By Benjamin Tochi Promise
Mr. Livinus I Ezeokafor is a real estate professional. He has done a lot of projects as well as consultancy services for several years. In this interview, he spoke on a wide range of issues relating to the built environment. According to him, with Nigerians groaning under the high cost of shelter across major cities of the nation, amist a sharp decline in income, the property world analyst reveals higher population of people living without a good shelter while others grumble over high rental costs. He also spoke on other issues bedevilling the real estate industry and why it must be redefined in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s rating on housing
Well, very poor. This is largely so because of the kind of government we have in this part of the world. In some countries where you have a proactive government and leadership, they do not wait for things to get wrong before providing a remedy. If you look at the cost of houses and the type of structures, you will notice that something is not just right down here. Some of our highly populated cities are still having bungalows for lower and middle class income owners and that, to me, is a waste of land because they are more in number than the upper class and as such, it would be thoughtful to provide them with some high rising buildings that can accommodate about a thousand families comfortably at a convenient cost. When that is done, you would have used a space of land that could have been occupied by six families or so to provide a thousand families a more affordable, more classy and durable homes. Even the city itself would have been beautified too.
Who’s to blame
Yes, I blame the government because they are the ones in possession of the machineries to enforce a sustainable order but they tend to be more concerned with other things than doing the needful. Government can sponsor researches to say, if people continue to build bungalows rapidly for those who can afford it or if we even have the four storey buildings, given our growing population and the sky high cost of rent in some parts of the country, what then becomes the future of housing in the country? Such a research would culminate into something more efficient in terms of formulating policies and only then will they see the need to do more public private partnership (PPP). We need sky scrapers for residential use in this country for the middle and low income earners. Then the rich can go on the bungalows and duplexes with commensurate tax regimes on such luxurious properties. At the individual level, I feel that they have little to share from the blame, but they must at all times endeavour to comply with government directives. When the government says engage professionals when building, they should do so for their good and not otherwise.
Incessant building collapse and remedy
It’s very sad to hear of collapsed buildings here and there in this age, mostly, when it’s not as a result of natural disaster. Let me speak from the investor point of view. I call it foolishness for an
investor to engage quacks, rather than professionals in building because when your building falls, you don’t only lose your profit and capital but a lot of court cases await you and then you might want to seat back to check the cost of engaging professionals to what you have lost, to include your reputation and all that. You will definitely understand how cheap it is to play by the rules.
Don’t forget that it’s the aim of every investor to make profit from all his investments but then sometimes it’s not the case of the real estate investors, but that of a family that wants to put up a duplex to shelter them and a few tenants as the case maybe. You might want to bring the government in to say, they should have an effective monitoring system to ensure that every building complies with standards. But you see this thing called corruption, it has so grown larger than a dinosaur and at the same time amassed a lot of strength that it tends to fight us from every corner. Some public and civil servants that might be in charge of certifying these buildings might also see it as an avenue to “play well” so as to measure up for one traditional title or the other. Better still, beef up his savings for a political campaign. Having said that, we cannot give up on our collective dream of an ideal state where everything works. All we need to do is to be proactive and remain on top of the game.
High cost of shelter in the country
We arrived at this point when the government failed to understand that shelter remains a vital need of mankind. This goes to say that housing was not given its rightful place in budgeting and planning. Go to Abuja and some major cities of the country and you will find out that housing is a big challenge. Some states like Anambra and Lagos have come to realise this and are beginning to wear their thinking caps in that regards. For instance, when you go to Anambra State, you will see how over populated the market in Onitsha is despite the four-storey buildings littering everywhere. Such cities need residential sky scrapers to suck up the population under a proper living standard. Such should be the case in Abuja, Lagos and other populated cities.
This also beautifies a city in its way. Today in Anambra, I am happy that the Governor Willie Obiano administration is doing something to alleviate the many sufferings of the people in terms of housing. You might say it’s coming late but I tell you the truth, it’s better late than never.
The high cost of shelter for the common man will soon be a thing of the past if they sustain such drive. The Governor Akinwumi Ambode-led government is tackling it too here in Lagos, even right from the Fashola regime and I thank God that he is at the helm of affairs in Abuja and a lot is expected from him. Nigerians will not continue to take excuses and paper works with no action. He must make good use of his stay there as the Minister for Housing. Back to your question; the high cost of building materials also contributed. Take a look at cement, rod and other key components, even down to the roads.
You might wonder why I mentioned roads. Yes, the cost of tipping sand for construction gets high if the roads leading to the building site are too bad. All these put together give you the high cost of shelter today. No investor would want to bear the cost alone, thus, it will transcend to the tenants or occupants as the case may be. The investor remains a profit oriented entity. If there must be a change, it must start from the most important building components to the least important components.
As a veteran consultant, I head and manage four real estate companies which are Bankok Living Estate, Tokyo Real Estate Ltd., Angel Estate Developers and New Town Glorious Estates. One thing I do is to make sure that we don’t just build houses for ghosts to live in but affordable and sustainable houses that can stand the test of time. We have houses for all class of citizens, but we are urging government to help us build more of low cost houses by creating a friendly environment for investors to do more. We need good roads, steady lights to power up amenities for a better housing experience, in the case of sky scrapers. Such high buildings can’t be without steady power supply because they need water and the lift must be working round the clock. We need less of importation of building materials and that means that our iron steel must work, more cement companies must be given chance to fair competition. They must seat up to raise the game. All aspects must be put to active working status to actualise a good housing scheme for all Nigerians.