More Nigerians now engaged in construction sites than foreigners – Fashola

The Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, has disclosed that over 50,000 Nigerians are now engaged in 77 works and 50 housing construction sites across the country, while only 277 foreigners are working in the sites. According to Fashola, the figures are contained in the “Inception Report” the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing recently commissioned to “ascertain the number of foreigners employed on those sites and whether they have work permits for the work they are undertaking”.

Fashola disclosed this on Thursday in a speech titled: “Solid Infrastructural Backbone – A Catalyst for National and Sustainable Development,” which he delivered at Sheraton Hotels, Lagos during the 2018 Nigerian Infrastructure Development Awards Night and the unveiling of  Nigerian Infrastructure Development Magazine.
Fashola, who won the NIDA 2018 “Icon of National Infrastructure Development” Award, was represented at the occasion by Engr. Funsho Adebiyi, Director of Highways, South West.
“The Ministry has now commissioned a more detailed audit of all sites and we await the results and findings,” he stated.
The Minister explained that “while Government welcomes foreigners and investors, we expect that like in all law abiding countries, foreigners can only work after obtaining work permit.”
He explained further that while Nigeria took loans from overseas to execute some projects, “we did not sign away the rights of Nigerians to benefits from such projects”.
The Chairman of the occasion, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, who commended the organizers of NIDA Awards, said in his speech that infrastructure development of Nigeria is very critical and an issue that should be of concern to all.
Durojaiye said: “No nation develops above the level of infrastructural resources available to her.”
He also called for vibrant private and public sector players to partner in driving infrastructural revolution in order to fast track development on the country.
He said: We need more public budget investments, foreign capital and creative funding avenues to achieve this goal speedily as we cannot afford to be observers.
“As an emerging economy with growing population, we have to take the need to improve on our various infrastructure very seriously.”
In his welcome remarks, the Chairman of NIDA and Managing Director of Prospers Strategy Limited, Lanre Alabi, said the issue of infrastructure is very vital to national development as the state of infrastructure is a key determinant to gauge the health of nation.
Alabi explained: “NIDA was established to honour corporate organisations, government agencies and individuals who have made huge and outstanding impact in the Nigerian infrastructural development sector over the years.”
He added that with the debut of the first Nigerian Infrastructural Development focused magazine, a public platform to raise the bar on infrastructural awareness has been created.
He said: “The publication offers a credible avenue for both the public and private sector players to share ideas and to imbibe best practices that have helped other economies on infrastructure development.”

Carbon emissions level from buildings skyrockets – UN

Heat-trapping emissions from buildings and construction appear to have peaked at a global level, the United Nations said on Friday, December 7, 2018.

This is a trend that could encourage countries to take up the issue more aggressively as a way of curbing climate change.

Greenhouse gas emissions have been attributed to buildings levelled off over 2015-2017.

However, they still represent about a third of the global emissions that cause climate change, a report by UN Environment and its partners said.

The finding is a rare bright spot amid a spate of warnings that not enough is being done to stop the planet heating up.

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Global carbon emissions are set to rise nearly three per cent this year due to continued fossil fuel use, scientists said this week.

The statement dashes hope that an increase in 2017 was temporary after two years of slowdown.

The UN Environment report called for more pledges to make building construction greener, in national climate action plans submitted for the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb climate change.

“It’s a very complex field, but one that’s absolutely critical,” Nick Nuttall, a UN Environment spokesman told reporters on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Poland.

Delegates from more than 190 nations’ party to the Paris Agreement are gathered in the Polish city of Katowice to meet an end-of-year deadline to agree rules on how to enforce the pact.

The “rule book”, as it is known, is expected to include details about how countries will report and monitor curbs on greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen their national plans.

A positive outcome at the negotiations could encourage governments to double down on promises to cut emissions from the construction industry, said Nuttall.

“That might increase the enthusiasm of nations to revise their (action plans),” he said.

“If they’re revised upwards to include the building and construction sector, then what happens here will have a very strong impact on the sector being able to move forward faster.”

To encourage energy-efficient buildings, the national plans could push for better insulation and windows by aspiring to revamp building codes and set up energy certification schemes.

