BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

Abuja, Nigeria’s latest ‘city of refuge’ gets overstretched

Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power is fast becoming the newest home of some sort for ‘executive refugees’. The population growth in Abuja – the Federal Capital Territory – is not just simply a trend in urbanisation, which is a global phenomenon.

But the city, known for its serenity is literally becoming a safe haven for many citizens who are fleeing heightening insecurity situations in other parts of the country, particularly the North, where for years, insurgents, bandits and kidnappers held sway.

The thinking of migrants into the city – now witnessing an obvious population explosion – is the relative tranquillity and security, with the number one citizen, President Muhammadu Buhari playing chief host.

The daily influx is particularly visible at the motor parks, occupancy levels at the hotels – including short-let apartments, flights, shopping and recreational centres.

“We can say for sure the number of people coming into Abuja is huge, but we can’t tell the reason and right now we have no data to back this up,” Stanley Olisa, Airpeace Spokesperson told BusinessDay.

The heightened migration into Abuja is also reflecting on everything, from traffic to housing and even its hotel industry. Insecurity is also rising. Hotel business is experiencing a boom. Most hotels in the city centre and outskirts are consistently being overbooked by visitors, residents and tourists into the city, most especially, Nigerians seeking long term stay in the federal capital territory. Some of the hotels visited – including The Grand Pela Hotel and Suites and White House Suites both near the popular Games Village arouse some curiosity.

Despite the increasing cost of rooms and suites, the hotels were fully booked – not necessarily due to the quality of the rooms or ambience – but because lodgers were looking to book down rooms for long periods of time. A number of these individuals were leaving their insecure states and moving into Abuja, which they believe, is more secure, BusinessDay was told.

The occupants of the White House Suites were long-term lodgers who came there to partake in the housing rave of Abuja.

The influx into the city has also affected the level of traffic. Beggars – both corporate and petty – are everywhere. The cost of living in the city capital is also rising as more people migrate into the nation’s capital. Houses that ordinarily go for N50 million now cost up to N120 million and above, an increase of over 150 percent in the last quarter of this year.

When you ask them (why they are rushing in), they tell you it is because of insecurity. When you tell them that Abuja is very costly, they tell you their life is more important

Shanties and slums are also building up especially in places like Jabi, Utako, Airport Road, Asokoro, and all area councils, where the master plan is increasingly violated.

According to the United Nations population prospects, Abuja is projected to have grown 6% on the average, at least in the last four years from 2,919,000, in 2018 to 3,464,000 in 2021.

Mohammed Bello, the FCT minister, had admitted that the problem will increase crime rate in the city. Another source of concern he stressed, is the burden of waste management, with attendant health problems for citizens and a possible outbreak of epidemics.

Bello said he cannot control what he described as “exploding population” in the city – tagged “Centre of Unity”, but assured that his ministry was working to manage the situation by strengthening institutions and increasing infrastructure to meet the needs of the city.

The popular Jabi Motor Park, a major transit point for travellers to almost all the states of the country has seen heightened activity. Sam, the manager of one of the Transport companies, confirmed the daily influx, relying on the data from daily ticket sales.

According to him, people are even moving in with their entire families into the city.

“It is true that people are coming in from the states in the North central, including Benue, Plateau, Kogi and Kwara. There is no day that we don’t have people coming in. Most of them are men and women but we still have families relocating. When you ask them (why they are rushing in), they tell you it is because of insecurity. When you tell them that Abuja is very costly, they tell you their life is more important,” Sam said.

Less than one year of relocating from Jos, Plateau State to Abuja, Nnamdi Nwankwo, a resident recalls the trauma of waking up to incessant bandits, kidnappers and herdsmen attacks drove him out of his initial base. He further worries about insufficient security operatives needed to tackle criminality in the country.

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Estate managers also confirmed the increasing demand for accommodation, with new estates rapidly springing up across the city.

Obiora Uchenna, an Abuja based realtor, confirmed the influx of people from other states into the Federal Capital, affirming that the situation has affected rent in the city.

“Abuja is now considered as a safe haven due to insecurity in other states of the federation. As a realtor, I can tell that many people are trooping into the city and this has increased the cost of properties in Abuja. Properties in Abuja are now scarce too,” Uchenna said.

According to Olawale Sholademi, marketing director of Urban shelter “Abuja’s population has grown steadily over the past 10 years on an average of about 5.3%. 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.”

Sholademi notes that population growth comes with its pros and cons, but worries, particularly about how the authorities are bracing for an imminent population surge and its consequence.

“The issue here is what the FCDA is doing about the growth,” he noted.

“You don’t need the brain of an astronaut to know that the population surge is putting pressure on public infrastructures – we need more roads and traffic controls for instance. Driving around the FCT during business hours is almost a night mare.”

For him, the concentration of places of interest in a single location is not a smart development plan.

“If you go off the present city centres, you will see several empty lands that a proactive government should quickly leverage on to grow the city’s infrastructures, 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.”

Sholademi strongly believes there is an urgent need for public education, policies, and rule of law to enforce law and order in the FCT. He said for instance, “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.”

To take full advantage of the pros of population growth, he identified the need to strategically plan the city’s expansion and provision of necessary amenities and infrastructure in these new layouts. One does not need to drive to the present city centres to get medical care, shop satisfactorily, and have a social life.

Edith Omoyi, a housing agent in Abuja said more people now make inquiries for accommodation compared to the previous years.

“Apparently the population in Abuja has greatly increased. I now receive many more calls from people needing apartments compared to 3 or 4 years ago. People believe there are job opportunities in Abuja because it is the capital city.

“Another reason I would say is peace and security. In order states, people believe that when insecurity arises, tackling it might be difficult for the state government, but since Abuja is the nation’s capital, the federal government will do everything possible to ensure that the insecurity is well tackled.

“I think there is more priority in ensuring security in Abuja compared to any other states after all most of the politicians and big men are here. Some of my clients are here not for opportunities but security.”

Innocent Opara, an estate surveyor, who moved in from Cross River State to continue his water drilling business in Abuja, is concerned that low economic activity in most states, which largely depend on the monthly federal allocation for survival, is a major problem apart from insecurity.

Another major trouble for people in the states, Opara pointed out, is the criminal activities of herdsmen and criminal gangs who engage in kidnapping, which have grounded work on sites and farms to a halt.

The larger concern is that facilities in the city are stretched, and may worsen if some measures are not taken to contain the situation.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCDA), disclosed that the fast rising population of the FCT is now a cause for concern to the authorities.

According to him, the influx of people from other parts of Nigeria has begun to put pressure on the city, citing the persistent traffic build up on the roads leading in and out of neighbouring states.

“Abuja today is experiencing this grind because over the years, the government in power did not envisage a time when Nigerians will begin to seek refuge in the Federal Capital. There is so much insecurity in the various states across the country and yet, the government of the day is not finding a lasting solution to this problem.

Ifeanyi Ughamadu, head of Information, Transport Secretariat, FCTA acknowledged the rapid influx of persons into the nation’s capital which, he said, may put pressure on available infrastructure. He, however, declined comment on the severity or consequences saying, it is within the Minister of FCT’s purview.

Ughamadu, however, affirmed that insecurity is a major driver. “Apart from the search for greener pasture and better access to better infrastructure, citizens are running to the FCT for safety, states that border the city have continued to witness diverse conflict and insecurity ranging from the farmer/herder clash in Benue state to banditry in Niger and Kaduna states and some communal clashes in Nasarawa and Plateau States.”