In this interview, Otunba Tunji Sotimirin shares his views on various aspects of real estate and housing issues arising in Nigeria. He also has some very insightful messages for real estate investors, developers and practitioners in general. The youths are not left out too, just as he also has something to say about retirement. Please read and leave your comments.
NREH: Please introduce yourself to us Sir.
T.J: My name is Olatunji Sotimirin. I am a performing artiste and I also teach Drama in the department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos
NREH: Nice to meet you sir
T.J: Thank you so much
NREH: Very quickly, we would like to ask sir, growing up, what was your experience like? Did you ever live in a rented apartment where you have a landlord and what kind of rented apartment? What was your experience like?
T.J: Well, you know of course when we were younger, we were living with our parents. We grew up with our parents, under our parents, under their guidance in a rented apartment but of course after a while, they too graduated to a point where they had to build their own properties so we’re occupying what you could call our own house
NREH: I want to know if you were old enough to understand how life was under a landlord.
T.J: Well, let me say from my own experience personally, a lot of things have changed really. In the good old days, they were really concerned about the welfare of the tenants and all of that. I mean, what they concerned themselves about was that you paid all the bills. If they brought NEPA bills, you are responsible for it, you took care of the environment, make sure it is clean and everybody cooperated. You know you had people who will come and wash the place and people are paying them and that was the organization of the accommodation during that period when we were growing up but as time went on you found out that most of these landlords have become shylocks of persons. If you don’t pay a certain amount, suddenly they will just increase the rent and that becomes frustrating for tenants. Houses have become unnecessarily exorbitant to the point that it becomes very difficult for people to afford and before you know it, they will say, “Alright, my children are in the US, they want to come home. Please we give you two or three months to vacate the place” and people will not have a choice but to then go and look for somewhere that they feel convenient but it’s not even easy to get accommodation. Agents will be giving you stress. You get this agent now and he will tell you bring this percentage, bring that percentage. I think the entire experience generally is frustrating till now. That is what one encounters but if you are lucky, on one or two occasions, one has dealt directly with owners of the properties. Some of them are very kind, not all. Some are kind but some will say, “Okay, we know you,” especially if you are a known face and all of that. They will say, “Alright we will give you accommodation, there’s no problem,” and some give conditions. They will say,”If you are not married, we cannot give you accommodation” and if you are within a particular age bracket that will not convince them that you are responsible enough, they will not give you accommodation. If you are a lady and you are not married, it’s a huge problem for them. However, in some instances, people who bring money are the ones they give priority even if they know you are responsible. Some of these problems are very complex to deal with when it comes to landlord situations.
NREH: Okay sir, sorry to cut you short but I’d like to ask, Nigeria is currently facing 17 million housing deficit. Can we say this problem is the problem of the government or individuals themselves who are contributing to this housing deficit?
T.J: I want to say that it is the problem of planning, of infrastructural provision of the necessary welfare for the people. It is lack of planning to be honest with you because if we have plans, we would have made provisions. We know all the population, we cannot deal with the immediate population, you have to think ahead, you have to vision ahead and plan ahead because the population is rising over time everyday so the houses or accommodation that are available can no longer serve the people so you now see individuals taking the responsibility to expand with the resources that they have. They now say, “Okay, we are going to Mowe, we are going to this, we are going to that, we are going to build estates” instead of government to have used their initiative to plan for them. I mean in advanced countries, you find out that you can buy properties for as long as you are able to pay back based on the mortgage system but here that’s not the case.