They could also plan to lower emissions from common building materials like cement and steel whose manufacturing generates large amounts of carbon, the report said.

Even if such rules require consumers to open their wallets to retrofit a home, for example.

It is unlikely to cause the kind of public anger seen recently in France over fuel taxes, said Jennifer Layke, global director for energy with the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

Higher fuel taxes proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron to fight climate change have stoked violent protests in the European nation, forcing the government to shelve the plan this week.

“If you told everyone they had to spend 1,000 dollars next month to renovate their home, you would see a backlash,” said Layke.

But most countries had “proven strategies” to help consumers shoulder the costs, such as financing or rebates, she said.

In June, the European Union gave its member states 20 months to put into law a goal to dramatically increase the energy efficiency of buildings by 2050.

Source: EnviroNews

UK calls for modern techniques to deliver £600bn infrastructure pipeline

The UK government has increased pressure on the construction industry to modernise with digital design and prefabrication, saying it wants the techniques used to deliver £600bn worth of infrastructure over the next decade.

Announcing its annual “pipeline” of planned work, the Treasury said construction’s productivity was still too weak, and that a school could be built in a few months rather than a year if components were standardised and built in factories.

Ministers used the announcement today to call for evidence from industry on using standardised “platforms” for building new transport and social infrastructure like schools, social housing and prisons.

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The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Robert Jenrick said that “as the pace of technological change accelerates, we are stepping up our commitment to digital infrastructure, use of data to drive greater productivity and embrace new methods of construction”.

He added: “With £600bn of investment over the next decade, including the largest ever investment in our strategic road network, we are taking the long term action required to raise productivity and ensure the economy is fit for the future.”

The government said digitally-designed components should be used “wherever possible” on government construction jobs.

“A single component could be used as part of a school, hospital, prison building or train station,” the government said. “Using a common platform approach will ensure we achieve efficiencies of scale and government can leverage its buying power to create a critical mass to accelerate change and innovation in the industry.”

Government will not define the components; rather it wants the initiative to be led by industry, “whose responsibility it is to innovate and provide best value solutions”.

Politicians have long called for offsite technology to be used in public sector projects, but the emphasis on standardised components is new.

It follows the Greater London Authority commissioning “Modernise or Die” author Mark Farmer and architects Bryden Wood to develop a “Manufactured Housing Design Code” in April this year, for social housing.

They hope such a code would include a catalogue of standardised building components for architects to specify, creating demand that future manufacturers could meet.

The government said its platforms proposal would be backed by research to design and test the components, and develop standards.

“Despite significant contributions to the UK economy, the construction sector’s productivity is weak compared to other sectors like manufacturing,” the government said. “Applying modern manufacturing approaches to building projects can boost productivity and reduce waste by as much as 90 per cent.”

The technique has been used already in road projects, including the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon highway improvement scheme, where two, 1,000-tonne bridges were fabricated beside the road and wheeled into place in September this year (pictured).

“Government is the largest client for infrastructure projects so has an important role in using its purchasing power to drive improved productivity in their delivery,” said chief executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Tony Meggs.

Mark Reynolds, chief executive of top 10 UK contractor, Mace, welcomed the government’s emphasis.

“Modern Methods of Construction are key to dramatically increasing our industry’s productivity, quality and safety challenges. It is encouraging that the Government recognises the benefits of MMC and is committed to its adoption through public procurement,” he said.

“It makes sense for the Government to reward the companies who are willing to take the lead. Transformation and innovation will not happen without significant investment in research and development, which is why government and industry must work together the realise the benefits this announcement provides; alongside the Sector Deal.”

SOURCE:constructionreview

Housing deficit worsens as Nigeria’s population hits 197.4m

Nigeria’s population has continued to grow at an incredible rate over the years. But for some experts, the increase is not commensurate with the shelter needs of the people. Recently, United Nations estimated Nigeria’s population at 197,430,516 million people,that was as of October 29, 2018. 

Some experts have, however, argued that the population being brandished is equivalent to 2.57 per cent of the world population, making the country rank seventh in the list of countries (and dependencies) by population.

