Abuja, Nigeria’s infamous capital city, reeks of money; politicians’ and civil servants’ monies. Nigeria’s legislators are the highest paid in the world and the country’s leading politicians and top government mandarins who mainly live in the capital city are said to augment their remunerations with proceeds of corruption.
Nigeria-based YIAGA Africa calculates that the country has lost $582 billion dollars to corruption since independence in 1960. The country’s leadership resident in Abuja is failing to win the war against corruption.
Abuja, a product of what the Nigerian urban planner Simon Gusah describes as a “let’s run and leave the problem behind” mentality, was built with oil money. It thrives on unconstrained profits from storied government contracts, public servants’ insalubrious income, and massive, unceasing, real estate construction.
But, the dispiriting state of Nigeria’s economy has led to subdued investments and weak domestic demands in the capital city. Double-digit inflation and a weaker naira currency have held back Africa’s biggest economy as it seeks to recover from a disastrous mismanagement of its economy by the preceding Buhari administration.
In Abuja, whose residents benefit from above average infrastructure than most other parts of the country, real estate is king. Over the years, a steady increase in demand for both residential and commercial properties have resulted in a construction boom that provided jobs for building construction artisans.
One of the main drivers of this growth is the increasing population of the city. As more and more people are drawn to the city for its economic opportunities and high standard of living, the demand for housing has grown aggressively. This has led to a flurry of activity among developers, with new residential developments coming up all over the city to meet the demand.
“There is always a construction site to work in Abuja if you know the right people or if you have a history of good performance,” Gad Ogwojah, a 21-year-old painter and tiler said from his site in the Dei Dei suburb. Gad, a student of a federal university in the north-east, works with his father from whom he learnt the trades. He has worked with his father for the past 5 years, after he left secondary school.
“If you get a good recommendation, you’ll constantly be working. The problem is that clients or their contractors don’t like to pay fair wages,” he added.
Despite the boom, houses in the city are expensive and unaffordable to many who can neither buy nor rent.
Many of the houses in the city remain vacant, its residents unable to afford its artificially steep prices.
The Abuja housing boom has its history and its present in cheap money that comes from public sector corruption in the nation’s ministries, departments and agencies of government.
In June 2021, Sampson Duna, a professor, and the director-general of the Nigerian Building, and Road Research Institute, NBBRI, called on Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, operating in the country to commence a process that would compel the Federal Government to place a heavy tax on empty houses scattered over the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.
“As I am talking to you, the issue of housing, there are houses, decent accommodation within Abuja. There are empty. Nobody can afford it; most people cannot afford them. And people used them in form of corruption. They used proceeds of corruption to acquire those houses and then keep them empty.
“If the government has been able to tax these people, all those houses would have been opened to people to occupy them. We made a strong recommendation to the government to enforce the tax on the owners of all unoccupied houses in the FCT but nothing has come out of it,” Mr. Duna said.
In October of that year, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) says it recently recovered over 300 houses from two civil servants in the nation’s capital, Abuja.
According to Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Chairman of ICPC, ““Corrupt public officers use real estate investment as a vehicle for hiding ill-gotten wealth and money laundering. Public officers acquire estates in pseudo names to conceal the illegal origin of funds.
“This is made possible by the absence of proper documentation and registration of titles to lands and estates in the country and non-enforcement of beneficial ownership standards.
“The Commission has a case in which we recovered 241 houses from a public officer and another one with 60 buildings on a large expanse of land,” he added.
“Corruption in real estate aids illicit financial flows. The real estate sector is globally recognized as attractive to IFFs largely because it is informal, unregulated, and thus open to abuse, shell-companies, use of intermediaries and third parties to acquire high-value real estate with proceeds of crime and/or illicit funds,” the ICPC boss further explained.
Apart from construction, a constant feature of Nigeria’s capital city and its suburbs are the ubiquitous out door gardens that blotch the lavish portions of green area. Here business continues to boom. Abuja is famous for grilled fish. Gardens and leisure spots are filled every night with grilled fish lovers.
Those to who gardens were leased were required to landscape them, plant trees and flowers, and make them beautiful to behold. That was the context in which Abuja’s fish garden culture developed, and residents and visitors frequently visit the gardens for fresh air, roasted fish, small chops and some drinks. I am a stakeholder and frequently take my international visitors to such gardens and precisely because of the atmosphere, they have come to love Abuja,” Jibrin Ibrahim, a professor of Political Science and a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development noted of the omnipresent garden culture in the city.
Tens of thousands on naira are made every night as profits with more made during the weekends.
It is not just outdoor gardens that cater to resident’s gastronomic desires. The federal capital city’s landscape is dotted with restaurants and eateries that cater to varied socio-economic demographics. From the avant-garde, to the conventional open-air street food shops.
The street food shops brings together various offerings of ready-to-eat meals, snacks, fruits and drinks sold by hawkers or vendors at food stalls or food carts on the street side in the capital city.
There is money to be made by these entrepreneurs. Ijeoma, runs an open-air street food cafeteria in the Wuse area. She roasts plantains, yams and fish and her joint is a favourite for workers on lunch break. She also supplies her staple to offices.
“I make an average of five hundred thousand naira profit a month, and I have two staff who work for me,” she said.
Ijeoma says she spends her income mainly on school fees for her two children who attend private schools in the city and on her extended family dependents in the East.
Private schools in Abuja are quite expensive. As schools in Abuja are set to resume, parents are struggling to raise millions of naira to pay as school fees. Many schools within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have quietly increased their fees and logistics charges.
Several private schools, investigations showed now charge between N3 million to N4 million naira as tuition fees.