I think the huge responsibility lies on government who did not plan. Currently, it is some leaders in government who have visions that are reconstructing some of the issues of lack of planning, Jakande for instance in his regime tried to provide accommodation for the category you can call the common people to make it affordable and that is what I call somebody coming in to say in spite of lack of planning of predecessors, I, this is what I want to introduce because he has also been exposed to an environment where we need to provide the welfare, particularly accommodation for people so he therefore created avenues for them to be able to benefit from this welfare accommodation so it is really a government problem to answer the question straight
NREH: What is the way out for individuals like us who are not part of the government? How would you advise people to better their situations? Investment wise, do you think it’s wise for people to start investing in real estate, to begin to think of building their own houses? What are the various advice you can give to people as far as building or investing in real estate is concerned
T.J: I would say that it is not a bad idea for people to invest in real estate because at the end of the day, you have nothing to lose, rather, you will gain because you cannot forever live in a rented apartment. The most important thing about accommodation is the comfort of the occupants and when you rent an apartment, there is no way you can really live the kind of life of comfort that you want to live so I want to advise that people should invest in real estate and manage their resources in such a way that they can plough whatever gains and profits they make from their businesses into provision of accommodation because that will outlast them. Generations that will come after them will benefit from it. Once accommodation is out of the problem of the legions of problems that people have, you will not be a miscreant. You find people that are referred to as area boys sleeping under bridges, even people that are not area boys. Some people will travel from their villages to come to Lagos and they will live under the bridges and bus-stops and stuffs like that. If we had proper planning and accommodation, nobody should be living under bridges and at bus-stops so it is important that people invest in real estate
NREH: So let’s come down to your profession, the entertainment – movie sector. How do you think real estate has impacted or can impact the entertainment world?
T.J: I would say that because of the nature of arts, which is broad, it’s a dynamic discipline and whoever is a practitioner has the capacity to make it, to create awareness through that medium therefore, the real estate sector should collaborate. I want to highlight the issue of collaboration with the performing artiste, with the visual artiste; you know whatever area of arts. For instance, let’s say you make a location where the artiste will want to come and record or even rehearse their plays, you need apartments that will be separated from the mainstream where there will be distractions from the nature of the artistic expressions that you may want to execute. The real estate sector can therefore help to say, “Alright, when you need this location, or accommodation or hotel for your artiste, we will be ready to provide this and you will in turn give us a lot of publicity.” There should be a way to synergize. You will give us publicity and we carry ourselves along, projecting the objectives of both sectors. I think that will work instead of the artiste going about, begging people to for accommodation. Once the issue of space is sorted out, the burden, even for both sectors will be taken from both shoulders.
NREH: Even on that, I want to take you to Hollywood. You know, there is a place in Los Angeles called Hollywood which is a large expanse of land where people go to produce movies. Do you think Nigeria should imbibe this, being the third largest movie producer in the world? Do you think we should have somewhere like that?
T.J: But of course we should! I mean, I see a lot of independent, well, one or two independent bodies trying to invest into that sort of thing. I know that they… I can’t remember, is it Donald Duke or…
T.J: Yes, Tinapa. I think that is the concept. It’s already happening. Before Chief Hubert Ogunde died, the whole idea was to create a very good environment where artistes could record and live. I don’t know what is happening to the Ososa concept anymore. Perhaps the family didn’t really pursue the vision because that was the whole thing. The old man has a very big space in Ososa where people can use for this sort of thing and there should be so many like that. It should not just be one place. For instance when Professor Soyinka had his eightieth birthday recently, they had to go and produce a play, “Dance of the Forest” in his own village and it’s a very big place. That could also serve as a very good and credible location. Again, where the real estate sector can also collaborate is when you have personalities, celebrities, key figures who own such properties. Look at in London, a Stratford upon Avon where you have Shakespeare village. People go there on holiday, it becomes a huge carnival; some people even sleep over
NREH: It can become a tourist attraction
T.J: Exactly! In the same manner, personalities, celebrities, key figures in the society should manage their estate and they should collaborate and cooperate in projecting whatever ideas that both groups have. This is what I suggest
NREH: We are almost rounding off, I just have a few questions left. I want to have your view of the omo-onile situation in Nigeria. What do you think of it?
