Dr. Innocent Meckson Okoro, popularly called MI Okoro is the Principal Partner of MI Okoro and Associates and the current Captain, of Ikoyi Gulf Club. MI Okoro is one of the front-liners who belong to many professional bodies of the Nigerian business world . He treads on areas where most operators see as very toxic and excels to prove the nature of meticulous professionalism in him. In this interview with PropertyMart, he discusses ways of improving the practice of real estate. He talked about home ownership, funding framework, building collapse, policies to encourage employers to create funding to support staffers to own houses either by tax incentives or house ownership promotions to be promoted either by State or Federal Government. He said government should begin to moderate itself by tracking down and punishing corrupt officials to ensure that the right things are done as part of measures to stop incessant building collapse in the country.
What real estate agenda do you have for the incoming President?
For the incoming government, I will expect them to critically overhaul the real estate policy framework. For instance, I will like them to look inwards and think about how best to restructure funding of real estate. I mean establishing functional mortgage funding framework which we don’t have now. It is very embarrassing to the nation with over 200 million people that such framework is not in place. Apart from the Federal Mortgage Bank which of course you know does not give you mortgage facilities aside funding some selected real estate bills, there are no other financial institutions that have capacity to help in the real estate. That assistance from the federal government does not amount to me mortgage funding. The government will first of all overhaul that system and then try to establish institutions that will be responsible for mortgage retailing to the general public since the commercial banks are limited to perform such functions. So, that is the very critical area of the real estate that the nation has not activated. Since the Federal Mortgage Bank has not really done well in terms of Mortgage funding to the general public, I will expect them to first delve into that; by the way, it is just one bank so cannot cover the length and breadth of the nation in terms of real estate funding needs.
They will tell you they have branches everywhere but can they tell us how many mortgages they fund monthly, yearly for us to see the population and compare it to the millions of people that are hungry for that kind of facilities. This is why corruption will not end particularly with respect to civil service staffers because everybody who is on paid employment either in the cooperate world or in government circles, whether state or federal, have problem of how to create home for the family.
I can remember, President Olusegun Obasanjo, tried to do ownership scheme by abolishing Federal Government housing system but again to what extent did that worked? So, any serious government, unfortunately we have not had any one in the recent time. Any government that lacks the capacity to address this issue, as far as I am concerned has failed on arrival. So, I think that we should take our people seriously, we should take our system seriously, we should take our workers very seriously. We should take home ownership over anything after all, the three basic necessities of life according to Maslow Theory are; food, clothing and shelter. That is the only difference between human beings and animals. It is only in Nigeria that we lack this kind of amenities or facilities among developing nations. I think Ghana has started doing something, Sierra Leone has started doing something. I am talking about Africans that are less than Nigeria. I am not talking about South Africa, I am not talking about U.K. and other European countries. They have started to realize the need to create housing for their citizens. In Nigeria, nobody is talking about it. Everybody is on his own and that is why people who are working will always device ways and processes to raise themselves to the level of providing housing.
This is because after you have worked for 35 years, retired as a civil servant and you don’t have place where your family will live, you have wasted your time and you will be written off by your own people. In order to achieve that particular points of having a home for your family, man, woman go to any length to achieve that irrespective of the morality of what they do to achieve it. That is why any serious minded government must address that issue. So I call for a total overhaul of the Federal Mortgage Company in Nigeria. As far as I am concerned, it is a waste of time having it the way it is now. It is not supposed to be there. Let government replace it. I don’t know how they want to do it. Let them replace it with a more active Mortgage Institution. Yes, it is only the Government of Ibrahim Babangida in 1992 that tried to create Federal Mortgage Institutions. But the operators being Nigerians, brought in the Nigerian attitude and started to compete with Commercial Banks and in the process all the Mortgage Institutions collapsed. At least, for me, there was no other government that has been able to address that issue. So after the Babangida Administration that made an attempt, no other government touched it. That is the first agenda I will like the incoming administration to tackle in the real estate first before others. They will not just set up Mortgage Institutions, but set up effective regulatory body that will ensure that the institutions created are actually doing what they are created to do and not operating like Bureau De Change. Which is they get money and then convert to Dollars and Pounds and sell to people. I mean, that is the extent to which corruption has endeared in our nation.
So having said that, we also have to talk about home ownership. One is the funding framework, another one is the policy that will pave way to encourage employers to create housing policy that supports their staffers to own houses either by giving tax incentives or house ownership promotions that will be promoted by the State and the Federal Government. The State Government should also do something. This time is not a time for housing supply because at the end of the day what the state government do are more expensive than what the private sectors do. That is why I say that the system needs a total overhaul. I really don’t know where to start. But it is not listing out Sven points agenda without one working. Let them even start with one. If one is addressed and it becomes functional, then we move to the next one.
How do you see the Land Use Act in Property development in Nigeria?
The land use Act!, You see, no policy is the best policy in Nigeria. Not a matter of whether it is working or not, but the fact is, yes, there is land use Act and that, it is meant to work. Unfortunately the operators, the governors must make it to work. Again as a result of corruption and impunity of the so called governors and government officials, the Act is not working effectively. So, we see the governors enter what they like because nobody is controlling them from anywhere, not even the federal government despite as I think there are checks and balances. There are things the federal government supposed to do. If I ask you as a Pressman, can you tell me how many people benefited from the act since the Land Use Act was created in March 28, 1978? So you see that the state governments have hijacked the entire Land Use Act and they are now using it to punish those state actors that are in opposition with their Government. And to a very little extent not even large extent, they try to use it as a patronage to help those who are loyal to their government. So, it is not working really, but I don’t think that it is the intention of the federal government that established the Act as a way of managing property interest in Nigeria. Again there is a way the government can generate policies that will control or regulate the actions of the government. Of course it will work but it is not just to dish out policies now in whatever name, but the ability to police or regulate that policy to ensure that it is working. That is what really matters.
