From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, is no longer the scanty, soft and tranquil city of the 90s. Then, residents slept in the open during hot season and never minded if they forgot to lock their windows and doors before leaving for work.
Abuja has lost that peace and glow. It is now a victim of unprecedented rural-urban migration. Many rural dwellers erroneously believe cash trees grow in Abuja.
Today, thousands of immigrant squatters have flooded Abuja. They occupy any available space, public and private.
They have literally snatched uncompleted and abandoned houses from their owners. They keep on increasing the slums and shanties in the territory. FCT’s situation is unique. It is influenced by peculiar circumstances.
Heightened insecurity in some parts of the country, particularly the North as a result of communal crises, activities of insurgents, bandits, terrorists and kidnappers, is daily pushing people in large numbers to the nation’s capital. It is also making it a safe haven for migrants from neighboring countries. Destitutes and beggars are also rising exponentially.
But it is not all gloom. While the daily influx is reflecting on everything, from traffic to housing, the hospitality industry is smiling to the bank. Hotels are experiencing a boom. Most hotels are constantly overbooked by visitors, residents and tourists.
Despite the increasing cost of rooms and suites, the hotels are always fully booked not necessarily due to the quality of the rooms or ambience – but because lodgers are looking to book down rooms for long periods of time, while they try to settle down in Abuja.
Daily Sun gathered that a good number of the buoyant individuals fled their insecure states and moved to Abuja, believing that it is more secure.
According to the United Nations population prospects, Abuja is projected to have grown six per cent on the average, at least in the last four years from 2,919,000 in 2018 to 3,278,000 in 2022.
A visit to most suburban areas reveals more shanties and slums springing up rapidly, just as the price of housing also doubles. A studio apartment that used to cost between N120,000 and N150,000 a few years ago in Kubwa , now costs as much as N500,000 per annum, depending on location and building standard.
Just five years ago, a trip from Kubwa to Wuse took just 18 minutes, regardless of the time of the day. Today, it takes over an hour at peak periods of 7am-9am and 5pm-8pm while returning. In addition, many areas of the FCT lack good roads, potable water, electricity, bridges and security, despite the rapidly-swelling population.
A make-up artist, Chidera Uzor, narrated her struggles after completing the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and searching for a location to start her life: “I was in desperate need of a place to live because I wanted to leave my aunt’s house. I had a budget of N250,000.
“My friend in Chika, a village along the Airport Road, told me I could get a standard room for that price. She had rented a place the previous year for N200,000 a year, although the landlord had increased it to N250,000.
“On getting there, to my utmost surprise, I could not get a studio apartment with basic amenities like power and water for N300,000. All the decent rooms I saw were from N350,000 and above. It was the same situation in most other places I visited.”
A housing agent, Joseph Friday, told Daily Sun: “Landlords have been raking enormous money ever since people started flocking into Abuja from all terror-ravaged states and communities. House owners have latched on to that to increase their rent across board.
“From estates to satellite communities to slums and shanties, rents have averagely tripled. The highest bidder is now the deciding factor. If you pause for a split second, someone else will take over in a flash.”
Realtors confirmed the increasing demand for accommodation, with new estates rapidly springing up across the city. Illegal developers have also leveraged the housing lacuna to build substandard accommodation and smiling to the bank with the proceeds from rent and outright purchase.
There has also been a sharp increase in entertainment venues, bush bars and recreation centers. A waitress in one of the bars in Lugbe, Amina Jimeta, said while the weekends used to be her only hectic days, she is now compelled to work round the clock because there is always a throng to serve.
At the Zuba motor park, Zachariah Joseph, an inter-state driver, confirmed: “Yes people are always moving in with their families and valuables into Abuja. Some come in from Kogi, Kaduna, Bornu, Zamfara states and so on. You see them with huge sacks and luggages.
“In the course of conversing, you realise that a lot of them are running away from their home lands because of crises. Some already have relatives they plan to squat with while they stabilise and get their own place.”
Musa Auta, a taxi driver added: “Kubwa to town in the morning is no longer lucrative because you burn more petrol in traffic. It takes one hour or more instead of 20 minutes maximum. You can’t charge more.
“Go to the markets, sea of heads everywhere. No accommodation anymore. If you’re building, better finish it on time or else squatters would move in. Robberies everywhere. The thieves move in 20s and 30s. Let the authorities do something and open up more settlements.”
FCT minister, Mohammed Musa Bello, said: “Pausing the population of the FCT from growing is not an option because of the nature of the city and the purpose it serves. The situation is following a trend with the urbanisation factor, which is a global reality.”
However, there are calls from various quarters advising the government to immediately begin to expand existing facilities and re-enforce the city’s security system to sustain the pressures of the city. Olawale Sholademi, marketing director, Urban Shelter, said: “Abuja’s population has grown steadily over the past 10 years on an average of about 5.3 per cent.
“The FCT population is set at about 3.4 million at the moment. Economic value is the major factor for the influx of people into the FCT. There are more businesses springing up.
“Entrepreneurship is growing with the advent of co-locations/shared serviced office spaces, real estate happens to be one of the major influences in the FCT business arena as it has leveraged other businesses such as outdoor advertising among others. Nightlife is on the rise and this particularly comes with the social vices.”
“The issue here is what the FCDA is doing about the growth. You don’t need the brain of an astronaut to know that the population surge is putting pressure on public infrastructure – we need more roads and traffic controls for instance. Driving around the FCT during business hours is almost a nightmare.”
He recommended subsequent spread of structures to far reaching areas to reduce the current trend of concentrating places of interest in a single location:
“If you go off the present city centers, you will see several empty lands that a proactive government should quickly leverage on to grow the city’s infrastructure, road networks, alternate means of transportation, amenities, recreational, and even dare to build smart cities that will lead to urban development as seen all over the world.”
He called for an immediate orientation of the public, enforcement of policies, order and rule of law to enforce law in the FCT: “Abuja motorists don’t use designated bus stops. They park just about anywhere that serves their own personal interest. That is so wrong in a city growing so fast. People do not obey traffic lights and driving rules.”
Another resident, Sammy Ayo, opined; “You really cannot stop citizens from seeking refuge or greener pastures in their nation’s capital but some things have to be quickly done to avoid population explosion without adequate planning like what we have in Lagos State.
“What the government should do is to provide alternative routes to decongest the road. There is also a need to expand settlements and secure them. Abuja has a mass expanse of land that should be properly utilized. Everyone must not live or frequent the city centers.
“For example, Bwari, Karishi, Pegi roads, among others should be security manned and secured. Banditry and kidnapping cases are already driving people away from those remote locales and into metropolitan centers and other areas, thereby, further crowding them. So, there is a need for a good road network and security. We also need to spread government institutions and corporate establishments to different locations instead of locating all in a particular areas.”