ADETUNJI ABRAHAM ABIODUN, who describes himself as an early riser, a goal-getter, and growth-inclined individual, is the group managing director (GMD) of Arkset Group, a real estate development company that targets every Nigerian in need of housing irrespective of his income level. In this interview with CHUKA UROKO, he speaks on the Nigerian real estate sector, advises the new government on the way forward for the sector, and also offers insights on the impact Arkset Group has been able make in the market. Excerpts:
One thing seems to be common among real estate developers in Nigeria. Everyone, including you, says he is in business to help bridge the country’s housing deficit, yet the deficit keeps increasing. How large is this deficit and what is its market value?
As of 2015, Nigeria had a housing deficit estimated at 17 million units which required about N59.5 trillion to close. So it’s obvious there is a shortage of affordable homes, especially for low-income families and, of course, we cannot over-emphasize its effect on their productivity and the nation’s economy at large.
Therefore, the task of bridging the gap is a collective one, especially for industry players like us. If you look at our mantra as a company which is ‘Adding Value to You,’ it’s self-explanatory. It’s not class- specific; we care for everyone’s housing needs because accommodation is one of man’s four cardinal needs. Suffice it to say, many of our projects are a testament to our commitment to bridging this gap, not just in Nigeria but in Africa.
This deficit translates into opportunities for investors, but the housing sector is not among the top three performers in the economy. What would be your suggestions to make the sector grow and contribute more to GDP?
Real estate in Nigeria is yet to advance to the level of impacting the growth of our national GDP and the reason is because the secrets of the sector are yet to be explored by both investors and the government. We are yet to harness its potential to the benefit of Nigerians.
What I will advise the government to do in this regard is to discourage real estate practices that are not geared towards job creation but serves as a conduit for siphoning money or proceeds of corruption.
Developers should be sensitized on the need to operate within their means so that projects can be completed in record time to yield timely returns. There should also be quality control while shortchanging supply contracts and false practices should be discouraged.
I strongly believe that if all these are put in check, real estate will contribute more our country’s GDP.
President Bola Tinubu says he will merge all federal housing agencies into a bigger one. How viable is this decision? Which of the agencies would you advise him to merge and why?
The merger will be good for our country. It will be a unique opportunity to reposition and restructure the affected agencies to ensure that they are fit for purpose and deliver government priorities for the benefit of citizens.
It will help the government to tackle the perennial problems of overstaffing or understaffing in certain ministries, departments and agencies which leads to duplication of functions, lack of clear job descriptions, and performance management system.
I think it will also address the issue of incompetence in executing priority programmes in the housing sector, and you know these issues affect all ministries not just the Ministry of Works and Housing.
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Your mission in this business, we learnt, is to bridge the gap between the then, the now, and the future of real estate by integrating technology into buildings. How do you do this?
You will agree with me that there is a paradigm shift towards technology across all spheres of human endeavours and real estate is no exception. Technology has affected the way we now develop products and systems in the industry. It has affected designs, materials, and the kind of innovations being introduced.
At Arkset, we are innovating the then, by upscaling what we had in future models and technology. We are innovating the present by connecting what is obtainable today with the past to create a future that allows you to replace certain traditional ways of living with simple and full-on-smart automation to conserve your energy.
Nirvana Estate, which is your flagship project so far, started in Ilorin, Kwara State, which is not a known real estate destination, yet you assure investors of 300% ROI. What are the growth drivers?
Nirvana was a successful project in Ilorin hence its replication in Lagos and Abuja. Nirvana Ilorin is close to the Ilorin International Airport (now renamed by immediate President Buhari as Babatunde Idiagbon International Airport). Nirvana Abuja is at Karshi (adjacent to the Navy Estate), while Nirvana Lagos is at Epe (facing the Ketu-Epe Express).
I can say the growth of this project, like every other real estate project, is driven by factors like population growth, favorable government policies, infrastructural development, economic growth, and foreign investment. The changes in these factors have given rise to more demand for residential, commercial, and industrial real estate in the country.
And as we continue to get it right with these factors, the demand will keep rising, especially the demand for smarter ways of living and you can imagine the attendant effect it will have on our economy.
Nirvana embodies a seamless blend of nature, technology, and architectural brilliance needed to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the Lagos metropolis. Tell us more.
