My name is Hajia Binta Ibrahim, Chairperson, Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN), Federal Capital Territory (FCT) chapter, the CEO, Women’s Housing Plan Initiative (WHPI) and former Vice President, National Council of Women Society (NCWS), FCT chapter. I hail from Katsina state, with affiliation from Ebonyi state.
How did you get into housing delivery business?
It actually started, when I was still the VP of the NCWS, coincidentally that was when Mallam Nasiru El Rufai, was the FCT Minister. The demolition exercise that was carried out then in a way affected a lot of women as you know most of the houses, especially around the city centre and in the suburbs were owned by women. My office became a sort of intervention-forum on behalf of the women that were deprived of their roofs. However, we actually found out, that a lot of women were actually deceived into buying lands that were not really genuine and legal and again they didn’t know. This was because there was nobody to guide them on how to go about owning their own houses. I saw moved by their plight I decided to take it upon myself by putting up the Women’s Housing Plan Initiative (WHPI). We proceeded to ask for compensation for them from government, as majority of them were not even indigenes of FCT and so their case became more pathetic. Most of them lost a lot of investment in that exercise. So I decided to come up with the women’s housing plan initiative in which they had the assurance that there is guarantee that since there is somebody that is willing to help them get all the necessary approvals for their lands. This was in 2007 though we started the intervention in 2010. However, we found out that the women themselves were to be blamed as they were deceived because they didn’t understand then the shady deals associated with lands in FCT. It was on this platform that I had to come up with this housing programme to accommodate them. We have succeeded in our own effort by building some social housing across the territory for these women at a minimal cost. At the FCT level, we have been tagged silent achievers, especially in the area of harmonization. As you know, a lot of our members were also recently caught up in the last demolition exercise at Lugbe, along the airport road. The way we went about it during my first term actually didn’t yield effective result so recently we decided to come together, pull our strings and then work with the relevant agencies which prompted our visit to the Acting Coordinator of the Abuja Municipal Management Council (AMMC). The presence of women in the Executive Council has been very encouraging. We are 4 out of 12 members.
What is the dynamics of housing development in FCT?
First of all I want to say that for every kind of business one wants to venture in you have to be really sure that you have the passion because there would also be challenges, especially as a woman. But if you have a passion, you don’t look at obstacles as challenges anymore because it is something that you love doing. The most important thing is that you shouldn’t go for a business because you think that somebody is making it there, because as run in you will run out. But if you have that passion, perseverance, patience and commitment with the zeal to go knocking on doors until it is opened. Generally real estate is not a small business kind of business, it is has huge demand and there are a lot of challenges but because you have the passion you keep moving on.
What is your experience with housing finance in the country?
The Nigerian mortgage institutions are yet to come in fully, but as you know the business is capital intensive. The Primary Mortgage Institutions (PMIs) for instance, focus more at the marketing aspect and when they interested in getting clients thereby chewing more than they can swallow because they don’t really have enough funding and when they go out and do this marketing, they do a lot of marketing to get interested developers to open accounts and it stops there, because they don’t have enough funds to go round, but when they come they will tell you that they are ready for business so by the time they have about 10 and the funds can only take only or usually result in bottlenecks because they cannot absorb everybody. The problem is that they don’t have the money to disburse to developers. The should not be involved in marketing simply because they need your inflow, because this raise people’s hope.
What is the way out of the 17 million housing deficit?