Analytically, the population density of the country is 215 per km2 meaning 557 people per m2. This population is resting on a total land area of 910,770km2 (351,650sq miles). Out of the population above, 51 per cent is urban representing about 99,967,871 people as at August,  2018. In all, the median age in the country is 17.9 years.

Although, Nigeria’s population is surging, the housing deficits remain a challenge. The way to control population explosion could be very difficult and in majority of cases unattainable, but that is not the same with the control of housing deficits.

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The government of the day can stand up one morning and decides the way to stop housing deficits in the country.

It is just a matter of directing the Federal Ministry of Housing to develop a 1000 housing blocks of six flats each in every senatorial zones of each state.

It does also not stop at developing the blocks, the government can as well lease it out to the poor masses especially the low income earners who pay their taxes as a reward for being law abiding citizen.

If this is done, the government would have used one stone to kill two birds. First, the poor in the society would have gained the dividend of democracy thereby casting the administration’s name on marble for posterity to reward.

Second, there will be an attraction for those who are not paying their taxes to cue in and do the same.

A major advantage is that there will be a drastic reduction of housing deficits. Another side attraction is that the houses will be built with government specifications while government no-go areas spelt in the official government gazette will be avoided.

A fortnight ago, the Federal Government declared that it was working hard to come out with a policy that would limit the number of children that a mother could have in Nigeria.

This is because government could not manage the resources endowed the territory despite the avalanche of arable land available including human and natural resources at its beck and call. For not being able to explore and use all these available gifts of providence, shows the lack luster performance of government to the perils of its citizens.

Although, the government stated that traditional rulers and other leaders across the country were being engaged as regards this. It also added that the move was aimed at addressing one of the “great challenges” in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of the Federal Government.

This could be regarded as poor man’s apology because one cannot be giving excuses of can’t help when he has every tool for the project at his beck and call.

The use of traditional rulers and or any other institution as suggested by the Minister cannot stop people from procreating otherwise, the government will indirectly be authorizing the traditional rulers to re- invent the primordial and primitive system of killing twins and other human kinds.

This, inevitably will attract the wrath of God who abhors shedding of blood no matter for any circumstances.
Even as the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, who disclosed this while responding to questions during a session at the 24th Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja, noted that the country’s population had been identified as one of the great challenges confronting the successful implementation of the ERGP, she is not aware that if one cannot manage what he has, if you give him another assignment, he will as well, not be able to manage it.

This is because it is the same brain that thinks out solutions to a particular problem that will be deployed to tackle another set  or sect of problems. So the summary of it all is that if you cannot walk well, you cannot run well.

So if you reduce Nigeria’s population by 30 per cent you will find out that the looters will have enough to loot and the scarcity remains.

Nigeria is not complaining of lack of resources, what the make up of the country is complaining about is acute poor management of the bountiful resources that cannot be seen elsewhere in the world. So, government should stop crying wolf when there is none.

The saying that one who fails to plan, plans to fail is very cardinal in this parlance because a situation where an individual has stored treasures for his fifth filial generation whereas a greater percentage of the population can barely eat twice daily, is a failure of government.

This should be redressed by strategic planning  by government or else, if government allows the up coming youths who feel that their future is threatened is allowed to take their own form of strategy, the guess of the public will be as good as that of this author. A stitch in time, they say saves nine.

There is therefore, no need to engage the traditional rulers and other leaders because that cannot be how to address the problem.

Growth in population is a constant variable so it is needless engaging those institutions because their actions will be counterproductive.

China’s population can triple Nigeria’s population yet Nigeria has been nicknamed the world headquarters of poverty.

This is despite the fact that four Nigerians fall within the first fifty richest individuals in the world aside those whose wealth have not been aggregated to know their worth.

It is even against the law of God to limit the number of children that a mother can have just for the purpose of sustaining Nigeria’s economic growth.

To be on the safe side, you pray for a reduction of population when it is not economically useful, but how do you find if somebody knows how to play ball if you have not given him ball to play?

Recently, the Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano signed an agreement with Aldove Limited for the construction of 300 Housing Units worth $30 million dollars.

He said housing was an enabler in his administrative blue print and so every effort will be geared to make accommodation available to workers in the state.

