“Africa should no longer be seen as a continent asking for aid”- Mustapha Njie

Mustapha Njie is the Chairman/CEO, of Taf Holding Co. Ltd and the owner of TAF Africa Global.  Started this company solely from nothing to a multi million USD company. Recognized as Gambian businessman of the year (1993, 2004 and 2006 – 3 times). Gambian Man of the year (2006). 1998 European Counsel for Global Business – For quality and Excellence. 2004 Best SMME in construction in Africa. 2010 ECOWAS honourable businessman. With 28 years experience in running his own business in the housing and real estate industry in Africa, he is passionate in expanding his business in sub Sahara African countries, while sharing his experience with other professionals in the field. In an interview with the Forbes Njie shares his experience in the housing and real estate industry and his plans towards investing in the low income  housing.

As it is the first time that you are interviewed for Forbes Global Magazine, would you please give our readers a brief historical background of your company as well as an overview of your activities?

I started my business in 1990. We are generally involved in construction and construction related businesses. The company was initially involved only in construction, but over time we have diversified to include selling of building materials, tourism development, building hotels, executive apartments and housing development, which is the latest of our ventures. So under our holding we basically have construction, building material supplies, estate development and tourism development.

Our readers, which are mainly decision makers, are always curious to know how companies are doing. Would you please provide us with some financial figures like turn over, net profit, number of employees?

Obviously in construction, employment is not always the same as it depends on the work that one has at a given point. On average, however, under the holding company we employ about 500 people and our turnover ranges from 5 to 8 million USD.

An operation “House the Nation” has been launched some time ago in co-operation with Shelter Afrique. They were expected to finance the project. Would you please present that project to us and provide us with the latest developments regarding this agreement.

“Operation House the Nation” started early this year. We have always been interested in housing development and have been doing conventional housing since the inception of the company. People come to us to build their houses. Since housing projects in The Gambia are done by government parastatals, we are the pioneers in housing development by the private sector.

Since 1992, we have been interested and have been testing the market, but never on a large scale. This year, on the contrary, we have started on a large scale. We applied to Shelter Afrique for a co-financing loan, which was approved within a month of submitting the document, and subsequently applied for land from the government. A piece of land had been granted to us in Kanifing but unfortunately, this has resulted in some controversy which is currently being sorted out.

The project caters for all levels of society. It is divided into four categories: one for the very high-income group; the second one is for the moderately high-income group, the third for middle and the fourth for the low-income group. We are looking at low-income housing where it is planned to utilize locally available materials with appropriate technology to produce, among other things, stabilized laterite bricks for the construction of core houses.

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TAF Estate Developers recently made a vigorous attempt in setting the pace for private sector involvement in housing infrastructure. This effort has met some difficulties. How frustrated is TAF’s commitment to play in this field?

We are not frustrated at all, in fact, this energizes us. If there are problems, it just helps us better to succeed as entrepreneurs. Yes, there is a temporary stop to the project, but we are in renegotiations with the government and have almost agreed on alternative sites. We are hence going to proceed with the project in one way or another.

In order for a country to develop, it needs the collaboration between public and private sector. Taking into consideration the recent events concerning the Sinchu-Yahi project. How do you think the collaboration between those two sectors could be implemented here in the Gambia?

The public – private sector relationship should be very cordial and complementary. We all have different and important roles to play in our development, which is why our relationship must be complementary. There must be positive dialogue in order for all of us to achieve our goals towards the sustainable socio-economic development of our country. What is important is to be able to overcome problems, such as these, through dialogue.

Could you explain how aggressive your growth strategy is and what your projects for the next future are?

We are quite aggressive in strategy. We are the biggest indigenous construction company in The Gambia and have developed lots of strategies especially in the field of marketing, where we are quite aggressive. The strategic location of our billboards e.g on the only pedestal bridges in the whole of Gambia, ensures that we are noticed by everybody more so by those travelling to or from Banjul. We ensure that nobody comes into the country without noticing us. The company’s name was chosen because it is short, simple and easy to remember. Even when choosing our colour, the emphasis was that it should be eye catching. Apart from that, we do almanacs every year, which are distributed to every office and place of importance to show and remind people of our existence. We are the pioneers in this and as a company we make sure that we are quite visible, which I don’t think we have missed. We do invest quite a lot in marketing both locally and internationally.

Regarding our strategy on development, our goal is to maintain being the leader in construction nationally. But obviously given the size of the country we have our medium and long term plans for expanding both in the sub region and in the continent.

Are you currently planning on diversifying your activities as far as engineering is concerned in order to target new markets?

No, we will continue to concentrate on housing construction and tourism development, but not in road construction with heavy engineering involved. My analysis on that is if we want to go that big we have to, as a matter of necessity, go beyond our borders, because the investments are quite heavy on capital and equipment for this type of works. For the time being we want to stay within our borders. There are no immediate plans for large engineering type of works.

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To what extent do you engage your company in investing in new technologies? Could you explain what are the main investments you’ve planned to do in the near future?

We are going into low income housing, as I said, and our plan in the next five years is to build about 1000 units, which in The Gambia is a significant project. You should note that we are not only planning on constructing these houses in the Greater Banjul Area, but also in all the growth centres in the country.

This is a new technology that we are getting into. It is compressed laterite bricks and roof tiles, which are stabilized and environmentally friendly. Sand, which is widely used in all construction activities is at the moment quarried from the beach thus creating lots of problems especially with regards to coastal erosion. We therefore don’t want to use any sand and very little cement. This new material is compressed, very strong, and in fact stronger than ordinary sand and cement blocks, and yet still cheaper. The technology which is being imported from Belgium, is very labour intensive, creating thus a lot of employment.

For a company, investment in Human Resources is the key word for success. Would you explain how important it is for TAF?

My dream is actually to build a training / skills centre for young people to encourage them into the field of construction but looking at it from a private sector perspective. Already there are similar institutions run by government and people generally think that it is the government’s responsibility and the private sector simply employs, but we are thinking to invest in training to benefit our company and also as a contribution to society.

