‘Our push for affordable housing coming through’

In this interview, Festus Adebayo, convener of Abuja International Housing Show, speaks on the impact of the event on the housing sector in the last 13 years. Excerpts

This is the 13th edition of Abuja Housing Show. How has the show impacted the real estate sector and what are you doing differently this year?

Festus Adedayo:  When we conceived this show 13 years ago, we meant for it to fill a critical gap in Nigeria’s housing sector, and by extension Africa. We have a massive housing challenge here with at least 17 million housing deficit. The dignity of man lies in his ability to be sheltered, but that has been a challenge for this country. There was need to establish a platform for concerned public and private stakeholders to put heads together and fashion out the most effective approaches to addressing the housing challenges.

The Abuja International Housing Show has now become the largest housing and construction platform for local and international stakeholders to establish an interdependent network of productivity. In terms of impact, resolutions from the show have been able to influence participating state governments to have novel policies like the Land Geographical Information System (LGIS) which has enabled them create a comprehensive data on lands, its allocation and the resolution of disputes.

The importance of creating dedicated ministries of housing was also realised by most governors who attended the show and harkened to the recommendation of housing stakeholders.

The show has and continues to canvas for the passage of housing development laws in Nigeria. At the show’s 11th edition, the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC) was spurred to champion the need for federal and state governments to adopt foreclosure law. As for the amendment of the Land Use Act, there are already signs of progress in the National Assembly.

Another significant impact has been the corporate housing and construction partnerships that have been established because of the show. We have seen the development of at least 200 housing estates through investment partnerships established at the show. The show has also been recognised as the market place of information in the industry. With high calibre panels of local and international speakers and executives, there has been so many lessons learnt by participating stakeholders whose numbers have now grown to at least 30,000.

The show has also created a lot of job opportunities for skilled persons because we recognise that job creation is the responsibility of all stakeholders. The show is usually a hunting ground for companies and manufacturers looking for skilled employees. The annual show brings a lot of patronage to businesses like hotels, printing companies, events companies, travel agents and airlines, caterers etc. The show’s contribution to the local economy cannot be overemphasized.

For exhibitors, the show offers them the biggest and most reliable market to introduce new products and make great sales. We currently have over 400 exhibitors. Of all these, our greatest achievement has been the consistent advocacy and push for affordable housing for all Nigerians, and we are gradually seeing it come through.

Despite the contribution of the industry to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the real estate sector has experienced downturn in the last three and half years. What is responsible for this?

In many countries of the world, the housing sector is one of the leading contributors to the GDP, but as a result of a combination of factors including restricted access to land, poor policy implementation, insufficient data, inadequate liquidity to finance housing, the sector has failed to impact the Nigerian economy as it should. Housing requires long-term funding, but that is scarcely available in Nigeria. That is why in Abuja Housing Show, we are promoting the need to use housing to drive jobs, stimulate the economy and ensure that the housing sector mortgage market takes its rightful position in relation to Nigeria’s GDP. These issues remain the core of our debate this year.

Adoption of technology has become a global phenomenon in virtually all aspects of life. Are you satisfied with the degree of adoption of innovations in the Nigerian housing industry?

I will always agree that the importance of technology in transforming the housing sector is not negligible. The adoption of technology in the housing sector remains one of the foremost advocacies at the Abuja International Housing Show. Every year, we bring international experts and leading technology companies to come and showcase cutting edge innovations to the Nigerian market. So far, some of their products have been able to make inroads into our housing sector. But there is still a lot to be done.

At the show, we encourage federal and state governments to invest more in technological research and development. As much as we need to import the most updated technologies, we also need to develop home grown ideas that are unique to our problems and environment. There is need to have a technological database, state of the art construction equipment and many more innovations.

Experts have lamented poor quality in housing delivery in the country. How could practitioners address this malaise?

The issue of substandard housing development remains a major cause of concern for us professionals. Because of the lack of supra-regulation in the industry, a lot of unprofessional developers have been able to operate without any form of regulation and sanction for their misdeeds.

This year, we are going to specifically advocate for the establishment of a supra-regulatory agency to oversee every activity in the housing, mortgage and construction industries. Currently, there are only professional bodies that are operating in silos. But there is need for unanimous accountability to a body established by law. This has to happen if we must curtail the issue of poor quality housing delivery. Only dubious and unprofessional developers use low quality materials. True professionals cannot afford to tarnish their image by using such materials. We need to sieve out the bad eggs.

At Abuja International Housing Show for example, we have been able to liaise with all professional bodies to ensure that only credible developers participate at the show. If we have an overseeing regulatory agency, it will be easier to fish out the bad eggs and maintain a standard that cannot be compromised.

The menace of building collapse has remained unresolved in the sector. What is the best way to address the situation?

Like I said in the last question, the establishment of a supra-regulatory agency will greatly limit the situation. If there is an organisation that holds every developer accountable and to a certain standard, we wouldn’t have the problem of building collapse. We need a body that can enforce these rules and wield the big stick. There are some so-called developers that are not professionals. They are getting away with their transgressions because there is no one to punish them.

Apart from establishing a regulatory agency for quality control, there is also the need for state governments and municipal authorities to identify old and dilapidating structures that can no longer stand the test of time.

Enforcement agencies should ensure that residents in such buildings are evacuated and such buildings brought down in order to prevent a greater disaster. So it’s important for everyone to keep an eye on what’s going on. Prevention, like they say, is better than cure.

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