•Late FEMI OSIBONA’s Last Interview Before His Death
•Reveals A Lot About The Collapsed Highrise
The death of Fourscore Homes CEO, Femi Osibona last week, came as a rude shock to Nigerians. The renowned real estate player gave in to the cold hands of death after one of his gigantic edifices in the heart of Ikoyi, collapsed on Monday, November 1, 2021.
There were contradictory narratives as to what may have caused the building collapse, but the late realtor had established a highly reputable standard across the world before this sad incident that took his life.
Femi Osibona was one of the leading Real Estate developers in Lagos. He was the M.D of Four Score Homes and has gone the length and breadth of the world to validate his professional turf when we talk about the real estate business. He ran a firm that specialises in the building of luxury and choice properties in different parts of the world.
Aside from the intimidating project credentials in the last 2 decades, the real estate expert had the grace of being the first to plant property in places that were hitherto not attractive, but after his Midas touch, those places become a centre of attraction to prospective house owners and real estate players. Years back, Osibona decided to storm Nigeria in full force to replicate the same classy projects in Nigeria as his contribution to developing his home country.
In this interview, late Femi Osibona spoke about how he got into the real estate business and how far he had gone. His story is such a tragedy as death took him at the prime of his career.
Read his last interview before the sad incidence below
How did you get into the real estate sector?
I have to say all Glory must be to God. I finished my university career in England in 1991. When I finished I went into buying and selling of shoes and suits. That was what I was doing from 1991 to 1997 to be precise.
When it got to 1996 I made up my mind that I wanted to buy a house. And that was my plan; to buy a house and rent it out and to still continue selling. Then after some time, I just felt, let me just go into development, because I spoke to people then I was tired of moving around. You know when I was selling shoes I never had a shop, I was moving around, but I was making money at that level. I go to Italy to buy the shoes and bring them to London to sell. I understand the secret of selling. I know Nigerians like shoes, and they like suits, not because they need them, but because they like good stuff. So, I have certain people that I target. I target that if you have money and you are a man of your word. I know if you are a man of your word, you will pay. And I must be sure you have money. Because if you are a man of your word, and you don’t have money, you will still owe, but you have money and you are not a man of your word, you will not pay. Those were my two criteria which many people did not know.
So in 1997, luckily for me, I bought a place on 469, A Cross Road, I think for about 68,000 pounds. When I bought the place, it has land behind it. And to me, the land meant nothing, and I was going to sell the land, and somebody offered me 15,000 pounds. So, I took my lawyer to sell it.
I was going to Nigeria, so I told my lawyer to collect the 500 pounds deposit. By the time I got back, the lawyer didn’t sell because she said the buyer didn’t pay ten per cent. I was so angry because I’d told her I’m aware he’s paying 500 pounds. So I terminated the lawyer’s contract with me.
So I went to the person who introduced me to the lawyer and told her about my grievance. Then she asked me, ‘why would you even want to sell the land, don’t you know you can build on the land? It was strange to me.
We consulted an architect, we called the local authority and did the survey. Eventually, we were told that we could build a 2-unit flat on that land. And that was how it started. We used the rent that we collected on the main flat and shop to develop the space. That was in 1998. It was sold and then again, I bought something else. I bought a big house and converted it to three flats. I applied for a 2-storey extension, but I guess there was a mistake by the authority and they wrote 3-storey. While the construction was going on, the neighbours went to report, because the residential structure in the area is limited to a 2-stories. We went to court and we won. After we built the property, the cost of property in that area rose and we made a double profit of what we had thought we would make. And permit me to add, when I bought this property, people told me that I might not make money. But to cut the story short, we made a lot of money. So that was in 1999 to 2000. After finishing that project, I went further to Peckham. Peckham used to be a slum. Nobody wants to live in Peckham.
I bought land around May 2000 in Peckham. Again, when I bought Peckham, it started going up. Was there any reason for buying Peckham? No. It was just what was available.