 

He noted that the sector had received quality attention, attracting investments of about one billion dollars within two years of his administration.

The Nigerian real estate sector is growing fast and is now the sixth largest sector in the world economy. Yet, Nigeria still has a low homeownership rate of 25 percent, lower than that of Indonesia (84 percent), Kenya (73 percent), and South Africa (56 percent).

Home purchase and rent prices have grown ahead of general inflation, a standard three bedroom middle income apartment currently commands a rent of N300,000 per annum and a purchase price of N10 million.

The major issues that continue to affect housing in Nigeria include inadequate access to finance, slow administrative procedures, the high cost of land registration, and titling.

Source:  Maduka Nweke

Seven Things to Consider Before Buying a House

For most people it’s a dream come true to own your own home, so when it comes to buying a house, there are usually months packed with excitement, stress, planning and then finally you make the purchase. Here are five things to consider when buying a house.

Town Planning

Before you buy a house,it is important to get first hand information on the town planning of your prospective neighbourhood. Town Planning involves both control of existing and new development, and “strategic planning” to ensure our resources are carefully managed to match our future needs and expectations.

 Certificate of Occupancy

A Certificate of Occupancy, also known as the C of O is a document issued by state governments in Nigeria to landowners and property buyers as a legitimate proof of ownership. This document also spells out what the land can be used for; residential, commercial or mixed development.

The government is constitutionally mandated to issue the Certificate of Occupancy because all lands in the state are vested in the Governor of the State. This is clearly spelt out in the Land Use Act 1978.

A parcel of land or property without a Certificate of Occupancy is as good as owning a vehicle without a logbook. This is not the kind of situation you want to find yourself when buying a house in Nigeria.

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Do a Home Inspection

Before you buy a house, it’s important to do a home inspection, and most importantly enlist a professional to ensure the foundation is solid and the wiring is up to code. An Eagle eye professional can even check for lead paint and wood eating pests.

Every house has a defect, some will be obvious to you and most are fixable, but its best to know before you buy. Not only will that help you negotiate a lower price, but it can also prepare you for any necessary repair costs that may arise.

Consider the Environment

Examine the area around it, find out if the area is prone to flooding, check out the drainages, the state of the roads, and the waste disposal system. It’s a lot to consider, but when buying a house, you can’t ignore its surroundings.

Don’t be Carried Away with the Painting

When you step inside your prospective abode, focus on the structural stuff—appliances, wires, ceilings, sizes of the rooms, kitchen and the living room. Don’t judge a house by its paint job

 Check the Roof

Before you buy a house, inspect the roof, check out if it’s made of quality materials that are better equipped to defend against wind and hail.

Check the Details

Buying a house is a big step-maybe one of the biggest, so it’s important to know how it works first hand. Turn on the light switch, open every window and door, flush the toilets, even taste the water. That way you can address problem areas and see if there’s a cost effective solution.

Now that you have considered these things, you can finally make your purchase and live your dream.

Source: Affa Dickson Acho

MGCs: CBN pegs N6bn as minimum capital at N6bn

THE Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has said that companies seeking licenses as Mortgage Guarantee Companies (MGCs), shall maintain a N6 billion minimum capital in addition to N100,000 non-refundable application; non-refundable licensing fee of N1 million; and N50,000 change of name fee.

The CBN’s Director, Financial Policy and Regulation Department, Kevin Amugo, who revealed this recently said the exercise is meant to deepen the mortgage market in a bid to promote affordable financing, while ensuring a safe and sound financial system. The country’s apex bank while unveiling this said, it is an exposure draft to regulate the operations of MGCs as part of efforts to promote mortgage financing and advance home ownership in the country.

According to him, “Permissible activities of MGCs include: Full or partial guaranteeing of residential mortgage loans, investing in government securities, among others, in addition to assuming ownership of residential property in the event that a lender is unable to dispose of a foreclosed property”.

“If proposal is approved, MGCs can also issue bonds and notes to fund their operation; provide technical assistance to lenders on credit and business development related activities to increase pool of development expertise; in addition to other activities as may be prescribed by the CBN from time to time. MGCs are allowed to invest in government securities, deposits with licensed banks, deposits held at the CBN; and other investment specifically allowed by the apex bank.

