SAFETY FIRST

Nigeria 2018 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ibiene V.A. Ogolo, Chief Responsibility Officer of Eko Development Company Ltd, on new projects, fire safety, and renewable energy.

What are the latest developments on your construction projects?

The Nigerian economy has been in recession for the greater part of 2016 and continuing into 2017. There has been a rebound. However, it remains to be seen if that rebound is sustainable. In terms of our development in the Azuri Peninsula, we had a tough time last year with issues concerning financing and various other details. We soft-pedaled on construction and focused more on sourcing materials to ensure that even when we are at a low point, we can make up time with other deliverables. To help with our cost perspective and considering the liquidity situation in Nigeria, we engaged with export credits from Brazil to give impetus to our steel structure development. 99% of the steel has arrived and we are awaiting the completion of the concrete works. We hope to make up for lost time with the implementation of the steel, which is already onsite. We also looked at the best ways to complete the development within budget and provide a product that is affordable considering the current situation. We have had to go out more to do surveys and research. We look at different manufacturers and providers, compare their cost and quality standards, and consider the logistics of it and the transportation. We try to do all this to keep within budget without compromising quality standards.

Will the success of the Azuri Peninsula depend in large part of the success of EKO Atlantic City?

At the end of the day, the Azuri Peninsula is a subset of the EKO Atlantic City. The success of the Azuri Peninsula has much more to do with how the overall Nigerian economy performs. We are all parts of a machine that must work in sync. However, it is true that from a micro and macro perspective, Azuri Peninsula and EKO Atlantic will work better if they are in sync with each other and if they can complement each other.

What effects will falling real estate prices have on the Azuri Peninsula and EKO Atlantic City?

One thing that this recession has brought with it is that mediocre players will phase out of the picture over time. Only the strongest players will survive in this market under these conditions. Only the strongest players who understand the dynamics of construction and tie it with the perception and demand of the end user are able to continue in this space. The prices of real estate have fallen mainly because in most situations, quality never matched price. Now, we have customers who are more informed, who have a million needs with limited resources, and who know that they want what they are paying for and are more. Savvy than ever before. Now there are many empty developments; however, there are also other sectors of the market where development demand is growing. The real estate sector, unlike other major sectors, has subsets of the market that are relatively independent of each other. The low-income and luxury segments are as far away from each other as the sun is from the core of the earth because luxury is a feel-good factor, not a necessity.

How do you expect real estate demand to evolve and what factors will drive real estate demand?

Demand is key. In the past developers built, what they believed the market wanted. Today, companies have to listen to what the market demands and design their development based on studies and the current economic situation. Back in the day, Nigerians loved space. The cost of cooling or heating a flat, in an extreme environment, adds to the cost of day-to-day living and expenses, and the costs of maintaining that flat also goes up with size. Now, people opt for apartments with shared services. We are going back to how we started off as Africans; we all used to live communally. Even Westerners are going communal in some regards. Even our style of cooking calls for certain architectural requirements. Fire hazards are a real risk here in Nigeria. We need a back door and a front door, at least two points of access to the kitchen. We have to think about all these things when designing any building, be it a house or a flat in Nigeria. Real estate is all about adapting to the location and the specific cultural and lifestyle needs of that location and its people. Adaptability is crucial.

What other factors contribute to the success of a company such as EKO Development in Nigeria?

Whether in Nigeria or elsewhere, listening to the end user is key. A company cannot just sit down and assume what people want or need or are willing to accept and spend their hard-earned savings on. Some may want simplicity, a one-bedroom; others may want a lush kitchen, while yet others may not be planning on doing a great deal of cooking and may want a smaller kitchen and perhaps a more spacious bathroom or bedroom. A company has to listen to its clients, and that means doing a great deal of research.

How is your company working to incorporate renewable energy options?

We have thought about incorporating renewable energy into our designs right from day one. We have sought to utilize natural resources, to use natural light, use natural means of cooling, special windows to make sure the cooling stays inside while also letting sunlight in. We have even taken into consideration the position of the sun and shadows when building our towers. We have tried to be as close as possible with our top vegetation as well to see if we can harness the old habitat that once existed. We all live in a big food and energy chain, and when one element is missing, there is an impact, if not today then certainly in the future. We are interconnected with nature, part of a chain, and we incorporate this into our designs and developments.

How has the recent trend of building new metropolises as standalone single cities in Nigeria impacts the development and cohesion of a city?

Proper deregulation brings constructive competition. On one hand, it is a positive move; on the other hand, if not well managed it can be a disaster. When giving approvals for building a metropolis, the government must ensure that environmental assessments are done comprehensively and adhered to diligently from start to finish. There is so much to consider when a city is being built. Water, vegetation, air, soil, geology, geography, human needs, waste, energy, temperatures, climate: the list goes on.