Home » Real Estate Interviews » Exclusive Interview With Real Estate Icon Prof. Timothy Nubi
Prof Olugbenga Timothy Nubi

Exclusive Interview With Real Estate Icon Prof. Timothy Nubi

Prof  Timothy Nubi

NREH:  We would like to congratulate you on your professorship. We know you run an NGO known as Ideal Habitat. Why did you start ideal habitat and what progress have you made so far?

PROF NUBI:  The vision and inspiration to start ideal habitat is upon a deep reflection on the way we live our lives. As far back as 1992, 70% of Lagos state was made up of slums for example University of Lagos  was surrounded by places like Iwaya, Ilaje, Makoko, Oworonshoki, Bariga ,Ketu, Agboyi, Owodo,Mile12  and these are big settlements in the waterfront of Lagos.

All over the world the water fronts used to be a prime location, but unfortunately we mess up our own waterfront, we have slums dominating ours. So it’s a re-orientation that we can recreate our environment, we can regenerate it, we can redefine our lives, our people can live in a first world community, our people can live in an ideal habitat.

We can make our habitat ideal. If in 1977 Nigerians can build a festival town called Festac which was built in the early seventies, then we don’t really have an excuse for Bariga and Makoko that sprung up in the eighties.  It is not as if we don’t have a working knowledge of town planning. Since we could come up with Festac and satellite town in the seventies then something really went wrong. It is out of that concern that ideal habitat was born. I drive through these slums every day. I presently have my church in the worst part of Oworonshoki and I see these terrible sights daily so it’s like I am in a human laboratory and I have the burden that the lives of these people can be better, they can live in an ideal habitat, they can clean the slums and make great things come out of it.

We have seen a lot of slums in many parts of the world become great cities today. So that’s actually the vision and inspiration behind Ideal Habitat, and it is scriptural, Isaiah 58v12 says “People among you would rebuild the waste places, they would be repairers of the breaches and streets to dwell in, and they will lay a new foundation.” So it is people amongst us not foreigners that will rebuild our waste places. So that’s the preoccupation of Ideal Habitat, which is regeneration. We work with the people to turn these slums into a beautiful environment

NREH: So what’s the score card like and what are the challenges you’ve faced since the inception.

PROF NUBI: The difficulty of communicating my vision has being a challenge because I have to work with the government and people. So the best I could do for many years is to go directly to the community leaders in these slums, to tell them of the need to work with us so that we can recreate those environments. I remember when I made a presentation four years ago at the palace of Oniwaya and I showed them the surroundings on the slides they were amazed at the possibility of having a clean environment.

I told him “Sir you don’t need a World Bank loan to clear these drainages and mend potholes it’s about community mobilization.” So it’s about people understanding your idea and seeing it as it is in your mind’s eye. We also go to schools to educate and inform them on the need for a clean and good environment.

We are also working with the Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA), and sometime ago, the whole office of LASURA were here. We had a meeting with their heads of departments and their general manager and they are now beginning to understand our vision.

About two years ago, I brought in an expert from Los Angeles he was with us for about two weeks and we were relating with LASURA people but they were not ready but the present governor is ready, the present commissioner is ready, the present GM is ready and we are working together and we are believing that soon there is going to be a workshop where we will launch out the new LASURA. I told them in one of our meetings that today LASA, NAFDAC ,LASTMA LAWMA  are well known here in Lagos but why is it no one knows or has heard about LASURA that is meant to be a custodian of this regeneration, despite the fact that we have slums and the evils of slums. What stagnant water is to mosquito that is what slum is to crime.

Prof Nubi 2

Slums are breeding grounds for crime. There’s no way we can sort out the issue of crime in this country if slums are not dismantled. So that’s all we are focusing on for now. We can’t work alone we have to work with the government and the community. Now the workshop that we are organizing the government is mobilizing local government chairpersons to form a committee which is called ‘urban forum’ for urban regeneration committee development.

People are coming in from USA and we have to mobilize the churches to get involved. For example in my church, we will organize a revival which will include a 3 day minister’s conference which is titled ‘Christian Community Development’, so we are bringing in experts from the US who will tell us how Christians and churches can impact their communities.

