AZURI PENINSULA: FASTEST CONSTRUCTION

Nigeria 2020 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ramzi Chidiac, Managing Director of ITB Nigeria Limited, on completing iconic projects, challenges in the construction industry, and expectations for the coming year.

What are ITB Construction's milestone projects in recent years?

Since 2015, we have built some iconic projects, namely Kuramo Beach Residence, which was completed quickly. It is 60,000sqm of 22-storey residential blocks, each done in less than two years. We also did Heritage Place, an office building in Ikoyi. It is the first LEED-certified building in Nigeria. We built Kingsway Towers, which are office blocks opposite Heritage. It is an excellent building designed by SAOTA from South Africa. We then built Azuri Peninsula, a project farther inside the Eko Atlantic city. People may not see and appreciate the progress being made. Azuri is a three 32-storey towers. It was the fastest construction in Nigeria. In Nigeria, you usually construct 10 to 20 storeys in 10 months. Here we did 96 storeys.

Are you mainly targeting international investors for your buildings?

Yes, as well as oil and gas companies. We recently got awarded two projects; one is on Ozumba Mbadiwe road, where Ecobank will relocate their headquarters. The other one is a project for a cooperative of an oil company. We are building three residential towers in Eko Atlantic. We are also busy at the refinery of Dangote.

How has ITB raised the bar and contributed to Nigeria's construction sector?

We are maybe the only construction company in Nigeria that is ISO certified for our Quality management system (ISO 9001:2015), Occupational Health & Safety (ISO 45001:2018), and Environmental Management System (ISO 14001:2015). We have raised the bar in quality not only in what you see, but in the processes. That means we are careful before, during, and after construction in the measures that we have on site and in our various departments and divisions. Our health and safety records for the past 10 years show a steady decline in lost time injuries. So far, thankfully we have had no fatalities, which is amazing. We are very proud of that. Our safety records are impressive, especially with the enormous buildings we are constructing.

What are the challenges of Nigeria's construction industry?

We have all the latest technologies in construction and ITB is possibly the only company in Nigeria who does pre-cast slabs and beams in our factories at Ibadan and Abuja. Though, buildings require a lot of competence from Nigerian engineers to follow up with the level of construction we are doing. But this competence is not yet academically available in Nigeria. The Engineering education system in Nigeria does not yet graduate engineers who can follow up with today's technology and level of construction that is being done in Nigeria. The level of construction is a lot better than it was 10 to 15 years ago and it is developing at a faster pace. There is a lot of competition, and everybody is raising the bar, which we did with ISO certification, health, and safety measures, as well as quality.

How have you overcome this challenge?

We always must have international expertise among local and experienced staff. Of course, we cannot have it everywhere. Our ratio is about 3.5% of expatriates compared to locals. Our senior staff is about 8% of the entire population of ITB. Our junior staff are experienced tradesmen, most of them have been with us for more than eight years. Also, we have many of them who have been with us for more than 15 years. They know all our technologies and procedures. They have been with the company for a long time that they understand the system and how we operate. We rely on them more than the expatriates to teach new engineers or workers whom we recruit.

How would you assess the attractiveness of the Nigerian construction industry and what are its peculiarities?

In Lagos, we do not face many challenges. However, in the South the major obstacles we find are community issues. On a weekly basis, the contractor has a lot of problems with the local communities. There are politics that must be played. You put a lot of time and effort into settling community issues, which you need to do in order to employ people. Another important issue is the lack of high-quality construction materials in Nigeria. About 40% to 50% of the cost of these projects goes into importation. We need to import everything to enable us deliver luxurious projects.

Would you consider localizing that part of the construction process?

ITB is maybe one of the only construction companies that has all the trades in-house. We do the design and engineering, the approval of the construction, and building permits before moving to site. We also have a piling division, then we do the construction of the main project. ITB gets its mechanical and electrical services within the company with our ITB MEP affiliate. We have a joinery factory for all the furniture needs including doors, and an aluminium factory that does all the glass and windows. The only activity that we do not possess in house is the vertical transportation.

Now the economy has stabilized, how will the construction industry perform?

The economic recession and devaluation that occurred in 2015 impacted the private sector and in particular the construction industry. Many developers were, and are still reluctant to develop projects in the big cities like Lagos or Abuja. Today, there are a lot of vacancies in offices, flats, hotel rooms, and malls. This means that all new developers coming to build such development must do a feasibility study and when they did, they are faced with a report showing 400,000sqm of empty office spaces in Lagos, 1,000 empty hotel rooms and thousands of empty flats. Why would they come in when they know that they cannot get a return on their investment?

Is the sector now recovering?

If the developer is sure that he has his own clientele, then he is proceeding with development. These developers are shrinking in numbers. For anyone who wants to develop a mall, if they do not secure 60% off takers before starting construction, they will not proceed.

What is your outlook for 2020?

The year 2020 looks better than the last two years for ITB, especially with the two contracts we got awarded. ITB are looking forward to another two huge development at Eko Atlantic city. With these projects, ITB will be in good shape for the next two years at least.