‘Regardless of economic situation, facilities management industry has a bright future’
TUNDE OBILEYE, a trained lawyer, is the CEO of Great Heights Property & Facilities Management Limited. In this interview with CHUKA UROKO, Property Editor, he takes a hard look at the facilities management industry in relation to Covid-19, households’ and organisations’ shifting priorities, the dire economic condition in Nigeria and the future of work and the industry. He also speaks on sundry issues relating to real estate and infrastructure. Excerpts:
The effects of Covid-19 and economic challenges have kept many businesses down in the last 20-24 months. What is the story in the facilities management (FM) industry?
Definitely, there is an impact that has affected every sector of the economy or profession. However, with every sector, it has also created opportunities and facilities management (FM) has been through one of those situations that, despite the challenges, you can look at from a broader point. FM has also created opportunities and brought the profession into spotlight.
Covid created a situation in which a lot of focus had to be placed on hygiene, health and safety, and these are primarily part of what FM represents. So we find a lot of cleaning like sanitizing our hands and so on. Facility Managers had to play a pivotal role in all of the value chain, from dealing with Covid to the new normal. To that extent, it created an opportunity for FM to showcase what it’s capable of doing.
Demand for FM services is, arguably, inelastic as service consumers usually consider it necessary only when they have disposable income. How are you coping now that the economy is bad?
In Nigeria, this has always been a challenge; it’s not new. Covid only made it worse but you have to look at the historical background. We have not really been a country that pays attention to maintenance. When you look around, you see massive buildings and structures rotting away.
But there are big oil companies like Chevron, etc that have always been used to maintenance. They came with a framework, installed the framework and maintained their institutions. Now, to Nigerians, it has always been a challenge. Individually you find those who pay attention to it. However, generally, that’s not the case, particularly with the government.
To answer your question as regards disposable income, it all boils down to priority areas. Priorities determine where people put their money. Even within the FM and maintenance space, you have to look at what areas are critical for you to ensure that you maintain, so that your service doesn’t come to a complete halt. So it’s all about priorities and areas you consider to be critical to your survival.
Another reason some say your services are not in high demand is because some of your colleagues don’t do their jobs professionally. What they offer is below par. How true is this?
It is true. This is because FM hasn’t attained that level of professional acceptance. You find all kinds of people in the profession, making it difficult to determine who is a professional or not.
There are some who are passionate about the job, just like other areas of life. You find some people who just take advantage and project themselves yet they don’t understand what they are doing, nor delivering good jobs. Unfortunately, that is also because there is no regulation. In FM, we don’t have standards to benchmark or redress negligence. There is no professional body to report to and so those are elements that have made it possible for quacks to be everywhere in the FM industry.
There is no professional body to report to and so those are elements that have made it possible for quacks to be everywhere in the FM industry
Your industry is not growing for many reasons, one of which is that it is an all-comers affair. What steps, in your view, could be taken to end this problem?
There is a local association called Association of FM Practitioners of Nigeria. It’s new and trying to find its feet. We hope that the association will start regulating activities of FM practitioners. But my worry is that because of the bigger problems of Nigeria, where generally there is a lot of compromise, it becomes difficult even when you have the good intent. There are so many challenges and power holders can hijack things and it takes strong leadership to achieve the objectives in Nigeria.
I am the chairman of Institute of Workplace and Facility Management (IWFM). This is a leading organisation in FM. It has a structure already. So, we derive everything we regulate from them. You can’t be a member without going through due process. They evaluate your credentials and see what you are doing and determine your grade.
That tells you that they regulate and have standards they use to determine your qualifications and grades within the organisation. What that has done for us is that every member of IWFM is someone you can hold as qualified to be in that space.
With the future of work favouring the new normal, and economic conditions compelling households to rethink their priorities, what do you see as the future of FM as an industry and a profession?
In the new normal, so to speak, there is still a lot to get around it. At the early start of Covid, even towards the end of last year, it was almost a done deal that working from home would be almost a standard way of new work pattern. However, a lot of thinking is going on, asking what exactly could that mean for businesses. Organisations have also seen that there are benefits and challenges in work from home.
There is still something missing when people work from home. They do not get to see their colleagues face to face; there is something that work from home doesn’t give you which your colleagues give if you were to be in office.
I don’t think the new normal is going to be what we thought it would; there will be a lot of evolving scenarios that will play out and businesses are also thinking that, maybe, on the financials, they don’t need all the office space anymore and may therefore reduce space to alternate how staff come in.
In answering your question with the economic situation, regardless of the economic situation, FM has a future that is very bright, because whatever the economic situation, it will only bring about a new thinking of how we provide services. So, we might now have to provide more for less, for whatever the fee will be.
But FM has a bright future because whatever you do, you need facility management. You can’t run away from it. For that reason, the onus is now on the practitioners to also think out of the box; to look at how they add value and be strategic because what we are thinking now is no longer about just providing the service; it has to be strategic service with values that the demand organisation can see; service has to be tangible.
Infrastructure deficit in Nigeria runs into trillions of Naira. Poor maintenance contributes most to this deficit. If you were to advise the government on the way forward, what would you say?
There is a need for the government to pay attention from the onset on what the plan to maintain will be. For instance, if they want to put up a very big structure like office space, secretariat, etc from the beginning, it is very critical that FM practitioners are involved.
It is important that the government pays attention to maintenance plans from the beginning and also the agencies of government that should be engaged or involved in overseeing the activities of the various aspects of FM.
For instance, what you find is that the agencies that should do their jobs are compromised. So what do you find? You find people having the assurance that nobody will call them out. So, they do whatever they like and get away with it. When we talked about corruption in the past, we used to talk about financial corruption but now it’s corruption of the mind.
There is a high incidence of building collapse in Nigeria, especially in Lagos. A lot of guesses have gone into why these are happening. What do you think could be the problem?
A lot has been said regarding approval for a certain size of structure and then poor quality of material and workmanship. It’s a whole lot but, in my opinion, I think it’s a combination of all. Those who are supposed to come in and check are not doing the work; substandard materials have flooded the market, people are just trying to maximise profit and still earn good money. So, it’s a combination of issues driven by greed and corruption.