It is a well-known fact that shelter is one of the basic necessities of life. Everyone who is alive would naturally require air to keep the body system functioning, food and water to nourish the body and last but not the least, a home to retire to when the day is over.
The quest for shelter began right from the stone age when men lived in caves and has continued till this modern day of bungalows, mansions and palatial edifices.
In Nigeria, the government has been grappling with the challenge of providing shelter for its everincreasing population.
According to the World Bank, Nigeria with an estimated population of 170 million people, has a housing deficit of about 17 million and would require about N59.5 trillion to bridge the gap.
The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja accounts for about 10 per cent of the 17 million housing deficit in the country.
In other words, the nation’s capital city needs about 1.7 million housing units to adequately provide shelter for its residents.
Joseph Obuke is a civil servant in one of the government establishments in Abuja. He lives in a one-room apartment with two of his friends in Dedei, one of the sprawling ghettos on the outskirts of the FCT. He and his friends share the rent for the apartment which is barely enough to accommodate one person.
The high cost of securing accommodation in Garki, Gwarinpa, Dawaki, Katampe Gudu and Lokogoma districts of Abuja, has driven many residents of the city to the desperate and dangerous edge of life.
There are several civil servants, petty traders, construction workers and artisans, mainly unmarried young men, who are not so lucky on the issue of accommodation.
They have no money to rent apartments of any kind but rather than return to their villages, they have chosen to remain in the city at all costs.
Some of them have taken refuge in uncompleted buildings. These are buildings which have been substantially completed except that their owners have not fixed the doors and windows.
In order to occupy such structure, these homeless city dwellers usually go through the security men guarding the property and probably pay a token to have a roof over their heads.
In such cases, these desperate shelter seekers construct temporary doors and windows for the apartments they occupy. Most times these openings are covered with plywood or thick cartons just to ward off rodents and reptiles.
However, Inside Abuja found out that there are extreme cases where some of these homeless people have created “homes” out of the concrete fences of yet to be developed plots.
Such makeshift structure are constructed with either old corrugated iron sheets (zinc) or tarpaulin and occupied by the Mai-Bola, the scavengers who go about the city picking used plastic bottles, pieces of iron and other materials which they later sell to waste recycling merchants.
These scavengers often live side by side with the Mai-Guards who usually occupy the security posts in such property.
Ironically, a rapid development of housing estates is going on in the city on a daily basis.
The truth is that decent accommodation of various sizes are lying fallow across the various districts of Abuja. The only obstacle between the homeless and the thousands of housing units being built by private estate developers is the exorbitant cost of rent.
Investigations showed that the high cost of securing accommodation in Abuja has reached such an alarming rate that a one-bedroom apartment goes for as much as N1,000,000 per annum in the city and N400,000 per annum in the satellite towns.
A two-bedroom in Lokogoma now goes for N800,000 per annum while a similar property could be rented for N1.1 million per annum in Wuse 2 area of the city. In Utako, a three-bedroom flat goes for as high as N2 million while the same property in Dawaki goes for between N1.3 m and N1.5m per annum.
A brand new three-bedroom flat now goes for N2.5 million in Wuse District of Abuja while an old apartment of the same size could be rented for between N1.8 million to N2 million in the same district. Similarly, one could rent a three-bedroom flat at the rate of N1.5 million and N1.8 million in Durumi and Kado respectively.
Our investigations also showed that a three-bedroom duplex in Katampe Extension would cost a whooping N5 million while a three-bedroom service apartment costs N4.5 million per annum.
Inside Abuja ran into one Aloysius Emeka, an employee of one of the private firms in Abuja who narrated his ordeal in the hands of estate agents while in search of a decent accommodation in the city.
Aloysius, who is in his late 30s, has been living with his wife and two kids in a two-bedroom flat in one of the estates until a few months ago.
According to him, the search for a new accommodation began sometime last December when he learnt that the estate where he lived had been sold by the landlord. Soon after, he received a quit notice from his new landlord through a caretaker.
“Since January, I have been looking for another house. Where I used to live, the rent was relatively cheap when I moved in there because it was a small estate and in an isolated location. So, not many people were ready to live there.
The basic facilities were there. We had water and electricity but the access road was poor and security was an issue, but over time we, the residents of the estate, were able to resolve these challenges.
“When I got the quit notice, I began to look around for another accommodation. There is no place I didn’t go to check if I could get something similar to what I had before but I found out that the cost of rent had risen so astronomically.
Imagine being asked to pay up to N1.5 million per annum for a threebedroom apartment. You can’t even talk about the areas where you will go and the estate agents will tell you that they don’t even want individuals to rent the flats
. They say they are looking for corporate tenants – companies, ministries and parastatals that could rent some blocks of flats as offices or guest houses.
