In this interview with Ambassador (Dr) Babatunde Adeyemo, the CEO of Pelican Valley Nigeria Limited, he narrated how he ventured into the real estate business and how the company was birthed.
Can we meet you sir?
I am Ambassador (Dr) Babatunde Adeyemo, the CEO of Pelican Valley Nigeria Limited, an Ambassador of anti-corruption and recently, I have been awarded as ECOWAS Youth Ambassador. I am from Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria but I was born in Lagos. I had my primary and secondary schools in Ikorodu, Lagos State, then I proceeded to Federal Cooperative College, Eleyele Ibadan and from there I was at University of Lagos (UniLag) where I studied Industrial Relations and Personnel Management. I went back to UniLag for a Master’s degree in Public and International Affairs. I have always been very ambitious and business conscious, so to say. The University of Lagos that I attended inspired me a lot.
Despite having at least four lawyers under our company’s retainership, none has ever gone to court to defend us because we have always done things with the fear of God and integrity. We started small and grew gradually, we don’t bite more than we can chew, we are contented with our ‘slow and steady win the race’ approach. We are not greedy and we don’t make ourselves vulnerable. I have been doing this real estate business for close to 13 years alongside my career in journalism but I have always maintained a very low profile with it. Some will think I am just making it, no, God has been helping us for some time now but despite that, I was only using a car that I changed its engine five times before getting another one. Patience is the word. Real estate is like a cumulative grade point just like it is in the university. The foundation is very essential in real estate business, there are some things one has got to do before you begin to sell land according to government rules but if you fail to do them and after collecting people’s money you started gallivanting and spending the money as it pleases you, a time will come when a government will come and force you to do what you have failed to do and those things are usually capital intensive. At that time, such real estate merchants will be in trouble, they will think any way is a way, they will want to defraud their clients, cut corners, do anything to survive.
How did you venture into real estate despite being a journalist?
I have always been someone who wants his integrity intact but I realised most Nigerian journalists are always struggling with the brown envelope syndrome, you know what I mean. Journalists will sometimes see terrible things but keep quiet because they have collected money. So, in a bid to guide against all of these, I started thinking of having a second address, something that will make me to be more financially stable and independent, that was how I got into real estate. It’s something that I have always loved doing because I have passion for unusual homes. The land at Pelican Valley inspired me too. Incidentally, the genesis of my real estate business has two sides to it. When my immediate elder brother was in the university, he had a barbershop and he employed a stylist to run it. However, about the time that I finished my programme with the Federal Cooperative College and I was supposed to observe a one year internship, the stylist said he was no longer working for my brother. In fact, he stopped working while barbing one of our customers. I had to pick up the clipper and finish up the barbing. Without ever being trained as a barber, that was how I took up the job and operated the shop throughout my university days.
It was through barbing that I sponsored my education. Our barber shop then became a household name such that even when I was in the school, people would wait for me to come home during the weekend to barb their hair. To cut the story short, after my university education and I was posted to Niger State for service, the business went down. When I came back from the service, I wanted to resuscitate the business but my brother said that we should step up to the transportation business. I invested about N1.8m into this business, however things didn’t go the way we envisaged, the business died because neither of us could drive, so I told my brother to let me have one of the cars so that at least I would know that I have not wasted all the money, that peradventure I could dispose the car and use the money for something that I could always make reference to. At Abeokuta here while working as the Ogun State Correspondent for MITV, I met a man, Mr Akanni Taiwo who is now late, proposed buying the car while giving me two plots of land in return. The man took us to where the land is and after showing us the two plots of land I asked if he has more land that I could buy and pay in installments, he said he had three acres, so I paid. My original intention of buying the land was to have something to fall back on. My wife was pregnant with our first child and my calculation was that in the next six years my daughter would have been in school and I can always dispose parts of the land to sponsor her education, I never knew I was buying my future. I became a realtor by God's intervention. That was how Pelican Valley was birthed. I started ridging the land because of its topography until it became what it is today.
How can we overcome the challenge of housing in this country?
Well, the bad economy is the major culprit here, once the economy is in shambles as it is now, the housing challenge which requires a bit of capital will suffer. The only thing the government can afford to subsidise is land because land is technically said to be owned by the government and even at that, you will still have to pay or compensate the original owners and custodians of the land. Can the government subsidise the cost of the iron, the roofing sheets, cement, cost of labour? For example, if you want to build a standard three bedroom house, I mean those houses that will stand the test of time. You will be talking about N35m or N40m.
What’s making Pelican the most outstanding of all?
We don’t bite more than what we can chew. Also, the leadership. We always want to do things right no matter how challenging and costly it is, and we always put first the comfort and safety of the investment of our clients. Sincerely, leadership and goodwill that we have built over time is the key. Unfortunately, many youth of nowadays don’t want to buy time at all. I remember one of them that God used me to pick up from the gutter about three years ago that nearly took the business over from me, a business I have been building for close to 15 years. It is that bad. They always act as if they will die the next day, likewise, our politicians… assuming I have the whole of Abeokuta to to sell, I can do that today, get all the money, ride my G-Wagon Benz and still go broke later but if I decide to sell say three plots now, add value to it, wait for another five years to sell again, the properties would have appreciated the more by that time. I will definitely make more money and even buy five G-Wagons at a time to ride. That’s how things work in real estate. Time and patience are of the essence in real estate business. I am not always in a hurry to sell my properties. but a value driven person. I am always scared of collecting money from people because delivery is very crucial for me. That is why we don’t advertise our lands in the media, you won’t hear us on radio, yes, you can see one or two of our billboards in some places and that is just to establish our presence, just to say that we are also existing.
I intend to bring Dubai into Ogun State. It is not about building slums everywhere in the name of having estates, what goes into an estate is more than the building. What about the infrastructure like roads, electricity and the likes. Even sometimes it is difficult for some state governments to manage five estates due to the fact that it is a capital intensive business, and that’s why they usually give them to private developers most often. For instance, Pelican Valley used to be very difficult terrain, it used to be a mountain as high as four storey building but for seven good years, I was busy cutting the hill and landscaping it to different levels, in the whole Southwest you can’t get a place like the Pelican Valley. Go to Pelican Valley Estate and Pelican Brief Estate and see things for yourself. After Pelican Valley, we moved to Pelican Brief, since we have been able to do something substantial in Pelican Valley which is like a mini estate. It is our success story there that we are now leveraging on to sell Pelican Brief, which is going to be a smart city. We also have Greenish Acres Farm Estate and Ecostay Apartments where we sell unusual houses too.
What can be done?
The government must fix the economy and also ensure that we have the right people at the helm of affairs to ensure that resources for each sector are not diverted or stolen. Look at the fantastic job the Registrar of Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof Isiaq Oloyede is doing. Who will ever believe JAMB could be making as much as N8 Billion, N9billion, so we have to tackle corruption upfront in the country if we ever care to make any meaningful progress. There was a time when I was having some amount of money in my account, I used everything to provide electricity for all our estates and up till date I have not charged the people for anything. I could have spent the money as it pleases me because the people only bought the land which I have given them but I thought that I could add further value to their lives and my business. Today, if I want to embark on such projects, I will be talking of over half a billion naira. So, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should really be ready to fight corruption and work with people who are less greedy, it is the bane of our underdevelopment and outright stagnation.