Babajide Odusolu is the founder of one of Nigeria’s pioneer private development companies known as Octo5 Estates Limited. In 2013, he was appointed as Special Adviser to the immediate past governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun on property investment. He is the first non- career Managing Director of Ogun State Property Investment Corporation (OPIC), one of Nigeria’s largest development companies.
Upon his resignation as the OPIC Managing Director in May 2019, he returned to the private sector creating innovative solutions to address Nigeria’s worsening housing crisis and create employment for the youths. In this interview with Saturday Sun, he spoke about his job, the Nigerian real estate sector, his lifestyle and lots more.
Does the COVID-19 pandemic have any impact on the real estate sector?
Definitely it does. Real estate sector consists of both the commercial, the recreational and residential elements. The shutdown has had a dramatic impact on recreational and commercial facilities. Most of them shut down and not able to make money. On the residential side, because most people have not been working, you have a high deposit on service charges, rents and so forth. It has been a difficult year for the industry. But for most of the better positioned developers who have a track record and who also have a bit more financial muscle like us, we have been able to weather it, we have been able to maintain statuesque by ensuring that on-going projects continue, even though they are slower but that’s better than to shut down.
Why is it hard getting mortgage loan in Nigeria?
(Laughs) What you find over the year is that Nigeria has a peculiar problem. We have a lot of short-term money, not long-term money. Mortgages by the very nature are long term; for you to have mortgages means you must have money, money that we call patient capital; money that can be invested for 10 years, 20 years etc. The problem is, under the Nigerian law, pension funds can only buy Bond. It means somebody has to bring up money, pay those mortgages before the pension funds can now buy those mortgages. In the past, it was extremely difficult because nobody was playing that role but in the recent years, we have companies like Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC), we have Family Homes Funds and we have NHS itself that they revitalized. They are now in the position to provide intermittent capital. So, over the next couple of years, if not for COVID-19, we would have seen many more mortgages as those funds become available. But what has been happening in the interim is that most developers do what they call the upper side credit. What does the upper side credit means? It means the developer signs an agreement with you and allows you to pay in installments. But these are typically short term; we are not talking more than maximum four years. But real mortgages require long-term capital and that is difficult to come by in Nigeria for now.
Now, can’t we have mass housing in Nigeria?
Let me differentiate mass housing again. We have what we call affordable housing, which is houses that an average person who earns minimum of a 100,000 naira can afford to buy and pay instalmentally and we have social housing. Social housing is what the vast majority of the lower income earners need. Those social housing requires government subventions, it requires government funds because no developer can afford to tie down his money for 10 years, 20 years collecting 5,000, 10,000 naira monthly. No developer has that kind of muscle. The risk is too high. For there to be mass housing, what we have is government to set aside funds to buy up houses and then offer them either to public servants or people in career employment, or government installment plans. I think that is what Lagos is trying to do with the Lagos Home Scheme and now federal government is also trying to do something similar at the federal level. That is the only way we can address the issue of social housing in Nigeria, which is the same thing done everywhere in the world; government subsidies, government subventions.
What do you think should be done about the problem of frequent building collapse especially in Lagos state?
I must commend Lagos state. The state has done a lot to curb that. We have many agencies now, we have LASACA, we have Lagos State Safety Commission, and we have the physical planning ministry, which is equipped and mandated to check on the structural integrity of buildings being developed across Lagos state. Lagos is commercial and you have a lot of structural developments. The real solution to effective housing solution in Nigeria is for us to go back to the basics. We do not have enough trained artisans in Nigeria. We talk about unemployment, unemployment; we don’t have artisans in Nigeria. All developers if you ask them they will tell you that most of the artisans that we use, we bring them from the West Coast; Ghana, Togo, Benin republic, because we don’t have people here who can do those jobs. In order to address the issue of substandard housing, I just don’t want to limit it to housing collapse, we have to look at the curriculum in our schools, we got to go back to vocational training development and we got to equip and enable supervisory agencies to ensure that they are able to monitor development in every nook and cranny of the country which in itself will also create more jobs.
Did you have real estate in mind while growing up?