But the secret is that I believe God had already planned my life from the beginning. So I bought the place. I did two houses; number 41 and 42 Bradford Road. I never knew the property had gone so high. I sold the first one for 185,000 pounds because I thought, 185 was a good deal. The second I sold for 250,000 pounds. Those types of houses are now going for about 500,000 pounds today.
From there, I entered the property market fully. I came to Nigeria in 2000 and thought I have arrived (laughs). In my mind, I just wanted to go and relax in Nigeria. Then I went on holiday in London, and I went to a friend’s house. And I saw that my friend is living among the white people. He was living in a very big house and I was shocked. At my level, I thought I was already on top.
So I came back to Nigeria. At that time, my plan was to live in Nigeria and be building in London. So, there was this land that I bought in London that is still existing till today. It was a pulp, and it was to be demolished and applied for planning permission to develop a semi-basement and 5 storey building. I was scared because I haven’t done 5 floors before.
Then I met a friend of mine. His name is Simpson. We became friends. I went to meet him and we agreed that I will contribute to the land and he will be in charge of development. I was relying on him because I did not even know how to start the project. Later I realised that he was using my own property to raise money. And one day while we were talking, he said he just finished listening to a Christian channel, and the Pastor was Creflo Dollar. He said Creflo Dollar was preaching that there are some Christians; they don’t like taking risks and they want to move forward, that if you cannot take a risk, you cannot move forward. They want to do what they have been doing before and they want to achieve different results. Believe me, as he was talking to me, I just had the feeling that God was talking to me. Remember that he’s been playing me. And something just came to my mind that if this man never tried this one, I won’t be going to him. This man is going to make free money, just because I don’t want to take a risk. So I decided to run the whole project on my own. Started making an enquiry, I got my engineer and engineer and we kicked off. Again, when we did it, housing started going up. My budget was that each house will be sold for 200,000 pounds, we did 14 flats, by the time we finished, it was about 350,000 pounds. From there, I now decided that I want to go back to Africa.
What prompted you to come back to Africa?
I came to Africa because I believe Africa is where you enjoy your money. You know in the UK, you can’t have two drivers, or two cooks, or two gardeners. I felt that Africa was the place I can enjoy my money. Although I am a Nigerian, but Nigeria was never in my mind. I could remember I went to Ghana is 2005. I was with Dele Momodu and we were having a nice time. About that time I was planning to buy land in an area called Airport residential and East Legon, but eventually, I didn’t buy. Then I went to South Africa. I went on a holiday. I went with my family. I fell in love with South Africa. My plan there was to be living in South Africa and be making money in London. By 2008, I was in London and God spoke to me that the time of Nigeria has come. It was sometime in January 2008.
So started planning, then I was building an estate in Pretoria South Africa. Immediately I got the direction, I sold the estate. Immediately I moved out of South Africa, property business went down, when I got to Nigeria, I decided to by land at Mosley in Ikoyi. I did it, things went well. Although we made a lot of mistakes. When I first come to Nigeria, I believe in consultants, whatever they tell me something, I do it without question. It was later that I realised that these consultants only advise based on the book, they do not understand the practical delivery of these projects. For instance, I was advised to buy a 100 KVA generator, but I decided to buy 800KVA. Guess what? We never used the 800KWA, we have sold it now. The highest we are using is 500. After that project, I was a little bit frustrated. Then I went back and started to invest abroad. I started buying properties in America, Atlanta to be precise. I could remember this late Senator Oshinowo and told me all these things I am doing in Atlanta, I should come and do it in Nigeria, and another friend told me the same thing and asked why I was running away from Nigeria. Then in 2018, I came to Nigeria, I went around and decided that I will do some things that have not been done before in Nigeria. Now I was ready and I understand the system and terrain. I left Nigeria in 1986 and came back in 2008. That is what prompted my new projects here. In Nigeria, we have this belief that if a man is not there, then it cannot be built. So, my intention is t change this narrative.
What role has the government played in helping you actualise your dream in Nigeria?