T.J: It’s a crazy thing. That’s why I said government should have made a lot of provision not to give these street urchins room to operate. I call them never-do-wells. I hate people who put unnecessary pressure on human beings. Because your father has a land and people are genuinely, sincerely and legitimately want to buy the property and you are saying, even if after they have paid, you still go there to extort them. It just shows we live in a lawless country. When Fashola came to Unilag and he was asked this question, he said, “Look, you should not go and buy properties from these people and if you do, you have to pursue it legally.” Make the transaction legal, I think that is the bottom line. I dealt with one or two of them at some point and when they were working on the property, they came and said they were going to beat up the people on site and I was around. I said, “You know what we are going to do? If this is the attitude you are going to display, then let’s take it to the Press. Let’s call NTA and other stations to come and cover this.” That was when they piped down. They also don’t want to be exposed but I see them as serious, huge nuisance in the society and I think government should take the bull by the horn and deal with them severely. Security measures should be taken. Yes, we will follow things legally but as you know in this country, most people will negotiate based on personal relationship. After you have signed the document with one of the members of the family who you consider a serious person and seal the transaction, one nuisance will come and start giving you problems but when you take a legal step, this can be avoided. The worst of it is that they sell the same property to about three, four, five people! Anyway, I think it’s about when you buy it, register it, follow the legal means and I think it will reduce frustrations
NREH: Okay. In conclusion, I have just two personal questions. The young people of today growing up and trying to stand on their feet, when they have little change, the first thing that comes to their mind is “I want to buy a car” Do you think for a young person, the first thing to buy is a car or to start thinking of building a house? What would you advise?
T.J: You know the irony is that most young people like you have said, their priority vary. There are some of them who are really wise, deep thinkers. They have the depth of knowledge that surpasses that of elderly people; some are gifted like that. Most young people will see the necessity to invest into cars because they believe their car is their home, they can move anywhere. Their car is their office, their car is everything, their car is multi-functional; they believe they should invest in it. They believe the car will bring them more money when they move about; the car will help them to raise money to even buy land. A lot of these young people don’t see themselves jumping on okada or molue after graduating especially those who have gone to school. To them it’s demeaning but those who are wise will invest into landed properties. I just think it depends because there are situations that will warrant you taking certain decisions. Some people will say, “Well, I’m not really ready for all that now. My father has this and that so let me buy my own car. I can still manage my father’s house.” That’s why I’m saying there are so many considerations that will be responsible for taking some decisions but generally speaking, I will say that young people, if they have the money, should invest in real estate
NREH: Finally sir, we would like to ask if you also support the idea of retiring to the village after spending a lot of time in Lagos by building a house there. Do you think it’s a wise decision?
T.J: I know that a lot of people do it nowadays. The nature of my work is such that I cannot retire and go and sit down in one village. I know that some of our elders are already doing it but it depends on the environment that you find yourself whether the cosmopolitan environment or the village setting. For instance, at ninety or hundred years, you are still useful in this our trade. Although Sunny Ade has done it. He went to his village to stay and when he has engagements, he travels down but to me, it is stress. To be honest with you, I don’t think it is worth the risk involved. Why not get a lovely apartment in an area where you will be easily reached? What is important is security in that environment. Are the facilities you have enough to make you feel comfortable? It doesn’t make sense to travel on the road several times when you know you can be called at anytime for shows and programs. In our nature of job, we go for workshops and facilitate trainings and you are required to travel a lot! If Ambassador Olusola, our late father in the industry decided that he will go and settle in Ijebu, then it will be more stress for him because he was always invited to almost every function. How would he cope? Let’s even consider the wear and tear on the vehicle so he decided that let me just stay in my Aina Onabolu accommodation which is his property. If you get a good property, what are you going to do in the village? In any case, all of these people in the village, are they happy to see you? They are not really happy to see you. Why do you want to go and live among them? That’s another thing you must consider
NREH: Thank you very much sir, it’s been wonderful talking to you, it has been really insightful. We hope we can do this some other time.