I’m a qualified legal practitioner; I’m a trained lawyer. 25 yeas post call to bar experience but I also have passion for development. Growing up, a lot of my friends were architects and when we were at the University of Ife then, we used to sit down and do design work. I’m not a very good design person but I’m a very good creative imaginative person. When I come up with crazy concepts, they help me to actualize them. Real estate, urban planning, development has always been something I’m passionate about. I also love the law but being a lawyer for me was to train my mind to prepare me for the active job of being a creative developer. Unfortunately, there is no school where you can learn to be a developer. A developer is a business person, a negotiator, a designer; a developer is a community developer, there are so many skills that come together to make a good developer but being a lawyer basically prepares your mind and broadens you for that. But I have always loved development. I trained as a lawyer under Babalakin & co back in 1995. I don’t enjoy litigation. I spent the bulk of my career in corporate practice. I worked in a multinational oil company and I enjoyed public practice. Law is very versatile. Law prepares your mind. You can have so many facets of the law. Corporate practice was what I enjoy doing, negotiating transactions; those are the things I enjoy doing than going to court.
Tell us about your company, Octo5
We initiated and developed Heritage Place, a gated community in Sangotedo area between 2000 and 2003.Thereafter, the company initiated and developed Ocean Bay Estate, an eighty –two and half (82.5) acre gated community in Lafiaji, Lekki between 2003 and 2008. Both developments were unique as the first of such communities developed in their respective locations.
Can you tell us any memorable thing growing up?
It is funny when we talk about Nigeria of today and how we are so divided. One of the things I always remember growing up were the mallams we used to have in our houses. In the evenings, we all sit down on their mats, we ordered suya and they will be teaching us Hausa language. There was no shame, there was no class, and there was no concern that somebody somewhere is your enemy. We lived as one. When I was in Ife, we used to travel as student; you just go on a trip with your friend. Nobody was ever worried about being kidnapped or being in a strange land. That was the Nigeria I remembered growing up. I miss that Nigeria, where we had a sense of unity; where we had a sense of community. I grew up in Surulere. Then Idi Araba as the hub of the Hausas those days, I will leave my house and take a walk to Ojuelegba with my friends to play scrabbles. From Ojuelegba to Alaka, from Alaka we come down to Lawanson and then to Shitta. Growing up, you could walk freely and nobody will disturb you. There was no phone; you just tell your parents that you are going to Jide’s house. They know that Jide is living at the other side of Surulere and they are not worried. They know you are coming home safe. In school, I had Hausa friend, I had Igbo friend and friends from all over Nigeria. I went to Ansarudeen secondary school in Falolu, Surulere. We are Christians, but when I decided to go to the school, my parents asked why, but I told them I like the school because my friends are there. I have friends who are Igbo but they speak better Yoruba than I do. I have Hausa friends who will speak better Yoruba than me. We grew up like that as one and that was so beautiful. No one cared about religion as an obstacle.
How do you unwind when you are not thinking about real estate?
I’m a peculiar person. I love development. I love creating things. It’s a passion for me. When I want to unwind, I get a good book, I do a bit of philanthropy work unanimously, and when I get the chance I do some golfing. Before coronavirus, I used to travel a lot. I love discovering new places but with corona, that is no longer on the table.
What about your favourite places?
In Nigeria, it will be Obudu. I love Obudu. It is beautiful. When you are in Obudu, it is like being in heaven. It is on the border between cross river and mambilla plateau. It’s a beautiful place. Outside Nigeria, my all-time favourite place will be the Seychelles Island. It’s beautiful, it’s fantastic. I also like going on the Safari. I love that Safari belt, Kenya, Tanzania. I love unusual things. I love animal, I love nature, I love travel, and I love the excitement in discovering new things. I love going all over the world, visiting different places, experiencing the unusual. That’s what makes me go into development. Development means being a creative person. You have to visualise it in your mind and create it from nothing.
Lessons learnt about life?
Biggest lesson I learnt is not to take anything personal. The bible says the heart of man is desperately wicked. People are inherently self-centered and selfish. I have learnt never to take anything personal. I have learnt that the best insurance in life is treat people the way you want to be treated.