Very true, the project was carefully planned for individuals and families who are seeking to break away from the hustle and bustle of Lagos metropolis and yet enjoy easy access to the metropolis when need arises. The city boasts of smart technologies designed to simplify everyday practical functions to make life easier for its residents. Some of them are:
Finger print access control; intrusion alarm system; 365 surveillance camera, video entry access, olympic –sized swimming pool, fully automated gated community
Its seamless balance of economy, family needs, and lifestyle, allows its residents to live, work, share ideas, and indulge within the city. Nirvana is a high-yielding investment venture due to its proximity to notable economic landmarks in one of Lagos’s fastest-developing axis.
As a high-yielding investment project that promises over 300% returns annually, Nirvana, as you said, is also being developed in both Lagos and Abuja where it is at various stages of completion. What is the level of investors’ interest in the project in the two locations?
The interesting thing is that we have so many eagle-eyed investors in Nigeria. I mean people who are so good at sighting opportunities to invest. So the interest level for this project is high because of its many benefits like its uniqueness, proximity to economic activities, infrastructural development, mixed-use (Hybrid) nature, the plot size; which comes in 600sqm as against 500sqm or less by other projects in the same axis. The city allows you to live where you work and work where you live due to its technologically advanced facilities.
Some developers like you say affordability of a property is not about how much buyers have to pay, but how easy or convenient it is for them to pay. What are your thoughts on this?
We at Arkset Group are aware of the economic situation of the country and also the disparity in economic classes. That’s why we designed very flexible payment plans to make the opportunity
accessible to every hard-working Nigerian. Our payment plans give our customers greater power and flexibility, which in turn increases our sales and reach to a larger market.
Who are your main target market and how easy or otherwise is it for them to key into your projects, given that your mission is to encourage many Nigerians to get on to the property ladder? What value propositions do you normally offer investors?
Our target audience or market is every hardworking Nigerian who desires a smart and quality housing experience. That’s why we have investment packages tailored to suit individual needs. And yes, we encourage every Nigerian to invest in property because real estate is the most stable and reliable form of investment and research has proven it over the years.
The values are endless; security against inflation, high capital appreciation, and lots more. Real estate is also the most potent way of creating trans-generational wealth.
All your projects, we learnt, have commercial rental spaces designed for investors whose core interests are in the hospitality, e-commerce, and financial sectors. What about investors who are into residential development or individuals buying for homeownership?
Yes, there is room for such investors. It is part of what informs the location of our projects. When picking out our project sites we go for emerging economic hubs and the reason is simple: Anywhere businesses are moving to, you will find humans migrating there in search of jobs and investment opportunities and that gives rise to accommodation needs. So, if you look through each of our projects, we have both commercial and residential districts catering for both interests.
Where do you have your main challenges since you came into this business? Do you have any regrets about venturing into real estate?
There is no regret at all. Real estate is something I am passionate about. I started the journey as a student, after emerging as the President of my Church Campus fellowship in the University of Ilorin and there was an accommodation challenge for my members. I initiated a rental project for the fellowship which generated millions for the organization.
Back home, I replicated the same thing in my church’s local assembly by leading my community youths to build the church’s Missions’ House. These projects are still being used today. They gave me the impetus to launch my passion and since then, it has been a long and eventful journey in the industry, with several breakthrough moments. Now we are building smart cities.
Are there challenges? Of course, there are. Inflation in the prices of materials, the dwindling value of naira as against dollar as most of the smart features we use for our projects are from foreign manufacturers. We also have the issue of government policies, checks and balances etc.
However, these challenges will always be there. The most important thing is staying consistent with our vision, sincerity of purpose, focus, and commitment to delivering optimal value because it’s what has helped us scale every hurdle we have encountered over the years.
Now, looking at the present pain in Nigeria, do you foresee any future gain? What are your projections for Arkset Group in the next five years?
The truth is every country has experienced what we are facing in Nigeria or even worse and came out of it better and stronger. So we cannot lose hope; this is the only country we have and people are making it here. The other day, some foreigners naturalized as Nigerians and they wouldn’t do that if there is no gain. So I am very optimistic that we will overcome our challenges and enjoy the huge potential of this country.
Five years from now, Arkset Group will expand in leaps and bounds, more cities will be developed by us, more customers satisfied, and more wealth created for the benefit of Nigerians and Nigeria.