Our advice is that international best practices that have worked be adopted to reduce the housing deficit. We have attended multinational housing development seminars and exhibitions, these models can be replicate here. Government cannot do housing delivery alone; they need to carry along association like REDAN, because there are speculators in the business as well. And that is why I started by telling you that you must have the passion to stick to the business because some just dabble into the housing business just to make a living may be perhaps they have access to land. But, here we are talking about people that have stake and by this I mean developers who source for the land, do all the needed infrastructure requirements in the proposed estate that they are embarking on without receiving any assistance from the government. Those are the kind of people or companies that government should look for and assist. If it’s a jack of all trade, people will sit in their house and they just get allocation, these people spoil the environment for the real developers. It is just like when the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN) cries to government that some imported items be banned so that they can survive. It is the same thing here. What is required is for government to partner capable developers and then allocate these lands to them, then still assist them in pushing these developers to be able to get loan from banks to actualize their dream. This is the way out of the huge deficit. But the problem still lies with certain group of people having vast land and yet they are not using it and they didn’t get it for anything and they will come back to us developers to re-sell to developers for personal gains and these are lands that is still virgin with no infrastructure. So, tell me how these houses will be affordable, definitely, these houses will not be affordable because the estate developers buy lands, they put in infrastructure, they source funds from commercial banks and as you know these commercial banks offer flat interest rates for all borrowers for whatever the money is going to be used for.20.30…The only way houses can made affordable is when there is serious intervention from all the stakeholders in the sector. Government has tried severally to solve this 17 million housing gap without much success and when you look at what happens abroad, there they have the National Housing Board responsible for policy intervention affecting land issues goes through those organization because these are people that are in that business as you cannot just come and pick a car dealer and so until they realize the importance of organization like REDAN. So government has to realize that REDAN is a serious stakeholder in housing development and so they factored in government’s housing development plans.
How do you intend to actualize the FCT REDAN city scheme?
This is the dream that I have and by the special grace of God I hope I will able to achieve it before the end of my tenure in 2018. Here we are working toward having FCT REDAN city, where developers will be able to access land at the territory that is genuine and then it is not for the all and mighty though they can participate but the least developer will be able to say I have one hectare as a stakeholder in this scheme and that I’m ready to develop that one hectare because that is my capacity to grow. So if we are able to achieve this project, you can be sure that about 20,000 units will added to the housing stock annually and this will go a long way in bridging the 17 million housing gap. We also intend to replicate this model in 36 states of the federation.
What the relationship between FCT REDAN and the FCT Administration?
Well, FCT Administration, Development Control, Urban and Regional Planning (URP), and Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS), our relationship has been very cordial in recent times, but you know we had this issue about two years along the Lugbe axis where about 500 units were demolished. However, after a dialogue we came to understanding ourselves better and we were able to make some headway. That was why I said that when we come together we would be able to achieve a lot because we took the pain by calming down the situation by assuring our members to down their tools. That is the important of an organization; it was because of REDAN’s intervention. Now we are having a very cordial relationship in the sense that during our last visit we were able to get the AMMC to give us a liaising desk and would serve as the first step for every developer to as this will take the stress out of every developer and the authority. First and foremost, if you want to buy a land we would help you go through it and advise you as the documents will help and the drawings will put you through to get it sorted out with the development control that would even improve the timelines of approvals. So the developer is home and happy. This will reduce the frequent clashes between the authorities and REDAN because of encroachment on green zones. On our part, it is also our duty to sensitized members on how to buy genuine land as we already know that there is a master plan that needs to be followed. However, most of the problems also arose from the authorities because lands are sometimes always being sold on double allocation on green areas to unsuspecting developer.
What is your advice on the imposition of property tax on unoccupied houses across Abuja?
You see if you are talking about property tax on houses in FCT, again this is going to affect the masses more because in terms of taxing properties there must be a way that you will get your investment back. Property tax, yes but there should be categorization so we don’t eventually put the burden on the low income earners. On the issue of empty houses all over Abuja, there is a programme that we are trying to come up with liking meeting these house owners and co-opting them and advise on them on something that they could work with while we that are on the ground sensitize the public again and the owners and get interested individuals in the city to buy into but it is really a problem because it these houses have become like a haven for hoodlums.
How can the encroachment of quacks be eliminated from the building practice?
Very soon we shall soon embark on categorization of members across board and through site visits to where our members are building. Again that is why government has to look at REDAN as partners in progress. I just introduced something that will come later this month, that is the town hall meeting which will be the first of its kind and it is a forum where developers will come and express whatever they have and that will be captured and solution sought. The second step is the visitation of sites where we can stop work with a task force that moves around to advise developers on what they are doing that is wrong and put them through and also partnering with the law enforcement agents is also another strategy that we have tried in the past, it is also coming onboard too. What we are also trying to do now is to see to the prompt approval of building plans which being tackled with the Acting Coordinator of AMMC. We have also realized the importance of the fire service in our work, they are now going to be carried along when we go on inspection of sites.