We Are Using Social Housing Scheme To Bridge Infrastructure Deficit—Toke Awoyinka

Toke Benson Awoyinka is the Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos State on Housing. She also doubles as the Chief Executive Officer of the Lagos State Real Estate Regulatory Authority, LASRERA. In this discourse, she bares her mind on the Real Estate sector in Lagos, challenges of regulation and monitoring of practitioners and developers, stemming the housing deficit in the state, governance in the COVID-19 era, and generally, this administration’s quest to deliver housing for all Lagosians, among other issues. BENJAMIN OMOIKE captures it all.

Excerpts

Housing is a critical issue in a cosmopolitan city as Lagos. How would you score yourself?

Well, I’m not going to be scoring myself. I’m going to be scoring the Lagos State Government. I’m going to start from last year. When we got into government, we had the Lagos State Real Estate Transactions Department, which is under the Ministry of Housing. And we had an executive order from 2012; that was done by governor Raji Fashola. Prior to that executive order, under the leadership of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, we had the Lagos Estate Agency Regulatory Authority Law 2006, which was the enabling law for the 2012 executive order by governor Fashola.

So, basically, we’ve had progressive governors over the years, who have looked at the activities of Real Estate practitioners and real estate activities across the state  vis-à-vis the transaction going on amongst the citizenry. And, it started of with Asiwaju like I said, and the most important thing is that there was that vision, that we needed an enabling law, and that law is the law that was put in place, that has birthed this Agency which we are talking about right now.

So, in 2019, when we started of, there was that department, like I told you, under the Ministry of Housing, which was called LASRETRAD, Lagos State Real Estate Department…and the words of the executive order was to sanitise the industry, to regulate practitioners, to register them and keep a compendium of real estate practitioners, so that we would have knowledge of who is involved in that sector…and how we can deal with their relationship with the citizens.

It also said we should look into petitions and misgivings of the sector vis-à-vis the practitioners and the citizens as well. So, we looked at those two laws. The law from 2006 and the executive order from 2012, and we looked at what really hindered the progression of that department. So, we started of that work last year here, and we had a stakeholders meeting on the 29th of October at the Eko Hotel and Suites, because we thought if we’re going to deal with such a huge sector in society, we needed the buy-in of the sector practitioners as well.

So, we had this stakeholders meeting, which was chaired by Mr Governor himself; where we deliberated on what to do with the real estate industry. So, at that engagement, we told the people of Lagos…it was agreed that we would come up with a platform where we would register real estate practitioners, we would display their registration status, erring practitioners after due diligence has been done, would be blacklisted and also posted on that platform, so the people of Lagos could go on that platform and see what we do on that platform with real estate. If you need anything in real estate, you could go to that place, pick your developer, pick your agent, lodge your complaints, do everything you can do there.

We had people in the Diaspora, who are looking for sector practitioners, they can also go there for agents, for developers, and they can be sure that by the time we list people on our website, it means we have done the due diligence. So, we started this on the 11th of June, when we launched the portal, and the portal has since existed. So, basically, what I can say is that, even though we have so much more to do in sanitising the industry, I’m going to score us very very high in the progression so far.

Acceptance of your portal and response

It’s amazing that the response has been huge from people in the Diaspora. We’ve had situations where even Lagos State Government officials have come in here, and they were referred by their family members and friends in the Diaspora, that they know of a Real Estate Regulatory Authority platform, which they have gone to, that has told them what the Lagos State Government is doing in sanitising the industry, and that they would have confidence if they can actually come in and check out what we’re doing.

We have almost resolved a particular issue, also which was a petition from the Diaspora, with a big time developer in Lagos…we are at the verge of that resolution right now. We’ve had online meetings between the practitioners and the public, who had made the complaint. So, in Diaspora, I think we have dine very well, and its mainly on the platform and advocacy. We’ve also had people in the Diaspora, who have called in, asking us to recommend developers for them, that they’ve listened to all our advocacy telling them that for you go deal with a developer in Lagos, you ensure that he’s registered with government, and government has done due diligence on those developers and real estate agents.

So, in that line, the Diaspora has really caught the fire. On the side of the practitioners, we launched a portal on the 11th of June, and since then till the 9th of July, we had over a thousand people who had started their registration process on the portal. So, I would say that’s a huge acceptance by the public and also by the practitioners. Since then, we’ve had various petitions come in – land dispute matters, encroachment matters, agency matters. We’ve had petitions here that we have actually resolved, because we’re going to come up with a committee of enquiries, which is being set up as we speak. It’s going to deal with petitions in-house, so we can do resolutions here before we transmit any, if necessary, to the law courts.

We’ve had, also, people of the Media come in here, we’ve  had Channels TV come in here reporting an incident in Abraham Adesanya, of 158 people who were defrauded of 50-unit building. We’ve taken it up as well, the case in being transferred to the office of the DPP in Lagos State, so that Lagos can join that suit and prosecute on behalf of the citizens of Lagos. So, talking about acceptance, I can reel so many instances for you of petitions that have come in, and we have taken up and we’re actually working on these right now.

