Barr Oliver Mamah is the principal partner of Olitex Chambers. In this interview with CHINWE AGBEZE, Mamah who has over a decade experience in legal and property consultancy says government should build more estates, make them cheaper and accessible.
How would you assess the real estate industry?
The industry is really growing and will continue to grow. There is always land and people will continue to acquire for different reasons. Even as some people are leaving Lagos, more are trouping in so accommodation is always an issue. This explains why rent is on the high side in most cities especially in areas where the demand outweighs supply. When this happens, people tend to move to areas where they are sure to find cheaper properties.
Is government doing enough in the housing sector?
Government is just making money out of real estate and doing so little to help people. Take for instance the tenancy law they came up with to reduce the amount residents spend on rent but the question people keep asking is, how many of government owned estates are cheap? The tenancy law also excludes highbrow areas where government owned properties are.
Real estate contributes so much to the government confers. Lagos state government makes so much money out of any proper and legal transaction in Lands.
The money Lagos state government is generating from Real Estate alone is about the same amount of money they are getting from oil, their own share of the national cake. All lands belong to the government and they have access to these lands. So, why can’t they develop them and make them cheaper so it can be affordable to the masses?
Some people have likened Real Estate investment to pouring water inside a leaking bucket because of the activities of ‘Omonile’. Are their activities legal? And how best can they be handled?
‘Omonile’ are human beings and not masquerades. Their major duty is to know how much money they can extort from prospective buyers by claiming to be members of the family selling the property. Their activities are not legal but they are very violent. They come in mob action, attack people, destroy things and disappear.
So, it will be very difficult to know who to hold responsible but if one can grab any of them and report to the police, the police will take a criminal action against them and before you know it, they will find themselves in jail.
It’s advisable to weigh the pros and cons. if it’s something one can settle then it’s wise to settle them but it’s not all lands that have problems with Omonile. If a land has Certificate of Occupancy, one can go to Lands registry, investigate the title and get the necessary documentation. With an authentic Title, one can take up anyone that claims to an ‘Omonile’ and proper action will be taken against him.
Perfecting Titles have been slow, cumbersome and also expensive. What’s your advice on how procurement can be made easier?
There is so much corruption in the system. Land titles are not expensive but the procurement process which is usually a long one has contributed to the high cost. Before the process is completed, one must have spent so much money tipping those involved and time is also wasted. Corruption also accounts for why we witnessed lots of building collapse in the past and if we are not careful, more is bound to occur. Its either people are not obtaining the right certification from necessary authorities or deviation from approved building plans.
The people in the ministry in charge of approval and those approaching them for approval contribute a whole lot. The use of substandard materials or engaging the services of quacks in building is also corruption in its own kind. So for Titles, government can start by reducing the entire procurement process. This will not only reduce the cost but make it easier for people to obtain titles.
What will you say are the major challenges that you face on your job?
I’ll place my challenges on the kind of clients I have and their ability to pay because at times I advice them professionally but because of the money involved, they refuse to take my advice. When they get into trouble, they come back to me to patch and begin to manufacture material evidence that support their case but one can only work with what one have. If they have been carrying me along, I will be able to advise them well. So, if my clients cooperate with me in terms of paying very well, then I’ve got no challenge.
What improvements will you like to see in the real estate industry?
The past administration laid the foundation because Fashola obviously tried very well for the housing sector. So, it’s left for Ambode improve upon what the past government has done. If he can maintain what Fashola did in terms of landlord-tenant relationship by building more courts, it will be nice. I learnt they’ve opened more courts at Ogba so the cases that are going to the tribunal bothering on landlords and tenants are coming out faster unlike before that people want to take laws into their hands because it takes long before having their case decided in court.
I want to see more government owned estates and at a cheaper rate too. The estate should also be accessible; this move will reduce the price of rent in Lagos. Also, roads should be accessible too because people avoid certain areas because of they are not accessible. Most people leave home for work early and get to their offices several hours later because of this.
In your 12 years of practice, which will you say is the most challenging case you’ve ever handled?
There was a matter someone obtained judgment from another land with different Certificate of Occupancy. He used that judgment to enter my client’s land. We thought that man was just living on a mistaken belief but to our utmost surprise, we approached the same court he got the judgment but the man was really trying to defend it. So, before the court has taken final decision on that, there has been judgment. The court says it cannot proceed further in the case so we were advised to go to a fresh court, so we are in the court and we have instituted a fresh matter.
Why the decision to become a lawyer?
Long before now, I was a very businessman and was not keen on going to school but I hate intimidation in my life. I have been a victim of intimidation from the police so I vowed that its either I read law or nothing. I and my family were intimidated by some policemen around Niger Bridge several years back while travelling to the East and the police even threatened to kill me.
The policemen said if they kill me, they can allege anything and I knew it’s that weapon of destruction they are carrying that is giving them so much power. I was helpless not knowing who to report to for assistance. It was at this point, I decided to study law and when the opportunity presented itself, I took a dive.
Where do real estate few years from now?
It’s growing rapidly because prices of properties will keep on increasing. People who are living in the cities should ask government to increase their salaries so they can continue to live in the city because with landlords, there’s no end to rent increment.