As a successful entrepreneur we just don’t have to be seen as making money and being in business but must also be seen to be pumping back some of the profits that are being made into society, creating, in this way, a positive corporate image as well.

In creating this training facility we will be very selective in the enrolment, hiring good people with the right potentials, teaching them construction and eventually employing them directly or indirectly. We have been discussing this issue with various government institutions, but it is a long term project which will need quite a lot of financing and a site for its location. It is when all these pieces have been set into place that building the centre would commence in phases and over a period of time.

TAF is importing its raw material from abroad: wood from Brazil, ceramic from Morocco, and cement from Indonesia even if The Gambia produces some cement: How competitive are the Gambian producers here?

I think we are pretty competitive. As I talk to you now, we are no longer importing cement. We use the local cement and now there are further negotiations being made to see how we can increase our volumes. If you look at market prices now, it is definitely cheaper than the imported cement. People, however, still want to have a choice of buying the imported product rather than the local one. But as you know, even the local product is imported.

Do you think the market could be taxed less?

Yes of course. I mean any tax reduction will boost the market. It is not only Gambia, I think it is a global fact. However, compared to our neighbours, our taxes are lower, but it is clear that we could do better with lower taxes.

Are you working on a joint venture with foreign companies or are you planning on doing so?

We are always looking for new joint ventures, because local finances are very scarce and interest rates are way too high, so we will be looking in every sector that we are in, for joint ventures. We are open to any offers. Whatever we do, we can do better with a partner, and more human, material and financial resources.

Our mid term plans are not to stay a privately owned company, but create global partnerships and joint ventures in order to be enlisted on the open market in the future.

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As a final question, what has been your main achievement since you are Chairman of TAF and what will be your challenge for the next future?

I am probably most proud of my hotel project. It is not only because we own the majority, but also because the hotel is managed entirely by us, up to now. We just hired Gambians to manage it and are very proud about the fact that it is 100% Gambian. Generally in this sector hotels always look for expertise from outside.

What do you think is going to be or has been your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge is going to be the provision of housing for Gambians. We want to make sure that Gambians are housed. We plan to provide affordable housing or shelter for every Gambian. When I say affordable, I mean very cheap but high quality housing.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I would like to talk to you about the new African entrepreneurs.

I just came back from Addis Ababa where we decided to launch the African Enterprise Network, which now has a membership of over 500 from over 31 African countries. That is quite an achievement.

We started in 1993, and are financed and sponsored by OECD, USAID and other donors. Initially we started in West Africa with a membership of 200 from 13 Regional countries.

The success of the West African Enterprise Network, where I served as an executive committee member led to the setting up of the East and South African Networks in 1998. And now in Addis Ababa we have just launched the African Enterprise Network. We are proud to say that our newest member is Noa Samora, the CEO of World Space.

When we talk about the new African Entrepreneurs we are not only speaking about age, but it is more the way we do business. The objective is to engage governments in a dialogue on policy changes for sustainable development and to encourage cross border trade and investment within the continent.

This is something I really believe in. While there is a lot of talk about globalisation, we want to focus more on regionalism and on the African Continent. Unless we can trade with ourselves, there is no use targeting other continents. We want to trade and make sure that the environment exists in order to trade. We should be able to drive from here to Nigeria and get our goods across borders without harassment. I think these are issues that must be addressed, and when they are, as a sub region, we will attract more interest in this part of the world. There are too many obstacles in doing business here. One, our markets are too small as nations, and two, there are listed constraints in doing business. Compared to other continents, if you wanted to drive from Dakar to Lagos, it will take you up to two days in Europe, but here it can take you up to three months. We want to get all these barriers out, making sure customs duties and tariffs are harmonized and so forth. Once this is achieved we will be in a better position to compete globally.

What is your final message to our readers?

The image of Africa is changing. Africa should no longer be seen as a continent asking for aid, where drought, famines and wars are part of daily life. In Africa today we have many success stories and people ready to do business. And we are too.

Forbes

‘We are driven by our vision to build 1 million homes in the next 20 years’

 

Taf Nigeria Homes, a subsidiary of Taf Africa Homes, is a ‘foreign’ real estate firm making direct investment in the Nigerian economy. The company entered the Nigerian property market with a bang, developing over one thousand luxury but affordable homes at its RIVTAF Golf Estate in Port Harcourt. In this interview with CHUKA UROKO, the Group Managing Director/CEO, Mustapha Njie, speaks on the Nigerian economy, the recession, the real estate market, the potentials, opportunities and challenges in the market. Among other things, Njie also speaks on the company’s future plans in Nigeria. Excerpts:

Taf Nigeria Homes Limited is, for purposes of definition, a foreign real estate firm making direct investment in Nigerian economy. What was the attraction to Nigeria?

When we came into Nigeria in 2013, Nigeria had an estimated population of about 150 million, a dearth of housing, and an increasing annual population growth rate. These factors made the real estate sector very attractive and the potentials still remain untapped. Our experiences have not been too palatable particularly in view of the economic situation of the country in the last 3 years, but it’s been worth the while as we take pride in delivering a luxury estate with quality homes and seeing our client express satisfaction with our products and services. We are also particularly elated to acknowledge that our project positively impacted the lives of members of the community, individually and collectively.

You have been in the Nigerian real estate market for over five years now and still counting. What story can you tell of Nigeria, its property market and the economy in general?

Prior to being hit by the recession experienced in the country, the real estate sector made certain contribution to the real GDP of Nigeria. In 2015, the real estate sector was reported to have contributed 8.26 percent to the real GDP of Nigeria (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q1 2015). Unfortunately, the contribution of the real estate sector to the real GDP has reduced over the past years due to the recession.

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The National Bureau of Statistics reported that in the third quarter of 2017, the real estate sector contributed 6.79 percent to real GDP, lower than the 7.18 percent reported in the third quarter of 2016 (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q3 2017) and lower than 7.57 percent reported in the third quarter of 2015 (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q3 2015). Although the country is said to have come out of recession, the real estate sector is yet to recover from the impact of the recession.

