The rent of houses in Abuja is exorbitant.
The Minister of the Federal Capital territory, FCT, Bala Mohammed, on Wednesday asked the Senate to enact a law that would make it mandatory for landlords not to review their rent till after three years.
Mr. Mohammed made the submission in Abuja at a public hearing on the Bill for an Act to regulate rent control and the procedure for recovery of premises in the Nigerian capital.
Represented by the General Counsel, Legal, FCT, Ima Okpongete, the minister described the two years prescribed in the bill as inadequate, saying the administration’s support for the proposed law raised objections on some exceptions where the proposed law should not be applied.
He questioned the exemption in the bill of residential premises owned and operated by educational institutions for its staff and residential premises for emergency shelter, such as refugee camps.
The proposed law also does not apply to residential premises in care of or hospice facility, or any specialised health facility in a public or private hospital.
“We see there is no clear reason for exempting educational institutions from the application of the Act. Our reasoning is that sometimes educational institutions may give accommodation to some staff and time will come when such a worker is sent out or retired from such educational institutions,” he said.
If such workers refuse to give up such accommodation, he said there should be a law to guide the school on how to evict such recalcitrant staff.
The minister also recommended a schedule on chargeable rents in various districts in Abuja to guide the implementation of the proposed law, saying the proposed schedule should stipulate the districts in the FCT, the ceiling on chargeable rents, because the city is still unveiling and nothing is steady yet.
Mr. Mohammed said that such categorisation could be based on the type of houses to be built in a particular district for specific people.
In his submission, Ita Enang (PDP-Akwa Ibom) said Federal workers living in government accommodation are expected to pay rent under the Federal Government monetisation policy, pointing out that the law on monetisation prohibits the provision of houses for staff, because all the entitlements of all staff of all categories have been monetised in the civil and public service.
“Even if you are providing a house that is built for staff, they ought to pay, because when you look at your salary there is provision for rent,’’ he said.
Mr. Enang also submitted that the proposed law should grant unlimited jurisdiction to Chief Magistrates’ court on matters relating to rent.
The bill, sponsored by Smart Adeyemi (PDP-Kogi), had proposed that the Magistrate’s Court would only have jurisdiction on matters involving amount of claim not exceeding N4 million.
Mr. Enang also opposed the proposed establishment of tribunals to settle rent disputes, saying that smacks of military orientation.
A former Senator, Abubakar Sodangi, urged the legislators to conduct wide consultation before the passage of the law.
Mr. Sodangi, a former Senate Committee Chairman on FCT, argued that the law should make provision for a rent tribunal in Abuja, modelled like the present Environmental and Sanitation Tribunal.
He also expressed support for the categorisation of Abuja into districts for the purpose of putting ceilings on rent payable in each district and the types of houses.
He expressed surprise that the Abuja residents did not turn out en-masse for the public hearing in spite of public announcements.
However in his submission, Chris Ekong, a representative of Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria, cautioned against the “categorisation” of Abuja in the bill, saying it would lead to discrimination.
He urged government to also address the cost of land acquisition in the FCT and the rising cost of building materials, saying these are the factors affecting the total cost of building a house, adding that many landlords take this out on their tenants.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on FCT, Mr. Adeyemi, argued that the proposed law would make it mandatory for all low-income earners to be accommodated in all districts in Abuja, since no one can build a district that is entirely for the rich people.
“If you go to Maitama, outside the boy’s quarters, there is hardly any low income earner living anywhere within the area. This is totally wrong, because you have to think of drivers, messengers and other people to run the system and we keep all of them hundreds of kilometres away,’’ he said.
Mr. Adeyemi noted that Nigeria is fast becoming one of the most expensive countries in the real estate sector of the African continent, adding that the Senate would, before the end of the year, summon Abuja officials to explain details of land swap agreements with private developers in the territory.
“We want to know how the poor will survive in some of the districts being developed under these land swap agreements,’’ he said.
Mr. Adeyemi also expressed concern that the high rent in Abuja is fuelling corruption in the civil service as some public servants had engaged in corrupt practices to afford rent in the city.
“Those who have refused to taint their conscience with the practice of corruption lose many man hours daily, while trying to get to their various offices from their places of residence,” he said.
Senate President David Mark said that it is ironic that in the midst of sprawling housing estates in Abuja, there were still many low income earners living in slums, shanties, under bridges and security posts.