NIGERIA’S capital, Abuja, is the most developed city in the country with many empty houses despite the increasing number of homeless residents.
The city hosts headquarters of several embassies and high commissions of countries and international agencies.
The economic and political activities within the city have led to an influx of Nigerians, especially youths from other states, into the FCT, due to an assumption that the city holds many economic opportunities.
However, they are quickly confronted with the biggest challenge of living in Abuja: housing.
Many FCT residents find it difficult to get accommodation due to the high cost of rent in the city.
Like most other cities in Nigeria, rent in the FCT is usually paid annually, with some landlords insisting on advance payment for two years.
A three-bedroom flat in high-brow areas such as Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse and Jabi, costs an average of N3.5 million annually while a one-bedroom apartment goes for N1.2 million naira yearly.
In the satellite towns such as Kubwa, Lugbe and Kuje, the price of a three-bedroom apartment costs around N500,000- N1.2million, while a one-bedroom flat is priced at an average of N350,000-N450,000 a year.
Studio apartments, also known as self-contained rooms, which go for about N550,000 within the city centre, can be rented between N200,000 and N250,000 annually in the satellite towns.
With the declining employment rate in Nigeria, young people flocking to Abuja in search of better prospects struggle with accommodation and are often pushed into cohabitation.
Some resort to sharing rooms to meet their accommodation needs.
Helen, who moved to Abuja from Kogi State in search of better opportunities, now shares a studio apartment in Dawaki with two others.
“We pay N200,000 every year here. I haven’t got a job yet, so there’s no way I can afford that,” she said.
The high cost of rent in the FCT has also made residents resort to getting shelter through other means, including building shanty apartments on land acquired illegally.
This has led to the proliferation of shanty towns within the city, a distortion of the FCT master plan by residents.
A primary school teacher Ameh Sule had erected a building comprising a flat and seven-studio apartments on a piece of land acquired from a local chief in Dakibiyu, Jabi.
In 2009, a demolition exercise was carried out by officials of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), which affected Sule’s residence.
Forced to relocate to Suleja, a town in the neighbouring Niger State, Sule now travels daily to and from his workplace at Gwarimpa.
Like Sule, many residents cannot cope with rent in Abuja and are forced into neighbouring states such as Niger and Nassarawa while working in the FCT.
It’s a similar situation with entrepreneurs, who have to make several adjustments to remain in business due to the high cost of rents.
A hairstylist, who identified herself simply as Joy, told The ICIR that she was forced to move her business from Gwarimpa to Jahi, a suburban area of the FCT.
“I had two shops in Gwarinpa. I was paying N500,000 for one of them on Third Avenue and N300,000 for the one in Third Avenue corner shop. It was because of the rent issue that I moved down to Jahi, where I now pay almost N200,000,” she said.
Vacant houses, homeless people
The FCTA had pegged the housing deficit in Abuja at 1.7 million units in 2018, despite the plethora of unoccupied real estate developments littered across the city.
While most of the houses are up for sale or rent, the prices go beyond the capacity of low-income earners and the middle class, who make up a large number of the FCT’s population.
These unoccupied houses rot away in large numbers as thousands of residents continue to struggle with homelessness.
Managing Director of Valington Homes and Properties Ltd Valentine Abiji told The ICIR that houses remained unoccupied in Abuja due to high rent or a lack of adequate publicity on the availability of such houses.
“The cost of the unoccupied houses are either too high or not really publicised enough for people to rent,” he said.
More than 600 buildings in the FCT have been abandoned by their owners. Such abandoned buildings have become a cause for concern, as residents link ownership of the houses to fraudsters or corrupt politicians.
According to Ayo Balogun, a resident of Kado Estate, abandoned houses sprawling throughout the city were built to launder stolen funds.
“I think these are just projects set up by these politicians or yahoo boys to launder their money. You can’t just erect a building and leave it empty like that. No returns on your investment and you are not worried,” he said.
In 2020, the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Bolaji Owasanoye had announced that investigations would commence into ownership of abandoned houses in the city.
In an interview with The ICIR, Spokesperson of the ICPC Azuka Ogugua confirmed that the commission had plans to probe the issue but could not disclose the details of the investigations.
“We are still working on the modalities. It’s still in progress, but I can’t tell you where we are on that project right now,” she said.
Abiji also noted that the government could bridge the housing gap in the FCT by providing schemes that would be budget-friendly to low-income earners.
“The government can also assist in making accommodation cheap for residents by availing them various payment plans so as to structure their payment conveniently,” he said.
The Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN) has also urged the government to make land affordable for developers to provide more affordable accommodation for residents within the city.