Tell us about your experience as former OPIC MD?
I am a real estate developer; I have been a real estate developer since the year 2000. I was approached in 2013 and invited to join the administration of Sen. Ibikunle Amosun who had a mandate and desire to rebuild and transform the state from being a civil service-oriented community to one that was business-friendly. He wanted a developer on his team and he invited me to join him. I was actually sworn in as a Special Adviser on Works and Investment in May 2014 and thereafter concurrently assigned the role of Managing Director, Ogun State Property and Investment Corporation.
When I joined OPIC, it was a 29-year-old corporation, it owned the largest industrial estate in sub-Saharan Africa which is Agbara Estate. Everything was run like the usual civil service establishment; we had offices that were not befitting, not computerized, staff were demoralized, equipment had run down, nothing was working. We also had huge security challenges in our estate in Agbara where a lot of our lands had been high jacked by land grabbers and we also had a lot of clients who had defaulted their payment obligations.
It was a big disaster and what the Governor then said to me was that he was giving me a marching order to turn the place around. That meant I had to take people who only understood civil service language and teach them to understand the language of business, and while at the same time moving at top speed to restructure the entire organization. It was quite a tough experience especially because I was coming to the public sector with zero prior public sector knowledge and experience working in that sector; I was a real estate developer. So what we had to do was a lot of reorientation, retraining, we had to upgrade the entire office itself.
After all these, we carried out a forensic audit and found out that over 500 hectares of our land had been basically grabbed by people who had not paid for them. Working with the state government, we had to conduct massive security sweep in Agbara and restore sanity. It was so bad then that industrialists had abandoned their factories and flour mills. Trucks were broken down everywhere and there was nothing going on. We had to go in there, restructure and do everything to make it work. Between 2013 and 2015 we were able to deliver over 15 km of road networks in Agbara, recover all the lands that had been stolen, encourage and attract new industries. Some of the companies that came in then included diaper manufacturers, flour mills among others.
After we succeeded in doing that in Agbara, we moved to Abeokuta the state capital, it was still a civil service town. There was nothing that appealed to industries to stay there. What we used to have was that most companies would come to Abeokuta for meetings and then leave for Lagos. We were able to deliver Orange Valley, which was the first gated community in the whole of Ogun State. We delivered six semi-detached duplexes from 2013 to 2014.
When we finished there, we moved to create a blended mixed-use community where we had both residential and commercial plots. We delivered all the road networks, the power, the water and again attracted industry. There are about four multi-million dollar industries there now that came in due to our intervention. After we finished that and based on our track record, we were able to get a partnership with Family Homes Fund, which was a Federal Government-backed initiative to build affordable houses in Nigeria. OPIC won a contract to build 120 housing units at New Makun City. That is still ongoing as we speak.
From there we moved to Isheri which was supposed to be Ogun State’s version of Lekki but it was undervalued because there was no infrastructure, the whole place was massively undervalued despite its close proximity to Lagos. We went in and delivered 188 Housing apartments along with all the supporting Infrastructure.
By the time we were rounding up, we were called by the state government to build what it called VIP Housing in Abeokuta that dignitaries could use when they come for meetings in Abeokuta.
That is what gave birth to Mitros Residences Hotel, originally it was not meant to be a hotel but by the time we finished, it was so expensive, so well done that we decided it would not be prudent to just use it for government dignitaries. So we got approval from the state government and turned it into a hotel which is still operating till today.
What was the value of OPIC when you met it and what was it by the time you were leaving?
By the time I was sworn in, the maximum OPIC had ever contributed to Government coffers was about N20 million cumulative. For all the over 20 years it was in existence I don’t think it was even up to N100 million. But within a six-year period, with the active support of His Excellency the Governor and his encouragement, OPIC did more than N1.9 billion in remittance to the state government. We went from a corporation that had assets that were undermined and undervalued to one that did a turnover of N18.7 billion within a six-year period.
OPIC did not get subventions from government, OPIC had to generate resources to fund all its work. Because the government was averse to commercial loans we could also not borrow, so what we always did was to invest recapitalize all the returns we get from our various projects. Despite doing that, we were still about to deliver returns of N1.9 billion to the state government.
During this period, the government mandated us in conjunction with other agencies to turn around the Gateway Mortgage Bank. We were able to turn it around and make it a going concern, all within this six-year period.
In terms of assets, what was the value before your exit from OPIC?
Until we came, OPIC just takes land, not improve it and just sell it as it is. But while we were leaving office in May 2019, if you valued the total assets of OPIC, it was a N50 to N60 billion corporation. We had lands we had recovered and fenced and were available to developers. We also had the Mitros Residences which is a massive investment and a very profitable one for the state government.
With your experience in OPIC, do you think the housing deficit be bridged and why has government intervention not worked over the years?
The issue of mass housing has been very predominant in the last couple of years. A major challenge for Nigerians is the issue of first installment demanded by real estate companies and developers, ranging from 10 to 20 percent. How can it be done differently to achieve success?
Let us start from this premise. And this will be strange coming from somebody who has also run a public enterprise. Government has no business in business. The way government is structured, they can never succeed in doing a commercial venture. Because the exigencies for them is about political will, interests and all of those factors. So, any commercial project that is being driven and executed by government will be doomed from day one. And that has been the story of mass housing in Nigeria since 1963.
To get it right, there must be a mix and a blend of the public and private sectors. If we do not have a blend of public commitment and private capital, mass housing projects will fail.
But let me say this: social housing is a government function. No private developer can do social housing because it requires subsidies, concessions that only government can put in place.