“They are however not allowed to take any type of deposits; grant loans, whether consumer, commercial or mortgage; or originate primary mortgages. They are also not permitted to finance real estate construction, estate agency or facilities management, project management relating to real estate development, or management of pension funds/schemes. They are also forbidden from transactions such as foreign exchange, commodity, financial derivatives (except hedging instruments), or equity trading; as well as other activity not expressly permitted by the CBN, “he said.

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Amugo noted that as part of good corporate governance practice, MGCs shall have a board comprising between seven and 11 members, with the number of non-executive members exceeding executive directors, including one independent director.

“The executive directors shall hold office for a five-year term (10 years), which may be renewed only once; while non-executives are limited to three terms of four year each (total of 12 year). An executive director who has served the maximum 10 years, may be appointed Managing Director, who shall serve two terms of five years each.

“No executive director is however allowed to transmute to non-executive director until after three years period. The CBN also proposed that an MGC cannot “declare or pay dividends out that will result in the capital adequacy ratio falling below 100 percent, “he concluded.

Source: Maduka Nweke

Property buyers shun off-plan sales amid sharp practices

 

Many prospective property investors are becoming wary with the gale of promotions for off-plan sales characterised by incentives for buyers of new homes.

The concept has gone more radical recently, with the private developers offering mouth-watering discounts, installmental payments and dangling other attractions to buyers. The traditional marketing ploys include the use of glossy and beautiful brochures and advertising to woo buyers.

But the concept of buying off-plan has been fraught with sharp practices. In some cases, the advertised properties or infrastructure are not delivered.

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The most common aspects are site and services schemes dotted in every part of the country. They feature beautiful gates and fences, as it is an appealing option for buyers/investors due to lower prices.

In some cases, the developers never add any infrastructure to the schemes five or eight years after conclusion of sales and promises.

The process also allows purchasers to place a deposit and secure the property while construction takes place. Amid construction process, there is the possibility or otherwise for the value of the investment, particularly in sought after and upcoming areas, to grow substantially.

Investigation revealed that less than 20 per cent of buyers patronise off-plan property sales which used to be popular in Lagos and Abuja, Ogun State, Port Harcourt in Rivers State and Ibadan in Oyo State among others.

The trend in the market now is for people to pay for what they could see and feel rather than the beautiful pictures with which many of the off-plan sales come with. Some also rely on reputable and trusted developers for off-plan properties.

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According to industry experts, investing in the property market off-plan, comes with risks that do not occur when purchasing completed property. The Chairman, Real Estate Consulting, a division of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Mr. Niyi Fudoju told The Guardian, that experiences of people which often are not palatable, have triggered loss of confidence on the off-plan concept in Nigeria.

He stated, “When people buy houses, they have reasons and if they buy off-plan and the properties are not delivered at the expected time, they get frustrated.”

Fadoju emphasized that issue of trustworthiness on the part of the property sellers play a key role because the property market has been infiltrated by huge numbers of people who comes in, to swindle unsuspecting members of the public other engaging in honest business.
“Only developers that have clean track record in places like Lagos and Abuja don’t have problem with off-plan sales. Immediately they give the subscription form, people start paying them because they are trusted. The buyers are cock sure they would complete on time and also deliver good housing development that satisfy the taste of buyers”.

According to him, the economic factor especially fluctuations in building materials prices as well as the exchange rate served as a factor why buyers don’t get the quality, which they expect, in off-plan sales.

The NIESV Chairman, Rivers State, Elliot Orupabo confirmed that many people have been swindled in the name of off-plan sale in Port Harcourt. “What we are experiencing in Port Harcourt is that some developers would come and make a lot of noise and promises than even those who are in the practice of estate surveying and valuation cannot fulfill.

“They will call names of estates for people to go and buy, tell them to deposit N6, 000 and the land is yours, people will subscribe and before you know it, the developer would abscond with the money. The fraudulent approach to it has made many people not to be comfortable with it”, he said.

He noted that instances of such transaction abound in the state where people have spent huge fund over 15 years on off-plan property, yet the properties won’t be delivered to them.

