First let me congratulate the NIESV for the occasion that has warranted this short address, namely, the induction of a new executive for the Lagos State branch of the institution. I join other dignified and accomplished Nigerians who have honoured this invitation to congratulate the new team. Going by the little that I know of the Lagos state branch of this important professional association, the expectations are quite high. The expectations are high not just because there is a new team or because the challenges that face the association have changed dramatically. After all, as Nigerians we are becoming immune to the promise of change when new teams come into town only for old habits to persist and entrench while old problems ramify.

Having followed the history of the NIESV in Lagos especially, I can conclude that the expectations have been raised because the new team is stepping into the big shoes of very illustrious predecessors. By the strategic nature of Lagos in the nation’s real estate and development matrix, the relevance, success or failure of this association is difficult to hide. I can therefore assure the new team that their task is going to be even more herculean because of the energy that the concept of Lagos as a megacity has unleashed. The nature of our current economic and social challenges as a nation indicates that more and more people will migrate into a city like Lagos with no return ticket in view.

When I received the invitation to deliver an address to this gathering, I could only understand it vaguely. I do get invited to any number of occasions to deliver an address but in any gathering of wealthy property owners and merchants. I strained to figure it out. First, the new chairman knows me more than casually (as I will disclose later). Yes, I do have business with real estate in terms of buying land, building or buying houses and either using them for residential or commercial purposes but not in any industrial scale as to warrant being invited to address such an august assembly of stakeholders as this.

And quite honestly, my reputation and resume does not include any direct dealings with real estate the way this association understands and deals with it. So, I would say that I am the least qualified to deliver this address.

On second thoughts, I said: why not? After all, I am first and foremost a journalist and public affairs consultant, a capacity in which I can claim some name recognition. I earn a living by making people and organisations look very good. Perhaps my professional preparation as a journalist probably qualifies me to give this address.

In every other profession, when you dabble into other people’s fields, you get a caution: “mind your business’! But by the nature of what we do as journalists, we are at our best when we are minding other people’s business. Take a few familiar scenarios: a building under construction collapses somewhere in Lagos; suddenly Victoria Island and Lekki residents are flooded out of their homes; some politicians decide that the best bank for safe keeping of public money is a private apartment in some rich Abuja or Lagos precinct; Boko Haram decides to blow up a bus terminal or a university somewhere in Nigeria’s North East; some group of crack heads decide to issue a quit notice to fellow Nigerians living in Lagos; a well dressed medical doctor on a leisure drive along Third Mainland bridge decides to park his car and plunge into the Lagoon without a safety float; etc. etc.

In all these scenarios that should sound familiar, it is the journalist that society holds primarily accountable. The so-called public accountability that we like to demand from those who lead our public and corporate lives is the primary responsibility of the journalist. As the news breaks, we intervene to answer the questions: What? Where? When? How many dead or missing? How much was stolen? What happens next? Etc. etc. In this capacity, journalists are in fact the real ‘first responders’ who alert others to an emergency, a crisis, an unusual happening.

Without the alert of ‘breaking news’, all other alerts become doubtful. We are, therefore, the unacknowledged front liners in the daily battles, which keep society moving. Either as news reporters or commentators, we owe society a huge debt of truthful accountability and responsible manipulation. In order to perform this strategic role credibly, there are two crucial requirements that a proper journalist must possess: knowledge and objectivity. All good journalists are ‘Jacks of all trades’, masters of one- information. You must know a bit of everything in order to inform society credibly and objectively. In addition, you must view and present reality from a detached objective perspective so that all sides are presented and represented. And you must do all these without yourself becoming the news object. The only way a journalist makes instant breaking news is to die on the job as we have seen repeatedly in the wars of the new Middle East.

So much for the role of journalists in presenting reality. So whatever I say here about real estate and the role of professional estate surveyors and valuers, you must accord me the freedom to which journalistic license entitles me to dabble into a territory that is strictly not mine.

Living Under the Housing Bridge

The primary business of your profession is to assist government and the private sector in the development and management of the nation’s stock of land and landed property. Your calling is made the more challenging when there is no clear articulation of the nation’s land utilization and real estate development policy and strategy. In such a situation, the narrowness of vision and perspective of policy makers tends to define the role and set the professional limits of estate surveyors and valuers.

In the case of Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt as the nation’s largest population centers, the role is defined mostly by the unusually high demand for residential and commercial property. While members of this association continue to offer valuable services and advise in the areas of development of commercial and industrial real estate, it is mostly in the area of residential property that your public relevance is most prominently defined. This would seem to be dictated by the realities of the Nigerian market place.

