NNAMDI IWUOHA, an engineer, is the president of JLN Construction Services, USA, with its headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. It has its affiliate in Nigeria, JLN Builders Nigeria Limited, with its office at Teachers House, Port Harcourt Road, Owerri, Imo State where CHIMA IFEKWE, sits as the vice president. IFEKWE spoke to Business a.m.’s DIKACHI FRANKLIN, on behalf of JLN’s president, explaining how JLN Construction Services will help to bring transformation to the real estate sector in Owerri.
Investors and manufacturers say the Nigerian economy has been tough on their businesses, as the vice president of JLN Builders, could you tell us your own story?
Frankly speaking, it has not been easy at all for investors in the manufacturing sector of the Nigerian economy, the real estate sector and other sectors in this country in the sense that they all operate in the same economy and the challenges cut across the different sectors of the economy.
There are infrastructural deficiencies in all the sectors of the economy; the business climate in Nigeria has not been friendly to investors and property developers.
In fact, a lot of businesses have closed down on account of the numerous challenges they face – challenges in terms of the ease of doing business. When an investor comes in, how long does it take him to do registration of his company, do his diligence, feasibility study, etc.? How long will it take him to get his documentations processed, how long will it take him to get his Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) and other things?
The delay involved in getting all these and other things tends to drive investors away from the country. But normally, in developed societies, these things are gotten in less than 48 hours. Everything is online, you go there and any information you need is there, but it is not like that here in Nigeria.
You mentioned infrastructure, could you tell us more about this?
In terms of infrastructure, there are no good roads, no functional railway, the roads are not pliable, most especially during the rainy season; movement of persons, goods and vehicles are hampered, and movement becomes terrible because of bad road network.
There is no efficient supply of electricity by the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) and most companies run on generators. You can imagine how much is spent on buying fuel and, some companies spend N2 million to N3 million monthly on diesel .You can see the company close to ours here has folded and when some of these firms or companies close down, more and more jobs are lost and more people will join the already saturated unemployment market.
And you know we are a conglomerate, we are into construction, structural engineering building, housing development, and into smaller housing units for civil and public servants. We have different housing units for the middle class and for the nouveaux riches who would want comfortable homes and accommodation. And we have them in different designs.
Agreed that the economy is also tough on the real estate sector, how many of your clients could you tell us knock at your door for business monthly, and how is their purchasing habit, compared with what obtained in the past?
This time, the disposable income of people has gone way down, their take home cheque could not take them home comfortably. People will have to eat before looking for comfortable accommodation or good shelter. But also know that shelter is one of the basic necessities in life.
People’s purchasing habit has changed due to hardship in the country and there is this inability for millions of Nigerians to make ends meet. The buying habit generally has reduced drastically on account of economic hardship.
Many people can no longer afford decent houses. There is also housing deficiency in Nigeria, however, we don’t have the exact statistics as we speak now. But the housing deficiency is more than 20 million housing units. That is to say that more than 20 million don’t have a place to put their heads.
What is the effect of this on the property development sector?
It is telling on the real estate sector and most businesses generally because if the people do not have enough to eat, cloth themselves and procure the basic necessities of life, it will be difficult for them to buy or own comfortable homes.
In this country the mortgage system is not working; it is not well organised if actually it is existing The fact is that we do not have a good and working mortgage system unlike in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada and other developed societies. In these countries where the mortgage system is properly developed and working well, it is easier to own houses and apartments.
Normally, people want a good return on investment, they want to put their properties for sale and get the money but the fact is that many people can no longer afford the money involved and this has also affected the real estate sector in Nigeria.
What is the situation of the real estate sector in Owerri, does it have great expectations and prospects for investors?
It was not so attractive in the recent past, but the sector now is witnessing a gradual transformation, a gradual change. It has started to pick up because of the new consciousness in the nouveaux riches who are of the Igbo extraction.
Now, I can tell you Owerri is the fastest growing city in the West African sub-region. There is now a turn around because of this new consciousness, the tranquillity, security, as well as its proximity to other towns and states in the South-east and South-south regions.
This is one of the reasons my principal, the president of JLN Construction Services LLC, Baltimore, Maryland, a reputable engineer, Nnamdi Iwuoha, wants to replicate what we do elsewhere in Imo State and the South-east in general. And if we cannot do it nobody can come here and develop our city for us, you can see the example of Nnewi in Anambra State.
Something is trying to play out itself in Imo State. We have acquired a lot of plots to develop. We have acquired 7000 plots at Obosima in Ohaji/Egbema local government area for housing units, we have 300 plots at Oforola in Owerri West local government area, we have others for industrial development to enable investors build industries so that the youths could get jobs, we have also 50 hectares of land in Ogwa in Mbaitoli local government area and others in other states in the South East.
However, Nnamdi, the president of JLN Construction Services and its affiliates worldwide, is behind the mobilization of resources and acquisitions of all these and other massive properties for building development in the South East.