Chudi Ubosi is an Estate Surveyor and Valuer and a Principal Partner in Ubosi Eleh & Co. Ubosi, who studied Estate Management at University of Lagos in 1985 and a Master of Science Degree in Construction Management also at the University of Lagos in 1988 is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) and current President of the African Chapter of the International Real Estate Federation (FIABCI). He worked for one year with the firm of Chinwuba Odumodu & Co. (Estate Surveyors and Valuers), Enugu, before joining the firm of Messrs. Diya Fatimilehin & Co. (Estate Surveyors and Valuers), Lagos, where he rose to the position of a Partner in charge of the Ikeja branch of the company.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Ubosi fielded questions ranging from management of recession, surveyors’ position as regards incessant building collapse, why housing collapse may not stop in Nigeria and reasons for the long wait to have low cost housing in the country will not end. According to him, government is not doing enough to encourage housing industry. He agreed that though government cannot regulate tenancy to bring price of properties down, it can create infrastructure that can assist in bringing down property prices.
Managing estate company during recession
Well, we have been managing during the current economic dispensation that we are gradually getting out of. One of the things you do in recession as you run your business is to consistently review your activities. If you are not making money, then you will be saving the little money you have and so you try and do things more efficiently, you try and use less resources to achieve more and at the end of the day, you try to work much twice as hard to remain on the spot where you are. So that is what has driven us in the last 18 months to two years and somehow, God willing, God being on our side, we have been able to survive and we are coping and we will still continue to survive and continue to cope.
Government’s encouragement of housing industry
I don’t think government is encouraging the industry. First, government should mend that Land Use Decree or Land Use Act to the realities of modern day Nigeria. I do not also think that government is doing enough. As much as government says it doesn’t have enough funds, housing is so key to man and the existence of average Nigerians. All the private sector is asking is, give us infrastructure and we take care of the rest. Go to some areas like the Lekki Peninsula and you will see what the private sector is doing in terms of development of housing estates. But there is very little government input there. They open up new areas, they bring in infrastructure, they put in roads, they bring in electricity and they develop estates of over 100 units and with very little government input. At the end of the day, what that does is that they make those developments very expensive because if I am bringing in my road, I am bringing in water, bringing in all these, somebody will have to pay for them because they will be put in the development I am doing. But if government has done a lot of these things, it means that these houses will be cheaper, it means that more people will be accommodated. If people are accommodated, then houses can now be charged for Land Use Act, tenement rates and so. This will bring more revenue to the government. But as it is, you don’t get the impression that housing is a priority for many of our governments.
Activities before and during recession
When you talk of positive comparison, I can tell you we are getting a lot more enquiries for the properties we have. We get more enquiries for sales, for leases, you can almost feel like there is steering in the economy. So that makes it positive, and long before recession, these enquiries were consistent in terms of properties for sale and for lease. Enquiries were more consistent because we were closing a lot of transactions. For nearly two years, we closed very minimal transactions. We did that because there were fewer and fewer enquiries. At a time, we didn’t even have any enquiries for our stocks of real estates that are available for lease and for sale or for development. But now, I can tell you there is ease in steering and we have more enquiries coming in because the recession seems to be over.
Surveyors’ position on incessant building collapse
Well, the position of surveyors and some other professionals is the same. The problem of building collapse is that the right professionals are not used or involved in these projects. Nigerians as a whole have a penchant for cutting corners. A man wants to build a house, instead of going to an architect, he goes to a draftsman somewhere and says, do this for me. That transfers into when you want to build. He gets quotations or he employs basically the use of non-professionals. A lot of us don’t even go for plan approval. They just get these drawings or whatever it is they want to do, they move to site and the construction starts. That is really the problem with building collapse and for us in the real estate industry and estate surveyors and valuers, our position has always been, use the right professionals. If you use the right professional, you will save yourself sums of money and heart aches in the future.
How to achieve low-cost housing in Nigeria
Low-cost housing is a debate we have had all the time. Low-cost housing, what exactly is it? It has a definition that has a very wide spectrum for you to get what you call low-cost housing. But ideally, low-cost housing should be something in today’s Nigeria. Anything may be within the minimum wage; that is N18,000. This means that for a N5 million worth of house, the person has to work for 300 years to be able to build a house. But the problems with low-cost housing, I can tell you, are varied. One is lack of access to land because of the Land Use Act. Land Use Act has made it difficult for those who want to have access to land. Because there is that difficulty in accessing land, it has become very expensive. Land is a factor because you are not going to build in the air.
Land is a key factor in building because when you have land, you talk about infrastructure that can facilitate it. You can build in the middle of the forest but if you have no road, if you have no essential services to service your building, then you just put money down in the structure. These are the problems we have with this issue of low-cost housing and at the end of the day, what can government do? One, we need to remove Land Use Act from the constitution. In fact, that Land Use Act must be reconfigured to suit the dynamics of modern day Nigeria, modern day living, modern day realities of what is going on in modern day real estate industry. Low-cost housing, what can government do? Create a living environment by proper governance, create integrity and affordability so that we can bring in investors. Low-cost housing is done all over the world where all these things are done. You need to have a government that is transparent and ready to account for a lot of things. Then you talk about government providing infrastructure and services. If we have infrastructure and services, for instance, not all of us will need to stay in Lagos. If I have a rail line that goes from here to Ibadan and I have a one hour rail that travels between Ibadan and Lagos, I will assure you that a lot of people will like to live in Ibadan and work in Lagos because they spend that kind of time only on third mainland bridge alone. So there is a lot to this low-cost housing that in places like Lagos people exert pressure on the land and on existing housing. That makes the low-cost housing totally impossible. If things are done well – government putting infrastructure in lands, even on the outskirts; put in the infrastructure, services; put in the enabling environment; security for the protection of life and property, you will see that there will be change in terms of the pricing of property.
My experience as President of International Real Estate Federation
As a President of International Real Estate Federation with my tenure running out in June this year, I can say that in the course of my presidency, I have visited a lot of countries like, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Ghana, among others. To be honest with you, we all share the same problems. The problems we share transcend the whole of African continent. Problems like title, access to land, problem of mortgage to buy property because property is an expensive thing and at the end of the day there are very few people that can pay cash for real estate. People need mortgages across African continent, across the West African countries. It is still the problem. So we share in a funny way the same problems we have here. Even in some West African countries, they have their own version of ‘Omoniles’; they are there.
Housing for all by 20:2020
It is not achievable at all. It is only Nigeria that came up with that slogan, ‘housing for all’. There is no where in the world where government or the private sector can accommodate everybody. There are very few countries in the world where you have 100 per cent. I don’t think there is even any. There may be countries where you have as high as about 70, 80 per cent home ownership but housing for all is difficult. It is almost an impossible thing.