Okunlola Muhydeen Kayode is the Princpal Partner at Luxiar Construction Limited, an Abuja based company with spread across the country. With over a decade of experience, Muhydeen, who is also the founder of MOK Foundation, has established himself as a knowledgeable and competent professional in the construction industry.

In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, he spoke on his experience as an entrepreneur, issues affecting real estate sector, how to address housing deficit in Nigeria and the motive behind setting up Muhydeen Okunola Foundation.

What really informed your decision to become an entrepreneur?
Well, I’m a quantity surveyor by training; I went to the Federal Polytechnic, Offa, Kwara State. I had my one-year Industrial Training in Abuja before moving to the Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa to complete my education. Since then, I’ve had the passion of being an entrepreneur; having my own company as well as having people under me so I can be of help to the society.

Consequently, I ventured into real estate development with the aim of providing shelter for people. To achieve this, I had to form a formidable partnership with my friend in 2017 and we started Luxiar Construction Limited. We actually started small, building houses within the range of 5-7 units before we were introduced to Federal Mortgage Bank. Through that, we expanded and started building affordable houses in large numbers. So far, we’ve been able to construct more than 2000 housing units for civil servants and we are still pushing, because the aim is to provide shelter for 5000 people by 2025.

What was your career ambition as a young man, has it always been real estate?
You see, I got admission to study Architecture, and I had an uncle who was an architect. I told him that I had been given admission to study architecture in the university, but he advised me to go into quantity surveying, since there was more demand for them in construction firms than architects at the time. This is true because we are construction economists; we project how much a building would cost so we can prepare the mind of the clients on how much they are going to spend before we start the project.

It is the role of a quantity surveyor to let the client know what they are going to face in terms of duration and cost of the overall construction, regardless of the material that is presented to you at that point in time.

So, I listened to my uncle and switched to Quantity Surveying. This was very easy for me, because both courses are related. So, from the onset, I’ve always loved to construct and see things grow. It’s what I wished to do ever since I was young. As a young boy, I used to construct houses using papers. So, it’s kind of an inspiration that I’ve had while growing up.

What has been your experience as an entrepreneur, how challenging and rewarding has it been?
In life, when you have a target or you have the intention of doing something for yourself and you’re serious about it, the only thing you need to do is to find a way to achieve it. After my I.T, I went back to school and when I finished, I told myself I wouldn’t want to work under anyone, because I can be successful if I work hard.

But when I started with my partner, it was tough. We got a land and entered into an agreement with the landowner. Then, we approached Primary Mortgage Bank, which was in charge of mortgage for civil servants. They had customers who needed houses and we came in as developers. We got some funds and started with N5,000,000 (five million naira). Because we were open with them, they liked our work and the whole project was successful.

We started from joint venture to partnering with Primary Mortgage Bank, First Trust Mortgage Bank and Federal Mortgage Bank. Then we grew to buying our own land and developing housing units. From there, the numbers kept increasing till date. So, it’s been a challenging but rewarding experience for me.

How have you been able to manage your passion for providing affordable shelter with running a successful and profitable business?
It is very easy to manage business and passion because when you have passion for something, you won’t let it die. Sometimes, there are hindrances that we face, but we chose to look at the passion aspect of it and move on. So whenever we have such challenge, we drop the profit aspect of it and wear the passion cap to be able to move on. You can’t make profit from every business venture; sometimes you have to let go of some things just to keep the name.

How much has that helped you as an entrepreneur?
It helped the name and also helped in getting referrals from people we satisfied. For instance, we have never had an issue with the police or EFCC up until now. There are plenty developers in Abuja and bad news spread faster than good news. But we’ve never had problems with anybody in terms of delivering to subscribers or coming back to ask for more funds; thanks to my quantity surveying background. So, it helps us a lot because people know us to deliver at a given point in time.

As a professional in the sector, what do you think is responsible for the high level of housing deficit in Nigeria and how can that be addressed?
The problem we have as a country is that the government is not really looking at this sector. We need serious government intervention to reduce housing deficit in Nigeria. There was a report that said we were short of 200,000 houses and that deficit is very correct; the government is not being serious about it. There are two problems here and the first is price control. We cannot get out of this problem if they are not ready to subsidise certain things for the contractor or the developer so they can achieve the goal of providing shelter to people. If we’re able to get alternative materials provided by the government or if they can subsidize some materials for the developers, we’ll be able to do more for the people.

