Not many people know that Oba Kehinde Olugbenle, the Olu of Ilaro and the paramount ruler of Yewaland, has a rich real estate background.
In fact, he read Estate Management at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. He also practiced Estate Management for so many years. Oba Kehinde is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyor and Valuers (FNIVS) a Registered Estate Surveyor and Valuer (RSV), Fellow Nigeria Institute of Management (FNIM) and a Member of African Real Estate Society.
Kabiesi was elected an Associate Member of Nigeria Institute of Management (AMNIM) in 1994. He was also a Member Board of Trustees Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN). Till he became King 4 years ago, he was a big player in the real estate sector.
Two weeks ago, the classy and sophisticated King shared with City People, secret of the architectural beauty behind his newly built private palace in Ilaro. He also shared his views on the current happenings in the real estate market in Abuja where he was based.
Tell us the school you attended, when you were born and why did you choose the course you chose?
I found myself in Estate Surveying and Valuation accidentally. I would have been an Accountant by now, but accidentally because of my Uncle, who came on a visit one day. I asked what he did for a living, and I was told he was an Estate Surveyor, and I asked “what does an Estate Surveyor do? I learnt they are Estate Managers. And I know that an estate is where you have many houses. But along the line, I was given Geography to study and it has always been my decision to study a professional course.
At a point, as I was filling the form for Yaba Tech, one of my colleagues came and asked why I wanted to study Accounting, that everybody has been filling Accounting in their forms, that my friend was a Town Planner. He advised me to take Estate Management and he was somebody who was doing well. So I just put it. When I was offered admission to study Geography in UNILAG, I said no I didn’t want to be a Teacher. That was how I found myself in Yaba Tech studying Estate Management. I later went to the University of Ibadan for a Masters Degree in Housing Development and Management. So, basically I found myself accidentally in Estate Management, but I am not regretting it because whatever I am today, my profession has an input.
How did you become a born-again Christian?
There is a limit to which you can control your children, especially when they get to an age when they go to their campuses because they see all sorts of fellowships and all that, on the campus. Basically, some of my friends who were in the Christian fellowship said they attended Redeemed Church service. Before we knew it, we went to fellowship with them at Yaba Tech campus and that was how the interest developed. So when we came home during the holiday, we would not follow our daddy to the church. We would look for a Redeemed Church in our area. So, it was on my first time in the Redeemed Church that I gave my life to Christ.
Sir, while coming into the palace, we saw a beautiful architectural design of your private palace. Was it a result of your background in real estate?
Yes, it made a huge impact on whatever you are seeing outside. As an Estate Surveyor, I have managed so many houses. I bought so many houses for clients. I have seen mansions, especially in Abuja. When you manage houses for people, when you help people to secure apartments, as a young man, you will say one day I would be able to live in this type of house. I believe that God has made it possible for me to actualise all those dreams. They are no longer day dream any more. They are now a reality. So, what you have seen outside, or within is basically a result of that background I have in real estate. Some of the designs we introduced, I got them from Edinburgh Palace in the UK.
I saw a little bit of architectural designs there, I took the photographs and I introduced them here like the arch that is on the window, the shape of the windows, doors, pillars are some of the things we introduced. If you go to the swimming pool area, you will see, we have a lovely pool. I am not a swimmer, but it’s because of my children. I don’t want my children to abandon me here. The best thing is to introduce what they want. That is why you see Lawn Tennis Court and Basket Ball Court because at the age of 50, you want to play. But swimming is good. My doctor has recommended swimming for relaxation. So, basically my background has made an impact
Kabiyesi, how do you see the real estate sector in Nigeria?
We are almost getting out of recession and if you look at Nigeria generally, the real estate market is tilted towards Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja. Those are the hubs when you are talking of good return On Investment. If I want to rent out this kind of house, you know what I would get. But if I put this kind of structure in Maitama in Abuja, or Ikoyi in Lagos, you know what I will get. Basically, I will say that the real estate market is going through a turbulent time. To a good investor, this is the best time to buy because you have so many properties now but you have smaller quantity of money chasing them.
A situation where you have smaller quantity of money chasing properties, you have an advantage because the price of properties would have relatively dropped. So, anybody who has the cash, this is the best time to buy.
But then, there is recession, and you know with the BVN and other government measures, it would be difficult for some investors to buy properties and it’s affecting the market. Those who have the money are even afraid to bring the money out.
There are some properties that are built with money from money laundering. When you go to Abuja and you see so many estates, you keep wondering which banks are funding them. When you are told an individual owns the estate you will begin to wonder where the cash came from. We will get over it (recession). Some of these people built houses so that the money will not be traced to them.
When you build almost 50 detached houses, some people will just keep it there, when the market picks up, they will start bringing it out one by one. No bank will tie its money down.
We don’t have control over our financial system here and I think the government is doing so much about that. I do tell people that the economy we are running especially in Abuja is not the real economy because there’s no back up, unlike Lagos where you have industries producing goods and services.
But Abuja is a public sector-driven environment. If you are not working for Government, forget it. If you are not a government contractor nothing for you. So where do we get rent of N30 million per annual. These are the things that bother us.
Most of the rents are artificial. How much is the salary of a civil servant? These are the issues. Lagos economy is well backed up. Port Harcourt’s economy is also well back up to some extent.
Where is the money to rent house in Abuja coming from, to back them up? What you have there are Ministries, NDAs and the rest. That is why the real estate market crashed in Abuja. Lagos, in terms of recession, its impact is not pronounced even in Port Harcourt, the recession has not really affected real estate market the way it has affected Abuja. It is a serious matter and that is why today many people are moving to Abuja Satellite Towns, where the rents are affordable because the money is no longer there. The cash is no longer flying the way it used to. So, the gap is so wide.
So, we have to run the real economy. If you are in business, let’s know you are in business, not a business that is not determined by the real economic theories. We would get out of it, but in Abuja! I am afraid. If this government continues this way, and I pray they continue, Abuja market may not be the same again.
You can imagine in Maitama, you can sell a land of 1,000 square metres for N500 million. Why? Who allocated that land., The government that allocated it didn’t get up to 10 million and an individual now wants to sell it for N500 millions. That is why the government is not getting it right. Why would I give an allocation to somebody and he would become a millionaire instantly? The balance is not there.
We noticed that your entrance gate and some other things were fabricated here in Nigeria. What is your view on locally-made materials?
I will say that, about 70 percent of what you see here are local contents. The doors are all fabricated here, except the main door into the main building. I personally brought it from China, because I wanted a design that would reflect what I want. But the main gate was fabricated here. The only thing we added is the remote control engine.
The Cement used here is Dangote Cement. We have to support the local manufacturing firms, but at the same time, the local manufacturers need to improve because I remember I bought some tiles from China and also bought in Nigeria, but you cannot compare the two in terms of quality. If you know the number of tiles I lost while moving them from Orile in Lagos to this place, you would shudder. The difference in quality is huge.
Almost half of the tiles I bought here were gone. The Standard Organisation of Nigeria needs to work more to ensure firms meet up with the standard. If you want to be in a business, you need to measure up its established standards.