By Kudirat Ogunyemi, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Most residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), including civil servants, find it difficult to live in Abuja city centre and its environs because of the high cost accommodation.
Observers note that many useful man hours are daily lost, as some workers often get to office late and tired because they live in faraway places.
For instance, most of the workers in Abuja live in distant places like Suleja, Mararaba, Keffi, Kwali and Gwagalada and a trip from those towns to Abuja may take not less than one hour.
Investigations reveal that one bed-room flat in some areas of the city costs as much as N700, 000 per annum, while an accommodation of the same category in Asokoro, Maitama, Gwarinpa, Wuse, and Garki II attracts more than N1million.
Observers note that because of the high cost of rent, many houses in Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse, Garki are unoccupied.
Mr Ola Adebayo, an estate developer, says that a self-contained room in satellite towns such as Kubwa, Dutse, Lugbe, Karu and Nyanya goes for between N200, 000 and N300, 000.
According to him, the same type of accommodation can cost between N450, 000 and N800, 000 in Gwarimpa, Wuse, Maitama, Asokoro and other neighbourhoods within the city centre.
Adebayo, however, notes that the massive demolition of houses in the FCT in 2006 without a provision for alternative settlements induced significant increase in house rents.
He, however, urges the FCT Administration (FCTA) and the area councils of the FCT to allocate lands to genuine estate developers who are willing to build affordable houses.
He stresses that most houses in the low-density areas of Abuja remain unoccupied because most residents could not afford their rents.
However, aome civil servants bemoan the inability of the government to meet the workers’ expectations of the worker in terms of provision of affordable housing.
Mr Nuru Mohammed, a civil servant, insists that one of the major responsibilities of any government in any part of the world is to provide shelter for the citizens.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Nehemiah Ogem, the Secretary of the FCT Chapter of the Nigerian Civil Service Union, says that the civil servants’ productivity will be boosted if the government provides accommodation for them in locations near their offices.
“Most of the civil servants are living in faraway places like Suleja, Mararaba, Keffi, Gwagalada and Karu, among others, because they cannot afford the house rent in the FCT.
“They often get to office late and they habitually leave the office before the closing time so as to avoid traffic congestion,’’ he said.
The labour leader appeals to the Federal Government to put in place a system that will regulate house rents and penalise owners of locked-up houses that are unoccupied within a specific period.
Ogem says that his union is collaborating with estate developers to build an estate for civil servants, adding that the union is waiting for approval for land acquisition from the Federal Capital Development Agency.
However, Mr James Odiah, a resident of FCT, says that government should allocate houses that are built by various estate developers to workers and low-income earners, while deducting the cost of the houses from their salaries.
“By this way, the activities of shylock landlords in the FCT will be curbed, as people will have alternative sources of accommodation that are better and more comfortable,’’ he said.
Speaking on the high cost of rent in the FCT, Mr Bipoe Johnson, a civil servant, says that he is fed up with the high cost of living in Abuja, adding that he no longer has savings.
“When I was still in Benue State, I saved 80 per cent of my salary and I was living in a better way with my family.
“My house rent for one bed-room flat was N70, 000; the maximum school fees I paid for each of my children was N7, 000; that is absolutely impossible here in the FCT,’’ he says.
Mrs Musa Oladimeji, a civil servant in FCT, says “what I pay for my apartment increases every year without any cogent reason from my landlord.
“The government should have a policy that will regulate house rents in Nigeria, particularly in the FCT,’’ she says.
Nevertheless, Mrs Talatu Mohammed, a landlord in Lugbe, insists that she is obliged to increase the rents for her house, in line with the prevailing socio-economic realities in the society.
She stresses that the estate agents usually inform landlords about the prevailing trends in house rents within the neighbourhood, adding that the landlords have no other choice than to heed the agents’ advice.
Besides, Mohammed says that the rents for new or renovated houses are usually increased to reflect the rising cost of building materials.
“I must, however, admit that it is not proper to increase rent when the house is not new or has not undergone any remarkable renovation.
“The cost of renting a house should normally reflect the cost of building the house but the rising inflation in the country also affects house rent,’’ she notes.
Increase or no increase in house rents, Mr Tolu Johnson, a lawyer, underscores the need to introduce a rent control mechanism in the FCT.
He says that the mechanism will, among other things, address the interests of all stakeholders because litigations, involving landlords and tenants over rent issues, are on the increase.
Johnson argues that it is absurd and exploitative to ask a civil servant to pay two-year rent for a house, whose rental fee is more than N400, 000 per annum.
“There should be a law prohibiting a landlord from demanding or receiving from an incumbent tenant rent, which is in excess of six months for a monthly tenant and one year from a yearly tenant,’’ he says.
Johnson notes that a review of extant house tenancy laws will protect the rights of tenants and guarantee the rights of landlords.
All the same, the Federal Government says it is building unity villages with 10,000 housing units in each of the six geo-political zones of the country.
The former Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Ms Ama Pepple, stresses that the sustainable funding of housing delivery programmes will promote investments and boost production of building materials.
She says that the government is aware of the challenges facing the housing sector, adding that it has put in place pragmatic policies that will ensure the provision of affordable houses for the citizens.