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For NIESV chairman, Ogun State Chapter, Mr. Salimon Alao Shobanke, the system is full of fraudulent practices by some property developers that collect deposits from people, take them inside the bush especially locations where there are no basic infrastructures and promising what could not be delivered.

“Many people in Ogun state have been cheated by those parading themselves as off-plan property developers.

“Prospective off-plan buyers must work with the principle of Caveat emptor in their quest for any property that is off-plan based. If the firm doesn’t have a registered office location or success story to tell, people must avoid transaction with them”, he stated.

Victor Gbonegun

Investors now delight in Abuja outskirts

 

Buoyed by the high cost of rentals in Abuja, the Federal Capital territory, which has slowed down returns, investors in the real estate sector have shifted their focuses to the outskirts for ease of sales and returns.

The outskirts has thus become a new mecca for developers resulting to new developments in these areas with no fewer than fourteen locations identified as the most fast developing areas.

The areas so identified by players are: Karu, Kuje, Old Nyanya, Kubwa, Gwagwalada, Lugbe, Lokogoma, Kiyami, Kasanna, Wumba, Duboyi, Waru,Apo/Dutse District.

The Guardian investigations revealed that these locations have become a construction hub as property developers, and estate surveyors and valuers are seen at sites constructing mass housing units.

Although, these areas, are noted for huge traffic in the morning period and close of work in the evening, they however have some positives as they boost of cluster of social, educational, commercial and public institutions springing up daily.

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Before now it takes about 15 to 20 minutes drive from these districts to these areas but the shift has resulted to heavy traffic build ups in the morning and evening.

Explaining the shift, Site Supervisor of Abuja Property Development Company (APDC), Suleiman Saidu, the outskirts are particularly attractive to servants cannot afford rental fees in Abuja city, hence their preference to the suburbs.

He explained that a one bedroom apartment rent goes between N300, 000 and N350, 000; N650, 000 to N700, 000 for two bedroom bungalow, while 3 bedroom apartment goes for N800, 000 to N950, 000 per annum.

“So, APDC is constructing 1,000 housing units in Dei-Dei axis, a suburb of the capital city.

Managing Director, Queenville Real Estate Group, Princess Eno Essien affirmed the existence of massive housing estates in Orozo,Jikwuyi,Karishi axis.

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She added that standard properties are being developed in the outskirts of Abuja, and their prices are affordable for low-income earners, adding that workers are making use of it.

According to her, government approved Zero equity contribution for housing loans below N5 million, stressing that as citizens, we are entitled to housing loan to get houses.

An estate surveyor and Valuer, Eric Okafor, argued that public servants who have access to bank mortgage facility have resorted to new districts for the purchase of houses.

He also added that those who ordinarily wouldn’t want to leave the city centre, would be left with no option than to relocate to the new area where cost of living is cheap.

Okafor maintained that houses are really on the increase, and rents are low as well as outright purchase of the properties in suburb adding, prospective buyer have choices to make there.

He argued, some public servants who access to mortgage facility resort to the new areas to build houses, adding, those who wouldn’t want to leave the city centre, now left with no option than to relocate to the new districts.

‘There are no road networks in the districts as per the massive housing estates.

The FCDA can only provide roads leading the entrance of the place, while developers or, allottees have to do the remaining road network in their domain.”

However, a prospective tenant must have to cough out N500,000 for one bedroom; N700,000 for two bedroom M1 million for three bedroom, while 4bedroom duplex goes for N1.5million per annum.

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Ferdinard Enyi is a House Agent, said in Wumba for example, price tag for one bedroom is N450, 000; two bedroom N600, 000; three bedroom N800, 000.

“Similarly, in Kiyami one bedroom goes for N400, 000; two bedroom N550, 000,and three Bedrooms is up to N650,000 per annum.”

However, buying houses in the districts vary in amount depending on the bargaining power of the buyers and property owners. At time, there are cases of ‘special purchase’

In Lokogoma district, for example, one bedroom sells for N8million; two bedroom flat cost N15million; three bedroom is N22million and four bedroom duplex goes for N30 million.

These prices depend on whether one buys from the allocating authority or from the third party.

Cornelius Essen

“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’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.

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