This is evident in the Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q1 2018 of the NBS which puts the real GDP growth in the sector in Q1 2018 at -9.40 percent and a contribution of 5.63 percent to real GDP (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q1 2018) which is lower than the 6.32 percent of Q1 2017 and the 6.48 percent of Q1 2016 (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q1 2017).

Nigeria successfully exited a crippling 15-month recession. Our focus in this report is on those real estate firms, which you are one, that are still afloat despite the impact of the recession. Tell us your story in the circumstance.

Without a doubt, the real estate sector attracted investments from individuals, corporates, foreign investors in a large scale prior to the recession that hit the Nigerian economy. It cannot be overemphasised that, just like other forms of constructions, real estate development requires significant capital. Till date, the sector has witnessed limited equity financing, hostile debt financing (particularly in view of harsh lending rates which was reported to have hit 30 percent per annum) and weaker effective demand triggered by inadequate and unfriendly mortgage facilities.

We were not insulated from the situation of the sector as we are a key player in the sector. However, we were resolute to deliver on our promise of delivering affordable luxury estate to our target clientele without compromising the quality and standards which our brand is known for across the continent. To this end, we decided to take certain strategic steps which I hope to discuss in the course of this interview.

A major problem for developers like you during the recession was credit drought and hyperinflation that eroded people’s purchasing power. How did you source funding for your projects?

The poor state of the economy, worsened by the recession, posed significant barriers on the availability of finance for the real estate sector. This is because the few lending institutions that could ordinarily provide construction financing to real estate players or mortgages to encourage demand for real estate products could no longer provide such facilities. The cost of finance (especially debt finance) during the recession was alarming so we decided to deploy other innovative and creative means of generating funds outside debt finance.

For you to have sustained your business till now means you are a resilient company and indeed you must have brought innovation and creativity into your operations. How did you do it?

In a bid to navigate the storms in the sector and continue to provide quality products and services to our growing clientele while we remain profitable, we had to deploy creative strategies. These include introduction of certain value added services to our existing superb customer service experience; redesigning our products to smaller units in order to make them more affordable; introducing new products like serviced plots; evaluating ongoing construction works on defaulting clients’ property and renegotiating sales agreement with a view to handing over such properties “as is”; strategic engagements of marketing agents especially by providing incentives to existing clients who make referrals to us; and ultimately introducing a contractor/vendor/supplier-financing (C/V/S-F) system.

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We are particularly fascinated about the C/V/S-F system which you adopted in the RIVTAF Golf Estate. What is this system all about and how did it work for you in the marketing and sales of that estate?

The C/V/S-F system is a system wherein certain aspects of the development and infrastructure within the RIVTAF Golf Estate were financed by the contractors/vendors/suppliers themselves. So, rather than paying the contractors/vendors/suppliers for the services provided to us, we issue them with some properties for the contract sum and at negotiated prices. The contractors/vendors/suppliers in turn sell off these properties or collateralise the properties to finance the contract. This strategy was not limited to new contracts, it was extended to existing contracts that had been partly paid for as well as to contract that had been fully performed but with outstanding debts to the contractors/vendors/suppliers.

As a result of the C/V/S-F system adopted in the RIVTAF Golf Estate, the estate is nearing completion. Work has progressed significantly on our shopping mall and completion is now in view, liabilities have been reduced thereby freeing up funds for other operations and commitments of the company. The C/V/S-F system allowed our company to continue to create value and deliver on the promises made to our esteemed clients while our contractors/vendors/suppliers remained in business and continued to make profit. It is apposite to also note that this system guaranteed sales of our products. This is in view of the fact that properties given to contractors/vendors/suppliers in place of payment for services rendered are deemed as sales on our accounts as they are deemed to have been paid for by the receiving contractors/vendors/suppliers.

The challenge of the C/V/S-F system was a potential parallel market but this was well managed as the structure of the C/V/S-F system already anticipated this challenge and had ready preventive solutions for such potential challenge. Rather, a viable secondary market was created where contractors/vendors/suppliers became strategic players in the secondary market for our products.

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RIVTAF Golf Estate is a project with which you stamped your signature in the Nigerian real estate market. Any plan to replicate that in any other part of Nigeria? Where and when should we expect that to happen?

Yes, we intend to replicate and do even greater projects in Nigeria. TAF Nigeria Homes Limited and its sister companies across the African continent are driven by our vision to build 1million homes in the next 20 years. Nigeria remains one of the biggest economies for such projects. With an estimated population of over 184 million as at December 2017 (World Bank: The World Bank in Nigeria), a conservative estimate of 17 million units of housing deficit as at 2015, an annual population growth rate of 2.8 percent (National Population Commission and National Bureau of Statistics Estimates), the potentials of the real estate sector remains unimaginable. We are optimistic that the sector would recover from the negative results being reported and start experiencing positive growth. The Nigerian real estate sector can!

We want to believe that it has not been a bed of roses for you operating in Nigeria. What have been your major challenges in this country? Do you have any regrets being where you are?

Every business faces certain challenges and indeed a significant chunk of such challenges emanate from governments and regulators in each sector. We have had our share of this and can only ask that government makes increased efforts at improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Another significant challenge is the dearth of infrastructure in the country. The absence of infrastructure such as roads and efficient transport system impacts location and viability of a project. Infrastructure must be given its deserved attention by the government.

What are your projects in terms of growth and expansion in the next four to five years?

We have a couple of projects to deliver in Nigeria but I would not want to put the cart before the horse. We are in advanced level discussions with the governments of some key states in the South-Western and South-South regions of the country and have reached certain Agreements in Principle and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. In due course, these projects would come on stream. It may also interest you to know that we have built a formidable and highly competent team in Nigeria to manage the company’s operations in more than one location as we expand into other states..

CHUKA UROKO

“You Can Enjoy Rental Income without Owning a Property”

Founder of Africa’s Property Investment Group, Mr. Chudi Kalu, in this interview with Mary Ekah, speaks about investing in the real estate business as the surest way to building and securing one’s future, providing insights and latest money-making tips in the property market in Africa, among other issues

How would you describe Nigerians attitude towards investment in real estate?