Yes, let me say at this point that may God bless, our Governor, Babajide Sanwoolu, if every governor in Nigeria was like him, I will advise businessmen in the diaspora to come and invest in Lagos. This is a man that wants businessmen to move forward and also wants the state to move forward. You know he knows about properties very well, so he understands how the property market goes. He understands what you need. He’s not there to frustrate you.
There was a time we had a problem and we went to meet him and you know, he just sorted it easily for us. I was shocked because I have heard some people talk about him that the man is very supportive as long as you don’t do things that are against the law. He has given us good ground play. They don’t frustrate us at all.
Our Business, 360 I on Gerrard Road. You know Gerrard Road is still the most expensive road in Africa. I’m sure you know in Gerrard Road, they want us to do Highrise, but luckily for us. We are the only one that has a driveway that keeps you away from the noise of cars on the road.
We are actually building a 7-Star Hotel. They are flats, but we make it feel like you are living in a 7-Star Hotel. Everything that is in 7-Star Hotel, you will have there. But the only difference is that you own the property. We have not advertised and we have sold more than 50%. People who are buying from us are the people who have bought from us in the past. Here in 360, we have security, exceptional view, offices, clubhouse, and open recreation area. Practically everything you have in a 7-Star hotel.
Now that we have tried it and it worked for us, lots of my friends are now looking towards building a highrise. At 360, one of the buildings is called Grace, another one Peace, and the other one Faith. Those are the things that are working there. When the Grace of God is upon your life, please just work.
I believe so much in God, and I believe without God behind you, you can’t make it. That’s my belief. My bible tells me that if you can believe, all things are possible. It also says without faith it is impossible to please God. I am one of the few people that believe that if you want to make it as a Christian if you are not ready to take it through faith, you will never make it. Christianity has a lot to do with action. Faith without action is frustration.
What would you say to Nigerians travelling abroad and are not investing?
It’s a mindset thing. When I wanted to relocate to Africa, someone tells me most people who want to return abroad its because they don’t have what to do. I believe there’s a lot someone can do in the property market in Nigeria. Why are the white people coming here, why are the Chinese and Lebanese coming here? What I will advise is that when you are coming to Nigeria, have a mindset of positivity. Then you need to move with the right people. When I came back from South Africa, most of the people I moved with were into properties, so I could see. So when people come and say there’s nothing happening in Nigeria, I just think they are deceiving themselves. We have a good government in Lagos working and making investment easier.
All these high-rises we have in Dubai, we will still have here in Nigeria, UK was like Nigeria some 70 years ago. I was speaking to some Chinese guys who invest in Nigeria and they told me that what England came to do to them, about 50 years ago is what they are also doing to Africa. That the British came to China about 50 years ago and they were investing because they saw the future of China. So they are also investing in Nigeria because they have seen the future of Nigeria. So I am confident that Nigeria has a very bright future.
What’s your projection for the real estate sector in 2021?
Well, I’m sure you know Ikoyi will continue going up. Recently they increased the approval fee and other things going into hundreds of millions. Cement is going high and land is going for 800 million per square meter. What I understand about Ikoyi is when you build a property, don’t build for someone that will buy to rent, but for people that will live in there themselves. This means your property must be very nice.
As for what we have in stock, I can guarantee you that this is just a starting point. Whatever you are seeing from our stable now is just the beginning. I can tell you that the future is bright. What we are doing at the moment is merely 2% of what we intend to do in Nigeria.
How are Nigerians accepting these huge projects?
I have to tell you this. Hope you know we have not done any advert now? We intentionally did not do the advert. It’s because we want to finish all the things we have on the ground. Those who have bought have not seen 10% of what’s in that project. By the time they see the slab, by the time they see the view, by the time they see the designs, which they are not seeing now, the price is going to shoot up. So, I can tell you now, the people that bought are people that have insight.
What more do you think can make your business easier? I have to be honest with you. I think Lagos State has done enough. The approval is fast, the tax system is running. The roads are getting restructured and those are what is required. So, I can just encourage the government to keep up the good work.