Capacity in-house to resolve high profile cases?

Yes, we’re doing some strategic partnerships. Last week, we met with the MD of the Lagos State Signage Agency. That partnership, a couple of people had called me…what is LASSA going to be doing with LASRERA? And I said before any real estate fraud starts, the first port of call is advertisement, and LASSA regulates advertising industry in Lagos.

So, if we have the collaboration of LASSA on what we are supposed to do, LASSA can sieve through those adverts before they actually hit the air space. And once we sieve through those ads from there, LASSA tells you…are you registered with the state government? Do they know what you’re doing? Are they aware of your transactions? Have you met all their criteria? Because right now, we have a very sophisticated market in terms of technology, so most ads go in the air space. Most don’t go on the walls or buildings anymore, except in the very high density areas of Lagos and some strategic places like the high brow.

Most ads are online right now. With LASSA, the collaboration is going to be very fruitful because we already have something there. We have a regulatory body there which is regulating adverts on our behalf. We also met with the state CID, where we met with the Deputy Commissioner of Police last week, in our collaboration as well, which we have gone to them for. We realise, like you said, cases can be very high profile, and you need the security forces. We’re not going to be able to do that part of it ourselves. So, we’re partnering with the state CID in the apprehension of fraudulent practitioners and resolving disputes that are beyond our own capacity.

So, we get them to do the apprehension of these erring members or criminal activities that are ongoing, and then, we take it to the law courts. So, within the system, we are also working with the Ministry of Justice. They prosecute on our behalf, which makes them a strategic partner in what we are doing here. Our next port of call will be the law courts, which we’re going to be meeting with the Chief Justice of the State. Also, to seek their collaboration, so that we can have asdigne to us, special courts or special judges that would handle these cases very very fast. So, we won’t have these matters bogged down within the bureaucracy of the law.

Once we have those specialised courts or assigned judges to deal with these matters, people know that once these matters are not resolved in the LASRERA office under the committee of enquiries, we can take it to this, or we can take it to that. People, then, don’t takei it lightly that the government is serious about the business of sanitising the industry.

Is there aherence to guidelines, rules of engagement?

I would say so. You know, most times, people react to change. Initially when we started, people didn’t realky, well, they  thought government had just created another agency, another bureaucratic set up. Maybe it was about government making money…you know, there’s a general distrust with governance all over the world.

Sometimes, I tell people that you need to look at where government is coming from. I mean, government is saddled with so much. I would refer to  the issue of the e-hailing system, where there was so much brouhaha over the matter. I sat down a couple if young people and I told them that when Uber charges you N3000, they’re expected to pay some levy, some dues…whatsoever, to the state government, because it is the infrastructure that the government put in place, that has given Uber that enabling environment to thrive in that business. And I’m like, it’s N20. Uber charges N3000, Lagos State Government is talking about N20.

The same case when you come here. We don’t charge our citizens when we prosecute on their behalf. So, what we give as a government, is really more. I guess it’s the communication, that’s why we have worked so much on our advocacy, so that we can communicate with our people effecttively, that we’re here to support you, we ‘re here to protect you from fraudulent activities.

We’ve realised as a government that the most areas where you can have such activities is in the real estate industry. I was sent a particular picture yesterday if some land is going up for sale somewhere in Ibeju-Lekki. I approached my colleague – the Permanent Secretary Lands, and asked for verification. The minute he saw that advert, he told me, excision in process. He says that is an outright fraud. It means you’re already selling land that has not been granted or given to you.

So, there’s so much going on. Unless we all collaborate, our people will not understand what we’re doing. Since I’ve gone through that process to verify that information, if I put that information out there, I’ve saved people hard earned monies which they would have to these real estate practitioners who’re springing up all over the place, selling government land awaiting excision.

I’m saying the people should give government benefit of the doubt and see what we want to do. The real estate industry already knows there’s something we’re doing, that it’s not going to be business as usual. The people now see government as those they can rely on and they no longer have to go to the police station back and forth…with all the issues such as, we cannot prosecute, we cannot find that person, and all what not; because the agency has taken up that responsibility from them.

I will give you the instance of the matter in Ajao Estate. About 244 people were defrauded in Ajao Estate. We took that matter to court. The court forfeited that property to us, we’re in the process of disposing that property, and we’re going to be returning the money back to the individuals who were defrauded. And we have not collected a dime to prosecute that matter. So, let’s look at the good side of government. When you feel that government has not performed optimally in a particular area, look at the challenges in those areas. Government is here to protect lives and properties, and we are doing as best we could. I can speak for my colleagues, that everybody is on their toes to ensure that Lagos State Government has a good face in everything that we’re doing.

Bad eggs in government

I tell people government is a two- way street. Government is not everywhere. So, on our portal we also have the whistle-blowing part of it. We’ve had people who have called and told us about some building…give us that information…there are a lot of areas to be covered. In this instance, I’m sure a lot of people are already subscribing on that site, but one Lagosian has done due diligence, and is asking, is this right? I always tell people, look before you leap.

