By Mustapha Ikolaba
Over the past five years, Kaduna state has made significant strides in improving the ease of doing business. In 2020, the World Bank ranked the state as the first sub-national in its “Ease of Doing Business” ranking in Nigeria. As a result, the state has attracted critical investments in recent years, including agro-based industries, automotive and manufacturing companies and mining projects, as well as infrastructure upgrades.
Kaduna State is also carrying out an infrastructure master plan, which involves upgrading both physical and social infrastructure, aimed at creating jobs, improving citizens’ welfare and bringing down the cost of doing business.
In 2018, the Kaduna State Government launched the Kaduna Urban Renewal Programme and building new and rehabilitating old markets is one of its components. Specifically, this component is managed by the Kaduna Market Development and Management Company (KMDMC); it is building 16 Markets across the state.
Sheikh Gumi Market, one of the 16 markets marked for rehabilitation, is the biggest, most diverse and most central of the markets in the state. For these reasons, it is the centre of attraction as it attracts not only economic but also political and ethno-religious interests from various quarters of the state. These and many more are the reasons why there is so much misinformation about the market. In fact, as plans are underway to lease out shops in the market to interested traders, the scale and magnitude of the misinformation are growing by the day.
On 31st December 2019, before the Sheikh Gumi Market’s rehabilitation, Kaduna State Government had revoked all shops’ titles, transferring ownership to the traders. This process involved all the 6,546 shops in the market. This move was to break the chain of shop ownership irregularities that has long become a norm in the market. Indeed, most of the shops were owned by political office holders, long-time politicians, and people with connections who sublet the shops to traders at exorbitant prices.
This system has negatively affected the traders and the government is often shortchanged by the so called shop owners or land lords, who default in paying the government its due rent. With the renewed efforts of the KMDMC under the leadership of its Managing Director, Hafiz Bayero, this trend is about to become a thing of the past. In an interview with Daily Trust Newspaper last year, Mr Bayero stated that “we have nothing like original owners. We have trader-occupiers, and they are our main concern. We will also ensure that no government official or politician buys these shops. It is a promise we stand by and will deliver on.”
The Nasir El-Rufai administration is changing the shylock arrangement. Through the KMDMC, a census of the real traders that are buying and selling in the Sheikh Gumi Market shops was taken and the traders were granted the right not to rent but outrightly buy the shops. This act was not well received by entrenched interests who are waging propaganda against government policy, alleging that the administration wants to seize the shops and give to its cronies, but this is contrary to the laid down plans of the KMDMC. They have worked out a mortgage arrangement where traders will eventually own these shops instead of renting them from intermediaries.
Under this arrangement, traders are expected to pay 10% of the total value of the shop they are occupying and balance up the rest in seven years. At the same time, those who lack the financial strength can take a mortgage loan from Sterling Bank. As Mr Bayero stated in the aforesaid interview, “the traders will have a sub-lease to their property which is like a Certificate of Occupancy. They can then access money from development banks and CBN at single-digit interest rates, say 5%, to expand their businesses and trades. All these palliatives are meant to enable traders to buy more goods to put into their business with the hope that they will grow.”
It is evident that the entire noise surrounding the sale of shops, particularly those in Sheikh Gumi Market, centres around the middlemen who have lost out from a lucrative “rent-seeking” business. The Nasir El-Rufai administration campaigned on the platform of “putting people first”, and it has continued to demonstrate this even in the face of unrelenting challenges.