With over a decade of experience in the real estate industry, Segun Abolaji, managing director of Leisure Court Estates, has advised the federal government to regulate the sector to make housing affordable for Nigerians.
In an interview with TheCable’s SAMAD UTHMAN in Abuja, Abolaji said the government has a lot to do in terms of land access for the industry and a working mortgage system for the masses.
TheCable: How did your background influence your career
Abolaji: I am from Osun state, Ikirun to be precise, Although I was born in Lagos. I grew up in Lagos, my life. Growing up in Lagos taught me a lot of things, including challenges.
I didn’t grow up in a wealthy background. I came from a very humble background. And that has always been a guide in my life. I do tell people, just like Nasir El-Rufai in his book ‘Accidental civil servant’.
Coming out from secondary school with very good grades, one of the best in school and then at the end of the day, you find yourself in a very tight corner writing JAMB here and there. At the end of the day, it didn’t scale through. Someone told me, “why not think of this Building Technology course instead of doing Electrical and Electronics Engineering, we don’t even know what those courses entail”.
That’s why I always tell people that mentorship is very important in education. I know that the same thing applies to the business world, where some people jump into a business without knowing about it and the challenges therein.
The course — Building Technology — formed the basis of my career and business from that time, and I’ve never regretted it.
TheCable: How did Leisure Court start?
Abolaji: Leisure Court started after my university education. It started as a result of moving from an agent on the street of Abuja to a professional builder.
As a professional, I infused my knowledge in building construction into the property market and that gave birth to the real estate company.
Talking about Leisure Court itself is a whole different story. From getting an appropriate name for the business, talking to my lawyer and visiting the website of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Leisure Court gives a better description and understanding of pleasure and an estate or group of houses where one can come and relax after a stressful working day.
TheCable: What are the challenges facing the real estate sector in Nigeria?
Abolaji: When you’re talking about business environments in Nigeria, we all know what is obtainable. There is no enabling environment for businesses in Nigeria.
Land disputes formed an integral part of our challenges in the real estate sector. If land issues are solved, you have solved virtually 50 to 60 percent of the real estate problem in Nigeria. Most often, the issues in real estate are basically due to enabling government regulations or provisions.
Most real estate companies buy properties from third parties, which involves extra costs. It is also difficult to get loans from the banking sector to grow your business. We cannot do it all alone, we hope government come to our aid and make things easier and better for us in the sector.
TheCable: How do you think government can come in?
Abolaji: As I said earlier, one of the four things is to provide land. The government has done this in the past, but it got into the wrong hands due to corruption and inadequacies.
It doesn’t even get into the hands of developers at the end of the day. And then the developers will have to buy from those appointed homeowners, and then the costs increase. If the government can allocate land to the developers, not politicians, not cronies or families, it would be a lot easier and then give us an enabling environment.
The mortgage bank should function better to provide mortgage loans. It is effective in every other part of the world.
Sometimes we have to take advocacy to some of these civil servants to tell them that they contribute to the National Housing Fund and that the money is there. You know it’s your right to apply for it, and most employees will retire without knowing they’re supposed to benefit.
So we should make it easier. In Nigeria, it looks like the only people that can assess mortgage loans are civil servants, but it should be everybody, every citizen. And if adequate support is given to the developers, it will be a lot easier.
TheCable: What was your share of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Abolaji: The pandemic dealt with everybody, and the real estate sector was one of the worst hit. How do you talk to someone to buy a land or a house when they are struggling to eat or have health concerns?
The sector is gradually picking up. Apart from COVID-19, the country also fell into recession, and we have an economic crisis. So all these are factors affecting the sector.
For us, we do more affordable housing, the kind of housing that goes around and touches ordinary people in society. The affordability of our properties made us cope with some of the economic challenges.
TheCable: Apart from federal mortgages, what is the real sector doing to increase home ownership in Nigeria?
Abolaji: As I said earlier, we’re more into affordable housing. Although affordability is relative but when you’re talking about price, we have landed properties that you can get for even as low as a million naira or even less. We presently have offices in Abuja, Lagos, Osogbo, Akure and some other offices coming up.
In Osogbo, we have land for as low as a million and even less than a million in places. These properties are located in places where people will ordinarily think they would be about 5 million. We have acquired some other properties as low as 400000 where people can easily contribute and pay in instalments.
We also have flexible payment plans within which you can pay. We have some that are six months payment plans, one-year payment, 18-month payment plans and so on. That’s affordability and our ways of helping the government to allow more people to become homeowners.
Yes, we have a total of about over 10 estates in Abuja. We have in Idu, Apo, about five different estates on Airport road and virtually all of them are affordable.
TheCable: So in the next five years, or less, what is the target of the company?
Abolaji: The company’s target is to provide more housing solutions for the Nigerian populace. We are proud to ensure that a lot of people have been taken from the status of being a tenant to landlords. So our target is to build over 10,000 houses — presently, we have achieved about 3,000 in eight years of doing this business.
TheCable: If you have the power to change something about the real estate sector. What would that be?
Abolaji: Well, if I have the power to change anything, I think regulation. The real estate industry is not adequately regulated.
I will say the government should put proper checks on the activities of real estate companies — in terms of quality, better administration and value for money.