Going back to you question, I believe the government can come in to help the citizens through a two-way intervention; intervention through the materials and increment of salaries, which will improve the standard of living of people in the society. This is the only solution to housing deficit.

There is also another problem. Politicians are not helping because there are many houses in Abuja that are locked up. They don’t seem to care; you can’t even know who owns those houses. If government can come out and do proper documentation to know the owners of these houses, it will surely reduce housing deficit in Abuja. The former MD of Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, Ahmad Dangiwa said if he was given Minister of Housing in Nigeria, he would work with the National Population Commission (NPC) to ascertain our true population, know the number of houses we have, and how many are occupied.

So, the major thing is government intervention, because an individual cannot help a nation without the help of government, which is responsible for policy formation. So, if the government can take a look at the policy, then housing deficit will reduce drastically. But the shanties are more than the houses, because there’s no fund for anyone to rent a good apartment; they prefer to stay there because there’s no money. There is nothing wrong in the government stepping in to provide shelter for their citizens at a very low cost. There are many ways for us to come together and solve the problem, which is a government problem, not the problem of an individual.

With the rising cost of building materials in Nigeria, what’s the possibility of having low cost houses for the poor?
It’s either we substitute the building material, or subsidise their cost and there are ways to do this. We can’t sit and continue with our conventional way of doing things. It’s just that the government is still sleeping in this sector. There’s no harm in them sending people out to learn how to make things happen. People just want to sleep under a roof; they are not demanding for too much from the government. People want to even live in camps; some of them don’t even have cars. Even if they build houses in form of camps, people will stay and they will be happy; we have the land.

There are different materials to use for all these to be affordable; so many alternatives are available to us. Instead of having 15 ceiling lights, you can make it one. Instead of 10 sockets for a small room, you can use two. There are also other materials you can use for floor finish such as terrazzo, which is cheaper than tiles, but all these boils down to the government. If we developers or as individuals need to do all these, we still need funds and loans from the federal government. They are the major players in this industry.

Looking back to when you started, what do you consider your biggest impact so far in the industry?
One of the major impacts of Luxiar Construction is the number of houses we’ve delivered to Nigerians. Like I said, our aim is to build 5000 houses by 2025, knowing fully well that we started doing big numbers around 2019. In 2017 and 2018, we were still doing little units, but now, we’ve ventured into big numbers. So, from 2019 till now is four years, and by 2025, we will be six years. If one developer can develop 5000 housing units, and you multiply that by may be 15 developers in Abuja, there will be huge reduction on housing deficit. So, we’ve been able to make noticeable impact on people; we exposed a lot of them to National Housing Fund (NHF).

Most civil servants know nothing about NHF, but we send our marketers out to sensitize them; we also process mortgages for them. Again, we have more than 35 direct and indirect staff members working with us presently and we pay them salaries. Even with the increment in fuel price, we’re able to pay them an additional half of their salaries on top of what they usually get. Although we don’t increase the salary of marketers, because we know they are making money already. We focus on people that are on ground, and we give some even a 100 per cent increment so that their families will be able to move and enjoy the benefits of them working with us.

Meanwhile, I set up MOK Foundation as a way of giving back to the society; we are making profit, so we should give back. Again, we are moving to the state capital, Ilorin. We’ve acquired about 25,000 houses and we’re planning to do 1,000 houses more. So, hey are going to feel our impact in Offa and Kwara South very soon.

What informed your decision to set up MOK Foundation and how has the experience been so far?
I see wealth as grace. What simply separates people is grace, and not everyone has it. I felt I was lucky to be among the few with that grace. Life was meant to be a happy place for everyone, and we can make it that way if we give to those that do not have. That’s my legacy. They say that when you give, you receive more. I’ve learnt that keeping or hoarding wealth doesn’t take you anywhere. So, giving to people is what I’ve wished for since I was a child.