So far we have realised that people fear that the recession in the nation will stop them from investing in property. But that is not the case because a lot of people are already taking advantage of real estate investment because they know that the way to come out of any form of recession is when they enjoy consistent cash flow. So a lot of people are investing in real estate at this particular time.

That is why we have been holding a lot of seminars and workshops lately aimed at opening the minds of investors to how they can change their financial levels for better by investing in real estate, the opportunities that are available to people and how ordinary individuals can take advantage of the investment opportunities available within the real estate sector without having to break the bank. And I think that for real estate industry to grow in Nigeria and for property business in Nigeria to be activated properly, investors should come in; and we cannot always expect foreigners to invest in real estate in Nigeria, we the local people should take advantage of the opportunities around us.

You have had series of conferences and workshops on real estate lately, what is the driving force behind all these?

We at AFPING are trying to give everyone an opportunity to invest in high quality real estate investment. Presently we have projects in Surulere, Yaba, Ijesha amongst other areas in Lagos and elsewhere. We also have some UK projects that we are pursuing at the moment. Anybody can take advantage of these opportunities and you don’t necessarily have to live in the UK to invest in the UK. To this end, we have been doing a lot of coaching on real estate investment and how people can take advantage of the rental market. We are particularly focused on educating people on how they can enjoy rental income without owing a property of your own.

People keep wondering if this is possible. It is actually very possible if you understand how it works. Now because of the challenge of buying property in certain areas, a lot of people have lost money because of “Omo onile” and they bought property expecting that some of those property will appreciate but after 10 years, they probably do not know where the location of that property is and at the end they would realise that they must have been duped. So it is better to play within a particular market where you can easily take advantage of. Now how do you participate in the Lagos market for example without getting your hands burned? At least we can see the population.

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When I see the Lagos traffic, I get so excited and then some people wonder why I am so. I feel so because as long as there are people within town, rent will continue to go up. And what drives rental income for landlords is the number of people that lives in a particular area. And how do I as an individual participate in that game without actually owning a house is what we have been able to figure out at these seminars and workshops. When you go round that, you see a lot of property that are empty and also property that the landlords do not have the required funds to put them in good shapes because they probably do not have a regular income and yet the property is within a good location.

All one needs to do is to invest in such property and renovate for better rental charges while both the landlord and investor share the profits. So, as an investor, you do not have to buy the property to share in the profits, All you need to do is just to invest some money for its renovation and then in return get huge rental income. That is what we coach people on during the seminars and workshops that we have been holding lately and you don’t have to be an expert in the industry before you can earn rental income but all you need is to have a little fund on ground.

According to statistics, we have 17 million housing deficit in Nigeria and if every household pays a hundred thousand naira from the 17 million housing deficit that we have in this country that will be more than 17 billion naira annually. So I would say that the deficit we are facing in the housing sector is an opportunity and not a curse.

And it is those people who see the opportunity within that market that would take advantage of it. If they say we have about 17 million housing deficit, what it simply means is that you have 17 million families who are ready to pay only for kind of houses they can afford, so that means that if anybody has the houses that fit their needs, they would be willing to pay. So the deficit is an opportunity for only those that see it as a business opportunity and can then thrive on it.

So it is a missed opportunity for me if I do not invest in such market. So real estate is a big market not just for the developers but also for people who can see opportunity in that area and grab it and this can only be achieved when I use my money to do renovations on some of these properties on ground.

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Many people have properties but they are still poor merely because they are not thinking creatively nor taking advantage of the immense problem of housing deficit and then convert that problem to their own advantage; and that is what our seminars and workshops are all about. We are trying to teach people how they can take advantage of the housing problem in Nigeria. Every problem is clothed with opportunity and how you take advantage of that opportunity is what this is all about.

How would the common man who could hardly save the miniature income earn benefit from this?

There is a scheme we have been doing for over four years now, where by certain people can put funds together to own high quality real estate investments. For example, there is a particular project somewhere in Ikeja that requires about N22 million. Now, if I come together with like 10 other people and together we raise N22 million, we all can buy and renovate that particular property and start enjoying cash flow from it. It simply means that 11 of us will share the profit based on the returns we get per year. That is what we are currently offering people right now, taking it to the market place, so that people can take advantage. We have already people buying into the idea and investing in real estate.

This also means that if I want to invest in a property in Lekki, I don’t need to have all the money for the property to invest in it, but it simply gives me an opportunity to invest in high quality real estate investment that may take me so many years of savings to be able to invest. So, we don’t just want to make opportunity for only those who can afford to buy plots of lands to make money, we also want those who have little means to also be able to invest in properties and make money. Why is it that it is easier for plumbers to own houses while a banker remains a tenant for a very long time? This is so because the plumber is thinking in terms of cash flow while the banker is thinking in terms of building and owning and so he waits for so long till he is able to save a huge amount to buy or build a house.

This is information that people in this sector may hardly want to give out so freely. So why and how are you doing this?

I have been using every platform available to me. I have been using the social media a lot to create awareness and I have been crazy about it and I know a lot of people that have taken this raw information and duplicate it for their own benefits and presently are having numerous properties around town.

This is to tell you that this actually works. It is better we cover this nation with success than preventing people from being successful because a lot of people have success but hide the secret of their success from others. The real estate market is too wide for me to hide anything. We have over 17 million people having housing problems in Nigeria; even I alone cannot serve half a million people. The market is too wide so there is no need for competition.

We hold seminars regularly on this. We just concluded one last week called the Rental Income Plan. It is all about helping people to understand how they can do these things on their own. People can be part of this by registering on our website, www.afping.com. We are thinking of holding these conferences at least once in two months, where we gather people in a class to learn. They don’t have to be real estate experts but those who are ready to take the opportunity in the real estate sector.

