Managing Director of Hortigragh Nig. Ltd., Arc. Ahmed Goringo, in this interview with JULIET ALOHAN says estate developers peg the cost of house rent to the housing allowances of government officials. He also says that local manufacture of building materials can help to reduce rents in Abuja. Excerpts:
Do you support importation of building materials?
No I don’t, you see I am a builder and I know that during importation custom duties usually hike the overall cost. Most of the time, when you import, you import very cheaply, but when it comes to Nigeria, you pay so much on it because you settle agents, Customs and so before you clear your goods the total cost may have increased with about 60 per cent.
Then transporting a container load from Lagos to Abuja will further jack up the cost of any building, I will prefer a situation whereby Nigeria can produce her own building materials and forget about importations.
If Nigerians will stop importation, definitely we will have companies that will come to Nigeria and set up building materials manufacturing outfits.
Given our penchant to cut corners, don’t you think we will start producing sub-standard goods if we are to start manufacturing building materials in locally?
We will not, it depends on whoever is on top or whoever will monitor the situations. Definitely we have the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). Nigerians can hold SON responsible for any substandard materials.
For example, if you go to China to import, they will tell you there are first grade, second grade, third grade, and even fourth and fifth grades, depending on what you want. Most people don’t go for first grade, they go for even the fourth grade and they import it.
Take for instance now, electrical materials, Nigerians will import fourth grade, when you install it in the house it dies even before you use it for six months and you are still going to replace it with another substandard material, it does not make sense. So both the federal government and the Standard Organisation of Nigeria should take responsibility on whatever they will decide.
During importation, are there no agencies at the ports that check for standards, don’t Nigeria have an acceptable standard for imported goods?
There are acceptable standards, but it doesn’t work. If you import now and you want to clear your goods, they will tell you how much to pay to clear your goods, they do such things in our ports. So at times, I say we shouldn’t even be holding government responsible for everything, we as citizens of the country are responsible for some things.
You are responsible to protect sharp practices, because if you collect bribes and allow fake goods into the country that substandard material will be waiting for you in your house. And God forbid, if it’s a material like electrical appliances and it catches fire and you lose a family member, then you would have learnt a lesson.
So we have to change our attitude as citizens of the country, it’s not everything that government will do for us. President Goodluck Jonathan cannot come from Aso Villa to go the port or go to SON.
Somebody that is representing Jonathan there, that is the head of SON, must do his work. If he fails to do his work, then the government should just remove him, that’s all.
How is the interest rate on loans to developers affecting the development of the housing sector in Nigeria?
You see as of today we don’t have what we call long term facility; what we have is a short term facility. Our banks want to make quick returns, but everything you do in business, especially in the housing sector, should be long term. In the developed countries, such facilities are programmed as long term facility, not short.
If I build a house for you and you take N15 million from the National Housing Fund (NHF), you may have 10 or 15 years for your repayment. So I should be able to collect an estate finance from any commercial bank at that long term too so that I will build a house comfortably with good materials, and sell very cheaply to people because I am not paying too much of high interest rate on it.
Is it not worrisome that after developing houses, they are not habited because of the high cost especially in Abuja?
You know there are estate developers and there are people who just develop one house and put it in the market and tell you they want N200 million or N500 million for it. That is where the EFCC and ICPC are supposed to come in, because you cannot travel abroad with more than $20,000 in your pocket, they will arrest you.
But here, the way they rent or sell houses is like we are in Washington DC, if you check the equivalent of the naira to the dollar.
Abuja is the fastest growing city in the world now where you will see a land of N500 million to N1 billion. But if the government will say no to all these things, it will stop. When the EFCC is seriously on top of their job, these things will stop.
Do you think the tenancy Act will work in Nigeria, because it has not been very successful in Lagos where it was pioneered?
It will not work anywhere in Nigeria because the system has been polluted by corruption, so it won’t work. Those that are building are the ones controlling the corruption, so it won’t work. So we are just dancing in a circle, we are saying this, but the people saying it are the people in power or passing the laws.
It won’t work, it will only work if we have a good system with a serious minded leader in place who will insist that this thing must work and it will work. If you pay a legislator N20 million as housing allowance for one year, you think as a developer I will rent him a house for N20 million, I will even charge N25 or N30 million.
So if you reduce some cost of government officials maybe these things can work. It is because people see the allowances they pay government officials, that’s why they come back and increase the cost of housing.
A government official can buy houses of N200 million, N500 million and even N1 billion because he is in that position. But if there is a system that can stop him from piling that N1 billion in his house or in any bank, all of us will have houses and we will all smile.
What can be done to check the escalating cost of housing in Abuja and other major cities?
If government can open up satellite areas and make it habitable for people with all the infrastructure in the city centre available at the satellite towns, this will reduce cost of housing because people will no longer need to stay in the city centre.
But you see the load on government is too much, in Nigeria we depend on government for everything and people don’t pay correct taxes. If people pay taxes, government will utilise the money and there will be a way out.
We need change of attitude in this country as individuals if not, we will not get things right, we will only be going round in circles.
With the nature of your job, do you ever find time to relax, and where is your favourite holiday spot?
Yes, I do relax. In the morning I sleep and maybe get up around 10:00 am to come to work. I log on to Face book, check my mails and all that stuff. I just came back from a two weeks holiday in Saudi Arabia, I prefer Saudi because I prefer praying to God during my vacations, because am a local person.