I was at the training in Chicago in April 2012 and those resource people are coming. So we are using them for this 3 day ministers training and the following week they’ll participate in this LASURA workshop to discuss the role of faith based organizations in community development. They’ll move to Abuja to do what they did in Lagos. So it’s all about the church and community development. We are working with them and we are making progress.

NREH: How long ago did ideal habitat start?

PROF NUBI: The vision was given in 1992 and we were registered.

NREH: A number of your colleague’s academics have focused on publications writing papers probably trying to share their knowledge of discovery and impact their world. You seem to have hands on approach to this issue instead of sitting and writing about it. Why is this so and what drives that passion?

PROF NUBI: Because I went to a polytechnic. The thing is that I am a practical person. I went to Yaba College of Technology for five years as a student and I lectured there from 1987- 1994. So I am a practical person by training. If you read my book Ownership Made Easy you will discover that I was  born into a family that were tenants in a village and my grandmother kept on singing that tenants suffer, so you have to work harder to acquire your own house.

When you are a tenant in a village, it really tells you the level you belong in the rung of life. And I see this woman struggle with nothing to build a four room mud house and she died in her own house; and I believe that that early exposure of do it yourself affected me. When I see people in Lagos homeless, I remember how this woman was able to overcome homelessness. And I did town planning, estate management, architectural design, and I also have training in construction.

So I just believe that all this knowledge should count for something. St Paul said he has prepared me; he has separated me from my mother’s womb for service. Every one of us has a calling, a passion that God has put in us. You see anytime I go through slums, anytime I see people living in diminishing houses and environment it pains me. I can’t remove my gaze.

Anytime I go through the Lagos, I see children sitting round their parents doing their home work under bridges, it cuts my heart I don’t see it as a normal thing. I see people sleep under bridges every day in Lagos, it calls for my attention that it is not right. So it’s a burden and I have the desire to do something about it.

NREH: You’ve been on a number of government boards and panels. Can you tell us a sincere assessment of the limitations to mass housing units in Nigeria?

PROF NUBI: the limitation to mass housing units in Nigeria is the kind of limitations we have everywhere. As a nation, we have to sit back and ask ourselves what our problem really is. A man came to West Africa and he lived here for almost ten years. And at the end of his stay, he wrote a book titled Nigeria: A Nation That Conspired Against Itself. We are victims of conspiracy. The Nigerian project of why we are what we are is still a mystery to many of us. Why are things not working? Is it because we don’t have laws? We have laws. Is it because we don’t have a constitution? We do have a constitution. Is it because we don’t have policies? We have policies.

Then why are things not working? They say its the Nigerian factor. What is the Nigerian factor? The Nigerian factor is that not many people believe in Nigeria. Whoever believes in Nigeria is somebody who is benefitting from a particular project for now. Nigeria is three countries in one. We are three different countries in one federation which have different perceptions of life.

So whenever a policy comes up, when it comes to perception, I’ll look at it as a Yoruba man, an Hausa man will look at it as an Hausa man and the Igbo man will look at it as an Igbo man and if they say this project will benefit the Yorubas and there’s an Hausa man in charge, he will not do anything to promote it because he feels that there’s no gain for him in it and vice versa. So no matter how noble the program is, it won’t succeed.  This is what we experience at FHA.

We are to promote housing delivery through the cooperative. It was a noble project we knew would work. Most of the failures of the past housing policies which we wanted to correct was that most of these houses never get to the targeted people. For example, Shagari houses were built for low income people, but high income people would buy them and rent them out to low income earners at exorbitant prices. It would be better if a group of people acquire lands then the government would lend support in terms of model design, lands and loans.

There are cooperatives in the southern part of the country but it disappears as you drift further north. It will be very difficult to make progress, and also the problem we are facing today is the division in the country. There is no unity in the country due to the tribalistic tendencies of Nigerians. Our motto says unity and faith, peace and progress; except we are united we can’t achieve anything. We have robust plans, good policies but they are never implemented.

The National Housing Policy is good, the scheme is good, every scheme promoted in this country is good but the problem is that we frustrate those who will implement these policies because it does not fit into their own selfish agenda or aspiration. They see it as something that will promote a particular part of the country at the expense of theirs, but thats not how to view it. Awolowo was developing western region. He was building universities, while he was building universities; he started the first television house and there was healthy competition.

