SURAJ OYEWALE: “The Range Rover was giving me problems-engine issues, gear issues. I abandoned work on the house. I spent almost N4 million fixing the car. At one point, my wife told me, now you have to choose between the family and this car. I abandoned the Range Rover and got a smaller car…”
What do you do, sir?
I am an accountant. I work in an oil company, a medium-sized oil company.
So, when did you arrive in Lagos?
After my first degree in 2006, I came to Lagos in November 2006
What did you study?
Economics. I have a first degree in Economics from the Obafemi Awolowo University. So I came to Lagos after my NYSC. I worked with Vetiva Capital Management, an investment management firm after Ife. I left to serve in Sokoto State after three months. I finished serving in 2008 and came back to Lagos and immediately started working at OANDO, the oil company.
So, when you came back to Lagos, what was the accommodation like?
I was staying with my brother, who was and is still a banker. I was staying in a BQ in my brother’s house in Victoria Island extension, Oniru. He has a house there, he gave me his BQ, I stayed there before I rented my own apartment as a young man in 2009. I rented a small two-bedroom flat in Ajah. I was living on the ground floor while the owner stayed in the flat upstairs. I invited a friend who had just finished NYSC and was looking for a job to stay with me. I don’t like staying alone.
What was your rent?
I was paying N250,000:00. I paid for one and a half years. That was 2009.
How would you rate your accommodation in Ajah compared to your brother’s place?
Well, talking strictly about the location, I will say it was a move downward, moving from Victoria Island to Ajah. It was a move downwards. I used to walk to the office from my brother’s house and it took only ten minutes. I started spending two hours driving to work from Ajah. That was a big change. But privacy wise, it was a positive change. When I was in the BQ in my brother’s house, siblings and other family members used to drop in and crash. When I married, I moved to another house, 3-bedroom flat within the same area, just a stone-throw away from the house I first rented at. I moved there in 2012. My last rent there, in 2015, was N500, 000:00.
How did you adjust to two hours commute to work? Did you have a car?
Yes, I got my first car in March 2009 shortly before I left my brother’s place. A Honda civic 2005 model.
How much did you get it?
I got the car from the company I was working for. I paid N632, 000:00 for the car. I didn’t like driving for two hours so I sometimes took public transport. I had to wake up at 5 a.m. to join the company bus. I don’t like to wake up so early. I think I was very lucky. I wasn’t paying rent and I was eating at home. I was able to save. I bought a land in my town in June 2009. My friends who came to Lagos at that time where coming to Victoria Island from Egbeda and Ikorodu and spending a lot of money on transport.
At such a young age, you bought a land and started building a house? That’s very rare.
It’s a family tradition. Some of us were not raised in Lagos. In our family when you get a decent job, there’s that pressure from your parents, “come back home o, come back and buy land o.”
Not many young men would have been able to save with all the fun to spend on in Lagos?
The money I used to by my land wasn’t from my monthly salary. Oando gave you a car grant after six months of working for the company. I got N800, 000:00 as car grant. This is the money I used to buy the car. I also got upfront payment. So I could buy a land and also a car and still be able to spend money going out during the weekend- Shoprite, eateries, occasional weekend flights to other parts of the country to meet friends etc.
What’s upfront payment?
Oando paid you roughly half of your annual salary on your anniversary, every June in my own case. So if your annual gross pay is let’s say N2.5m, the company gives you N1.2m every June. It’s really like a housing allowance. This is what I used to buy the land in my town. The land was cheap anyway. I got two plots for N200, 000:00. A plot is now N800, 000:00 in that area. I bought the land and my car from those lump sum payments from my company, not from savings.
So, despite working for an oil company you still struggle to save?
Yeah. I was the run-to person for a lot of friends- emergency requests for N5k, N10k. I find it difficult to reject. I also have to give some money to my parents, siblings and other family members once in a while. My monthly take home in 2009 was about N200, 000:00. I believe I could have done better, saved and invested more. But glory be to God. I have a house in Lagos, I have one in Kwara in my state. I am building another one in Osun State for my mom. I have two completed houses now. I am also building a small duplex in my other plot in Ajah.
When did you complete your house in Kwara and in Ajah?
For the one in Kwara, I completed the main building in 2013, a 3-bedroom bungalow. I left it for four years, then in 2018 I added a BQ and shop.
Did you rent out your house in Kwara?
The BQ has twin mini-flats. I rented out one wing. The rent is so low there. I don’t look at it. I gave out the other wing to a family member. My mom stays in the main building, she has some grandchildren with her.
How much did you pay for the land on which you built in Ajah?
I got it N3.3m in February 2014. My wife just mentioned to one of those elders in the community that we were interested in buying land. I don’t think she discussed it with me and she seemed to have made the enquiry out of impulse. Well, the community elder told her that someone wanted to sell a piece of land and that’s how we bought the plot. I completed the building in eleven months, spending N11 million in total. I was not aware there was an empty plot so close to where we were renting. I also couldn’t think I could afford to buy anything there. I was thinking of buying further down in Ibeju-Lekki. I told you my wife just asked someone in the community casually. And that was it. I got at a location closer than Ibeju Lekki.
How much is the house worth now?
I am not an estate valuer, but land in that area now goes for N5-7 million today, so if I want to sell it now, I will be asking for N20 million.
Did you borrow to finance the project?
