Dr. Ifeanyi Nwachukwu is the self-effacing MD/CEO of Richland Property and Homes Nig Ltd. With over 300 youths employed in his company, he is also an ambassador of ECOWAS Youth Council and a recipient of multiple national and international awards based on his track record in property business and helping humanity through philanthropy.

His company, Richland Property and Homes, is also into brokerage, consultancy and development. He is directly associated with 85 estates in Nigeria and several hectares of land in choice locations across the country.

Before founding Richland, he was into the entertainment industry as a film producer and a member of the Nigerian Association of Cinematography. He was involved in the production of 100 movies and music videos. Dr Nwachukwu chatted with HENRY AKUBUIRO at his Surulere, Lagos office on his route to social recognition.

What kind of movies did you produce?

Normal Nollywood films. I was also into directing music videos. Before I retired from the movie industry, I was involved in over 100 movies. I entered the movie industry in 2004 and left shortly after I moved into the real estate business.

Some of the movies include Clinic Matters, Asunder, House 6, and others. In the music industry, I worked with my boss then, Mr. Akin Alabi, and we shot the music videos, “No be Mistake’’ and “Gbamu- Gbamu”, by 9ice (Alexander Abolore Akande) in 2009.

What was the experience like working with 9ice, who was one of the biggest stars in Nigeria then?

It was an awesome experience. He was a cool guy, and is still. I respect him till date. He always knows what he wants and always goes for the best. We shot 9ice’s music videos in locations in Lagos mainland and island.

It’s surprising you left that glamorous, booming industry for a private one like real estate. What happened?

I left the entertainment industry not because it wasn’t good – it’s a good and rewarding industry – but because I needed financial security. I asked myself certain questions: Apart from making money today, what can I do that will be able to earn me money even when I am not working? This is because, in the industry today, you might be relevant, but, as soon as you are out of the screen, you are no longer relevant. I asked again: What else can I go into so that, even when I am not working, I will still be generating good revenue? So putting five and six together, I chose the real estate industry, and that’s where we are today.

What was the beginning like? How rough or easy was it for you to learn the ropes?

It wasn’t easy at all. It was extremely rough, navigating from the entertainment industry, where there was so much glamour, to a system you barely know anything about. Property isn’t what people buy daily and everybody invests in. It takes a lot to explore within that sector. It was challenging, because I needed to go through different stages to understand the market and housing deficit in Nigeria and the challenges in the real estate market. I had to go through all that, in addition to having a family to struggle with. It was a different sector I knew little or nothing about. But, we thank God, we overcame the initial challenges.

Did you borrow money to start real estate or you worked under somebody at first?

This is an aspect many don’t really get well. People believe you need millions and billions of naira to go into this business. But I always tell myself, I can’t allow my background to pull me down to the ground. I don’t put money first. I try to acquire the knowledge and information that should be my driving force into where I am going. I knew it was risky to borrow money to enter a business you know little or nothing about. It might crash. So, what I did was to get a mentor to understudy. I started selling lands and houses for people on commission basis as a marketer. In that process, I was learning and building my own finance to get into the system. I didn’t borrow money from any bank. That was how I got into the system and began to acquire my own properties. I was earning commissions from selling houses and lands for companies.

Property business is a risky venture fraught with litigations. How do you avoid it?

I haven’t had such ugly experience before. I do my job diligently. That’s part of understanding the system. You don’t just do it by emotion or sentiments. I took my time to study the system very well. For instance, what are the red flags?

So, how did you establish Richland Property and Homes?

I started as a realtor or a marketer or what some people call a consultant. From that point, instead of buying expensive clothes, changing cars, I was saving my money and reinvesting it into the business. I started buying properties for myself. I concentrated on buying properties at good locations where they would appreciate, especially fast developing areas, at cheap prices; and, in less than a year, some of them appreciated so high, and I sold them, and began to buy from choice places.

You have achieved so much within five years, directly involved in 85 estates in Nigeria. What stands you out?

Before I answer that, let’s talk about what led us into the business in the first place. If you look at the housing deficit in Nigeria and the challenges, I believe, as an individual, that everybody deserves a home. In my own understanding, when God created the earth, He didn’t give them dollars or pounds; He only gave them free land.

So how can we help them to have their own houses and the piece of that earth which God has given to mankind? So I told myself we are going to go to a fast developing area, acquire lands and make them accessible and more affordable to the public. So that’s what makes us unique –giving accessible, cheap properties to the public.

At the moment, we have properties in several places –Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Owerri. In Lagos, we are well rooted in Ibeju-Lekki, one of the fastest developing areas in not only Lagos but in Nigeria. Nigeria, in general, is among the locations in Africa where land appreciates most. Banana Island, Eko Atlantic and Ikoyi in Lagos are three of the most expensive places to invest in properties in Africa, and the return on investment is guaranteed. Big names from all over the world are now investing in Lagos, leaving their own countries. There must be a good reason for that.

Another thing you consider in property investment is where the population is drifting to. At the moment, the population is moving to Ibeju-Lekki, and the best way to harness the benefits is to get there before those people arrive, acquire those properties and wait for them, and they will come.

That’s what we have done as a company by acquiring massive lands in those locations, and people are already coming. In economics, when there are high demands in a product, the prices go up. So there are so many demands for property in that axis because of the commercial activities going on in that area made possible by the Lagos State government. We have a lot of properties in Ibeju-Lekki, like Royal Garden Estate, Vantage View, Pay View Silver Wood, Lifestyle Resident, Royal Court, among others. We also have in the South-East –Agbani, Emene and Nsukka in Enugu; Ogbaku in Imo State and we are processing some in Anambra as we speak.

