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Oluwole: Naval officer eyes affordable housing in Africa

An online report by Housing Dynamics Market Africa says owning a decent house is still an unattainable goal for many African households today.

In Nigeria alone, housing deficit is as high as 17million going by the Federal Morgage Bank report.

Lack of affordable mortgage finance, high costs of land, weak land tenure security, rising construction costs and prevalence of slums are major setbacks to efforts towards alleviating the continent’s housing crisis.

Retired Rear Admiral James Oluwole is trying to contribute his quota towards solving this problem, with an eye on making housing affordable for Nigerians and Africans. Oluwole’s story is one to restore hope to those who begin life in paid employment but dream of transiting to entrepreneurship.

In 2017, the retiree cut a path for himself in entrepreneurship by unearthing the huge opportunity in the construction industry. Oluwole, who has been in the construction business for about three years now, is the founder of Ipile Earth Synergy Construction Limited (IESCL).

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Narrating how it all began, the Admiral says the idea of going into construction began to brew in 2014 while still serving in the Nigerian Navy.

“Ipile Earth Synergy Construction Limited actually started officially in 2017, but I must say the idea was muted three years earlier while serving as Rear Admiral and just appointed the Director of Research and Development (R and D) at the Naval headquarters,” he says.

According to him, one of the compelling challenges in the Nigerian Navy back then was lack of accommodation for its personnel with a huge deficit in housing units running into thousands.

“This challenge got me thinking and prompted research into using different building materials that could provide a realistic and affordable cost of building houses for our personnel. Shortly, I was able to find requisite answers in some highly professional officers and ratings working with me,” Oluwole recalls.

The entrepreneur, whose background is Electrical and Electronics Engineering ( Communications major), says he had never imagined playing in the construction space as this was not his area of core competence.

“Interestingly, I became so passionate about construction in a bid to find a solution to the housing deficit we were confronted with in the Navy.

“In the course of our research, we finally settled for what was referred to as stabilised Compressed Earth Bricks ( CEB), made from cement stabilised laterite soil, as the choice technology most suitable to address the challenge of building more cost-effective houses.”

He notes that the prototype of the houses was a huge success. It was graciously endorsed and soon turned into the over 300 housing units in naval formations at Kuje, Calabar and Lokoja. He explains that while basking in the euphoria of the successes recorded, he soon realised that his retirement was due, but thanks to God that prepared him for the life ahead through his work in the Navy.

He says, “Well, I found it most comfortable to go into construction using my knowledge of CEB technology. Consequently, I started buying machines and other equipment in keeps, and by the time I was retiring, I had purchased enough of them to start business without recourse to borrowing. Today, I look back and I thank God who in His kindness had prepared me for retirement by using two of my bosses, the immediate past, and present Chief of Naval Staff, who believed in me and supported me to achieve great strides in the provision of decent accommodation in the Nigerian Navy and by extension birthing of my company, which at the outset was not devoid of challenges that was most discouraging.”

He says his brand plans to reduce housing deficit in Nigeria, offering qualitative budget-friendly houses by partnering with individuals or relevant private/ public bodies.

On his workable advice to those who aspire to CEB home ownership, Oluwole says, “Build practical and functional house type, avoid complex designs that would increase building cost, and then limit procrastination due to fluctuations of prices of building materials.”

The construction brand has carved a niche as a provider of CEB buildings, CEB Consultancy Services, Landscaping and Property Management to numerous clients among whom are the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Defence Intelligence College, and the Nigerian Navy.

Since inception, the organisation has been contributing to the economy through the provision of adequate, sustainable and affordable housing, CEB machine training as well as job creation for many young unemployed youths.

Sharing his success secret, the Admiral notes that team work, discipline, focus, research and development as well as accountability and transparency paved way for him till date.

Explaining the brand’s significant achievements since inception, he says.

“It was an exhilarating experience for us participating in the 12th Abuja International Housing Show in 2017. It was a launching pad for our company. We had about 300 participants who visited our stand. It was quite thrilling for us a young company, barely six-month old, standing close to great companies in the housing industry.

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