Husband and wives can also take advantage of this. We also do one-on-one training, leading people by their hand and helping them to explore the real estate market. And if someone says he doesn’t have the time because he has a regular job, then he/she can invest with us and grow with us. And investing in real estate is predictable, tangible and indestructible. That is why I am inviting everybody to do it and you don’t necessarily have to invest with me, you can do it on your own. I started doing this when I didn’t even have full information about the sector but for the fact that I had opportunities. So those whose eyes are opened to opportunities can take advantage of the real estate market.

How do you guarantee security for such investments and is the training free of charge?

Some amount of money is attached to the trainings because we bring in experts to coach these people. And the training one gets involved in also determines the amount one pays. When it is a class, that is a group of people, we give discounts. So the fee ranges from 50,000-750,000 naira depending on which class you want to attend. We also do executive class whereby after the class, you can pick a particular property and we would guide you by the hand, that means that we would follow you to where the property is, secure the property, negotiate the deal with the property owner and then show you by example how we do it.

And talking about security, we have, in the last seven years, been privileged to have sold more than 2,000 plots of lands; so what we do is that the same way we secure people’s property is also the same way we secure people’s investments. So you are not investing into any real estate project that is not insured. We are working with several insurance companies to ensure that people’s investments are secured and that they do not lose their investments in case of negligence on the part of the developers. So that is one of the ways we are guarding against people experiencing loss in their investments.

This Day

‘We’ve Plans For Valuable, Affordable Housing’

Alhaji Umar Abdullahi is the Managing Director of Brains and Hammers Limited, an Abuja-based company that won the Nigeria Customer Service Award for customer service excellence in real estate during the customer service week. In this interview with Senator Iroegbu, he speaks on plans for more affordable housing for Nigerians…

Your company recently won an award for excellence in customer service. What earned you the award?

Brains and Hammers is actually the first company that started a dedicated customer service department in real estate in Abuja and it is based on that the Nigeria Customer Service Award found us worthy of the award. We were nominated alongside other real estate companies and we emerged winner. I think it is a well deserved award considering the fact that we have dedicated enormous resources to develop the customer service department. Every of our customers has an account officer attached to them and is responsible for managing the project, from the foundation stage to completion of the project, after which the facility manager takes over.

I think they came and did their assessment and what they saw based on how we treat our customers and management of the whole relationship bagged us the award. Quality is our watchword here and in terms of selecting our staff, we make sure we hire skilled professionals and foremen. We don’t compromise on standard of materials and skills we use in our projects. We also train our staff locally and internationally, to be the best, both technical and supporting staff. Every year, we send our engineering and project management staff abroad for training, just to make sure that they get the highest skill available.

As the saying goes, ‘reward for hard work is more hard work’, what new projects are you working on?

We started operation in January 2011 and so far, we have executed three projects, Apo 1, Apo 2 and Life Camp. By next year, we should be rounding off all these projects. So far, we’ve built over 600 houses and our plan now is to build 750 houses. We’ve already acquired two hectares of land in the heart of Gwarinpa estate for about 87 units of building. We are also about to acquire another site for our Apo 3 project for about 137 housing units and then, we are in the process of signing an MoU with the African University of Science and Technology (AUST) for 15.5 hectares of land and we plan to build about 500 units. In total, we are talking about 750 houses, that’s our target and we’ve achieved over 600 in five years.

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Unlike, some private entities, corporate social responsibility appears to be an integral part of your company’s business. What informed this?

We believe in adding value wherever we go, we impact any community where we find ourselves positively. Take this Apo site for instance, when we moved in here in 2010, it was all bush but since we moved in, we’ve constructed asphalt access road of 1.7 kilometres, drainages, culverts and street lights and these have impacted on the community by adding value to properties that were already existing and cost of other lands around here as well. Though it is the responsibility of government to fix the road for instance, we decided that we should do it to make them happy.

Affordable housing is a major challenge in the country. What provision do you have for low and middle income earners, considering that they are the worst hit by the gaping housing deficit in the country?

We have plans for affordable housing. We are presently about to seal a deal for acquisition of a 25 hectare land in Abuja where we will have bungalows and one-storey houses that will be in the range of N10 to N15 million.

How affordable would you say your projects are generally?

Pricing depends on location. The price of a property in Apo for instance would be different from the price of one inside Gwarinpa or Life Camp. The price of all property we sold four years ago for instance, have appreciated by about 80 to 100 per cent, so, it is also an avenue for those looking to invest in property because the return on investment is very encouraging. We always ensure that our properties are reasonably priced, to encourage people to buy. Already, some cooperative organisations and corporate bodies are approaching us for construction of their staff housing estates and we are in the process of completing one of such projects in Life Camp.

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Importation of construction materials is still very prevalent in the country. Is your company considering local production in the long term?

Our primary business now is construction; but what we are planning to do is to make some of our existing departments full-fledged subsidiaries.

In what way will your new projects be an improvement on previous models?

Every new project we do is usually an improvement on the last one, particularly in areas such as size of buildings, space between building, and improvement on the design. We improve based on feedback we get from our customers. In our latest project, we want to ensure that there is total improvement from the design, construction, facilities etc, to satisfy our customers. All our estates meet the standard of a mini city in a city, where we have facilities such as recreation parks, markets, water, security, hospitals, club house, sports arena, etc, for the comfort of residents.

Demolition of Ayefele’s N800m house, an economic waste

The Housing Development Advocacy Network, an NGO, has condemned in strong terms the recent demolition of the popular musician, Yinka Ayefele’s N800 million music house, saying it was an economic waste.

Briefing Newsmen on Monday in Abuja, the President of the group, Mr Festus Adebayo described the demolition of the music house of the popular gospel musician as an economic waste and lacked rule of law.

The Oyo State Government on Aug. 19, demolished the Music House which housed Fresh FM, a radio station and music studios that belong to the artiste despite a court injunction restraining it from demolition.

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“How can we grow our institutions if we do not respect the rule of laws, we need strong institutions led by contented patriots, working collaboratively with other institutions to move things forward.

“What has happened in Ibadan is not about Ayefele but it is about right or wrong, it is also about laws and processes.