Yes I borrowed. I took a short-term loan from my company’s cooperative. I borrowed N5 million at 9%. It had a tenure of two years. I didn’t spend everything on building the house though. I got the land in February 2014, but had to start building in December 2014 to avoid omo onile issues that come with leaving a land for loo long Then I bought a Range Rover in April 2015, about four months after I started building. The Range Rover was giving me problems-engine issues, gear issues. I abandoned work on the house. I spent almost N4 million fixing the car. I paid N3.2 million for the car. I had to change the engine. It was imported from the USA, not Nigerian used. The seller didn’t disclose the problems. I couldn’t do anything on the house.
For six months, I was just spending money on the car. At a point, my wife told me, now you have to choose between the family and this car. I abandoned the Range Rover and got a smaller car, then I went back to developing our house.
My wife didn’t contribute money to building the house; her contribution was forcing me to spend on building our house rather than repairing my Range Rover. I sold the Range Rover a few months later at a ridiculous price and I was happy to let it go. It was too much of a problem.
What other things did you sacrifice while building your house?
I usually travel abroad with my family on vacation. We couldn’t travel while building the house. Small household expenses like changing the television were also frozen.
So, what’s your total house old income today?
Just let me say I am in the top five percent when you consider the remuneration package of my peers. I mean professionals. I think I am fortunate.
In your neighborhood how will you rate the infrastructure on a scale of 1-10?
It is not an estate. It is that kind of place where everybody builds his or her own house. We still have the indigenes living in the core of the community. So it is not a place where every road is tarred. The nearest tarred road to my house is like 500 meters away. The area is mainly populated by young professionals that want to have their own house but cannot yet afford to buy a N60 million naira house closer to Lekki. You have people working in banks and oil companies. But then you also have artisans. It’s a mix of bungalows and duplexes. But lately we are having 3 floor buildings with 10 flats. People who are building to let to others build own these. Some of them live in the USA. The buildings are investments. A lot has happened in the last 5 years, the place is changing. I would rate the infrastructure 4/10.
So, what more would you like to see done?
Roads. Interestingly they have awarded the road contract. Somebody who is a Director in Abuja, in one of the federal ministries has a house in the neighborhood. He was able to influence a federal government road project. So we will have half a kilometer road that will get to my house. Residents have maintained the road through “grading”. There is a N2, 000:00 monthly levy. We pay N10, 000:00 for special projects. This levies cannot do a quality road. So we are looking forward to the intervention from Abuja.
The duplex you are building on your plot in Ajah, how much will it cost to finish?
It’s now at lintel level. I have spent N4 million so far. About 20 million will complete it. I plan to move into the duplex and let out the bungalow. But if I get one big money, I will buy a duplex in Lekki. For now based on the source of my income, being a monthly salary person, I am not able to buy a N70 million house in Lekki. I didn’t buy another land, the duplex is just beside my bungalow.
Have you borrowed or do you intend to borrow to finish the duplex?
I don’t want to borrow. I don’t like borrowing again. It takes a lot of my monthly income to pay back. I also have some religious reservations against borrowing. So I am taking my time to build this one. I am doing it on and off. If I have some money, I will do the decking, that’s the next level. I am also developing a three-bedroom bungalow for my mom in Osun state for her to use when she travels home. I started that last year.
If you get a flat in Lekki for like N35-40 million, will you go for it? Especially if you got a loan at let’s say 10% for 10 years.
I can’t finance it for now. Even if I get N25 million for my current property – the bungalow and the half-finished duplex. And I don’t like long-term loans. I prefer 1-2 years tenure. The burden of payment of 10 years puts me off. Anything can happen. I mean God forbid, person can die, and then your children will have to suffer, so I am little bit conservative when it comes to loans. I’m also trying to observe my religious rules on interest-based borrowing so I’m very hesitant to go back to it, even short-term ones that I had taken in the past. Maybe that is why I have not bought a big house. I am aware of all these opportunities for financing. But maybe if I get a promotion and I qualify for bonus of like N20 million, and with my savings, then I can get a house of N50 million. That’s a sketch of my hope for moving to the next level. I will get a duplex for N50-60 million where the big boys live. At some point in one’s career, you have to live in such places. But given my current status, I am not planning to buy in Lekki for now. I don’t like inconveniencing myself so much. Oil companies are not even paying these big bonuses now because of the state of the industry.
So, no borrowing to finish existing projects or move to Lekki?
No! If not for my love for cars I would have been able to invest more in real estate. I got a Honda pilot in December 2018. I got a Land Rover LR3 about two months ago. So my construction projects are suffering. I spend a lot of money on cars, that is my biggest problem. Most of my friends will just buy a small Toyota Corolla of about N1.5 million and don’t go on family holidays. These are people with very decent incomes. They are more liquid. Some of them live in places closer to Lekki. Some of them have completed three bungalows in Lagos- in Ajah, Ipaja and the like. I earn more than some of them. But me, I spend a lot on cars. Of course, I don’t mean N50 million cars. I buy cars that cost between N5-N8 million. In fact, if I were a little bit more disciplined, I would be able to save enough to buy a house of N40 million. I invest in mutual funds and sell to finance expenses, travel, cars or developing a house. I always put money back in mutual funds. I use one of the leading mutual funds in the country. I have used them for about a decade now. I liquidate my investment in mutual funds when I am critically low on cash. And reinvest later.