By Alkali Amana
At 26, Kunle was a tech oriented young man blessed with a job as a data scientist after 2 years of hunting actively for one since his days as a youth corps member. His joy knew no bounds when he received the offer letter confirming the position from the big tech firm he applied to in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. He was not a resident of the FCT but he had hopes of settling with a friend until he could get his place. It was then he discovered the problem to cut short his joy. He needed a place close to his workplace within the city. When he looked to the municipal, high rent and exorbitant prices turned him away. When he looked to the suburbs, the cost of transportation into town posed a challenge. Either way, his salary could sustain neither option, and as he was faced with returning home to his parents with a no job status continuing, he sunk into despair.
For Emeka, a young lawyer, paid the minimum wage in the capital with his rent due in a month’s time, it was not unthinkable to choose a city or suburban area to relocate to – and that too, on a loan he was hoping to collect to fund a less expensive place anywhere he would settle eventually. The cost of living in the capital tore at his earnings ravenously and he was usually left in a debt hole after paying his rent. And, for Esther, a widow with 2 children in Gwagwalada, she manages the store she uses for tailoring to sleep and live as she was a victim of one of the numerous demolition exercises carried out by the government to keep to the plan of the FCT.
In the same vein as the individuals mentioned above, many persons face the dilemma and problem of affording accommodation or access to suitable lodging, in what is just a phase to the numerous housing challenges disturbing the FCT.As the administrative and political center of the country, Abuja replaced Lagos as the Capital of Nigeria in 1991, being a planned city developed mainly in the 1980s. At the last held census of the country in 2006, Abuja had a population of 776,298 persons, which made it the 8th most populous city in Nigeria. According to the United Nations, the city grew by 139.7% percent between 2000 to 2010, making it the fastest growing city in the world at the time; and, estimates as recent as 2016 reveal the total metropolitan area numbers almost 6 million persons in its population placing it as one of the most populous metropolitan area in Nigeria. One may wonder the appeal the city holds to receive such population, but as with developed places, opportunities brings population. It is to this that the challenge as to what housing is made of and the problems that come with it must be considered.
Rapid urbanization is the term which can categorize the influx of individuals to the nation’s capital and this attributable to a range of factors including better opportunities on offer in the territory, underinvestment in smaller towns and villages surrounding the FCT and the relative safety of the area compared to other regions in the country mired with pockets of conflict and security challenges. According to the Oxford Business group, in a 2017 study undertaken by the Federal School of Surveying and the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Abuja’s population growth was estimated at 8.32% per annum with satellite city populations found to be rising even more quickly at an estimated 20% each year. Generally, numbers from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show revealed the total population of the FCT to be estimated at 4.35 million. With this, the rapid urbanization and the influx of people searching for better lives is a huge factor in the rise of proliferation and advent of informal settlements to pursue the dream of living in the capital, and inadvertently straining the infrastructure systems within the region due to the expensive taste that come with the planned area.
Housing deficit or challenges in the FCT may be viewed in light of several factors such as the lack of adequate planning – or the implementation thereof, lack of adequate machinery for supervision, absence of infrastructure provision, high cost of building materials, poor access to finance and a lack of detailed land use and site development plans; but, in measurable terms, as close as the eye of a needle, no challenge may be more biting as towards affordability and housing provisions for low-income earners working and living in the capital. The gap widens, and the exposure of a vital challenge comes to fore when the measurement of housing affordability to low-income earners is put to consideration. Bar owning properties, houses run in hundreds of thousands, and in some places millions, for rent. Credit to the government, various schemes targeting housing in the capital have been engendered, but the fault lies in the lack of emphasis on affordability and cost. Hence, these schemes have only realized 30% of housing requirements for low-income groups in the FCT, leaving a large proportion of more than 70% to source for alternative means such as squatting or setting up shanty places with the city and its suburb. The running effect lies in the act of the continuing demolition exercises which will root out such settlements and expose working class individuals homeless, especially as low-income earners.
In 2018, Ms. Victoria Imande, the former Acting Director of the Federal Capital Territoy Administration’s (FCTA) Satellite Town Development Department, reported that just 20% of the FCT’s population live in Abuja city center, while the remaining 80% reside in peripheral urban areas such as Jikoyi, Karu, Gwagwalada, Karu and Dutse Alhaji. The Abuja Master Plan of 1979, which laid out the long-term urban design of the city was guided by the vision of equal access to the city’s public services and an organized distribution of residential and green spaces. At present, however, urbanization rates have far outstripped those envisioned by the city planners, with the authorities struggling to cope with expanding informal settlements as a result of insufficient housing supply.
Given the outlined issues and challenges underlying housing, finding solutions become necessary to enable sustenance and provide ways of harnessing the potential of the capital without compromising its plans and promises of a fine urban settlement. There is need for the government and organizations in charge of the city to call for a review of the plans in order to reset the priorities attached with the existence of the demography to fit meet present demands. The government can create jobs for citizens and attach housing plans to such employment, with a view towards ownership for such residents in the future through a payment scheme that will not affect their basic operations as workers with needs. Following the same pattern, the government can demand organizations to employ schemes that work towards housing initiatives and provisions for their workers in line with the plan of the city. The provision of adequate infrastructure such as affordable city and regional transportation services cannot be ruled out from the equation alongside basic amenities like affordable electricity and water supply. Doing this will greatly encourage and motivate individuals to work satisfactorily according to the plan laid down by the government for the city. Initiatives and interventions through public-private sector partnership can also be considered to help provide necessary housing facilities which will be affordable for both high and low-income earners alike. The existence of the FCT cannot be without the individuals which reside in it, as even from the suburb, a great deal of economic activity keeping the region afloat is evident. It is to this that the question of how to solve the challenges associated with housing must be answered.