“When such act occurred and there are no protest and repercussion on the governor, it emboldens potentates at all level of the government.

This induces fears and uncertainty in the socioeconomic development process.

According to the president, no reasonably investor will invest in an environment where the government cannot obey the rule of law.

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He added that it was unfortunate that those who cannot build houses for their citizens were demolishing the houses built by the citizens.

“The Governor Abiola Ajimobi’s action in Ibadan reminded us of  how former FCT minister Sen. Bala Mohammed demolished 500 houses  on independence in FCT in Abuja (Minanuel Estate)  located along Airport road Abuja.”

`Nigeria cannot continue with this kind of economic waste in the country where the housing deficit is above 18 million and where the unemployment is increasing on daily bases.”

He said that it was an empirical fact that the citizen of the country must obey the town planning laws but doubted if the people who were implementing the laws even understood it.

He asked: “Has Yinka Ayefele violated the building code?

Did he just violate those building code, if yes, is it a newly enacted building code or pre-existing building code of Oyo state.”

“Why did the government not obey the court order refraining it from demolishing the building in a normal society, the government cannot arbitrarily contravene the judge order and that is where our fear lies.

“This fear is also a factor used to coarse people to fall in line into sycophancy and loyalty once you show loyalty and fall in line with the party or government your sins which may be many may be forgiving.

He called on the government of Oyo state to learn how to obey the rule of law to attract investment into the state.

“If democracy must thrive, the rule of law must be the order of the day, the governor should join the league of other governors who are investment and housing friendly for the betterment of the youths.”

 

Ella Anokam

Group frowns at EIU Report on Lagos, demands parameter

 

The Housing Development Advocacy Network, an NGO, has frowned at the recent report that rated Lagos State as the third worst city in the world, calling for the parameter.

Briefing newsmen on Monday in Abuja, the President of the group, Mr Festus Adebayo expressed dissatisfaction over the report adding that the report was highly subjective.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) 2018 Global liveability report had recently ranked Lagos, the Nigeria commercial nerve centre, the third worst city to live in worldwide.

Lagos was ranked 138th of the 140 countries ranked by the EIU.

Adebayo called on the international rating organisations, including the World Bank to do more in showcasing transparently the yardstick or the parameter used in the rating.

The housing expert said his group would like to understand the methodology adopted by EIU in gathering its data, in analysing and reaching conclusions.

“We need to know whether the data is opinion based or based on objective measurable parameters, answers to these will help us to know the validity of these ratings which has been demarketing Nigeria in the international communities.

“Respectively, any report that ranks Tripoli a war ravaged city above Lagos that has barely recorded one bomb blast in over 10 years cannot be accepted to be based on a scientific, objective model,’’ he said.

Adebayo called on Nigeria research institutions to begin to publicise data for those in the international community who may need them as  bases of confirmation of events and trends in the country.

“We are being forced to respond to various ratings of Nigeria in the international community in the last few weeks that describe Nigeria as the headquarter of poverty in the world and the recent rating of Lagos as third worst city worldwide

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“We observed that some of these rankings are highly subjective and also based on the residents comments about Nigeria. It’s unfortunate that Nigerians are our own worst enemies when it comes to demarketing.

“In the rating of Lagos as among the worst cities, if Boko Haram attack was among the parameter used in the reports, we doubt if Lagosians will mention Boko Haram as one of their problems.

“We hope in that those who did the rating have not mistaken Lagos as Maiduguri,” he said.

He also noted that the recent activities of Gov.  Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos supposed to have put Lagos out of three worst cities in the world.

According to him, Lagos still remains the economic capital of Nigeria and every effort to demarket the commercial hub of Africa should be discouraged.

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He also commended the Statistician General of Nigeria, Dr Yemi Kale for the good work he has been doing in the area of data provision.

Adebayo urged Nigerian Leaders to rise up and be sincere in their call to duty in making the country a better place.

“It is their lack of performance and insincerity that has been making the country to receive bad ratings every time on every issue.

“Our country deserves uninterrupted water and power supply, efficient refuse collection and efficient road system.

“Nigerian is not as worst as it has been rated,’’ he said.

Ella Anokam

Expert Urges FG to Exercise Strong Political will to address Housing Deficit

A leading housing Development Advocate, Mr Festus Adebayo has appealed to the Federal Government to show commitment and exercise strong political will in ensuring speedy growth in the housing sector in 2018

Adebayo, Managing Director of FESADEB Communications Ltd., convener of the annual Abuja International Housing Show, made the appeal on Wednesday in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Abuja.

“For the betterment of the housing sector in 2018, the Federal Government should show strong commitment by exercising the political will to make the housing sector grow.

The expert frowned at the poor performance of the housing sector under the present administration since its inception, adding that the sector has not done well due to lack of political will.

“The performance of the housing sector since the inception of the APC government has been on the average

“Most of the estate developers in 2017 were not working.

“There was no access for loan from the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) because of the closure of the Estate Development Loan (EDL) due to malpractices of some of the beneficiaries  of the facility.

The EDL is a facility granted to private developers, state housing corporations and housing cooperatives to bridge the housing deficit through mass housing.

He noted that in 2017, there was lack of political will and record of high cost of building materials, which affected development in the sector.

According to him, most of the houses constructed in 2017 were beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerian citizens.

“The civil servants up till now cannot have opportunity of having the houses within their reach.

“The issue of Land Use Act is still a barrier, access to land in the country is still a problem, and there have been cases of multiple allocation of land. All these affected the sector in 2017.

He urged the government to look into the barriers facing  FMBN  and NMRC and ensure that necessary support is  given to the banks.

Adebayo also noted that the Federal Integrated Staff Housing (FISH) Scheme, which was established in 2016, should be given the strength and vigour to assist some civil servants to achieve their homes.

He said the problem with FISH programme has to do with lack of political will on the part of the government otherwise the scheme would have attracted foreign investors who are capable of funding the developers.