We have a slogan in our agency here, ‘Pause before you play; pause before you pay’. Just take that step, think twice about it because it’s real estate. There’s no futures in real estate, and that’s why part of my discussion with the Permanent Secretary of Lands that I just left his office, was how we are going to deal with the issue of land development. That also is not the fault of government, but that of citizens, who’re not doing due diligence. Yet, government is still coming in to rectify such situations.

I say again to the people, do not deal with anybody who is not registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Authority, if you deal with them, you do so at your own expense, because if you bring these matters to us, we will ask if you made verification. For that real estate agent that comes to you, please ask them, are you registered with the state government? We have to regulate. It is for lack of regulation, that we have all these activities ongoing.

Fraudulent activities nipped in the bud?

We have not nipped it in the bud. That is why I’m calling on the citizens because they’re the recipients of these frauds. For every fraud that is reported to us, we make sure that we prosecute, and make sure that we get the citizens back what they deserve. So, the only way we can nip it in the bud, is if the citizens comply with what we’re saying. Do not deal with practitioners who are not registered with government.

Is LASG doing enough in terms of low-cost housing to stem deficit?

I’m not sure we’ve been building in Ikoyi or Victoria Island. So, what we’re doing is social housing. And we’ve tried to bridge that gap by some of the various developments that we have done. In October last year, we commissioned 492 units in Igando. Igando is a highly-densely populated area of Lagos, and I would say it’s not for the upscale…it’s for people who live in those neighbourhoods. It is very affordable. Apart from it being affordable, we have the Lagos State Rent To Own Scheme, where all you pay is five per cent, you’re pre-qualified, you have a monthly income, we do the rent for you, you pay your five per cent deposit, and something is worked out for you, and you pay over the next 10 years.

So, we are looking at the sounds of time, and we’re making sure that we’re doing everything to mitigate that issue on housing. So, that Rent To Own Scheme is what we’re doing in Igando. We have 492 units, like I said; we have 360 units coming up in Igbogbo, Ikorodu. We have 660 units coming up in Agbowa, in Epe. Also, fits that category of people you’re talking about. We have some units, also, I can’t place a figure on it, in the heart of Epe town. We have in Ajara, Badagry, coming up, hopefully, for the end of next year.

We have 1,300 units coming up in Sangotedo area of Lagos. So, if you put a total to that, we are adding about 5,000 units to the stock, and all these areas that I’ve told you, are places where social housing will thrive.

Private sector partnership?

Like you said, all over the world, there’s a deficit in housing. We are partnering with the private sector. One of our private partners, Messrs Ecostone, delivered 120 units in Badagry about two months ago. So, we have such strategic partnerships as well. We have about 1,500 units coming up in Tolu, Ajegunle. We have 500 units coming up in Ikota, through the private sector. We are inviting private sector practitioners who have the funds. Lagos State has the land, we put the funds together, but the condition there is that, it must be affordable to our people.

COVID-19 era in governance

Well, I’m going to push that question back to you….My governor, the Chief Incident Commander, has been very proactive. Lagos State Government is the only state that was proactive enough on COVID-19. And I speak to this as an insider and as a citizen of Lagos and a Nigerian.

We started planning when we heard of the outbreak in China. We have a very proactive Commissioner of Health as well, who is also versed in pandemics. He was here during Ebola. So, he knew what was on ground, he knew what was coming.  We were able to wrestle and tackle, even more than the United States of America, because as we speak, it’s still ravaging in the US, while in Lagos, it’s been controlled to some measure.

It was predicted that we would climax in August and as you can see, we are in August, and everything is on a downward slide. We planned for it and I think we should be applauded for what we’ve done with the COVID-19  pandemic. We built centres even before we had people coming in with donations. The governor did everything and he was clear on one thing – he wasn’t going to ask anyone to do anything, the government would do all that was necessary. He wanted to take responsibility. When private partners came along to build facilities, he insisted that every area of the state must be carried along

We saw what was going on in China and knew that Lagos, being a cosmopolitan city, would not be left out of the pandemic, hence, the planning by the governor.

We thank God that everything has gone as planned. It affected a lit if things we had set out to do. We were coming out from last year, when we set out to shape our finances. We got into this year, we had plans on the environment, on education, even in the health industry…we planned to upgrade a lot of our facilities. We planned to finish some general hospitals in Ojo and some other areas, the Mercy Children Hospital, but all those had to take a back seat, because the people we are here to lead, were affected by a pandemic, and we had to out everything on a back burner. Fortunately, government has started running now. We are playing catch up now. Like I said, Sangotedo will be delivered in earnest. For the first phase, we are giving out 770 units to the people of Lagos. Education is back up and housing is back up. We are gradually reopening the economy.

So, on the pandemic issue, it slowed things down, but who is supposed to take the initiative, if not government, and that is exactly what we have done, and we thank God.I apllaud the governor for his leadership and  I know that the Federal Government too has done so. And that is why all the aid came into Lagos at that time, for his proactiveness.

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