You mentioned that everybody should have a home. Does this apply to low income earners and the middle class in today’s unfriendly Nigerian economy, where many have transited into the poverty range?

We have taken care of that at Richland Property and Homes. We have a package for such people to pay in instalments. We have a package of paying for a year instead of paying at once. All you need to do is to start with an initial deposit –some 10 per cent, some even 3 or 5 per cent. We also give you documents so that you know you have a land somewhere while you take your time to balance the remaining fees on the land.

It’s the basic right of every man to have a piece of the earth. In fact, we even give people land for free, apart from people who purchase.

How? You give land free?

Yes. We sponsored a show recently, Film House TV Reality Show, and we gave almost all the housemates free land, about 20 of them. We gave each person a free plot of land in one of our estates in Ibeju-Lekki. It was not a reward for participating. They were all youths, so it was a way of encouraging them. We are not actually looking at the money we used in acquiring these properties, but the value we are using to give back to the society. The best way to encourage the youths to go out of crime is to give them a foundation to build from. It’s a good advert for them, too, to say: “I am a youth like you; I am not into crime; I am into real estate, and all the properties are verifiable; if I can do it, you can do it, better.” We give them that platform to build from.

That’s quite commendable. As you know, real estate is broad. Are you limited to selling land and buildings, or are you into other things?

In real estate, there are other services we render apart from selling land or property. We are into management, development and brokerage. There are people who have houses but they don’t know how to manage them. When it comes to property investment, it’s not something you buy for buying sake; you need someone to educate you –why should you leave Land A to buy Land B? So we educate our prospects where to buy land and the best way to buy and where to buy and why they should buy a particular property.

For instance, people are worried about buying CofO. So we educate them, why buy CofO expensively when you can actually buy the one that has CofO with a little amount? If you like importing a vehicle into Nigeria without a dent, the price will be higher than the one with scratches you fix and repaint at a service centre. So we educate them – Why go for this expensive property because of the title? We show you how to buy that one without title and perfect the title. You know, when you buy the one with a title, it comes with the name of the seller, but if you buy one without a title, it comes with your own name cheaper than what it would have cost if it had come with a title. We educate our prospects on how to navigate through all this and secure cheap properties in different locations in Nigeria.

We have had situations where clients pay for properties and, five years later, they haven’t taken possession. This is disturbing, isn’t it?

I think they fell into the wrong hands. It’s our responsibility to clear these wrong notions, and I am glad I’m part of the new generation changing the narrative. It’s wrong to pay for a property without getting it. In Richland, you get it instantly. You finish paying today and you get your land tomorrow. It’s as simple as that. No delays. Sometimes we can even give you the land in advance, before you have finished payment, depending on the individual involved. We also do land banking for investors who don’t want to buy land but invest in that land, which attracts between 20 to 65 per cent interest after a year or two years. We can also buy back land from you with interest. So these are options open to many clients in real estate.

The Omo onile phenomenon has become a thorn in the flesh of property investors in Lagos, which have led to fights, sometimes fatal casualties between owners of properties in Lagos and the seemingly protected touts. Is there a way out?

Before you invest in any property in Lagos, please, avoid Omo-onile.

Is it possible?

Yes, you can do without them. I have found a way to bypass Omo-onile. We bridge the gap at Richland. We make sure we shield you like a fence. So, whatever that’s happening, we are the ones to receive the bullets on your behalf to ensure your investment is 100 per cent safe. Omo-onile can’t come into any of our estates to begin to cause trouble, because they know we have what it takes to fight back. There is a secret in everything. When you know the rules, you can break them. When you don’t know the rules, you may live in ignorance. So we understand the game very well, and we have sorted these things out in advance. That’s why our properties are 100 per cent safe from Omo-onile intrusion.

Aside giving free lands, are you involved in other forms of philanthropy?

Yes, of course. At the moment, we are giving a lot foodstuff for the less privileged. We are visiting hospitals to give relief materials. There are some we pay their hospital bills. There are some we sent foodstuff to –we don’t know them from Adam. But we believe this is our own little way of contributing to the society. A lot of awards are coming from youth organisations based on what we are doing to humanity. A lot of Nigerian youths have become millionaires through me.

For youths who are desirous of making it in life quickly, what’s your recipe for success?

For me, the first recipe is vision. You have to sit down and ask yourself: Why am I here? There is a reason why God brought you in Nigeria where we have over 200 million people. When you are able to discover yourself, you now go back to the manual –from that same person who created you – to ask yourself: What am I supposed to do? Everybody’s talent isn’t the same. You can’t because others are going into Nollywood and you follow suit when you don’t have the talent for it. Discover your talent, develop it and follow it passionately. You will make it.

How do you relax?

I like watching films. I prefer Nigerian films. Nobody will sound our trumpet if we don’t sound it. However, I watch Bollywood, Hollywood and Nollywood, depending on my mood or what I do at a point. I also like swimming.

What’s your routine dress code?

As you can see me now, I am wearing native attire. I believe my dressing is who I am. I hardly wear suits, for it’s not my culture. I am an African man, and I am always in African attire. I go everywhere looking Africa. We must project Africa.

How was your childhood like? What colour was the spoon –silver or pedestrian?

Growing up was very rough. I was born in a community in Nkanu, Enugu State. My father was a barrow pusher, so I didn’t have that opportunity to access certain privileges. While some of my mates from poor backgrounds saw it as an opportunity to go into crime, I believed I could make it, taking into consideration, consistency and smart work. I learnt a lot from him. Despite his background, he was on top of his responsibility as a man. As a barrow pusher, there were many reasons to drop it and become a beggar. He never did. He kept pushing to fulfil his family responsibilities. That made me to be focused in what I want to achieve in life.