Other parts of the country were also doing the same thing that he was doing. Why was the railway project killed in Lagos? Dangote has all the money for it, Babangida has all the money for it. And the railway project was killed in this country and we pay more penalties for not developing that railway project and for frustrating that contract. Wxne opted to pay heavily because if Lagos had railway, it would have be 200 years ahead of most parts of the country.

But if they had allowed lagos to build railways, the nation would have acquired that skill and by today, all the traffic jams in Abuja will disappear because Abuja, Kaduna will all have railways. As Lagos, Ibadan have universities today we have universities all over the country. As long as we don’t see ourselves as one nation no policy will work. This is the reason why policies are not working. It’s not that those policies are faulty.

debo listening to nubi

Debo listens to Prof. Nubi


NREH: Sir, the new Lagos tenancy law is supposed to capture some tenancy activities in some areas of Lagos. I’m sure you must have previewed it. So what is your opinion and observations in terms of the law and its practicality?

PROF NUBI:  This is not the first time we are seeing tenancy law. You see my take on the land use decree, the housing policy, I always call them a socialistic solution in a capitalistic economy. It can’t work. Go ask anybody today if Nigeria is a capitalist or a socialist country they will tell you Nigeria is a capitalist country, because we promote free market, we promote deregularization. That’s capitalism.

So you don’t introduce socialistic policies in a capitalist economy. So those are the issues we have to define. Who are we? Those are the things we have to define. If it is free market, the free market will determine. If we are socialists, socialism will determine. As far as housing is concerned, you don’t wake up one day and dictate price for me as to how to run my business. Some people use their money to start universities, bakeries etc, I instead of starting a school or running a shop decided to build a house and someone is telling me how much I should rent my house.

Rent has never been a good mechanism of housing distribution. Whenever there is a distortion in the rent it will lead to ‘black marketeering’, and people tend to pay more when there is unnecessary government intervention in the free market.

When there is government intervention in the free market there would be black market. That is what we see in the oil sector today. The government sees it as protecting the interests of the poor or the low income people. Yes, they must be taken care of, but in other countries of the world that we are trying to be like; because we want to be among the G20. How are they taking care of the poor among them? How are they taking care of their low income earners?

All over the world there are projects for key workers. Look at secondary school for instance. If government want to introduce housing scheme for teachers, they say that because some teachers cannot afford rent in Ikeja. Oh yes it true, but what is the implication of that. We would analyze secondary school teacher’s residential choice in Ikeja and we find out that most of the teachers in Ikeja secondary schools lived far away like Ikorodu, Ikotun.

And you don’t get to school until ten o’clock, which means in every school in Lagos, they miss the first two hours, that is why they never do well. Why? The teachers can never afford the rent in Ikeja. That is why they go far.  The government knows that in England that fire service person, nurses and teachers cannot live in London so they give them their key worker’s housing scheme that will make government to say look ‘you are a member, we’ll give you land, we’ll assist you, the housing corporation in England will assist you with funds’, the English partnership will give you land, do we get it back from you?

No! When you build 1,000 housing units in Victoria Island and you are selling at one million naira, 20% of it is for social house so you give me back 200 units and this we sell to teachers at 200,000, when other people are buying at one million. So a teacher, a nurse, a fire service person is living in the same block with the very, very, rich because they must be in the community because of the services they render. So government can’t come and say when you develop, you must sell at N10 so that teachers can live there, No! There are ways to intervene.

Don’t disrupt the free market. That’s why we have several landlord/tenant laws. It has always been from the days of our fathers and it can never end because any where the supply is lesser than the demand, the price will always be high and the conditions will always be stringent. More people wanted to come to the University of Lagos, so they changed their rule to stop taking people with multiple sittings. The conditions became so stringent.

So many people wanted to do engineering; they said you must have pure mathematics. Those who did engineering in the seventies without pure math is it that they are not good engineers today? But as competition becomes tense the conditions becomes more stringent. As supply reduces and more people are in demand the landlord increases the rent. So you can’t just come and say it must be this or that. It can never work, it cannot work anywhere.

