By Chris Onuoha
Engineer Adekunle Raphael is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Tobykemsworth Investment Limited, an engineering firm with interests in real estate, oil and gas, furniture and laboratory installation among others.
The company became operational in 2009, and has grown, making a strong impact in the real estate sector and establishing a brand called ‘Honeywell Gardens’. With a special interest in providing affordable house for the masses, the company recently launched ‘own a home’ project for teachers called “Teachers housing project”.
From the outset, my vision was to provide shelter for the people as our own way to grow the economy through mass shelter provision. We created our brand, ‘Honeywell Gardens’ and started our projects in Agbara, Ogun State. From there we moved inward Lagos and to other places outside Lagos.
It is a modern company with many divisions including a furniture factory and a wood farm in Calabar where we produce doors and furniture. We are also into water management with services like borehole drill and potable water supplies. We also run an agency that sets rules and controls pure and potable water that is used in our communities. This project has endeared us into peoples’ homes and industrial places. Reason for this is to ensure and educate people that water for drinking and bathing must be pure at all times. We are also into civil and electrical engineering. Under this unit, we have surveyors, civil engineers and electrical engineers. We are equally into petroleum products supplies, and construction of filling stations under a unit called ‘Gasline Energy’. We also have ‘Taste & Tummy Foods’, an eatery outlet Lagos and a company that handles publicity and media related jobs. We have something we call ‘Niche Laboratory Technology’ that handles industrial needs, providing lab equipment to schools and companies. Nestle Nigeria is one of our clients.
Tobykemsworth’s drive is not about making money but it is about providing shelter and making it easy for people to own. Our belief is that everybody can own a home. You know, putting together bulk fund to buy a house is a big issue in the country but if you can have a place where you drop a fund in bits, one day, you can own a home. We have different structures and repayment plans that make it easy for people to achieve owning a home. Our brands of estates under Honeywell Gardens are ‘Prominent Gardens’ and ‘Orange Brick Homes.’ The Orange Brick Homes takes care of the mass housing while Prominent Gardens is for a class of people in the society.
Under the Orange Garden project, we make houses affordable at the rate of N5 million, with a payment plan of N25, 000 monthly. People have shown much interest and the enthusiasm is encouraging. Imagine an ‘Okada operator’ approaching me and eager to do N40, 000 monthly. That shows the hunger in people to have their own homes. We found out that it is not that people don’t have the money but bulk payment is not easy to achieve. I am convinced that anybody that is working and making N10, 000 a day can afford to pay any debt if he manages his finance properly. This is our target and we are doing it to help the masses. Also, we notice that if we construct a building of about N45 million for the rich, it could take up to 2 years to get a buyer but, when it is done for the masses, selling comes handy. We have the Orange Garden projects at Agbara, Mowe, Ibeju Lekki and other places. We are moving out of Lagos to Ewekoro in Ogun State and Okitipupa in Ondo State, Port Harcourt in Rivers State and Owerri in Imo State.
Teachers’ The deficit we are facing right now is that government is not providing adequate houseshome project
The teachers’ home project is a very huge project. Many teachers have keyed into it because they believe that it is where their comfort lies. There’s a popular saying that a teacher’s reward is in heaven after service, but we have come to change that narrative, that a teacher’s reward can be on earth so that when he gets to heaven he can also take the reward there.
Why exclusively for teachers
Let me explain with this scenario. I came across one of my teachers one day. Having not seen her for a long time, I asked her where she was living as she had retired. She told me she lived somewhere on the outskirts of the city but in a rented apartment. I was touched that after retirement, she couldn’t afford a home. As a retiree, rent will increase and the cost of living will also get high. This pushed me to do a research on how much teachers earn as salary and what their retirement benefits are. Noticing that the whole amount cannot afford a decent home, I decided to initiate the project. It is a massive apartment but a mini bungalow of two-bedroom apartment and three bedrooms for both higher and lower level cadres.
So far, the patronage from both public and private schools is overwhelming. The two-bedroom bungalow comes with N15, 000 and N18, 000 repayment plans monthly. There is also a landed property for teachers in the plan pegged at N9, 000 per month. We pioneered this type of project and will see it sustained. Our starting base is Lagos for now but we have plans to extend it to other parts of the country. We have also received request from other states to quicken the project extension which we are considering but we want to cover Lagos and make sure that no teacher is left out in our start-up base. This initiative cuts across all cadres of workers in a school whether teaching or non-teaching. That’s why we created two and three bedrooms’ categories. Our consideration is for those whose remuneration falls within teachers’ cadres excluding any other person outside primary and secondary schools. We don’t want to fall short of purpose. This is our drive to celebrate teachers. There have been suggestion to do something similar for market women, policemen among others but, for now, we are thinking about it.
‘Teacher Zino’ is our product brand ambassador. She is Elozino Olanrewaju, a retired teacher and has been very passionate in carrying out the responsibility of teachers’ housing project. With her effort an awareness drive is being carried in schools to reach out to teachers who have not known that the project is for their benefit. She said and l quote, “This is an opportunity to put a smile on their faces, telling them we love them. It also means recognizing their impact in the society. Teachers are the ones that taught and impacted knowledge into the lives of many people in the society. They have done so wonderfully well and I personally feel there’s need to appreciate them and show love.”
On housing deficit
The deficit we are facing right now is that government is not providing adequate houses. Effort by private companies in this regard is huge in the sense that despite the fact that facilities to provide these services are minimal, there are also government policies to contend with. Accessing fund is also an impediment. Mortgage banks are not adequately yielding to our requests as commercial loans to put up these facilities are not forth coming, and if there is, it comes with unfavourable interest rates. The private companies do what their capacity can carry. Look at the teachers’ project we initiated. We have borrowed with huge interest for a short time. I believe that we need an intervention from government in a way that supports private developers to do more. And even if they can’t do it, let them contract us to handle it.
Another thing is Central Bank policies. The interest rate charged on housing project loans cripple the business. These make developers run into debt and as well make them develop huge facilities for the rich alone. If government can set up policies to favour the actual players in the industry, not businessmen, then they can do more. Another challenge we have is land documentation. The bottleneck and cost involved in land registration is so much. To get a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) is currently running into N800, 000. This is too much to bear. If these are addressed, we will do more. There is this unconfirmed information that the President has ordered a tax rebate for anyone or company constructing houses on a large scale. If it is true, that will help us. That shows that government recognizes that private people have roles to play in the society. A tax rebate is an encouragement. You know Nigerians are not asking for too much, just infrastructure to enable them do their businesses.