Because of the mismatch between demand and supply in the stock of residential property, what comes to mind when a Lagosian hears of estate valuers and surveyors is the ‘estate agent.’ In the minds of the teeming population, the term estate agent makes no distinction between the qualified professionals gathered in this venue and the multitude of quacks and touts milling around neighbourhoods scouting for vacant apartments, rooms and houses and matching these up against undiscerning and often desperate clients. Anyone who technically can link you up to a vacant accommodation and earns a modest commission in the process is your estate agent. Period.

This is therefore one area in which the challenge of the new executive and the rest of the association in Lagos is clearly defined. What do you do with the army of unqualified, unregulated and free raiding ‘estate agents’ who often dupe and defraud hapless home seekers or prospective land buyers?

The Challenge of Homelessness

Since the end of the Nigerian civil war, ‘going to Lagos’ has become synonymous with going in search of gold and prosperity. There is an understanding in this myth that Lagos is so replete with opportunities that it does not matter whether you go there to sleep under the bridge. Again we must understand the origins of these assumptions. In the post war oil boom economy, a network of crisscrossing bridges and flyovers was symptomatic of robust development and massive wealth. The rapid infrastructure transformation of Lagos in the 1970s as symbolized by these bridges beckoned on an assortment of Nigerians and West Africans to come over to Lagos, the gateway to Nigeria’s Eldorado. Well, instructively, most of those who massed into Lagos in the 1970s and 1980s have either died in disappointment or returned to their original homes in decrepit penury. Of course, like in all things human, a few survivors have persisted and thrived. Yet Lagos remains attractive as available statistics indicate that the majority of these who come into Lagos in search of a better life never plan to leave.

No one should discourage rural to urban migration. It should in fact be a basis for strategic planning for a future modern Nigeria. In all success stories national development and modernization, the trend is to encourage more people to move to urban areas while the few left in the rural areas are made more productive in agriculture by modern methods. But the urban areas must then become centers of industry and big time commercial activities in order to absorb the migrants and convert them into an economic force. Ready examples of this trend are provided by China, Singapore and even Brazil.

In Nigeria, 50% of our estimated population of 184 million live in urban areas already. Our urbanization is growing at an estimated average of 3.75% of the population, creating an ever-bulging demand for affordable housing.

As it relates to housing supply and delivery, the migrations into the urban areas of Nigeria mainly Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano/Kaduna have already created a housing deficit for Nigeria. According to latest estimates from the National Bureau of Statistics, 108 million of Nigeria’s estimated 185 million population are homeless. This puts the housing shortage at an estimated 18 million units. In order to close this gap in the next 10 years, public and private supply of new housing stocks will be at least 170,000 units per annum for another 10 years.

This is not to say that housing supply is static. There is an annual growth of 8.7% in real estate space. But curiously, commercial private real estate investment and development is concentrated in the luxury segment in urban areas. Demand in this segment is driven of course by increased inflow of expatriates and the gradual growth of an indigenous middle class. This elite driven real estate market cannot adequately drive and meet the housing needs of the nation.

The vast majority of the populace need houses but is too poor to afford houses at the going rates. Over 50% of our population is trapped in the belt that has to survive on the now proverbial $1 a day. A university graduate on the current government’s N-Power programme earns N30, 000 ($83) a month or $2.70 a day. Our national minimum wage is $60 a month. Clearly, these abysmal income levels make home ownership unaffordable for the majority. According to the Centre for Affordable Home Financing in Africa, for instance, an average middle level apartment in a Nigerian city costs up to $100,000, attracting an average rent of $5,000 a year. As a result, our home ownership rate is 25% or less with a mortgage penetration rate of 0.6% of GDP.

Mitigating the Militating Factors

Nigeria’s embarrassing housing deficit is worst in an area that only government intervention can make a difference, namely, public housing. The provision of houses for federal and state public servants, local government employees, rural and semi urban dwellers do not make sense to private real estate investors. Only government can take the necessary risk in a segment where the risk to return ratio is heavily weighted on risk.

Beyond the direct provision of housing for which government is hardly equipped, the real challenge is in creating the environment that will enable an increased number of Nigerians to own their own homes. In this regard, access to mortgage financing, reform of title holdings, reduction in cost of land and building materials are priority areas.

In Conclusion

The foregoing represents is a layman’s perspective of the challenges that lie ahead of this institution. These challenges require that you engage more strategically with governments at federal and state levels to address the housing needs of the nation. This does not mean that residential housing alone is the imperative for your profession. But it is to my mind the immediate priority. While poverty has many components, it seems to me that two elements are most fundamental: food for the stomach and shelter from the elements. You here gathered are called by your profession to help our people avoid the shame of homelessness especially in our bulging urban areas.