Abuja, Nigeria’s Capital City is truly beautiful; a first visit to the city would leave you mesmerised. The city is surrounded by magnificent structures, tourist centres, game reserves, entertainment spots, beautiful and spacious gardens, luxurious hotels, government offices, private companies, beautiful streets, laced with flowers and street lights that would create aesthetic night life and leave you puzzled at night as to whether you are truly in Nigeria. The city may not be as beautiful as Dubai, Oslo or New Jersey, but compared to the conventional Nigerian environment, Abuja is surely a place to be and live in.
The city has been rated as the fastest growing city in Africa owing to the massive perpetual construction that would make you wonder if
Virtually all necessary social amenities that would make habitation easy and pleasurable are in place – good road network, water supply, security, schools, power, shopping malls, transportation, entertainment, tourism, standard businesses, markets, etc. A visit to the city would turn you into an Oliver Twist of some sort by always craving to relive the euphoria of living in the breathtaking ambience of the lovely city of Abuja. However, like most beautiful things, living in Abuja comes with a price, in fact, a big price.
According to a survey of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in 2013, Abuja is the 18th most expensive city in the world and the 2nd in Africa with a total expenditure score of 107.4. This was reached, using cost of items such as food, housing, clothing, transportation as benchmark.
Living in Abuja leaves a hole in the pocket as the prices of conventional commodities in the city are sometimes twice the amount of the same commodities in other locations. Bearing the cost of food, transportation, clothing, entertainment, and other logistic miscellaneous expenditures, some ballsy residents of Abuja sometimes spend more than they earn while others simply take a bow and relocate to less expensive cities.
While the cost of some aforementioned expenditures such as transportation is fair, compared to that of other cities, there are major critical aspects that contribute to the expensive nature of the city – housing/accommodation, education, shopping, clothing, healthcare and remunerations for services rendered, the cost of which are notoriously expensive.
Getting accommodation in Abuja is no joke; if you want to live in Asokoro because of its exclusivity and high brow status, you’ll discover that unless you have very deep pockets, you cannot even rent an apartment let alone own a house. Rents start from N4, 000 000 (four million naira) for a two bedroom flat and that is not also talking about the few expensive shops around where you may spend some people’s annual salaries on a single spree.
Like Asokoro, living in Maitama is a big deal. Diplomats, Ministers, government big shots, former and serving Governors and their families, Senators etc reside there. If you can cough out N2, 500 000 (two million, five hundred thousand naira) for a two bedroom flat for 12 months then you are welcome to live in Maitama. Remember you’d also be required to shoulder some other bills like security, water supply, power, sanitation and the likes, running into some more millions.
Wuse II is home to Abuja’s most expensive stores, restaurants, hotels, clubs and other high flying places where the big spenders in town love to frequent. Although more of a commercial settlement, living here is as expensive as living in Maitama District.
Gwarimpa accommodates West Africa’s largest Estate; though a fair alternative to Maitama and Wuse II for upper/middle class, houses here are as expensive as between N1, 200 000 (one million, two hundred thousand naira) and N2, 000 000 (two million naira) for a two bedroom flat annual rental fee.
Living outside the city’s highbrow areas do not guarantee escape from the culture of profligacy associated with living in Abuja. Housing in places like Kubwa, Lugbe, Nyaya, Zuba, Kuje etc costs between N500, 000 (five hundred thousand) and N1, 000 000 (one million naira) for a two bedroom flat as annual rental charges, excluding payment for security, welfare, power and others.
Alternatively, what would have been a less expensive option for the city’s residents in owning a house, has opened another drain pipe through which intending house owners are milked of their hard-earned resources. Building a house in an estate is still not any less expensive. Apart from spending huge amount of money in putting up the structure(s), you are also required to pay huge sums of money called “development levy” before you are allowed to move into your completed house. The levy which also runs into millions of naira is one amongst other fees you will be required to pay either monthly or annually.
