Mr Suleman Abubakar is Executive Director Planning of Imani & Sons, the pioneer real estate company in northern Nigeria. Abubakar owns the extremely beautiful Imani Shells Estate located in the cozy and homely Maitama District of Abuja. Imani & Sons, registered in 1978 was founded primarily to turn around the real estate industry in northern Nigeria. In this interview with Viewpoint Housing News, the Executive Director enumerates challenges in the real estate sector, saying quite often, developers spend too much time on a single site rather than moving on.
Viewpoint: What is your view on the production of affordable housing?
Abubakar: Low income housing needs attention. There is need for concerted efforts by all the stakeholders in the built environment and in policy making to be able to address the issue of low income housing or affordable housing as it is because when you say low income, it’s not a very flattering description. But when you say Affordable Housing it addresses the issue more appropriately. Affordability isn’t necessarily low income. Because there could be a medium income or high income person that still wants to live in affordable housing.
Viewpoint: Nigeria is said to be among the countries with the highest number of building collapse incidents in the world. What do you think is the major cause of this?
Corruption in all the facets. Corruption by the people responsible for ensuring standards, that is ranging from the mason who will not keep the mix [of building materials], to the engineer who will not ensure that the right specifications, to the approving authorities who will give approval without ensuring that the right standards have been met. So it’s a whole chain of corruption that leads to building collapse.
Viewpoint: Does Imani & Sons suffer this problem of low patronage as developers do? People not buying or renting houses.
Abubakar: Well, if the economy is slow, then I believe real estate is one industry that will feel the impact of the slow economy because real estate transactions are very large volume transactions for any individual. Most of the times, for most normal human beings, property purchase is the single most expensive item that they’re going buy in their life time and they don’t do it on a regular basis. So when the economy is slow, naturally, that impact will be felt because you’ll shelve your big ticket purchases and concentrate on your day to day needs and survive the tough times and then you worry about your big ticket purchases when you have more liquidity or when the economy is better. Now priority is survival, how to eat, how to clothe, how to be healthy.
So real estate virtually will suffer when the economy slows down. But Nigeria, we’re out of recession now.
And sometimes, again, when you say developers, there are many people who are actually just builders, they’re not developers. Real estate development is a skill. The ability to go out there and build a house or a couple of houses doesn’t necessarily make you a developer.
A developer means that you have the capacity to be able to view the market, make the strategy to enter the market, survive in the marketplace and also prosper in the market. So sometimes, maybe a lot of the people that are complaining are just builders who come into the business and can build houses call themselves developers. But normally, you go in with a strategy and that strategy envisages different scenarios. If the market goes this way, this is what I do. If that happens, that’s what I do. It’s easier to survive low periods.
Viewpoint: Does Imani & Sons have any collaboration or relationship with FMBN or other mortgage banks?
Abubakar: Of course. Imani and Sons has relationship with FMBN and other mortgage institution because we are in the affordable housing bracket of the market. We indeed have relationship with FMBN because actually, right now, FMEBN is the most reliable exit for affordable housing construction in Nigeria. They have the largest volume of mortgages to give to those who buy affordable housing.
Viewpoint: What do you think the government should do in order to encourage more developers to concentrate on affordable housing?
Abubakar: The government should concentrate on the exit strategy for developers because some of the experiences we have had is that you go in, you develop houses and there’re people who need those houses, but to be able to tidy up the entire circle of transactions and exit and move onto the next one is where you get stuck.
So if the government can bring up fluid mechanism for the developer to go in, sell his properties, exit and move to the next site, then you will find out that the industry moving on fluently because this is really where the salvation of the real estate industry starts from. So they must work on how to get the developers out of the site and move on to the next site.
Most developers remain on the same site for years long after they’ve finished developing the houses.