Mohammed Tijjani Sabiu, 36, deals in interior finishing and is based in Abuja. In this interview, Sabiu, who is a citizen of Nigeria and Morocco, speaks on how Nigerians are opting for traditional Moroccan exquisite interior designs.
When did you start interior decoration business in Nigeria?
We started the business here in Nigeria because we saw that where we came from they have some sort of beautiful interior finishing and palatial residences different from that of Nigeria. Over there it is part of our culture, when you see every home in Morocco no matter how small they have this beautiful interior finishing, so we decided to introduce it here in Nigeria and introduce new styles. That’s why we moved our company from Morocco to Nigeria.
You are a journalist, how did you venture into interior design business?
Well there is really no serious link except for the fact that it helps build relationships, enhances wide research and marketing as it relates to our media campaigns, social media and all that. It is basically contributory and enhancing.
Since you have been here, how do you see the Nigerian property market?
Nigeria is a viable market, it has all it takes and the whole world has its eyes on Nigeria; one because of our population and also because anything you bring into Nigeria as long as Nigerians accept it works and we are glad to be part of the process. On the population front, if we can get 100 clients among all the 185 million it will go a long way. You can look at the number and assume it is small but the truth is it is not. If not for the economic recession, there is no limit to how far we could have gone.
What are the notable interior designs you have handled?
We have done a lot across the country. We have done a mosque in Maiduguri, some buildings in Katsina, Gombe, Kano, and here in Abuja. We have done quite a number.
From all you have mentioned so far, you seem to have concentrated in the North of Nigeria.
Yes for now, we only decided to cover out entry point first, we have plans to reach out to other parts of Nigeria especially the South as part of our marketing strategy and we are getting a very good response from them. We have done some beautiful work for some clients there too.
So are you basically into beautifying palaces and mansions?
Not at all, we work based on our clients’ budget. We build all manner of houses. Of course we can be a little expensive but we are largely affordable in millions.
How would you describe your prices?
Well the prices do vary, for example an 100 square meter sitting room can go for around 5 million. We work in layers depending on if the client can afford it. We keep adding layers upon layers of our work if there is demand for it.
You said that you are into mosque and church design earlier, how do you blend the two?
Actually this is Moroccan architecture but we also have modern designs, this is because it has a history and we combine a touch of African and European designs and that is for mosques. For churches we use what we call Andalucci or Italian designs but those are contemporary and modern designs.
What of hospitals, hotels and government buildings, can you work there?
Of course, we can work everywhere. We also deal with paints, they are ecological friendly paints and we import them from Morocco for now. We are already setting up our factory in Kuje, a suburb in Abuja, and we are in step two. We’ve gotten land and now building.
How do you involve Nigerians in your work plan?
Apart from job creation which we do, we also have over 200 Nigerians in training; some have learnt while others are still in the process. mMany of them left other POP companies to join us and learn our style both in painting of POP and also production of POP. Also, we are coming with entirely different concepts; we are bringing in about 40 different products of paints into the market as against the normal paints that most our competitors are using. Also, we are making sure we differentiate between paints for interiors and paints for exteriors. We have paints for interiors that prevent water from entering the building, also we have paints that prevent noise from entering the building and so on. These are entirely new concepts that we are bringing into the Nigerian market.
Do you build houses from scratch?
Of course we do, the only difference with our design is that we only work with mansions, palatial or royal structures. Everything about us is strictly royal.
How do you ensure standards when you are building or designing buildings especially in the face of building collapse?
We have worked not only in Nigeria but also in Morocco and every building we have built is still standing till date and we have received certificate of standard in Morocco. Like our motto is, “Impeccable Impressions” we make sure we leave that legacy of lasting impression on any work we do. We also have a team of quality workers and engineers that ensure quality control measures are strictly adhered to. Take for example, most companies use one bag of POP per square meter but we use three and a half bags of POP which gives us about two inches of thickness. And also, whenever we get contracts to do finishing on buildings, say someone else have finished the building and we are sub contracted to do interior work, we do an assessment on the building and we enter an agreement that gives guarantee on only our work. But if we are building the whole building, we give as much as 50 years guarantee in our contracts and even if anything happens we will still come in and fix it because we do routine maintenance. We are very quality oriented because we have buildings in Morocco that are a thousand year old, so for us this is history.
What are the materials you use that make the buildings last as so long?
First of all we study the environment where we are building, and find out if it’s a cold region or hot region and we make adequate provision for those discoveries. Also, we do not short change materials for building. Let’s say for example we are supposed to use 100 bags of cement for a concrete we do not use 50 and gain 50. We use materials according to requirements. Also, from start to finish, we do adequate supervision. So, if we find out during supervision that something is not done properly we make sure they are done all over again.
What will be your advice regarding decongestion of city centers and easing of pressure to allow for development of the suburbs?
First of all one of the major reasons why the city centers are congested is the concentration of infrastructures like schools, hospitals, offices, good roads and what have you in the city centers. Elsewhere in the developed countries, most people are running away from the city centers to go to the suburbs because there is really no difference as there is an abundance of infrastructures there too. Added to that is that there is less air and noise pollution. So, in a nutshell, if governments do intend to replicate what goes on abroad here, they must as a matter of urgency make critical infrastructures like good roads, schools, hospitals, water treatment systems available in the suburbs. Also, new neighborhoods can be designed and built close to city centers and fully stock them with those amenities available in the city. Take as an example; I can live in Gwarinpa for up to three to four months without leaving there at all because everything I need is there. There are banks, good roads, electricity, schools and so on. For example when the government of Casablanca had similar issues, they made sure they provided for another city fully equipped with government offices, mosques and churches, businesses and so on and so forth to make sure they are of the same quality as those in the city center. Only the government can do this otherwise people will just be erecting estates without them being equipped with basic necessities. Imagine having to drive out of an Estate to use an ATM machine.
As a company, what is your vision?
In the next 5-10 years, we want our company to be the leading interior finishing company and general builders in Nigeria. Also, we want to create far more job opportunities and also do more training programs like the one we have now such that those that graduate can stand on their own and start their own companies and ultimately be our competitors. Already, we have over 130 graduates from our trainings and 65 currently in the system and we intend to retain them because we cannot do the work alone and we want to reduce the number of expatriates we bring in from Morocco to maybe 10 percent and locally source for the rest of the 90 percent here. We also want to, if possible, build a different city entirely such as the ones we have in Dubai and Turkey where people can come from all walks of life to shop and meet people.
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