Prof Nubi office

NREH: You are a landlord I believe. What was your experience owning your first house and what would be your advice to aspiring home owners. How did you achieve yours? Because I’m sure there are people of your calibre and status who probably don’t have their own accommodation.

PROF NUBI: I have one because of the background I told you about, and also my training emphasizes the importance of housing and I could not just wait so I quickly solved the problem of housing. My upbringing compelled me to see housing as a priority after education. It is a way of life in our country that has been bastardized. So many things went wrong. I remember the sultan of Sokoto in the eighties said the propensity to consume in the country is a big challenge.

Many people in my book or in my lectures I kept on telling them that firstly, I have seen a lot of people living in Ketu who are tenants parking 5 million naira worth of cars in front of a rented apartment. Misplacement of priorities is one thing, but another thing I discovered along the line is that the old setup the house acquisition process is a major problem in the country whereby you have to go through the process of land acquisition, know about construction, fall into the hands of omonile, and many other challenges. So many people have heard stories of people who acquired lands and they were killed through juju or violence. So they just say they don’t want to be involved with all these process, so they vow to remain tenants all their lives.

The land acquisition process is a major challenge but the land development process that makes an average Nigerian spend between 15 – 21 years to build a house is also a major challenge. In the house construction process, we are the only country in the world where if people want to own a house and is thinking of buying land, is thinking of laying the foundation and building for 20 years. In most parts of the world, once you are working in a place like for example the University of Lagos where there is job security.

You can work there for 30-35 years, 2 or 3 years after your work, you can raise your deposit, pick a mortgage, and move to your house. I have an email here sent by my son and he was telling me that the house in which he lives in belongs to a 24 year old PhD student in the univeristy.  Its two minutes to the library and 5 minutes to his department and it’s owned by Ben, 24 years old PhD student. So how did Ben do it? Bequeathed through his inheritance? No! His mortgage.

Probably then after his first degree, he worked for about a year and was able to raise his deposit and just buy the 5 room house in LeBron and he is renting a room to my son at 350 per month. Over time most of these things have been standardized. You don’t have aeroplanes built for Nigeria. This Ipad is the same Ipad in America.

This telephone is the same telephone in America. The housing process has been standardized all over the world. The way of procuring houses is through mortgage. It just has to be there or you are just out of it. The way I went through it, bought land, bought uncompleted house to move to my house. I was fortunate. The day I had the desire and somebody wanted to sell and I could afford it.

I bought an uncompleted building for N600,000, the man was ready to take the payment three times so I gave him a post dated cheque. I didn’t even go through the process of land acquisition, clearing, laying the foundation the man did it. So not everybody has such an opportunity and that model cannot work.

The model that will work is a model that real estate developers must build in mass and when they build in mass, the cost is reduced because very simple economics tell us that there is scale in production that brings efficiency and reduction in cost. My grandmother knows that, that’s is why they buy things in dozen. Today’s mothers buys in cartons. They know that when you purchase in mass, the price is reduced so we have to build in mass. When we build in mass we reduce the cost. When we reduce the cost, we reduce the mortgage that people will be seeking. So they can afford the mortgage.

The houses that are selling for ten million, five million now that people cannot, if you reduce the construction method, like the one the company in Lagos state are trying to do, mass production on a five acre land build 1000 units, instead of spreading go high like 1004 units. Then the cost of infrastructure becomes lower and people can afford it. So more things will be available to encourage policies that will allow our pension. I know I’m working here (UNILAG), and I’m entitled to pension. I’ve been working since 1987 and I am entitled to pension.

If I’m entitled to pension, sincerely speaking somebody must use my pension as a collateral to give me loan to buy a house. So this is what has been done in South Africa and in so many parts of the world. I said that I need loan, you say you want collateral but I don’t have collateral because I’m a teacher.

Over time, I’ve saved a certain amount of money from my pension that today my pension should be up to 15 or 20 million. I should be able to enjoy it to leverage as collateral to buy a house. And be sides that, we don’t even know if there’s a good mortgage system. The house itself is a collateral if you are living there, you don’t pay rent again because you’d be servicing your mortgage. So many things but there is no shortcut to home ownership. There is no alternative to mortgage.

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