Chief Emmanuel Frank Okafor is the Chairman/CEO of Marcopolo Group of Companies, with special interest in real estate business.
Chief Okafor is also the newly elected President of ‘Diamond Fitness Club’. In an interview with the Sunday Sun, Okafor who is known as (Onwa Ojoto) x-rayed the issue of government policies on property developing, building on flooded areas; his vision for his Club and many more.
How long have you been into Real Estate?
I have been into real estate in the last 15years and we are a brand in property business here in Nigeria. We deal with low, medium and high income houses where Nigerians especially Lagosians can fit into any of our budgets and standard to be able to own a home. I personally think that owning a personal property is key. And that is what we stand to do in the lives of many.
How has government policies affected real estate business in the country?
The policies affect the business one way or the other because there has been issues of multiple taxation; lack of infrastructure and soft loans to property developers. I can also tell you that the government of today is doing its best to address those issues. There has been a mild lift from what it used to be and we all know that better days are coming ahead.
What is the government trying to put in place to address the issues in property developing business?
The government is working hard to uplift infrastructural phase in the country while we encourage them to do more because in all honesty, everybody is required to own a personal home.
Is it possible for everyone to own a home?
The only way it can be possible is by government partnering with property developers. No matter how one looks at it, home is a very essential part of living in the life of a man and a woman. Another possible way it can be possible is for government to allow cheaper lending rates for builders and providing infrastructure. Even though, it is not something that government can do alone; but there could be light at the end of the tunnel when a project is started.
As an estate developer, how do you see constructions on flooded areas? Like the ‘Iyanna-Oworo’ part of Third Mainland Bridge being sand-filled and built on, will it last?
Yes, it will last when the right thing is done. Though it is nature, but God has a way of using the great minds to work. If you look at what is happening at Eko Atlantic, it is being sand-filled and built on. Once it is gotten well, there is no issue about it.
What about buildings that collapse on a regularly basis? Do you think there should be stringent measures for defaulting architects because deaths occur when a building collapses?
That remains the issue with architects doing the right thing. When an architect is trusted to work on a building, they should do it in all honesty, get the required quality materials instead of fake materials and do a perfect job. Again, some of those collapsed buildings are very old and lacked maintenance culture since it was built.
In Marcopolo Group of companies, do you build from scratch, refurbish, or buy and sell?
We build from the scratch and complete any property we set to work on and sell. Meanwhile, we would have bought landed property where the building would stand. Today, Lagos State government has understood the need to provide housing facilities for the citizens. They are trying to do it in the area of good documentation.
Could you throw light on the reason agents destroy the finished works of the builders with fraudulent activities? For example, in a situation where three or four different people would pay to rent the same apartment?
In our business schedule, we encourage our clients to get to the root of the property one is interested in buying, we have our documentations which is accessible and could be verified by the client to know the authenticity of what we do. So, I normally urge all clients to verify all documents on the property they want to acquire. In Marcopolo Group of companies, our word is our bond. But most importantly, we are building a strong brand and would not want to destroy the efforts we have put in. For example, we are building an estate for medium class people which would consist of a 3-4 bedroom. We have also agreed in our meetings to spread the payment bill for 18 months for people to own homes. It is a design that will allow a spread payment to accommodate people who cannot make cash payment like what they do abroad. I am particularly interested in people having a roof over their head which they could call theirs.
Being into various businesses over the years, how did you overcome recession that almost grounded most businesses then?
Yes, recession affected almost every business then, but for people like us in property and hotel business; we survived it by the grace of God and a dint of hard work. It was tough then, but trying to pick up now because it is trying to get better. Again, we know what we are doing and believe it will get better by the day.
Being a grounded businessman, what is that one major thing that keeps every business going?
The watch word that keeps a business going in my own understanding is hard work, consistency and building trust. One thing I believe in life is once you have a strong brand and people trust and believe in what you do, with time, the business will continue to grow and ring a bell. Then again, quality is key. One of our strong strength is quality. We finish a house to taste and comfort and that is the trust people have for us.
What challenges have you encountered as a businessman?
I always tell my people to have an entrepreneurial mind in them. What you are doing for another person is what you will do when you have yours on the side of the staff. For the government, we have issues of high lending rates that is disturbing businesses. The government needs to look into that area, and do whatever that will bring about a robust economy for businesses to thrive in the country. Infrastructure are also challenging; the issue of constructing and repairing roads to have access to new sites is there. There have been cases when developers buy transformer for residents. Let the government rise to such challenges.
How do you handle the issue of competition in business?
For me, I do not compete with anybody. I rather focus on my works, be a master in what I do and move on. One of the reasons for staying on top is hard work and quality. Another reason for excellence is our quality designs.
You are the newly elected president of Diamond Fitness Club, what is your focus about the organisation?
My focus is to see a new robust club and carry our functions as we ought to. It will be a Club where activities would run smoothly as planned. I want to see a better Diamond; all members being happy while Nigeria knows and talks about the club. I want all strong people to join the club and benefit from the fitness aspect of it. We interact, network, become friends and move our country forward in our own little way. We have over a hundred people all over Nigeria and are still increasing.
What advice do you have for new developers joining the business; are you building bridges that will take over when you retire?
I believe in building bridges and building people. I have done that over the years and still doing it till date.