Armstrong 'Tope Akintunde is the Executive Director, Special Project at Suru Group. He is also the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Aerofield Homes Limited- a firm actively engaged in the construction of several multi-million naira housing projects. In this interview, Akintunde speaks on several issues including how the government can bridge the housing deficit in the country.
Successive governments have promoted low-cost housing units as a way to cure housing challenges in the country. How realistic is low housing policy with the recent downturns in our economy?
To achieve low-cost housing in Nigerian requires more than juicy rhetorical commentaries. It requires well laid-out, conscientious and concerted efforts by the government. The plan by any government desirous of low-cost housing projects must put into consideration the activities and the contributions of professionals and artisans in building, as well as manufactures and sellers of building materials.
The cluster of these classes of people and committed and selfless government representatives will lead to attaining such goal. It must be taken into consideration that no matter how genuine the intention is or strong the drive maybe if the prices of building materials are not controlled or managed, the idea will never come to fruition. It will be comparable with winking in the dark, because, if the prices of building materials remain exorbitant, the possibility of building low-cost housing will be frustrated.
How best can public-private sectors involvement bridge housing deficit?
The method of bridging the deficit is realizable when government commitment to the aspiration is well thought out and pursued vigorously. One, the government should make reasonable prices of land available to private property investors. This will forestall the presence of the class of people called land grabbers or area boys who are fond of making some financial inducement from builders before they can commence building at their sites.
Two, governments should also encourage private housing investors by giving them some waivers in the areas of official payments such as C of O, construction charges etc as this will not only reduce cost of building but also give them confidence about governments' support. Additionally, knowing that we have land developers everywhere, governments could partner with some tested and result-oriented ones amongst them, because the government alone cannot do it all.
As a developer, how do you rate Nigerians' disposable income ratio to homes ownership?
As a developer, I must state that no Nigerians earning between N20, 000 to N100, 000, can really afford a home with the increasing cost of living education, transportation, health and feeding. Besides, the cost of building materials is increasing daily. The only way this class of people could own homes is by cooperative arrangements, other self-help projects or by governments support in the form of mortgage or some form of allocations in which the costs are deducted from their salaries.
We have been able to surmount the problem because of our realistic and focused approach to the home sector. We prioritised the sector and deployed all efforts required. As earlier enumerated, housing programmes, particularly low-cost ones are realizable with dedication, determination and genuine drive by the government.
What would you say is responsible for the incessant building collapses in the country?
Building collapse has become a recurring decimal in the country because of the selfishness of both builders and governments on the grounds that many of them are not doing the necessary things. A builder wants to use the materials for one building to build two or three houses. Government officials who are supposed to supervise and inspect the propriety or standards of materials to be used are not ready to go to the site for inspection once the builder is ready to settle them.
There are reported cases of building approval done in the offices with the officials charged with such responsibility merely relying on the information supplied by the builders. Additionally, reports abound that many potential homeowners employ quacks who only adopt trial and errors instead of professional builders who are seasoned with building experiences. As long as standards are compromised and supervising authority is lackadaisical, collapse building experience will continue.
What would say are some of the challenges entrepreneurs face in growing their businesses?
Nigeria's Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises are faced with many challenges which have stunted their growth and development. Some of these challenges are poor infrastructural facilities, inadequate funding and lack of access to capital, weak managerial and entrepreneurial skills, limited demand for their products and services, and competition from foreign products.
Among these challenges, the most restricting is the inadequacy of funds and lack of access to capital. Indeed, most of the other problems could easily be resolved with sufficient finance. Our financial institutions typically wait for entrepreneurs to become successful before they take any serious interest in their businesses. However creative and innovative they are, these entrepreneurs often cannot meet the strict credit risk acceptance criteria of banks.
What are your thoughts on the unemployment situation in the country especially among the youths?
Nigeria has suffered the paradox of economic growth without development for many years. Many economists often lament what they have come to describe as our "jobless growth". While all macro-economic indices point to an economy which is truly growing and there is a noticeable improvement in our public infrastructure, especially power and roads, unemployment still remains a challenge.
With our huge population comprising mainly youths, this is worrisome and a great threat to our posterity. Nigeria needs to achieve a quick-win solution that ensures that most of our employable citizens are gainfully engaged. We must harness the innovative spirit and entrepreneurial acumen of our people in our battle against unemployment. We must empower our entrepreneurs to be in the position to create jobs on a large scale.
However, as our institutions want it to grow across the federation, having been a business entrepreneur myself and having been a resource person in several training programs for entrepreneurs, as a matter of priority, we intend to establish a world-class academy for the training and development of young entrepreneurs in the nearest future. It shall be a centre of excellence which others would want to emulate.