The whole thing is very frustrating because the houses are just there but you can’t enter because of the very stringent conditions attached,” he said.
Aloysius explained that even in the satellite towns, the cost of accommodation has hit the roof and therefore beyond the average worker who depends on his monthly salary.
According to him, the cost of rent has been compounded by the estate agents and caretakers who add extra costs such as agent fee, caution fee and agreement fee to the real cost of an apartment in order to earn some commission.
“In one of the newly built estates, I got a one bedroom selfcontained flat for N950,000; N1.5 million for a two-bedroom flat and N1.8 million for a three- bedroom apartment.
These rates are for one year only and you will wonder how somebody will be able to get such money to pay. Is this not robbery? “In some of these estates you will get some places they call service apartments where they will be asking you to pay N3.5 million for a three-bedroom per annum.
What is in the service apartment? They say they will provide generator when the public power goes off and they will provide security for the compound at the gate. Still, these are on the high side.
“So if this government wants to fight corruption, I think the first thing they should do is to bring down the cost of rent.
“Take for instance, a civil servant that is earning N80,000 per month which translates to N960,000 per annum.
The person will have to feed his family, pay the school fees of his children as well as pay his transport, water and light bills.
In addition he has to buy fuel for his generator because there is no guarantee that he will have power supplied to his home after paying electricity distribution company.
If one is confronted with all these burdens within one year, then tell me you are not sending him to go and steal to make ends meet. If he sees any avenue to steal money, he will steal it to avoid been sent out from where he is living.
There is no civil servant that is not paying rent that is over and above what he or she earns as salary. Where do you want them to get the balance of the funds? “I saw a lot of houses and nobody is living in them. Nobody in a whole compound and a whole estate.
The only people you find in these places are security guards.
So that is why I said, the first thing this government must do in the fight against corruption in this country is to bring down the cost of rent or provide affordable mass housing scheme for low income earners, especially in Abuja,” he said.
Aloysius said that the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) could also bring down the cost of accommodation by enacting a Rent Control Edict and imposing taxes on landed property.
According to him, the FCTA could use its Department of Development Control to take inventory of all built-up estates to ascertain the number of vacant housing units across the territory.
Such a housing census, he argued, could also help the authorities determine what it stood to gain if it imposed taxes on property just as the proposed taxes would encourage the owners of these property to give them out at relatively low prices.
FCT Minister, Alhaji Mohammed Bello, had on assumption of office promised to build on the achievements of his predecessors in terms of the development of social infrastructure in the city.
Although, he has not made specific pronouncements on the issue of shelter, some experts have advocated that the government will get it right if it embarks on mass housing projects that could deliver thousands of low cost houses annually.
A former Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) Abuja Chapter, Alhaji Saka Olajide, recently postulated that the current approach of leaving the provision of shelter in Abuja entirely in the hands of private estate developers would not solve the problem.
Olajide also said the idea of using law to force down rent might not work given the high cost of erecting the buildings and the fact that most estate developers sourced their funds from commercial banks at high interest rates.
“Rent control has never worked anywhere in the country, even in Lagos that they have the law.
How many tenants would have the time to go through the legal process with his landlord, when they are looking for sustenance and means of livelihood? Do they have money to pay lawyers to prosecute the case for three years?
It is almost impossible. “The most pragmatic way to go about it is for the local government or other agencies like the housing authority to build mass housing for the public on owner occupier basis, where there would be a robust mortgage system that would finance the houses.
“All the money deducted from civil servants as pension funds and all sort of funds that are wasting away in various banks can be utilised for development purposes.
They can make the houses less than 10 per cent interest rate, so that people can acquire the houses. We thought that Federal Government would have invested funds from sale of Federal Government houses for massive housing for the poor, unfortunately they never built even a hut.
We expected that Federal Government through the local government should build houses like it is done all over the world.
It is called council houses, two-bedroom, one-bedroom, threebedroom maximum, with minimum level of finishing so that individuals can buy it through allocation on first come first serve while they pay small percentage through the mortgage bank and they could continue to pay amortisation for over 15 years or 20 years period as the case may be.
“As long as you don’t have effective mortgage system in Nigeria, housing may not be cheap and may not be available to everybody.
The people who are building big houses in the town, are not building for the poor. They cannot go and borrow money at 25 to 30 per cent interest rate and you say they should give it to the poor. Banks will not do it, individuals will not do it, only government can do it.
Government has the land, they can develop the infrastructure as their own contribution and allow people to build the houses through mortgage system.
Without mortgage system I don’t see us getting out of the problem of lack of housing,” Olajide said.
By: Onwuka Nzeshi