Armstrong ‘Tope Akintunde, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Aerofield Homes Limited Lagos, in this interview, speaks on bridging the housing deficit gap, the need for all hands to be on deck to check cases of incessant building collapse among other topical issues revolving around providing decent shelter for every Nigerian. Excerpts…
There has been problem of building collapse across the country; the recent being that of Ikoyi 21-storey, what comes to your mind here?
It is really sad that building collapse is becoming a recurrent decimal in the country and this is mostly due to the selfishness, greed and unseriousness of both builders and government, the regulator of the industry. The builders and the government, who is our regulator are most often seen not to be doing many things aright. Many Nigerians are too engrossed in cutting corners and until we do away with such sabotaging, unpatriotic acts, we will continue to have issues with collapse building. A builder wants to use the materials for one building to build two or three houses. The government officers who are to supervise and inspect the standards of materials to be used are not ready to go the site to inspect them once the builders are ready to settle them. There had been reported cases of building approval done in the offices with the officials charged with such responsibility merely relying on the information supplied by the builders. Additionally, reports abound that many potential home owners employ quacks who only adopt trial and errors instead of professional builders who are seasoned with building experiences. As long as standards are compromised and supervising authority is lackadaisical, collapse building experience will continue. However, it will also not be fair to say that all building collapse are as a result of corruption, sometimes too, there are other factors such as human error but greed, corruption, use of quacks and lack of adequate government monitoring account for 90% of building collapse.
How would you describe your experience so far in the real estate industry?
I joined the real estate business in 2009 with a focus to provide housing needs to small, medium and high income earners both within and outside Lagos. The experience garnered over the years has proved to be handy as we remained committed to pursuing excellent housing delivery to all our clients both within and outside the country. Shelter is one of the non-negotiable basic needs of humans. It is so important that it defines the dignity of a man as many people who sleep just wherever they find themselves, be it under the bridge, in the market or abandoned buildings, among others, are often described as homeless. In fact, the comfort, satisfaction and protection of lives and properties that come with having a shelter, be it rented or owned, make it so crucial and a very important gap that virtually all human beings want to fill.
How can Nigerians effortlessly have their dream houses?
It is the desire of many Nigerians to have a comfortable place of their own but more often than not the means is not there, we all know that building a house is a bit capital intensive depending on your taste. However, just as it is done in the developed world, the government must strengthen the nation’s mortgage banks such that they could make funds available for many Nigerians to have houses of their own. Such funds could be made available to some selected real estate firms that, in turn, will build the houses while the beneficiaries of this scheme pay back the loans over a period of at least 10 years. Aerofield Homes is known for the prompt delivery of quality homes anywhere in the country and we are always willing to partner with individuals, groups and government as long as the efforts are tailored towards solving the housing challenges in the country. Our main concern at Aerofield Homes Limited is pushing down the figure of Nigerians without decent shelter and this we have been pursuing with tremendous drive, energy and integrity. Due to our excellent service delivery, our long list of clients which cut across the low, medium and high-income earners in the country always have reasons to come back or recommend us to their friends and others.
Is it still possible to bring back the low cost housing of those days to combat the Nigeria housing deficit said to be the tune of 20 million housing units?
Very well, it is still possible for government to partner with reliable real estate firms like ours among others to embark on massive low cost housing estate across the nation. Government only needs to get its priority right and have a well laid out plans which it must strictly follow to solve the housing challenges. For instance, government can provide lands at a very reasonable price to private property investors. This will help to deal with the challenges of land speculators, land grabbers or area boys who are fond of making unnecessary financial demands from builders before they can commence building at their sites.
The federal and state governments should also encourage private housing investors by giving them some waivers in the areas of payments for Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) and construction charges, as this will not only reduce cost of building, but also assure them of governments’ support.
Additionally, knowing that we have land developers here and there, governments could partner with some tested and result- oriented ones amongst them, because, as it is often said, governments alone cannot do it all. Aerofield Homes is founded on integrity and pledge to excellent service delivery to support Nigerians to own their houses without tears or regret of ever partnering with us. Currently, a huge chunk of Nigerians, around 20 a million citizens are said to be having challenges as regards decent housing which is hampering their productivity and equally contributing to the serious problems of insecurity ravaging the country. It is against this backdrop of vital roles that housing plays in our economy and in man’s natural existence that I am of the opinion that government both at the federal and state level must step up their investment in housing.
As a developer and builder, how do you rate Nigerian disposable income ratio to homes ownership in this country? What is the possibility of an average Nigerian who earn between N20, 000 and N100, 000 monthly to owning a befitting home?
As a developer or builder, one must confess and state it bluntly that no Nigerian earning between N20, 000 and N100, 000 can really afford a home with the ever increasing cost of living: education, transportation, health and feeding. Besides, the cost of building materials is daily increasing. The only way those classes of people could own homes is by cooperative arrangements, other self-help projects or by governments supports in the form of mortgage or some form of allocations in which the costs are deducted from their salaries. It is against this background that government must increase its investment and support for housing for Nigeria. This can be done with making available flexible mortgage for people to subscribe to and the partnership with reliable real estate will be helpful here too. It only require planning and strong political will on the part of the government.
Are you also not worried about the proliferation of real estate companies here and there, how do you know which is genuine so that you don’t fall into wrong hands?
I don’t think the fact that we are many should be a problem after all, there are many people both within the country and outside that are in need of our services which is provision of decent and affordable housing for all Nigerians. However, there should be constant monitoring by the relevant government agencies to ensure that such real estate companies are really out to serve and not to fleece the people. Prospective clients too should also endeavour to make enquiry to ensure that they do not fall victim of the unscrupulous elements. For instance, people abroad should always endeavour to do some background checkings before jumping to do business with any of the real estate companies. They can also tell their people back home to help them get information about such real estate firms before investing in such firms.
What are the challenges in the industry and how do you surmount them?
Nigeria’s micro, small and medium enterprises are faced with many challenges which have resulted into their stunted growth and development. Some of these challenges are poor infrastructural facilities, inadequate funding and lack of access to capital, weak managerial and entrepreneurial skills, limited demand for their products and services, and competition from foreign products. Among these challenges, the most restricting is the inadequacy of funds and lack of access to capital. Indeed, most of the other problems could easily be resolved with sufficient finance. Our financial institutions typically wait for entrepreneurs to become successful before they take any serious interest in their businesses. However creative and innovative they are, these entrepreneurs often cannot meet the strict credit risk acceptance criteria of banks.
Unemployment is a major setback in this country; how can the sector provide succour for our teeming youths?
Nigeria has suffered the paradox of economic growth without development for many years. Many economists often lament what they have come to describe as our “job-less growth”. While all macro-economic indices point to an economy which is truly growing and there is noticeable improvement in our public infrastructure, especially power and roads, unemployment still remains a challenge. With our huge population comprising mainly youths, this is worrisome and a great threat to our posterity. Nigeria needs to achieve a quick-win solution that ensures that most of our employable citizens are gainfully engaged. We must harness the innovative spirit and entrepreneurial acumen of our people in our battle against unemployment. We must empower our entrepreneurs to be in the position to create jobs on a large scale. Our youth too should believe in themselves and be creative, they should develop entrepreneurial spirit and stop chasing the white collar jobs that are no longer there.