How has the FCT administration complemented your effort at revamping the FCT retail market sector in the past two years?
I think the FCT administration under the leadership of the minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, has done excellently in the past two years. And this also impacts directly on the retail market subsector.
For instance, the Apo-Wasa dual carriage way will fast-track the relocation of Apo traders and mechanics to their permanent site and the Karmo Dei-Dei road project will open up the Kado fish market for more patronage as well as the Dei- Dei Axis.
As you may be aware, apart from having large concentration of markets, Dei-Dei houses the largest regional market, though yet to take off. It has been described as a sleeping giant, but the minister has assured that the market would be commissioned very soon. I am sure you are also aware of the produce market, first of its kind in FCT, coming up under the auspices of the Agric Secretariat.
How is your organisation complementing FCTA’s effort to boost internally generated revenue in the face of allegation that you have not being remitting revenue to government?
It is not true that we have not been remitting revenue to government. We are meant to remit revenue to our parent company, the Abuja Investments Company Limited and that we have been doing dutifully. Our records are there for anyone to see.
But it is also important to note that in a property such as market, the primary source of revenue is rent; other sources are incidental. Among the markets we manage the major ones such as Wuse , Garki, Gudu, Kado are on long lease. Others are on what we describe as social rent. At the end of the year, what comes in the form of rent from all of them is not more than N120 million. This amount, along side other sources of revenue such as gate taking, has been remitted over the years, 100 per cent.
But then, how far can this go even if they were to be ploughed back to the market? The total amount collected from rent in these shopping complexes I can assure you, may not be able to address the infrastructural deficits in just one shopping complex, let alone contributing to the common coffers of government.
A situation where an allottee pays government N45,000 rent for instance, sublets the same shop for as high as N500,000 and calls on his landlord (the government) to come and address a dilapidated roof at the cost of over N200,000, is totally unacceptable. Yes, this is what happens; we have poof. Rather than have return on investment, government is being asked to give what it doesn’t have – and this is happening in a high profile commercial environment – not a charity home.
This must not be allowed to continue. Our study shows that without necessarily adopting the prevailing market rates for these shops, government can still earn at least N1 billion/annum.
On gate taking, which is another source of revenue we initiated at the point of take over, some of you may be aware of what we inherited in these markets in terms of traffic and parking.
Pre-AMML Wuse Market had no parking lots, because they were all taken over by containers and attachments. It was hellish driving into the market then. In Garki Model Market, it had only one lane serving both entry and exit. The parking lots were not tarred or marked; in fact the entire market was not being managed in the real sense of the word. But today, you have entrance and exit roads; both double lanes, not just asphalted but also automated.
Have we gotten there yet? I will say no. Traffic and parking challenge is still one of the major challenges we grapple with, daily. The reason is that parking area as a fixed factor of production is not something you can increase supply just because there is a surge in demand. That is where space management comes in. One way of getting over the problem is to develop a multi-level car park, but the down side of it is in its huge capital requirement.
The other thing that can be done is to automate the gate and time the parking. This, we have commenced with Garki Model Market – the first of its kind in any market in Nigeria. We hope to replicate this shortly in Wuse and other markets.
We have a full-fledged automation unit manned by seasoned professionals. We have not been able to pull through the timed parking due to the resistance from stakeholders even though the machine was configured to accommodate timed parking; we still think that timed parking is the way to go. It is a sustainable way of addressing parking and traffic challenges in the markets.
Power is still a big challenge in the markets, what are you doing to address it?
You know that power challenge is not peculiar to the markets. I am sure you are also aware of the effort of the present administration at addressing the power challenge. In the meantime, what we have are some markets that have been provided with central generating sets at inception, such as Kado, Maitaima, Farmers Market, UTC, Garki Mall, and a section of Wuse Market. Apart from this, the rest are proliferated with individually-owned generators constituting both air and sound pollutions with their far- reaching negative effects to the environment.
It is a menace we are tackling head-on. We would have dealt with this earlier than now but for lack of required support from the traders who rightly or wrongly were waiting for government.
We have continued to engage the traders on the need to complement government efforts especially when you consider that most of the traders are owners of their shops in view of the long leases they enjoy; and I am happy to let you know that we are making a head-way.
Currently, discussion has reached an advanced stage among the traders, investors and AMML on the provision of a solution that will engender both green and uninterrupted energy supply in the markets, starting with Area 7 (UTC) Shopping Complex.
While you may have achieved considerable victory against hawkers and trading in unauthorised locations, touting has remained a daunting task for you, why is it so?
We maintain zero tolerance for hawking and touting in our markets, but whereas a hawker is easily identified with his/her wares, it takes a lot more to identify a tout because he hardly goes around with any ware. Moreover, the major markets in the city centre are already choked up and therefore attract these touts, naturally.
The development of more markets will therefore go a long way in ameliorating this situation. That said, we have adopted a multifaceted approach in dealing with the menace.
The Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) Mobile courts as well as the security agencies have been so helpful in this regard. For instance, Nigeria Prison Service now has presence at the Mobile Courts in the markets – an effort geared towards speedy transfer of convicts to custody.
However, we have also realized that we need to do more than using the AEPB mobile court present in the market to prosecute the touts; we have observed that the fine provided in the AEPB Act may no longer be considered high enough to deter some of them from continuing in the act.
We are therefore getting into stronger ties with the traders, some of whom patronise these touts and are therefore responsible for the growth of the ‘business’.