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‘There must be collaboration between government, businesses to have thriving real estate in Nigeria’  

Innocent Meckson Okoro is the brain behind M. I. Okoro & Associates Estate Surveyors & Valuers, an indigenous professional real estate cum housing development consulting firm. In this interview with Ngozi Okpalakunne, Okoro, who has been in the business of estate management for over three decades, speaks on a number of issues, including the interesting and challenging aspects of the business, and the need for government at all levels to make land and funding available to reduce housing deficit in Nigeria. Excerpts:

 

Having been into real estate management for more than three decades, how would you describe the practice of the profession in Nigeria?

It is quite interesting and very rewarding too; most importantly, one is using it as a platform to render services to humanity, Federal Government, state and local governments, and reducing the housing deficit in Nigeria through efficient real estate consulting. It has also been very exciting when one realises that one’s direct involvement in one way or the other has contributed in housing Nigerians. I will also say that it has not been a bed of roses throughout; there have been so many challenges just like in every aspect of life particularly in Nigerian environment. This is our country, we don’t have any other country; so, one has to remain fixed and boldly too, facing the challenges to make sure that one continues to do what one has been trained to do.

One of the challenges is the inaccessibility to land. Land is not so free that you can assess;  if you want a land in this country, you have to buy the land, government cannot willingly give you any land to develop unless where government is directly interested, they can do that under Public Private Partnership (PPP). Acquiring land most at times is very expensive; you will have to pay for different taxes, money for drainages, roads, money for creating infrastructure such as water, electricity, among others. When you put all of them together, it is moving towards 50 percentage of cost of developing a house, which of course, will impact on the final price that the consumers will pay.

This is a very serious challenge, but we cannot say no, we cannot run away because we are not getting it so smooth, but we will continue to do what we are doing interfacing with the government and other policy makers with the view to finding solution in this problems.

Another challenge is finance; everything concerning real estate is capital-intensive. So, most times, one requires money to accomplish one’s goals in delivering some houses for the public.

Apart from the high cost as a result of lack of infrastructural facilities and inaccessibility to land, another challenge is getting funding from the bank  in Nigeria, the only Mortgage bank we have is Federal Mortgage Bank and that bank is not enough to address the housing problems of  Nigerians and till date, there is no reasonable mortgage bank  that Nigerians can  boast of  that will help in giving loan facility to people who want to buy houses; if you go to commercial bank to lend money, commercial banks  source  their money on short time bases and real estate development is on long time bases, so they find it difficult to use short time money to lend for long time development.

In fact, when banks were directly involved in property development, the reasons most banks collapsed is because of using short time funding to lend for long time sources like funding for houses and things like that.

I find it difficult to understand why the Federal Government or state cannot think of establishing primary mortgage institutions or they can name it anything they want, they can name it mortgage societies; l do not know why insurance houses cannot use their long time life insurance earnings or investments to channel in to mortgage societies, mortgage banking that could be able to lend money to public and turn that money around over a long time. It is a very serious defect, Government has not address it and it is only government that can do it, or so create enabling policies so that private individual can invest on Commercial bank  to  invest in modern institution  one thing I have leant almost  thirty years of my profession Nigerians, both government, business people, corporate organisations will like short time fix for everything, that is why government or corporate organisations find it difficult to plan for long time, something we plan today and make profit tomorrow, life is not like that. So, this is a real problem, not to real estate management, but also to other issues.

Why can’t Nigeria invest in petroleum refinery in Nigeria, why carrying the code oil to outside country, refined it there make their money and come back to sell to Nigerians at high price.

Every regime of government in Nigeria is making a very big mistake and it is a continuous circle, there is no solution. I do not know the reason generation of people will continue to make one particular mistake.

Lagos State government came up with a policy that all estate management agents should register with the government; what is your take on this?

They have the right as a government to stop the rate of criminality among  estate agents in the state; don’t forget l am not sure that this matter is addressing to people like us because we belong to Nigerian Institution of  Estate  Surveyors  and Valuers, we  went  to university and we belong to a professional body and that professional body is supposed to be fully in charge for anything that has to do with land and real estate in Nigeria, but because of the problem l mentioned before, Nigeria is a country where people who supposed to formulate policies are not serious about it and they are not doing anything about that and they allow the practice of real estate to become all comers’ affair. I think what government should do is to begin to stop people who are not qualified to be in the practice to go into the profession. No amount of government policy other than what l have said that will stop criminals from engaging in fraudulent activities all in the name of practising real estate management. As long as government cannot stop them, instead the government asked them to register so when they commit crime they will begin to chase them; how many have the government been able to chase? Some of these quack agents collect people’s money as landlords and run away. No estate professional can do that, because our professional body will never allow you to do that; they will punish you, they will close your office and they will stop such an individual from existing and that one is stronger than the corrective measure that the Lagos State government wants to take.

One of the goals of MDGs is the provision of houses for all by the year 2020; how would you assess government effort in fulfilling this?  

As far as l am concerned, nothing is happening in terms of such provision, but that is not to say that all hope is lost. When we talk of making housing available for all, there should be a deliberate action on the part of government. The fact remains that the government cannot do it alone. There is need for private public partnership, cooperate organisations, individuals, even churches. Churches make a lot of money; why can’t they also embank on social housing? They can give housing loans to their members.

In what ways has COVID-19 affected your practice and how have you been able to navigate the situation?

There was a complete lock down from the month of March. It was about a month ago when the government created a partial lock down and even with that, the interstate lock down also limited the movement of people. And such limitation in people’s movement, one way or the other affected businesses and appointments with people.

People who are living in houses will not pay their rent, they will tell you that they have not been going to work because of the lock down, so if they can use the lock down as an excuse for not paying their house rent, which is genuine, it affected our profession.

But it is not all that bad, what is important is life, l believe that once there is life, we will all go back to our businesses and it is a global issue, it is not something limited to Nigeria.

Talking about myself and how it affected me, no bank will want to give loan.

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