Mr. Debo Adejana, Chief Executive Officer, Realty Point Limited in this interview with GEORGE OKOJIE speaks on the making of a chief executive, problem of housing and other national issues in the country.
Why is mass housing still elusive in Nigeria after over five decades of self rule?
When you talk about the problem against mass housing they are numerous . Let’s start from the issue of land because we cannot do without it. Whatever you want to do in the area of housing is based on land. Take a look at our tenure system, what you discover is a bundle of problem. The country’s tenure and land acquisition and allocation system need to be drastically restructured and this is why I believe that the clamour for scraping of Land Use Act from the constitution is a right step in the right direction, even if for the fact that the cost of buying a piece of land is just too high. It is not encouraging housing development in the country.
From there, we come to the issue of finance. Housing is a capital intensive venture. The federal government must create effective structures for sustainable mortgage finance. The Nigerian mortgage market is still underdeveloped both at the level of the mortgage product available to the citizens and at the level of mortgage funding instruments .
For me, we don’t even have any mortgage system because a mortgage system has two key aspects. The first one is the issue of interest rate. A situation where you are given a housing loan and are required to pay 25 percent is not mortgage. If care is not taken you are going to lose that house to the financiers at the end of the day. So the interest rate of the country’s mortgage system must be such that it is within what can be paid. People would prefer a single digit interest rate. Any mortgage loan payable within three or five years as obtainable in the country right now seizes to be mortgage.
We also have the high cost of building materials, high cost of hiring professional to carry out the building process. All these factors come together to defeat the issue of affordability.
In what way has your establishment be able to help to solve this problem?
As a company, we have three mission statements: To help a tenant become landlord. That is where ‘Sack Your Landlord’, comes from. We teach them, show them the way and take them by the hand to do it. And there is the aspect of real estate financing, which can help them achieve their aim.
Above all, we have a publication, Prime Assets Plus, a real estate magazine, then Prime Assets Plus Online. We invest in real estate, initiate and administer real estate investment clubs. We consult for other investment clubs as well. We initiated a cooperative as well; it is called Prime Assets Housing Cooperative and Multi-purpose Society to help prospective home owners have access to funds to build their homes.
As housing developers, we build for people. We are into mass housing development as our main business. We have five estates right now – we have two in Ofada phase one, and two in Pakuro, opposite Deeper Life, and we also have another one in Igbesa.
This is complimented by the School of Estate, which is a joint initiative with Realtors Institute, where real estate entrepreneurs or people that are generally interested in real estate are trained.
The response to the School of Estate has been overwhelming. People gain the knowledge that would help them understand real estate more, deepen their practice, benefits and experience in that field. It covers the major areas of real estate profession.
What would you say is wrong with the country’s leadership in view of the current challenges confronting the country?
Nigeria’s leadership problem stems from the fact that they are not true representatives of the people. In the true sense of the word, we did not give them the mandate to represent us. In a place where your vote does not count, you cannot say that somebody who is governing you is your governor. And that is why he is not answerable to you; he does not care about you. He is answerable to his godfathers and the political system that put him there because they are the ones that can sustain him there.
So until votes start to count, Nigerians can't talk about having leaders. The leaders that should lead this country are not there . A few of them that have tried could not gain access and the few that gained access are not there by the peoples mandate and so the people does not understand them.
As a chief executive, what triggered the entrepreneur spirit in you?
I would say it is an interesting experience for me because while in the university I never thought of myself being a business person.
But the awakening came for me when I went to do my National Service. I thank God that I never attempted to influence the posting. I had it in Maiduguri, Borno State. It marked a turning point in my life. I faced a situation for the first time in my life, which really changed my perception about being self-reliant.
For the first time in my life I was faced with hunger. Hunger in the sense that you not are fasting or that you have chosen not to eat for whatever reason, but that you are looking for what to eat but don't know where it would come from. There is this period between when you come out from the orientation camp and they give you the bicycle allowance or whatever they call it. It was a lot of money then, and the next time, you would collect your monthly allowance.
When you come out of the orientation camp, you have to do some documentation with the bank, get placement where you are working, get letter from them to the NYSC, so that your account can be credited. This process usually takes towards the end of the second month before you get your first allowance after the camp.
Interestingly, that was the period i blew the bicycle allowance, not knowing what was to follow. I was faced with hunger and I vowed to myself that it would never happen again in my life. I also realised that for it never to repeat itself in my life, i had to take charge of my life. At that time too, I realised I had come of age; I left the notion of being young with that experience. I told my parents to stop sending me any allowance.
What does it really take to emerge as a successful private businessman?
I continue to say it, people don’t need a degree in rocket science to succeed in their business. It requires vision, ideas, forthrightness and fortitude to take risks. We came out with 'Sack Your Landlord' campaign and even made it our trade mark. We came about that basically because of our drive and our understanding of the shelter need. I mean, no right thinking person would reject a project that solves a basic need with stop-gap measures. We considered renting to be a stop-gap measure and we encouraged people to own their own homes.
Since the problem has always been the problem of funding we had to move in this direction to gain attention and confidence of the people to get massive patronage. We provided properties that people can buy at affordable rates. Our pricing was very competitive and then we partnered with mortgage institutions to provide funds even below competitive rates. Above all, we allowed people to pay in installments.
A person whose challenge had been how to raise money to buy land can now pay for the land over a period of six months, 12 months, and even up to a 24-month period. If he can buy a land, get the paper work done and has a mortgage bank to come to his aid in terms of funding his project, then he can think of sacking his landlord. Why wouldn’t he a buy land and build a house. A lot of people saw the essence of the services we are providing and bought into it.
Dearth of knowledge is prevalent in the industry. A lot of people do not know how to go about all these things. Because they do not know, they take the wrong steps, postponing their housing needs and requirements to the future, saying, "I will build later" and most of them end up reliving the life of a typical Nigerian citizen who suddenly realise at retirement that he ought to have done something on housing while still in active service.