MD/CEO of Homes and Homes Real Estate Solution Limited, Dr. Ikem Ume-Ezeoke, is one of the leading names in the real estate industry. In this interview with journalists in Lagos, Ume-Ezeoke who established his firm in 2004 believes that housing deficit will be reduced drastically if the federal government provides cheap land and long term mortgage through Primary Mortgage Institutions. Anayo Okolie was there
What was your growing up like?
Growing up was fun, lucky and humble. I grew up in the eastern part of Nigeria under a strong and strict modest Catholic family. My father was a business man and my mum was a flexible business woman who was always there for her children. We were not special children. We were not given all we want, but we were taught respect and modest living. Education was the only thing on the lips of our parents. We were never treated special; I attended public schools.
What were the landmark experiences that shaped your upbringing?
Major landmark experiences were when my Dad withdrew me from school in the city and enrolled me to another secondary school in a village. He said my standard performance was dropping and I needed to concentrate more. I was taken to an aunt who would wake me up and strained my ears early in the morning on how I had been spoilt in the town. I spent some time with her before I was sent back to the city. The second one was when my Dad insisted I work after secondary school before enrolling into university. Both experiences were very significant in my life because I saw my young mind recreating itself and saw life differently and independently.
How did you find yourself in real estate business?
I had my first degree in Estate Management (Bsc) from Enugu State University (ESUT). By dint of hard work, I had to practice what I studied. Although, Estate Management was not my first choice, it was not very popular and it was also a five year course. I didn’t find any justification in spending five years for the programme that wasn’t what I wanted; but through divine providence, I enjoyed studying that because the course modules touched on other areas that caught my interest, especially the ones on law, surveying, building construction, geography, urban design and architecture. Estate Management allowed you an opportunity to be a guru in environmental sciences and building industry outside the core provision of the course in valuation and property management. It broadened my mind so well and it made it easy to be at home with other professionals.
How did you become one of leading names in the estate industry?
I feel such answer should be provided by you. I haven’t seen myself as a leading name yet; but trust me it feels good to hear one is grouped as a leader in the field of his endeavour where you have veterans who have done so much for the industry and the community. A number of awards we have, I feel were God-given and we really appreciate that. We haven’t even done 25 per cent of what we intend to do. The housing shortage or gap we have in this country is a sort of worry and this should make professionals in same industry to come together more often and create contents, create more alliance with the government to deal with housing deficit.
Have you had challenges that left you with regrets professionally?
Challenges are part of life and one shouldn’t be afraid of that. It should be expected in every strata of one’s life. The more you achieve or ascend in life, the more challenge you encounter. I think challenges make one more mature in terms of how you reel out solutions and apply such to cure whatever you encounter in life. When you come out from challenges, one tends to learn more; it defines who you are, your future becomes clearer, you have a better view of life and how you shape your options and choose your steps. Challenges are good for everyone, especially the young ones.
Are there lessons you have learned in the industry and how do you think people can learn from such lessons?
The lesson I have learned in the industry which I think by extension apply to other industry, is that integrity pays, both personal and professional integrity. People should be able to remember your name in your absence and give you element of credibility. That is what everyone needs to forge ahead, and that, to a large extent, expands your reach and your success. One shouldn’t take anything for granted. What you have decided to do should be done well because those are the things that speak for you in your absence. They are your legacy. I pity us when I see our focus on financial gain and allowing our integrity tilt. Once we start compromising our integrity to the safe custody of money, we start losing the divine purpose of life.
How do you think the key challenges in the housing sector can be minimally addressed?
You can’t minimally give a solution to key challenges of housing sector. The housing sector is a huge sector and it defines, to a great extent, the success of a nation and by extension the government. Housing needs in Nigeria should be a great worry and it’s a great worry. The first critical thing to do is to realise this as a challenge and call for stakeholders and every professional in the sector for more frequent interaction, select the right people to draw up road map for housing deficits. The major challenge that Nigeria has is appointing the wrong people to make decisions in critical sectors they don’t belong.
Housing sector doesn’t require so much to resolve; first on top of the list are funding, cheap land provisions and then mortgage. There are few Primary Mortgage Institutions in the country. And you hardly find any that provides long term mortgage for home subscribers. Apart from that, job security also is another challenge because those houses should be subscribed by people who have jobs and viable businesses.
