How has the construction of the Azuri Peninsula evolved over the last year?
We finished the piling work and now have 1,060 piles in the ground, all of which have been casted and tested for viability and sustainability. We have also got off the ground with the first tower, the Orun Tower, and we hope to finish the entire podium for the three blocks by September 2016. We have had a few delays; however, we are glad to be where we are now.
How has the real estate market evolved over the last year?
With the economic downturn nationally and globally, developers have started to think outside of the box, looking for more ingenious ways to increase efficiency and raise standards. The government is enforcing punitive measures on defaulting developers to ensure we have viable and well-built developments. Today, we are seeing such practices being valued, which is a positive evolutionary trend for the country.
What projects have served as an inspiration for the development of the Azuri Peninsula?
We have combed the world for inspiration. The first model that comes to mind is Dubai. One advantage for Eko Atlantic is that we are able to study the deficiencies and issues that were not taken into consideration in Dubai, and correct those mistakes or oversights. We also travelled to the Netherlands to study how a country below sea level has never flooded in order to apply the same engineering to Eko Atlantic. In terms of how to deal with and mitigate the risks of excessive traffic, we studied the organization of Manhattan. We have studied Toronto, Shanghai, Singapore, and California, and tried to implement the positive elements of each of those cities and adapt them to suit the needs of Nigeria.
How else can you customize real estate to Nigerian needs?
Every culture and country has its own unique circumstances, attitudes, life philosophies, and conditions. Five or 10 years ago, if you brought a UK-style house to Lagos, nobody would buy it because in Europe the population is accustomed to small spaces and open-kitchen plans. This would not work here because we have large extended families in Nigeria as opposed to the nuclear families you see in the UK, and it also would not work because of the way we cook our food, which would just not be viable with an open-kitchen plan. Therefore, you have to consider all those things when planning these projects. People are changing and adapting, though, and thus new trends must be considered alongside our culture and way of life.
How does Eko Development Company Ltd (EDCL) integrate environmentally sustainable practices into its operations and projects?
As company policy, we do not believe in cut-and-paste developments. We spend a lot of time exploring the world and learning from iconic buildings and phenomenal engineering projects. We try to bring those lessons home and adapt them to Nigeria rather than imitating projects. Every country and city has its own topography, climate, and market, which all have to be taken into consideration. For example, we are in an area that has salt water, meaning that we have to adapt our metal structures to ensure that the structure is not affected by salinity. We also do a lot of high-rise buildings; hence, we have to ensure that the elements will not affect the structural and ethic integrity of our projects. Another aspect is taking into account the positioning of windows and doors to reduce electricity expenditure for air conditioning. We are also taking into consideration open green spaces, and there will be naturally aerated spaces built into our projects, as opposed to the entire project being mechanically cooled. We are pleased to note that other developers are finally catching onto this trend as well.
How efficient can natural aeration and cooling through open spaces be?
With human traffic in these buildings there will of course be a constant exchange of oxygen and carbon monoxide. We have to make sure the air we let out and the air we take in is good enough to sustain the plants, the environment, and the people within that space. We will combine natural ventilation with mechanical ventilation as well as populating open spaces with plenty of plants.
Eko Atlantic will be a global city. What percentage of the inhabitants would you expect to be Nigerians and what percentage foreign companies or expats?
Eko Atlantic is indeed an international city; therefore, there is no national segregation. It is open for business, it is a free trade zone, it is an economy within an economy, and it is open to Nigerians and expats. In Nigeria, we have an open policy to all parties compared to, say, Dubai, where there are strict legal delineations between foreigners and locals and what they can do and own in Dubai; that is not the case in Nigeria.
This is a tough time for investments, considering the state of the global economy and low oil prices. Why is Eko Atlantic City a good investment considering the economic circumstances?
There are three categories of investors, which include; hybrid investment, localized investment, and mediocrity investment. Every savvy investor knows that the best time to invest in an economy is when it is at its lowest point, because when the economy and the market eventually grows and booms, they stand to reap the greatest benefits.
How will the pegging of the naira to the dollar or the yen affect investments?
Every emerging economy is pegged to a stronger currency. In the past, we used the US dollar because our national trading commodity was petroleum, which is transacted globally in dollars. Irrespective of what the naira is pegged to, if Nigeria fulfills its ambitions of diversifying the economy, it will be for the better.
How have you seen the role of women evolving in the Nigerian economy and society?
We have had opportunities and some of them have been misused. Some women who were given the opportunity to showcase what we can do in the spheres of economics, politics, and governance have misused that opportunity and shot the cause of women in the foot. Recently we've had at least two female chairpersons, one at the First Bank of Nigeria and the other at the Access Bank Plc of Nigeria. It remains to be seen what their financial capabilities are in terms of governance in that sector. I hope women in power can help by being role models and improving self-confidence for younger women and those in less fortunate positions. There is a saying educate a woman and educate a nation. We as women can take this world to higher heights all we need is chance, determination, and focus.
What are your expectations for the year ahead?
We will start the steel tower structures soon; 30 stories in all. In terms of the economy overall, it will be a tough year with many twists and turns, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The beauty about our Eko Atlantic project is that it is as cost-effective as possible. We have thought of innovative ways to ensure that we have the necessary financing for the project and that it is spread over a long period of time. The purchasing power of the naira has dropped, and people are much more careful about expenditure. Once we're out of the ground and people see what we have put on the table, the buyers will come.