‘Improper planning renders Lagos an unhappy state’
GBENGA ISMAIL is the principal partner of Ismail and Partners and Chairman, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Nigeria chapter. He also doubles as the Vice President, International Real Estate Federation (FIABCI) Nigeria chapter. In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, he spoke on the activities of RICS and other sundry issues affecting housing delivery in Nigeria
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is a global professional body promoting and enforcing the highest international standards in the valuation, management and development of land, real estate, construction as well as infrastructure. But it seems RICS activities are at a low-ebb in Nigeria, what do you think is responsible for that?
Your views are very correct. RICS is a global body, a standard setting organisation for the built environment.
RICS was formed immediately after independence. But as necessity requires it, there needed to be a national body of estate surveyors and other built environment professionals.
In Nigeria, we have what we understand as different bodies in the built environment.
So we have estate surveyors, quantity surveyors, the land surveyors and we have also the town planners. These groups made up what RICS was in the initial stage. So, RICS Nigeria chapter was actually formed in 1963.
Earlier than 1969, the land surveyors had formed their body, which is the Nigeria institution of land surveyors; the estate surveyors and the quantity surveyors had their own different bodies.
Over time, the national bodies had to take position. So, it is for that reason that most of those who were originally RICS members have to go into the national bodies to strengthen them and make the national bodies what they are today. RICS has been unbroken for about 56 years.
So, we have always been in existence and always have executives all through that time but the national bodies have always been the one propagating it.
As the chairman now, what programmes do you have to reposition RICS or what do you intend to do in your chairmanship?
It does not mean that the body was comatose. It has been very active with members. It has about 300 Nigerians RICS members.
Globally, if you say Nigerians, we have up to 1,000 members spread all over the world.
Now we want to do a lot of publicity, so that people understands what RICS is all about.
We want to do a collaboration with national chapters, collaboration in the sense that RICS now lends a lot of its template, especially for standards setting and process to the national bodies so that our building industry and environment can tap from that and close the gap between what we have in Nigeria and what we have globally.
Will it be right to say that the proliferation of the national bodies weakened RICS?
No, it did not. RICS is a global body. At that point in time, it is a United Kingdom body. So at that point, Nigeria needed to have its own body so that it sets its national policy and professional standards.
Today, RICS stands for professional standards in the built environment all over the world.
What RICS can do is to lend a helping hand, to show the way, invest and drive this standard. Setting up different national bodies did not actually weaken RICS because it has become stronger globally.
From the figures, it is evident that not all estate surveyors are members of RICS. So what privileges does it accord a member?
Well, there is a lot. Being a RICS member, you become a global citizen and brand.
In conjunction with every other construction members and affiliate members of RICS, it makes you to share the same value, the same standards, the same training and ability.
This is the first privilege. It does not mean that estate surveyors and members of NIESV do not have those things but the limitation is that we are national but RICS is international.
What does it take for one to become a member?
First, you must have the prerequisite educational qualifications. You have to go through the first degree in the built environment, then you go through a two–year training programme. Then, you sit through an interview.
Now, we have a process whereby you can attain membership by experience.
If you have spent over 15 years in the built environment, then you can apply to be recognised as a member of RICS. You are also to go through the same sort of interview at various levels.
We have professional, associate and technical membership. A technical member does not have to have the first-degree qualifications.
In the area of valuation and standards, there seems to be the challenge of uniform valuation standard in Nigeria. How can it be addressed?
Yes, it has been solved. The NIESV and ESVARBON have come together to develop the Green Book. That is the first step.
The Green Book is the valuation standard for Nigeria. There are a lot of inputs from the RICS. The RICS will in short time endorse and validate this book.
With the green book, all the variances and understanding of what valuation is or what it is not would be addressed. As a practitioner, if I should do a valuation that deviate from what the green book say, then anybody can query me.
In the past, the issue was how did you arrive at your figure? But now, the valuation green book for Nigeria is here and it is a reference point for all types of valuation. There will be no more discrepancies or confusion on what valuation we are doing and for clients who have asked for valuation. It means that if you give two valuers jobs to do and they followed the green book, they will arrive at the same opinion.