Another area to look into is creating more urban centres, decongesting the cities and creating more urban centres. The three major cities we have in this country outside Abuja are Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano. What are we doing to create additional mega cities and renew the existing ones to decongest these cities and reduce heavy cost on housing or property acquisition? Plans should be made so that people stay wherever they are and have equal measure of lifestyle they think lack in their community. We should improve on our community infrastructures and amenities to reduce rural-urban migration. Recently, Lagos is seeing heavy migration of people and we fear for the future plan; although, the government is doing well to tackle that.
Further to this, we need to have a defined workable plan and only professionals who understand the housing gap can put it together. The state government and federal government, I feel should look at the credibility of the people they allocate lands and partners to provide houses for the masses. Having a robust purse does not guarantee the developer would deliver. I feel the government should be the biggest player and only experienced people who understand the gaps should be allowed or invited to run the show.
Apart from funding, there is a lack of proper road map on how housing deficit could be reduced. I know we are plagued with the challenge of raising funds but that’s not our major problem. Understanding the problem is key, which we obviously lack. We need professionals who will come up with proper directions. This could happen when we constantly have frequent interactions to dissect the problems with clearer defined solutions.
No government can tackle housing gap without robust PMI who would be saddled with creating long term loans. Although, various licenses have been approved and grouped for various PMI to play, they are also saddled with raising funds to provide to subscribers. Government has even gone forward to provide a mortgage refinancing company, but have the issues been resolved? We need to go beyond those to resolve the matter and this is where you need experienced professionals to handle such critical issues.
Further, the government should rather be the biggest player. They should come out with a clearer blueprint where they should design a module and create confidence on the masses and work with the masses funds to provide affordable houses on buy as you earn basis and within comfortable timelines. Land shouldn’t be given out to people who show financial adequacy but keep those lands idle for a long time due to lack of knowledge or waiting for them to appreciate to sell off. Reduce the process of land acquisition and encourage home acquisition because of bottleneck provided in land acquisition in Nigeria. Reduce rural urban migration by providing infrastructures and amenities within the communities to increase lifestyle in those areas.
What is your assessment of President Buhari administration’s housing policy?
The present government has a robust idea but I feel their major challenge is funding. As brutal as one can be, funding is not the only major setback; one of the significant setbacks is having experienced professionals design a proper framework to deal with the problem. Getting money to build houses might work against the system if the system is not properly planned and zoned out. I think we should create enabling environment to have more ideas on the table where various people in building environment can interact for more robust ideas. A proper road map would create various options where people would key into modules suitable for them in home acquisition. This is sensitive but doable.
What would you consider as your most significant contribution to your community?
Having my little experience shared among my peers. When you don’t have money to give, at least you can share your little knowledge to boost mankind. The purpose of life is to impact humanity in every little way. This is foremost on my mind. You don’t have to give money if you don’t have, it shouldn’t also be inadequate or less when you don’t give money. Your knowledge is wealth and that can also be tapped or donated to help humanity. These I have given in my little way and willing to share more for people who can find value in it to take.
Your contribution and achievements in the real estate industry are enormous. How do you intend to replicate these achievements in your state, Anambra?
I think if my state requires my services to help in closing housing gap which is also by extension a national issue, they can afford to pay me to come. However, my state has enough and experienced professionals who handle their portfolios. The area I can make recommendations is on land allocations to people who have less experience to provide housing been given such. People shouldn’t be given lands because they are financially adequate only. There should be more to that and those should be critically reviewed. New and fresh ideas should be sought. We should think of things to design that would take away the breath of any investor, no matter how lowly placed, to think of saving to own a home. Most of the ideas we sell still discourage investors who write off the idea of playing into a scheme because they don’t have the bulk money. I think this might be the fresh idea one might suggest or nurture for the government; but apart from those, my state government is adequate I believe.
Other areas I would suggest is for government to get more involved in creating homes rather than giving out to investors or businessmen who provide at premium and it becomes difficult to acquire. The framework for such is what lacks in the system. These are areas of critical structure which would create more jobs and more revenue for the states. If you want to predict or see the future, start creating it immediately, it starts now.
You have won several high profile awards both local and international such as African Achievers Awards, The integrity International Award you won in Ghana last year, The Leadership Awards for Excellence and you were recently nominated for the prestigious Black Caucus Award for Leadership by U.S. Congress in City of Georgia. How do you feel having acquired this much?
Those are man-made accolades billed to encourage one to strive for best. Such keeps one on his toes. It feels good to realise your little efforts by the side is being recognised in as much as one isn’t on the limelight. I appreciate God so much and all those who felt I deserve such even when I know I haven’t done anything. I encourage everyone to do his/her best and never compromise excellence and integrity.