Apart from that, “Most of the developers who want to build for FISH programme are crying that they do not have title that they can use to get loan from the banks.

On this note, Adebayo called on the National Assembly to urgently review the Land Use Act to enable developers have access to land for development.

He listed high cost of land and building approvals, high cost of building materials, as well as payment by the developers to various organs of government in state and federal level make houses not affordable.

“Because by the time you pay for the land, pay building approval, pay for expensive building materials and pay for double interest rate loan then the houses must have gone beyond the level of the people government want to build for.

“We also have at the National Assembly the bill that has to do with the regulation of the Real Estate Practice in Nigeria, and it is necessary the assembly gives it an urgent attention.

“The consumers in the housing sector need to be highly protected,’’ the FESADEB Boss said.

Adebayo, however, called on all the stakeholders to synergize for the sake of solving problems confronting them.

‘Nigeria should provide incentives for property developers’

Mr. Femi Adewole is a Nigerian and acting Managing Director of Kenya-based Shelter Afrique. He joined the pan-African finance institution as Director, Business Development and Operations and previously worked as Chief Executive Officer for First World Communities in Lagos. In this interview with Property & Environment Editor, CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM, he explains his plans for the institution and how Nigeria could turn around the housing industry.

Recently, you were confirmed the Managing Director of Kenya-based pan-African finance institution – Shelter Afrique, the second Nigeria to achieve such feat. What are your plans for the organisation, especially now the agency is facing a crisis of confidence, with the loss of over $2.16 million?
I am currently leading the organisation in an acting capacity. The primary goal of the Board and the Management team in the immediate future is to achieve a turn around and strengthening of Shelter Afrique to make it a much more effective financing and advisory partner for our public and private sector partners including 44 African Governments. We aim to achieve this goal by doing three things over the next three years:

We will work with shareholders to inject an additional N50bn equity capital into the Institution. This in addition to debt capital will ensure that Shelter Afrique has the resources to finance new affordable housing and urban infrastructure projects in member countries.

Since you referred to the delated loss on our accounts for last year, I should clarify that this is part of cleaning up the company’s books and increased provisioning for existing bad loans.

The Company continues to enjoy the confidence of its shareholders, and indeed in 2017 alone, shareholders, including the African Development Bank, injected about N16bn additional equity capital in the Company.

We will be restructuring the organisation, amongst other things to strengthen our local presence and visibility in member countries. We want to ensure that we have teams on the ground who understand the local market and are empowered to make decisions without necessarily reverting to Nairobi.

We will be rolling out a new set of very exciting financing products and services. With a rising need for affordable housing across the Continent, Shelter Afrique will be positioned to support our private and public-sector customers with advisory services and financing to deliver large-scale housing and urban infrastructure projects. The new strategy recently approved by the Board will enable us to provide a wide range of services and financing solutions including rental housing, co-operative housing, slum upgrading, site and services and last-mile infrastructure projects.

I will like to recognise the role played by Nigeria through the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola who in his role as Chairman of the last Annual General Meeting of Shareholders oversaw important reforms to the Company’s statutes.

Nigeria is facing a huge housing glut in choice areas within Lagos and Abuja, and vacancy rate has increased to about 70 per cent. What should be done to ensure sustainable recovery from the present economic recession in the real estate sector in Nigeria?
It is reasonable to expect that all sectors of the economy, especially the real estate sector will be affected by the recent challenges to the Nigerian economy. We support the efforts being made by government to return the economy to sustainable growth.

For the real estate economy, particularly the housing sector, there are some important lessons to be learnt. It is unacceptable that we have these kinds of vacancy rates in a market where an overwhelming proportion of the population, especially those with low income, have no access to decent, affordable homes. The key issues we perhaps need to consider include:

Firstly, the use of the planning system and land use allocation to improve housing supply and demand. Currently, the market is oversupplying homes in the market segments with the lowest need whereas market segments with the most needs are increasingly undersupplied. There are interesting examples across Africa where this being successfully done and we can learn from them. Ethiopia and Morrocco have admirable social-housing programmes we can emulate.

The second area of opportunity worth looking at to rebalance the demand and supply of housing is to create improved incentives for developers of housing that are affordable to people on low income.

Finally, I believe that building professionals and their institutes have a significant role to play. Put bluntly the practice of design and construction of housing in most sub-Saharan countries are archaic and inefficient. It needs to change.

Shelter Afrique between 2005 and 2010 committed over N22.51billion on housing initiatives in Nigeria, and new initiatives are ongoing, how much interventions are we expecting in the housing sector, in the coming years in Nigeria?

Shelter Afrique is committed to strengthening our partnership with the private and public sector in Nigeria. While in the medium to long term we expect to see increased financing commitment to projects in Nigeria, on the supply side, one area where we expect to see some interesting and game-changing intervention is working with the Federal and State Governments. We are very keen on working with their housing corporations, various cooperatives and experienced private developers to conceptualise and arrange to finance for large-scale housing projects. It’s time to build big and build fast. This is an area where Shelter Afrique has experience spanning over 35 years, and we believe we can share this with our partners in Nigeria.

The other key area where we expect to intervene shortly is the capital market. Shelter Afrique is has been a leading issuer of bonds on the Nairobi Stock Exchange and the West African Francophone Markets for about 10years. We will draw on that experience to raise local currency capital to support an expanded programme in Nigeria.

Your organisation recently launched 5000 to 5000 Housing Competition to stimulate and reward innovative thinking in Sub-Sahara Africa. What is the aim of the competition? How can this help to attain livable and sustainable low-income housing developments?
We have been very excited about the 5,000 for 5,000 housing competition. We received about 200 entries from a diverse range of people from various parts of the world. The objective of the competition is to stimulate innovative thinking and approaches to designing and building housing which is affordable to people on low income. We were keen on integrated solutions that combined design, construction and financing innovations. The competition is now closed, and we expect to formally announce and introduce the winners within the first quarter of this year.
We hope that we can promote the actual realization of the winning entry on a large scale and in so doing encourage early adoption of the innovation as a possible template for a decent housing which is affordable for people on low income. We will require the involvement of our member countries to achieve this, and so far, we have received positive feedback.