Taking it further, there have been rivalries among some professionals in the built environment on the issue of valuation. What is your thought about that, especially when there are other members of RICS, who are not estate surveyors and valuers?
The question you should ask them is that do they do economics? They should do economics because in terms of valuation, they have to pass through some level of economics to understand what valuation is.
So the misconception from professionals like engineers is that they deal with some of these equipments and they know their values. They know the mechanics, they know what it does but we know what it worth, they don’t know what it worth.
When equipment stops giving value, they cannot tell. We have ability to tell when it stops giving value even when the equipment might still be working.
Now, there is a branch of engineering called cost engineering, what is the different between that aspect and your valuation?
Cost engineer will probably tell you what the cost of building is. That is where the confusion comes from but the issue is worth and value. I give you an example; technology has come and renders some engineering things redundant.
So, who is going to tell you the value of that redundancy, even though it is there. We have this confusion that once you understand cost, you understand the values.
Where as a trained valuer understands the economics and the issue from the value derived from the user that is what we are trained for. This argument is belaboured only in Nigeria.
Again, engineers are not members of RICS, quantity surveyors are but quantity surveyors don’t do valuation. They do cost assessment and analysis.
So the quantity surveyor is a cost manager and also a project manager, so at the end of the day, it clearly defined what he is going to do.
The valuer at the end of the day is almost like an applied economist, dealing with all the other factors that arise.
What is the best way to address this rivalry?
It is a professional issue where there is no set boundaries or lines. I don’t think it can be resolved because the client is the one that issue requirement for valuation.
Everyone have the right to say my valuation is the one that is correct. I give you an example, if we have to value a ship now in UK, there are certified ship valuers, who have gone through training and have that certificates to be able to provide that services.
Some of them are RICS members, some are not but they have the certificate to show they can do that.
This is a clear definitive act. I have my own certificate as an estate surveyor and valuer that says I have a right to value but engineers do not have that certificate.
The issue is that we don’t ask that question. So once we begin to respect this issue, the problem is already solved.
Estate surveyors complained that they are not often involved in development process during construction. In what areas do you think estate surveyors can be involved?
The history is that a lot of estate surveyors have always been part of the development team.
There are some old firms, who were involved in the building of high-rise in Marina but somewhere a long the line, the entire professional sector got reviewed, even the great architects were affected.
In our own case, we used to be part of development; we called the architect, spoke to the financial people, called the contractors and advise the clients all through that development process so that by the end of development, naturally, we will be involved in the marketing.
So what we see now is that we are only on the marketing side. When the new age bankers came, they have different Nigerians they want to deal with because they were the one giving out money. We are now being relegated.
It is a major issue that we are trying to bring back to the mindset of everybody that we are actually the pilots. We are the one that is the backbone so that when it is done, we have a complete and well-conceived city.
The housing deficit has continue to persist amidst number of vacant and empty houses around the city centres, why is it so?
The issue borders on what people can afford. There are people who cannot get in even if you put the house at N2 million. The challenge is to make housing very affordable for everybody at minimal cost.
The planning system has also become another big issue in big cities. We have seen a lot of compromises even where there are master plans. What will you be advising and what should professionals in the built environment do to ensure effective planning system?
From the perspective of RICS, the town planners are one of the important professionals in terms of city planning and development.
Now, Lagos State is viable but it is not a happy state. Why? Because the city has not been planned well.
From inception, it was planned well; so we have GRAs, Ikoyi and the Lagos Island planned by the colonial masters but since then, every other thing that has developed has been in confusion.
So, it is not a happy state, the town planners for some reasons or either because nobody listens to them or they don’t understand what their real roles are; the entire place is in complete mess. I think they have a role to play and we want to bring that out now because we have master plans. We have planning policies and regulations.
Some of them are already old and archaic. Some of them do not lead you to the right direction, so they have to review it and see if it does not work for those who live in Lagos.
What a lot of people are looking at now is approved plan but approved plan is not the important issue; it is how we live together that is the key thing.
That master plan there, what is the vision and how has that vision being implemented before you give the approval because the approved plan will distort the master plan.
It is not just getting the approved plan and work away and then every thing start crashing, then you get health issues, you get depression, you get all sort of issues.
In fact, I blame the town planners because they are really involved in making a city and they seemed not to know what to do about it.
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