So, Muhydeen Okunlola Foundation is a humanity organisation driven by a deep resilient compassion for humanity. We’ve consistently and relentlessly put the immediate needs of humanity at the fore front of its existence, ensuring enrichment, empowerment of lives and eradication of humanities greatest deprivations such as poverty, hopelessness, unemployment, illiteracy, hunger amongst others.

Largely, our mission is to provide scholarships to promising students facing financial challenges and empower indigent children to develop their potential. We provide educational and life skills training to youth and women, promote gender equity, and engage in humanitarian services in Kwara State. Our primary focus is on establishing educational institutions, including primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions for charitable purposes.

We believe in collaboration and work closely with other civil societies to promote youth empowerment and a collaborative network among developmental foundations. Our goal is to establish excellence in all our endeavors through partnerships with institutions globally.

Is the foundation focusing on Offa only?
We are not focusing only on Offa; we are covering the entire Kwara South, which comprises of seven local councils (Ekiti, Oke-Oro, Offa, Ifelodun, Irepodun, Isin, and Oyun). We will also be doing empowerment programmes for the women there, and we’ll have up to four or five places in each of those local councils where we’ll set up the empowerment.

In each of those places, we’ll deploy about N500,000, and we’re not giving it to them for free. What we are doing is borrowing to them in a way, because people don’t really need a million to start up something. If they are selling vegetables for instance, what they need is N5,000 or N10,000 to start their lives. When they use that money to start up and they work for two months, they’re expected to have gained profit and then give the initial money back to the coordinator, who will in turn give it to someone else who also needs it. It’s a cycle. So we’re giving them three months, and we’ll visit them every three months to see the way they work.

For instance, if I give N5,000 to 50 persons and they can account for it, and we realise that they made enough profit to give to another 30 people, then I’m willing to give to another 50 persons. If it continues like that and they keep making profit, by the end of three months, I should be able to help about 160 or 200 people. The projection is, if we’re able to do that to at least 500 or 700 women every year, then we’re good, and we won’t stop there.

Again, in areas where they don’t have solar energy, we’ll provide it for them. There are also places that need good roads, but the government is not providing it for them. In fact, there’s one that we constructed at Ifelodun local council; it leads to 14 villages. These 14 villages need the road to transport their farm produce, but there was a very bad spot that wasn’t motorable. When they get there, they usually come down from the vehicle and use their head to offload and move to the other side where the other car would be waiting. So, the transport fare was almost double the usual amount. At the end of the day, they don’t really make profit. So, we’ve constructed that road, it is in use right now.

In some other places, their only issue is that they need good water and we support by constructing well and boreholes. Also, in Offa, we have tractors that we deploy to farmers. All they have to do is to bring is diesel; we pay the operator, pay for maintenance of the tractror and we cultivate about two to five acres of land for each farmer. So, by the next year, or depending on the kind of crop they plant, Offa will be flooded with food. This is because the farmers’ lands are being cultivated for free, and so they will sell the produce for lesser. So, that’s what we’re doing in that aspect.

In the area of security, we invited local vigilante and asked what they needed to carry out their jobs properly; their problem is largely mobility. We were able to purchase about 10 motorcycles that they can use for patrols; gave them torchlights, raincoats, boots, and also placed them on stipends as a kind of reward for guarding their fatherland.

For health care, we have about two hospitals that we’re in partnership with. People who do not have the money to pay for their hospital bills write their names and the amount on a file that we keep there. At the end of the month, we settle the hospital.

How was it like growing up in Offa as a young boy, do you have fond memories?
Growing up in Offa, there’s this synergy amongst us that would always make you miss home; you always want to see the people and the culture. When you go to the Olofa Palace, you see so many historic things, old friends and all that. There’s no Offa man that wouldn’t want to go back home.

For me, I have the intention of venturing into farming. After my retirement from real estate, I want to go back home to start farming and employ more people to work. The reason is that I want to give back to the society and that is why I have MOK foundation. In doing that, I’m building people. I will deploy my resources down there and help people out of poverty. That’s why I’m planning to leave the city, may be at the age of 50, so I can start farming in commercial quality. So, yes, Ofa is a place that I would love to return to.