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Lack of standards is killing housing industry, says Obih



Ruth Obuh

Ruth Obih, Chief Executive, 3Invest Limited, who is also a lawyer, has been a rallying point for players in the real estate subsector of the Nigerian economy, through her annual event popularly known as Real Estate Unite. In a few weeks from now, she will also harness experts to discuss the D.O.T.S, of real estate industry, acronym for Drivers, Opportunities, Transformation and Sustainability.  In this interview with Emmanuel Badejo of The Guardian, she spoke on what to expect and how the economy has affected the housing industry. 

3Invest will in the next few weeks stage its fourth annual programme -Real Estate Unite, what impact has the event had or having on the housing industry? Chiefly, this programme is set out to unite players within the industry and this we’ve been doing for few years now.

What happens, when they come together is enormous, as there have been exchanges of ideas one way or the other, some of which have had positive and tremendous impacts in the real estate and housing sector.

Essentially, Real Estate Unite is an annual real estate summit with primary objective to unite players in the real sector whilst opening up the immeasurable potentials in Sub-Sahara’s real estate sector for sustainable growth.

This event also comes with awards, which aims at elevating standards of the industry and practice by providing an opportunity to promote and recognize excellence in the real estate sector in Africa.

Granted, we may not be able to measure the effects, but we can say there have been some sorts of direct and indirect impacts on the industry.

In one of our events, issues of securitization came up, mortgage refinancing also propped up, which were discussed in details.  I can say that part of the proposal sent to the Federal Government for the set up of the Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company (NMRC), emanated from the discussion at one of our programmes.  Today, that company has been set up and fully running.

Also, at one of our sessions, affordable housing was extensively discussed among top players in this industry and the result of that discussion is already playing out in Nigeria, either at the federal or state levels.

Without being immodest, we can take some credits for some form of affordable housing initiatives coming up today in the country.

By and large, we can say the programme has been making good and intended impacts.   This year, you chose a theme, ‘Connecting the D.O.T.S’, what do intend to achieve with this? It is now our tradition to always have a theme for each of our Real Estate Unite programme.

This year, we are taking it from a different perspective. We believe, if certain things are not connected, much of what we would be doing as a nation and stakeholders would produce little result.

As you have rightly said, ‘Connecting the D.O.T.S’, simply means Drivers, Opportunities, Transformation and Sustainability.  With these in view, the programme would explore the drivers of the industry.

There are so many opportunities within the industry, yet untapped and with this year’s event, we intend to unveil some of them.  If these opportunities are discovered, there must be total transformation of the nation’s landscape, which will discourage rural-urban migration.

You wonder, why so many people want to build their houses or live in Lagos, Port Harcourt and, or Abuja when we have 36 states in the country?  It is because, everybody wants a better life and more particularly due to degeneration of some of these areas.

This conference would harp on the need for cities’, rural communities’ transformation and how to go about it. Already, there are some initiatives that needed to be sustained, and this conference would also talk about sustainability.

Every year, several conferences are held.  But the question still remains why is there little or no effect on the common man? One major problem I have observed is that our people are not very, very eager to help themselves.

Most of us take interest in consuming than investing. People spend more time on personal enjoyment. Many of us are just too relaxed and complacent with serious issues.

Have you wondered why we have not seen Nigerian people rising up to ask serious questions about shelter from the government?  Having said that, I will say Nigerian people need more enlightenment and information on some of these things, I mean basic needs of life.

Some real estate professionals have decried their non-involvement in your programme, why? This is a large industry and we have made efforts to reach out to them at one time or the other.

But what puzzles me is that we make so much noise about this and yet some of these professionals would still not see the need to make their inputs.

Would they say, they do not see our adverts in the newspapers?  Would they say they are not aware of the event? One of the problems we have seen in this industry is disunity, which we set out to conquer.

Every professional group wants and prefers to do its own programme alone and we have been saying there is need for collaboration, to have greater impacts.  It would surprise you that, some are challenging us for stepping out to unite the players in the sector.

But I believe that with time, some of the professionals would begin to appreciate what we have done and still doing.  It is not because we’ve not tried to reach out but there have some sort of resistance.

Notwithstanding, since we are convinced about what we are doing, we would not be deterred. One of the major highlights in this year’s event is the launch of Charity Housing Project.

How do you intend to go about this? It is not a Charity Housing Project. We only want to use our platform for the masses. This is still in the pipeline.

It is a charity run and we are still looking for sponsors. We are calling socialites through whom we intend to raise some proceeds, which we would in turn invest into some housing or other meaningful projects.

If we are able to successfully take off this initiative, the goal is to support some organisations whose focus is to raise standards of living of a common man.

It is not that we are floating any project by ourselves, but we intend to commit whatever proceeds we are able to raise into social housing.

Much lull still pervades the real estate market, what do you think could be done to boost the subsector? I must say that the last government both at the federal and some states actually did well.

We need to focus more on urban renewal and regeneration. We need to redevelop our cities.  We can take a cue from what the Mayor of London is doing in this respect.

Regenerating old cities to become livable. Take for instance, there are so many slums in Lagos and the government can relocate the people and rebuild these areas to become new cities.

Everyone cannot live on the Eko Atlantic City, a very laudable project, notwithstanding.  But what happens to a place like Makoko, Ajegunle, Central Lagos?  The government can move into these areas, with a purpose to churn out new cities.

For us as stakeholders, we would continue to advocate for the needed change and sustainability.  We need to think about global standards, strategies and systems, technologies that can take us faster than we are moving now.

We need to learn how things are done in other climes. As stakeholders, we need to harp on standards, as lack of standards is killing this industry.

One of the issues affecting the industry is lack of much investment from private sector.  But instability in government policies could have been responsible for this apathy.

What do you think is the way forward? Nigerian politics is a bit shameful; we often attach emotions to our politics.  If we don’t want this democracy, it is better we forget about it.

We cannot be saying we have a democracy, which is governed in an autocratic and military approach.  This is not good at all. Some of our political leaders run the government as if they are running their personal homes.

In some cases, the way some state governments go about cancelling concessionaire contracts does not impress and encourage investors at all. Government is a continuum.  We need total reorientation as a people and country; it is good for a new government to improve and surpass on the achievements of the past administration.

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1 Comment
  • I’m really impressed by the passion Ruth and her team have for the development of the Real Estate industry in Nigeria. The issue of standards is a real problem, even in metropolitan cities (Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt). Another problem is enforcement of existing standards by those agencies and authorities mandated to do so. If existing standards are being enforced to the letter, the problem of substandard design and construction wouldn’t be as bad as it is currently. I am hopeful that the work started by 3Invest will continue to be a positive driving force for quality real estate development in Nigeria.