The strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the COVID-19 lockdown that left many without income are two main reasons why Stephen Ukpabi waived 2020 rent for his tenants.
Even as varsity students have been shut out of school for nearly nine months over ASUU strike, there is also economic hardship caused by the lay-off of workers and inflation biting hard at the pockets of Nigerians.
In the face of these harsh realities, Upkabi, an Abuja-based businessman, who owns one Sungai Pacific, a student lodge situated near the Michael Okapara University of Agriculture in Abia state, struck out his rent for the entire 2020.
“2020 rent canceled for everyone,” the father of two declared in a now-viral post made via his Facebook page.
“Students living in Sungai Pacific Lodge Umudike who paid rent early this year before STRIKE/COVID lockdown, your paid rent have been shifted to 2021, debtors included, any new payment will start counting from 2021.”
Speaking with TheCable Lifestyle on Wednesday, Ukpabi said he took the decision after realising many tenants and Nigerians, in general, are finding it hard to put together rent money ahead of January due to economic hardship.
“I wouldn’t say I have it smooth financially but I understand how things are in Nigeria right now. People are really struggling with their finances. I don’t depend on the rent; I’m still in the hustle and monitoring myself,” he said.
“But I realised there are those who need this thing more than I do. I also realised most people who pay their rents in January are finding it difficult to put funds together for their next bill due to our collective encounter in 2020.
“2020 is gone and I know how they must be feeling right now because January is approaching again. I was with a friend and he was complaining about how he has to renew his rent. And we have those who paid but didn’t live in it.
“Then, they have to still find a way to pay again or get kicked out. I just had to do it. I have about 58 tenants there.
“So, for everyone who paid 2020, their rent will start counting from 2021 and expire in 2022. For tenants who were supposed to renew before the lockdown, I’m just going to shift their debt to 2021. 2021 is when it’ll start counting.
“Those living in the building are students. Due to the lockdown and the ASUU strike, it has not been easy for them.”
Ukpabi, who admitted 2020 has been tough for property owners, charged landlords to consider tenants if they can.
“Sometimes I find it tough myself but I remember there are some who don’t even have an income source. There are a lot of people in this country who don’t earn up to $50, most of whom earned nothing in the lockdown,” he said.
“I thought of how they’re going to raise the rent for themselves and their kids. Some are living in rented apartments and still pay for their kids. Just because things are difficult doesn’t mean you should deprive your kids of education.
“You can’t really ask other landlords to do the same thing because a lot of them depend on their rent. Some of them have retired and stopped working. Some of them invested their retirement funds to build a structure for rent.
“Rent is how some survive. If you make this sort of thing general, how are they going to get money to survive? I’m also into the importation of tiles. I also buy and sell properties. I’m also in the process of setting up a club in Abuja.
“But business has been down lately because of that lockdown. We just need to keep looking for other ways to survive. Property business has also been slow. Last year, if you put up something for sale, you’d get nice offers.
“Lately, everything has been different. I just had to see that things are not normal right now. So we have to be our brother’s keeper. Everyone who can afford it should consider the tenants. Those who can’t, shouldn’t be blamed.”
President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier proposed exempting minimum wage earners from personal income tax. This, he said, would be included in the 2020 finance bill to reduce the effect of inflation on low-income earners.
Speaking on the state of things in Nigeria, Ukpabi said: “I believe we can still get it right in Nigeria. Everything is going wrong now. People have lost hope but I believe we can make it right. Whenever I travel out, I start missing my country.
“I don’t live abroad. There’s this vibe and image you get there that, no matter how much you have, you still feel like you don’t belong in these countries. That’s why we all have to work hard to make this place what we can call home.”
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