Mr. Nasiru Suleiman is the managing director of Wiser Estate. In this interview with CHIKA OKEKE, he insists that corruption is the major cause of large number of unoccupied houses in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. He also addressed the issue of loans, access to land and other challenges facing the housing sector in Nigeria.
Why is it difficult for students to access bank loans in Nigeria compared to their counterparts abroad?
There are stringent conditions in Nigeria. If you want to take a loan from a commercial bank in Nigeria, apart from the almost impossible conditions, the interest rate is between 15-30 per cent. The best interest rate you can get is between 18-22 per cent. Another issue is collateral where the person seeking for a loan needs to provide something that is almost equal to the loan they need. Sometimes, if you want a loan of N20 million, you will be asked to provide a collateral of N25 million. In South-Africa, I met a developer and I also saw a poster where mortgages are issued at 6.9 per cent interest rate. If you go to such banks, you can also negotiate, according to your own strength and these loans are available.
There are insinuations that World Bank released about $300 million to support mortgage institutions. Have you accessed the fund?
For now, we are yet to see that or feel that impact. As far as we are concerned, it remains a policy statement and it not available yet. If you want to find out, you can go to any of the banks and pretend to be a prospective applicant for a loan and you will find out that it has not changed in any form.
Your company was honoured with the ‘Best Innovation Award’ at the just- concluded Abuja international housing show. How did you feel about such honour?
We see the award as a motivation to work harder and make housing more affordable. Our firm will be three years July this year and we are already talking of delivering 500 units of houses that are at various stages of completion. What informs this is that we deal with affordability both in our design and quality. Firstly, we ensure that the houses we are building are acceptable and then it must be affordable which means people can afford to own it. These are the two things we put in our design concept. I think we were also recognised because there is a new housing estate that we just launched along the airport road which we called the housing revolution. It is a place we developed despite the high rise in cost of construction and the difficulty in accessing land. Despite all these we were able to secure a partnership arrangement with an organisation even with the stringent conditions. Through the initiative, we were able to provide a 1-bedroom block of flat that will go for less than N5million and for the 2-bedroom flat which averagely goes for N15-N20 million within Abuja city. We are looking at less than N10 million. The 3-bedroom flat which should be going for N25-N30 million, we are selling it for less than N15 million. So, I think initiatives like this informed our innovative standards that qualified us for the award and the houses are on ground for everybody to access.
What makes your company stand out?
One of the major things that stand us out is that we are not too much profit oriented. We are developing based on passion in the real sense. Our happiness is that we are providing houses for people, whether we make profit like we desired or not. Our happiness is that we built estates that people are living happily in. It is hard to see a new developer that is thinking of delivering almost 500 units of houses within three years. It is almost impossible but we achieved it.
What is your assessment of the National Housing Programme (NHP) ongoing in 34 states?
It is a good initiative but if you look at the volume of houses compared to the volumes needed in some areas, you will find out that they (government) have not started anything. For instance, in a state capital where they have over three million people and over a million people are applying for such houses when less than 100 units are built, so what problem are they trying to solve?
The NHF has been a subject of discourse for years. How would you react to this?
In Nigeria, we have too many policies. We form policies for every situation that arises instead of strengthening existing policies and at the end of the day, you will witness clashes of interests. You will find one policy targeted at a particular problem; halfway into it, another will come up and also target the same problem; so you begin to see clashes. Nigeria is not bereft of policies but its implementation remains a huge problem. If you do not sort out basic things like access to land, the housing problem can never be resolved in Nigeria.
Despite the huge housing deficit, there are large numbers of unoccupied houses. Why is it so?
On the issue of countless number of available houses I can only speak for Abuja because this is where I stay. I think what is responsible for this is corruption. This is because, most people that owned the vacant houses don’t need the houses but they were privileged to have excess to money. Since they didn’t know what to do with such money, they felt that the best way to preserve it is to invest in real estate and they don’t care whether the houses are occupied or not.
Are there plans by developers to address this anomaly especially through REDAN?
When somebody builds a house, it is his private property; so there is little you can do to force such persons to use the property. Bear in mind that some of the people who own these properties are the policy makers, so what type of war will you fight. Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN) is doing its best but its major role is to regulate the construction industry so that quacks and unqualified people don’t pose as professionals and build a house that will collapse using substandard materials. Other things like mortgages are secondary but primarily, it exists to sanitise the real estate industry.
How can the problem be resolved?
The government can decide that only genuine developers will have access to land. This has to be enforced because the same elites will go and register companies again as developers to collect the land. Since there are construction works going on around the city, government can decide to visit the sites directly and find out the actual developers, get their data, create a database of genuine and actual developers and make sure such people have direct access to land.
For instance, if I have a 10 hectares of land and decides to partner with someone, from the 10 hectares, I will have to build houses that will rake N5billion profit for my partner before the developer will think of his own profit. But if such land was given to me as a developer directly, I will use the N5billion to build additional houses at a subsidised rate. For example, a two-bedroom flat that costs between N15-N25 million will be sold at N10 million. This will enable subscribers acquire the houses at give-away prices
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