Shelter Afrique is into direct equity participations in financial institutions catalyse the development of the mortgage market across Africa through the provision of long-term funding. What impact has such joint venture investments made in Nigeria to enable the provision of affordable housing on a mass scale?
Yes, Shelter Afrique has an equity stake in a number primary and secondary mortgage institutions across Africa. We do not currently have this kind of relationship in Nigeria but remain open to the right opportunities. However, we currently have exposure of about N7billion in long/medium term Lines of Credit to various Financial Institutions in Nigeria. The objective of these lines is to provide capital for on-lending as mortgages to homebuyers.

Currently, the recession is ravaging Nigeria’s economy and triggered high cost of building materials. Do your organisation support developers and financial institutions involved in the construction sector in the procurement cycle of building materials and equipment? How?
We are currently able to offer a Trade Finance Facility to qualifying developers and financial institutions. This provides capital for the bulk importation of building materials. However, our longer-term objective is to work with partners to facilitate local production of building materials.

Shelter Afrique has approved financing worth over USD1billion for new housing projects across Africa in the next five years. What is coming to Nigeria under this scheme, and who are the target group and beneficiaries?
It is difficult to speculate about the level of financing for new projects in Nigeria. However, Nigeria is a major market for Shelter Afrique, and I believe that subject to usual concentration risk issues, a significant amount of any capital we have will be deployed in Nigeria. The key thing is having good quality projects, which meet our risk criteria.

About the target group and beneficiaries, we are quite clear and focused. In line with the aspiration of our shareholders, we will be focusing almost exclusively on housing which is affordable to people on low-medium income. That will mean homes that are affordable for teachers, junior police and members of the armed forces, young families, and civil servants.

Shelter Afrique is one of the promoters of Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC) Plc, and its activities mark a wholesale shift in mortgage funding from depository savings, towards long-term sources of funds derivable from the capital market. Is Shelter Afrique satisfied with the milestone achieved so far, the organisation? What is your expectation from NMRC?
We believe without an iota of doubt that the NMRC has a significant role to play in the development of the housing finance market in Nigeria. We are also immensely proud of the achievement of the team at NMRC to date. It has issued bonds on the market and is leading discussions on the changes that need to happen in the sector. It is a long road, and the Company requires every support it can get to deliver on its Mandate. It can be assured of support from Shelter Afrique.

The man behind Dubai’s affordable Housing boom

onstruction and real estate billionaire,  Rizwan Sajan details his journey to the top and where he plans to take Danube Group next (Culled from Gulf Business)

QUESTION: Your story is often described as being ‘from rags to riches’, having started over in Dubai with nothing. Did you ever imagine you would be where you are today?

ANSWER: I moved to Dubai post the Gulf War, in an attempt to reinvent myself and regain all that I had lost in Kuwait. At that moment, investing the money I had wisely, setting up a business and making it profitable was the priority. I was quite sure I would succeed because of my business acumen, the products I was selling and the market conditions, but I definitely did not expect to reach such heights. God has been very kind to me, bringing the right opportunities at the right time that have resulted in all that I have achieved to date.

QUESTION: You have been one of the leading players in the trend of affordable housing in Dubai, are the days of luxury properties numbered?

ANSWER: At present, more developers are leaning towards affordable housing because it offers good returns and there are a large number of buyers in the market that are looking to buy affordable homes. Being the pioneers in affordable housing, we have seen overwhelming demand, which has led us to believe that the demand for affordable homes will continue to increase in the future. The luxury segment definitely does have its own market since Dubai is being inhabited by so many nationalities, but I am sure affordable housing is the future.

QUESTION: Much of Danube’s recent property marketing has focussed on Bollywood stars, has this produced the results you expected and are there plans to change the strategy?

ANSWER: In the gamut of advertising it is quite difficult to measure results, but having a familiar face such as a celebrity does help to build a connect with the audience and in turn draw eyeballs to our campaigns.

QUESTION: In May last year Danube announced plans to launch three to four housing projects annually, do you plan to stick to this goal and could you exceed it?

ANSWER: We try not to be over ambitious when we launch our projects and ensure that we sell one project before we launch another. Moreover, we don’t have a land bank, and have to constantly source new pieces of land to build on. At present, looking at the interest we have garnered through our nine projects, we will continue to stick to our current goal of launching three to four projects a year.

QUESTION: Given the recent downturn in the market, do you believe Dubai continues to be an attractive location for real estate investors?

ANSWER: Dubai has established itself as the centre of the world and connects the west with the east. The recent downturn might have affected the market sentiment but I believe this a temporary phase and every market needs to undergo a correction. In my opinion, Dubai still offers the greatest growth opportunity for many investors and will definitely offer good value in investing in real estate at the lowest price amongst other developed nations.

QUESTION: How have current market conditions affected your development plans and have you been forced to hold back any projects?

ANSWER: Since the inception of Danube Properties in 2014, we have received very good responses and have sold out eight projects and have currently sold 50 per cent of our latest project, Bayz. All our projects are under construction and are progressing ahead of schedule. By the end of this year, we plan on handing over four projects, which are Dreamz, Glitz 1, Glitz 2 and Glitz 3. Dreamz is on the verge of completion and we will commence handovers by next month [July].

QUESTION: Do you have any intention to develop properties outside of Dubai in the wider UAE and Gulf region?

ANSWER: At present, we do not have plans to develop properties outside of Dubai but we are definitely evaluating options to expand our presence.

QUESTION: What are your expectations for this year in terms of your company’s and the wider real estate market’s performance?

ANSWER: The outlook for the rest of the year is looking good and we are expecting to perform reasonably well. Since the last quarter of 2016 business has picked up, especially in the real estate sector. As part of the company’s operations in 2017, we launched two properties valued at Dhs750m ($204m), opened a new Danube Home Store in Oman and a 10,000 square foot business to business facility in Ajman. We intend on launching two more projects this year and the handover of our first four projects.

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