
How real estate is adding to Nigeria’s GDP
Yes, it is having so much to add to the Nigerian economy because today everybody has started seeing the importance of having a home. Unlike in the recent past when people were interested in having luxury, these days people are interested in being owners. Real estate has helped the economy in terms of employment, in terms of commerce ( buying and selling). In this way and many others not mentioned, it helps to lubricate the economy of the nation.
Advice to government on policy inconsistency
The advice I can give government in that area is on the issue of collaborating with private sector through agreement with Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for loan facilities. By this, if such agreements yields fruits, it will minimize charges on loans because if charges in loans are reduced, it will tickle down to the overall cost of property and the general public will be better for that.
Government should also partner with the private sector in the area of providing infrastructure because as I always believe, charity, they say begins at home. When our home is good, then foreign investors will then want to come into the country to invest. But they have to encourage local content so that all the eggs will not be put in the basket of the foreigners. If they encourage the local investors, they will help to move the economy up and forward.
Do you develop and sell, rent or encourage people to develop and own?
We do develop and sell but we have a way of making it easy for people to make their payments in a stress free way. We allow them to pay between 12 to 36 months and by doing so, a lot of people will have the ability to pay for their homes while still doing other things.
Types of houses and developments in your facilities2
We have affordable homes, that starts from N35 million. We do something that a working class person will be able to afford with his little salary within the period stipulated by our scheme. All the estates come with a lot of amenities like children playing ground, large swimming pools, 24 hours power light, fitness center, good drainage system, good road network well managed by experts in the estates.
Access to mortgage facilities to simplify the purchase process
Yes, we do have. We have a lot of banks we partner with like Fidelity Bank, Access Bank, UBA and a couple of others we can partner with to enable our clients to access the mortgage facilities. This facility can allow our clients to pay for the property for a stretch of about 10 years.
What informed your decision to go into real estate?
My major drive in this real estate is seeing accommodation over a lot of people’s heads. I am not always happy driving around seeing a lot of homeless people on the road. So this is merely what lured me into real estate. I came in to see how much I can help government in providing homes to Nigeria citizens because I know that government cannot do it alone. So the major aim is to see many people being home owners as much as I can. That is my drive into real estate business.
Are you satisfied with what you have done so far
Not yet, but I am being satisfied everyday. I am doing a new projects, so I am working hard to see if I can do more than I have done over the years.
Having travelled widely, can you compare property development in Nigeria with other African countries?
Today, Nigeria can only compete with South Africa. Nigeria is on top when you talk of real estate development. We are number one. We are doing great in that respect. Those of us who have been into the business and who have travelled wide can tell you that Nigeria is doing great. Look around you and every corner you will see one estate or the other and all of them are competitive in terms of what they can offer in comparison with those outside Nigeria. You can see daily changes in the industry, so I can say Nigeria is ahead of other countries in Africa.
What could be done to bring prices of property down in Nigeria?
They only thing I think could help bring prices of property down in Nigeria is government proving infrastructure like I said earlier. People like us, after building our estates, government can help to provide the infrastructure and accessible and cheaper loans. With all that the prices of property in the country will go down drastically. Like in developed countries, infrastructure are being provided by the government and government made sure that people like us are able to access loan facilities.