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COVID-19: ‘The virus has reprogrammed many activities in the world including housing’

The impact of Coronavirus on the real estate sector in Nigeria does not stop at the demand and supply side of housing and other real estate products. The impact is also on conferences, seminars and advocacy talk-shows where stakeholders gather to discuss and proffer solutions to the sector’s problems. In this interview, FESTUS ADEBAYO, a Barrister at Law, a strong advocate for affordable housing, and chief host of the annual Abuja International Housing Show (AIHS), speaks on how the novel  virus has impacted the sector and brought a new normal that all must embrace. He also speaks on other housing issues. CHUKA UROKO reports. Excerpts  

 

The annual Abuja International Housing Show (AIHS) is underway and, for the first time in many years, it will be a virtual conference, no thanks to Covid-19 pandemic. Does this mean a new normal has come to stay in Nigeria?

Oh yes, this is a new normal we all have to embrace because it has come to stay with us. Our greatest gift as human beings is the ability to always adapt and improvise.

That the 14th edition of Africa’s biggest housing event that will be holding from 21st to 24th July 2020 will be a virtual conference is a confirmation of that new reality. As at today, over 32,500 people have been infected by the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria with nearly a thousand deaths.

We believe that adapting to the current situation is simply the responsible thing to do. The virus has reprogrammed so many activities in the world. Nigeria is not an exception. For us, the unfortunate spread of the novel virus has led to a strategic adjustment, while doing everything possible to still meet the needs of the show’s participants.

As a show of commitment to human development and as a responsible platform, we are abiding by the current global safety measures that limit the spread and dangers of covid-19 by adhering to the social and physical distancing rule.

Arguably, AIHS has become an all-important conversation involving a large gathering of local and international stakeholders, speakers, and exhibitors in the housing and construction industry. This makes it a potential zone for the spread of the virus should we go ahead and gather everybody at a given place as we have done in the past 14 years, hence the virtual option.

A virtual AIHS is perhaps an opportunity for us all to become familiar with a future that is inevitable. With the advancement in technology, it will become a norm, and not a rarity to witness more shows like this go fully digital, while maintaining its value, relevance and impact.

 

One would think that this new normal might affect the show negatively. What are the possible benefits of going virtual for participants, developers and building materials suppliers who will be showcasing their products at the show?

The benefits for participating in this virtual edition of AIHS are the same as those in participating in the physical edition, if not more.

The event is designed to be accessible to all participants globally using internet compliant devices such as computers, laptops, tablets or mobile phones. This event will also be available on demand 30 days after the first 4 live days. All our partners in over 15 countries will be able to participate, exhibit, network and make sales from wherever they are.

With the kind of set up we have for this virtual edition, it is hoped to become the biggest online platform for industry stakeholders. This edition is also expected to present the biggest digital marketing platform ever seen in Nigeria as it will usher in a new era for companies and brands to network and showcase their businesses to a global audience with minimum effort.

We have designed it to be as interactive as possible. The key feature of the show is to provide easy access for both exhibitors and other participants to the virtual platform.

Exhibitors will have the opportunity to create their profile pages with company names and logo. This will essentially serve as their virtual booths. We shall link their booth to their email addresses and make it a seamless process for them to log in and market themselves.

 

What is this year’s show intended to achieve; in other words, what is the nexus between the theme and Nigeria’s housing sector?

The theme of this year’s show is ‘Housing Finance Innovations for 2020 and Beyond: Sustainable Systems for Cities.’ We chosen this theme based on the current situation of things. It is becoming, increasingly, difficult to finance housing development, leading to fear of another housing sector crisis.

This has been made worse by coronavirus. There have been enormous losses in the economy. So, we decided on this theme as a way of rallying stakeholders who can suggest innovative ways of financing housing development.

More than ever, we need to address the problem of homelessness in our country. And this won’t be possible unless we are able to sufficiently finance housing projects. So we need local and international experts to speak to the problem.

 

To get this done, you most assembled seasoned local and international speakers. Could you mention just a few of them who are being expected?

The same experts and partners from our previous editions have all confirmed their participation in this edition. The show has played host to important dignitaries like Yemi Osinbajo, Debra Erb of OPIC, Babatunde Fashola, former presidents, governors, ministers and national assembly members and numerous corporate executives. The virtual edition this year will not be any different. It will, in fact, host more international dignitaries, as it will be easier for those who wouldn’t have attended a physical edition to participate in the virtual edition.

Given that AIHS hosts over 40, 000 participants from at least 20 countries every year, the show remains the prime destination for multinational and national corporations, businesses and executives, public officials, and home seekers to converge, dialogue, network, exhibit and learn from one another about opportunities they should tap into.

 

Away from AIHS, let us take a look at the housing and mortgage sectors; what is your perception of these two important sectors?

The Nigerian housing and mortgage sectors are in need of serious interventions. There is an urgent need for a new thinking in the sectors. We currently have over 20 million housing units deficit to deal with. Access to affordable housing for the poor remains a tall  dream, except for what some institutions like Family Homes Funds are doing.

The sector is supposed to be contributing significantly to Nigeria’s GDP, but that isn’t the case right now. So it is clear to everyone that we have a real task at hand. There is so much potential in our housing and mortgage sectors that we need enough political will to get things done.

 

As an affordable housing advocate, what are the factors you think are militating against affordable housing delivery in Nigeria?

The factors are so many, but a major one is the lack of strong political will to deliver on set targets. We know the economy is struggling and funds are hard to come by, but the little funds we have are not even being well managed. If funds are used appropriately for what they are meant for, I believe we can make progress.

We also have the problem of stakeholders working in silos or at cross-purposes. We are not collaborating enough. The only way to solve our housing problem is for stakeholders to work together, exchange ideas and work together on projects. One person cannot do it all. Strategic collaboration is very important.

There is also the issue of developers focusing on luxury housing which is a narrow market, looking away from affordable housing where there is more than enough market. Too much focus on luxury housing is reason we have so many empty houses in the highbrow areas in our major cities.

Meanwhile, the majority of our people live in urban slums and shanties where the standard of living is low. With a good arrangement and collaboration with housing corporations, developers can identify the kind of houses that are affordable and can be built for millions who need them.

 

 

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