Land acquisition in this city is not a poor man’s venture. When I was told by a land agent that a parcel of land in a valley for sale at Utako was at a cost of N320, 000 000 (three hundred and twenty million naira) in 2012, I thought it was the height until one of Nigeria’s Billionaires who owns a most desired edifice in Maitama, fondly called Abuja Most Beautiful Mansion, stated that he purchased the parcel of land on which the mansion sits in 2005 at a cost of N1, 000 000 000 (one billion naira). Each time I see unused pieces of lands littered all over the city centre, I wonder if I save every single kobo from my salary for the next one hundred years, if maybe I would be able to acquire one to my name.
Owning just a piece of land in Abuja central is not what the rich can afford; you must be wealthy, superrich to dare. For the rich however, there are options. A hundred square meters in some of Abuja’s outskirts like Lugbe, Bwari, Kuje and Kubwa would sell for about N10, 000 000 (ten million naira) and that is when the land is in areas that are yet to completely welcome development, otherwise, you may be required to pay double the amount. However, as a second choice, some diehard Abuja fans devised other means to have contact with the city without spending so much on shelter – they would rather reside in neighboring states with reasonable proximity to Abuja. Cost of properties or rental in places like Nyanya, Mararaba (Nasarawa State) and Zuba, Suleja (Niger State) are fairly bearable, but you may have to spend some more on transportation.
Driving through the streets of Abuja, you will feed your eyes with array of exquisitely designed houses, scattered all over the streets of Maitama, Utako, Jabi, Gwarimpa, Wuse, Asokoro, Garki etc. They have one thing in common – they are empty, unoccupied completed buildings and guessing why they are unoccupied is easy.
Housing seems to be the highest mountain to climb on the road to living in Abuja; if shelter does not send you out of the city, you can survive everything else.
The cost of shopping in Abuja is also not friendly to the average or middle class. This owes mainly to the high cost of shop rental. Like residential houses, owning or renting a shop, office space or mall in Abuja is not funny. In most cases, renting business or office spaces are way more expensive than doing same for residential homes. This has aided the very expensive cost of shopping in Abuja. Prices of clothes, shoes, furniture, electronics and other household items are way more expensive than buying same in other Nigerian cities. “This is Abuja” they would quickly interject when you are trying to negotiate cost. Some boutiques and fashion homes sell a pair of shoe for as much as N500, 000; a suit for over a million naira, wrist watch for between N80, 000 and N300, 000; perfume for as much as N70, 000 and other fashion gadgets at outrageous prices. However, the city offers affordable alternatives that suit your purse. In some areas, you can get a pair of new shoes for N1, 500, or less; I only hope you can use it more than once.
Secondary schools in Abuja also possess a reputation for being expensive. The most appealing of these private secondary schools are the British and American International Schools. Some topnotch locally owned private schools are also in this category. These schools cost between N450, 000 and N2 million per term, and yes! Some families have four or more children in these schools at the same time.
Putting up with the cost of healthcare in Abuja is also an uphill task. It is fairly less expensive to patronize government-owned hospitals. However, for the sake of prompt and better professional services which the private hospitals seem to render, the cost of medical consultation is on the high side. To be granted access to a medical doctor for consultation in some of Abuja’s privately-owned hospital may require a deposit of between N20, 000 and N50, 000, and in some cases, even more.
I recently saw a movie in a good standard cinema house in Benin and I paid N600. Well, you would have to put together the cost of three tickets in Benin to see a movie in Abuja. Other forms of entertainment ventures are not cheaply enjoyed in the city; you must earn much to enjoy much.
Remunerations for services rendered in the city are also an avenue for excessive spending. Some barber’s shops in Abuja charge a service fee of between N500 and N5000 for a haircut; ditto hairdressing salon for females. Laundry charges are also as high as twice the amount payable in other Nigerian cities like Benin, Asaba, Oweri and Ibadan.
Living in Abuja is money consuming; it seems the presence of most government officials resident in the city has obliterated traces of clemency from the heart of service providers and business owners. Maybe the city was designed for a few as a top politician once said. So before you think of migrating to Nigeria’s capital city, take the baby step and decide if you are willing to put up with the financial obligations associated with residing in Abuja.
Emmanuel G. Onofua, writes from Abuja, Nigeria.