By Aniebo Nwamu
Unlike some “men of God” that have been issuing terrifying visions of 2016, I’m not going to start the year with doomsday prophecies. Apocalyptic predictions in this new year are not for me. I see hope. We ought to be optimistic. If only we could begin to do what is right, the indomitable Nigerian spirit would likely lead the country to great heights. Should I lead the way?
Perhaps I qualify as a landlord, since I have one tenant. I have reduced my tenant’s rent by 50 per cent! Not stopping there, I have asked them to pay me only at the end of each month. A new tenant would pay for three months only, not one or two years anymore. In taking this decision, I did not consult anybody, nor did I attend any meeting of landlords in my area. I’ve done it for the love of fellow compatriots.
I know some exotic shopping malls and residential buildings in Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse and Garki areas of Abuja owned by some former and current leaders of Nigeria. Some belong to retired and serving directors in the civil service, others by suspected drug barons. Would their tenants still be able to pay them millions of naira as rent? Many of the residential ones are empty anyway. But hardly any space is empty in the malls. Now that there is a downturn in business activities, hardly anyone is able to make enough money with which to pay rent, much less expect a profit. If they truly love their countrymen, governors that have been giving up 50 per cent of their salaries on radio and television should cut down the rents they receive in cities like Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt.
For my part, the urge to help my tenant came after I had listened to a co-landlord sometime in October. She had found it difficult to let out a one-bedroom flat after the last occupant had packed out at the end of August. For three weeks, nobody showed up. Then, she reduced the rent from N350, 000 per annum to N250, 000. Still, nobody came. Something strange was happening, she thought. In previous years, there would have been a struggle to rent the flat even before the tenant moved out. She reduced the rent further to N200, 000. A young woman came and pleaded that she be allowed to pay N150, 000 instead. Words failed the landlady! After one week, she sent word to the prospective tenant. When she came, her request changed again: The landlady should please accept N100, 000 for the time being; maybe she would be able to get the balance within six months.
I got to know about this when the landlady sought my advice. Should she let the tenant move in and owe her or should she simply accept N100, 000 as rent for one year? I advised her to leave the rent at N120, 000 per year. Though the landlady needed money, she accepted my advice. And it worked: the tenant was able to raise N120, 000.
In times like these, we should be considerate. Only wicked people that built houses with stolen funds (and can afford to leave the houses empty) would refuse to consider the plight of their compatriots. Even people that had access to easy money in the civil service (before the coming of TSA) and could pay N5million or N10million as rent for a year are now migrating to lowbrow areas. My guess is that many tenants who refuse to move out of highbrow areas will soon be in collision course with shylock landlords. All landlords ought to reduce rents drastically or face unpleasant responses from their tenants.
I also have an interest in the running of a school. For the love of countrymen, we are about to announce a reduction in fees. We may cut fees by 60 per cent! So long as we keep our students – and attract fresh ones in large numbers – we won’t run the school at a loss. I hope other school proprietors would follow in our footsteps.
Unlike in the matter of tenants where I relied on a colleague’s experience, we are using common sense in this case. No school proprietor I know has yet decided to cut fees as we intend to do. But by the time schools resume, many will learn the hard way. They either reduce fees or have empty classrooms.
Perhaps I’m not patriotic enough, but I’m not wicked either. Cutting rents and school fees at this time is advisable, because there is a limit to profiteering. In fact, I’ve gone beyond receiving less rent and fees to providing farmlands for my tenant. I encourage them to plant vegetables, beans, potato and corn. An Indian recently told me a country’s secret to self-sufficiency in food production lies in compelling everyone to farm.
When our leaders request all hands to be “on deck”, they mean we should contribute to nation building in our own little ways. Fellow landlords and fellow school administrators should therefore read the sign of the times and not harden their hearts. Providers of other services should also expect to do battle with market forces.
Budget of Hope?
A budget is a statement of intentions. It’s not an oath – even oaths are hardly kept – to do certain things within a budget year. Therefore, a budget analysis is largely an academic exercise. It’s particularly unnecessary in a country like Nigeria where budgets are not taken seriously even by their makers. The only aspect of Nigeria’s budget that could be implemented up to 50 per cent is recurrent expenditure or payment of salaries and allowances to public servants. Everything else depends on what is earned from oil and the mood of those who hold the knife and the yam.
Accordingly, all I can say about the 2016 budget presented by President Buhari is that it is not implementable. Not with a proposed N2.2trillion loan and unceasing security challenges. The inability of Nigerians abroad to have access to their money in foreign currencies suggests a much deeper problem afflicting Nigerian banks. And what about the crude oil that doesn’t have buyers?
The “most vulnerable” Nigerians will not get N5, 000 monthly; 500, 000 teachers will not be employed; fuel will cost more than N87 per litre; and workers will earn less as the naira continues its plunge. I see misery and frustration multiplying. Yet I don’t blame the current federal government; it would have been worse if the PDP had not been ousted.
There is no need skirting round the issue: the economy has since collapsed! Nigeria is going nowhere until it reforms its politics, its judiciary and its constitution. It is going nowhere until all those caught stealing face capital punishment. And delay could be dangerous. I have said enough.
*Nwamu is the publisher of Eyeway magazine