Do you think Governor’s consent should be reviewed, or stopped?
The essence of Land Use Act is to say that the Governor is the overall Landlord because he is holding the land in trust for the people of the State. So if for any reason any person that is granted the lease for 50 years or 99 years, wants to transfer part of the right by way of sale or lease, gift or forfeiture, he must get Governor’s Consent. And until he gets the governor’s Consent, the process is not complete. Until otherwise referred, the Land Use Act is still under operation whether it is functioning or not. There should be governor’s consent whether for transfer or by way of sale or lease any property or interest in property to a third party.
Do Builders, Architects, Surveyors, Town Planners, Quantity Surveyors still have roles to play property development.
Yes, they are all professional in the real estate industry. For instance, you have the Architects, of course before anything can move on the land, you have the Surveyors who will go and map out the land and when that is done, if somebody now wants to do anything, the land has been mapped, then you call in the estate valuers who if you want to do any building development or investment on the land, they suppose to do what is called investment appraisal to know whether the site is available for such development or whether if you build it, it will bring about returns in investment. As long as it is being built for investment purposes, when the estate Surveyor has done it, certify that the property, if you follow the processes required will get return on investment depending on what you have proposed for that development, then you are good to go. Then they will call in the architects. The Architect will now design based on the briefs he has received from the estate surveyor. Because it is the estate manager who will market to make sure the owner gets back returns on his investment, every design should be current. So you will now prepare samples for the landlord to choose. The Architect prepares design before the quantity surveyor comes to cost all. The Architect then brings the structural, electrical, bring in all those to work to make sure that the building is functional, safety and the rest of them. Then quantity surveyor will cost, the engineers come in or the builders. For what I have said, it shows that they are all inter-related. But because some clients may want to cut corners, in order to save cost, they will begin to circumvent some of all these. That is why we have some cases of building collapse. But if you properly get in the requisite professionals to address your building programs, you will see that it will work very well.
How can we eradicate quacks in the built environment?
There is nothing you can do to eradicate quacks. The only thing you can do is for the professionals to render quality services. If the professionals render quality services, there is no how somebody will go and begin to look for quacks. You can’t legislate on quacks, even if you legislate people will say you want to circumvent the law, and because again there is no body to police all these policies, regulations, it makes it difficult. That is why even in our estate agency for instance, you see all manner of human beings. Even in building construction, you see quacks who go to design taking the job of an architect. And that is why you keep seeing building collapse because a quack is a quack. He didn’t go to school. You can see some People saying they are Doctors because they can prescribe medicine without knowing the consequences or complexities of what they prescribe. So, it is when the professionals realize their job and what they are supposed to do that is when they will be able to see people coming to patronize them than going to look for quacks that will put them in trouble.
You started a very gigantic project in Mgbidi, Imo State some years back, What is the current state of the project .Well, I think you asked me this question sometime ago, I told you that the government attitude was not favourable to the project. But I can’t go in details to say what happened but I know that the then governor of Imo State was sitting on land development and couldn’t assist the promoters of the project to achieve what they wanted to achieve. So it was strictly the fault of the Imo State Governor which was Rochas Okorocha that time. That was why it could not succeed.
What is the state of your Market Complex in Port Harcourt?
Well, at least we have done up to 600 shops that are ready for immediate occupation for business. The truth is that the development is Phased, the Phase 1 has been completed and is about flowing to Phase 2 where it will continue to develop the structures and work is continuously going on on the site. When we finish offloading that 600 Shops, we will have also developed more and then continue until we get to the last stage. After that, the next thing will be the environment, making sure that the environment is given the expected design for which the owner conceived before he started the construction. But generally, everything is on top gear.
Why do we have incessant building collapse in Nigeria?
We have said so much about building collapse, building collapse and building collapse and the recurring decimal is government, government and government. It is government because to start with, if government makes law that before you build on a particular site, you must make sure you build according to Town and Physical Planning specification and other government agencies regulations as it affects built environments, anyone who defies such order ought to be punished instantly to deter others. But in this case, the government don’t seem to have enough staff to even check at the physical planning level and then, those who try to skip in to see, when they are given some understanding, they look the other side and the developer who is more interested in making money may be given approval for five storey building but you see him doing 10 storey building on the same foundation and because the government official is already committed, he cannot question the developer. He will then go ahead with development and after sometime you will hear that the building has collapsed, at times even killing the developer himself. I think everything starts and ends with the government. By the time the government begins to moderate themselves, begins to punish themselves, begins to track down all those corrupt officials and punish them or send them outside the system and making sure that the right thing is done, that is when building collapse will stop.
why is it difficult or seemingly impossible for government to create one single regulator for the real estate sector
Well, it will go back to the unseriousness and the ‘I don’t care attitude’ with which Government officials at different levels see the policy. One, we started with poor funding. Because there is no incentive for them, because it was not well funded, most government policies are not so keen on regulating that sector that is poorly funded.
But if they feel that there is something to benefit therefrom, you will see them making sure that everything works. So it is like that big elephant that is worthless, not producing anything and the owner just forgets anything about it. Any even when like I said they have some officials to police or take care of, that official will go and behave anyhow because they know that the people at the top are not interested to police them and met out punishment on them. So that is why things are they way they are. Until there is right attitude and government takes everything serious, then, built environment will not be better. My reservation is that government is not serious in tackling these problems.