Burgeoning Shantytowns turning Abuja to urban slum
It is no news that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)- Abuja is bordered by countless slums. But what perhaps may elude the imagination of most visitors to the city, however, is the fact that the seemingly serene highbrow districts of Asokoro, Maitama, Apo and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, all share boundaries, or are bordered by Kpaduma, Mpape, Durumi and Bassa slums respectively.
Beyond these slums that are “good neighbours” to highbrow areas, there are a handful of other slums that either encircle the FCT, or are thriving under its belly. They are located in Nyanyan, Mararaba, Karu, Jikwoyi, Oronzo, Kuchingoro, Aleita, Piwayi, Gbesa, Kabusa, Peace Village among others.
Owing to the dire financial constraints, most civil servants and others in the private sector, who cannot not afford the exorbitant rent charged by house owners in the city centre, have taken up residence in squalid structures in these areas, while a good number of magnificient edifices in the city centre remain unoccupied.
Observably, most Abuja slums are usually developed around mosques or prayer grounds, where Muslim faithful huddle after prayers daily. Over time, a cluster of people is formed from the worshippers and sellers of food and locally made drinks like zobo, kunnu, fura de nunu and the likes.
Before the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) comes to term with what is happening, shanties and makeshift structures have sprouted up, and in them all manner of shady deals are carried out. Alongside the nefarious activities that take place in these kinds of places, hemp smokers and sundry hard drug users get into the mix and before long, another village has been established within the FCT.
As these villages expand in size, the population of its inhabitants also receives a boost with the arrival of new babies, who end up being raised in very pathetic conditions, often without quality education.
To inhabitants of these places, open defecation is the order of the day, and water supply sources are limited to locally dug wells and boreholes for those who can afford them, as well as local water sellers known as mai-ruwa.
All FCT slums play host to predominantly mud houses and shanties built with corrugated sheets. Despite being in clusters, no provisions are made for toilet facilities. And where the luxury of a toilet facility is provided, it is usually pit toilet.
Residents take their bath in small spaces covered with sheets of roofing zinc, and usually located at the back of the clusters. Consequently, it is commonplace for people to queue up in the morning, either to take their bath or use the few toilets.
In these slums, the very poor who reside there, are fully conscious of the imposing presence of their neighbours on the other side of the divide, because the affluence they flaunt cannot be ignored.
Interestingly, a good number of domestic staff of this high net worth individuals, who reside in the high-brow areas, are the ones that reside in these slums in order to access their workplaces in good time.
Most passengers that arrive at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, are unaware of the fact that the perimeter fence of the airport is the only demarcation between the facility and Bassa, a typical slum.
The only set of people who may not be oblivious of Bassa are pilgrims, who utilise the Hajj Village located there, in the course of their annual pilgrimage. The long stretch of Bill Clinton Drive from the airport, which is adorned with trees, also plays host to military and para-military formations including, the Nigerian Air Force Base, Headquarters of Nigerian Prisons Service, FCT Area Command of the Nigerian Immigration Service, as well as that of the Nigerian Customs Service.
Bassa, which can be accessed through a rough road just before the toll plaza when entering the airport, is devoid of modern amenities. But for the location of the Hajj Village there, it would have been a thoroughly nondescript location.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) also utilises the facility to receive Nigerians deported, or evacuated from other countries. Kudu Isah, a gatekeeper in a private residence in the city centre sleeps in the gatehouse of his boss’ expansive residence, where provision has been made for him. But his wife and three children are settled in Bassa, and he makes frequent visits there to be with them as time permits.
According to him, his family has lived in the community for years, and he finds the place manageable, compared to places like Nyanyan/Mararaba. At the AYA Roundabout in Asokoro District, are hordes of tricycles popularly called “Keke NAPEP,” from where passengers going to the Kpaduma Village, another slum dwelling are conveyed.
On the way to the village seats the imposing ECOWAS Secretariat, and the World Bank Headquarters. Further down the road are some foreign embassies, governors’ lodges, as well as the Administrative Office of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. None of the governors whose lodges are situated in the district, or who have visited the NGF’s office, would imagine that some of their subjects reside in the slum, which is just a stone throw away.
Asokoro District apart from being home to the Three Arms Zone, comprising of the Aso Rock Villa, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court, is also where posh, palatial residences of the super rich in the FCT are located.
While Kpaduma Village residents perennially grope in the dark, and in the shackles of poverty, their affluent neighbours revel in wealth, drive on well-tarred and well-paved roads with streetlights, underground drainages, festooned with beautiful flowers and well-mowed grasses bordering them.
Their houses are ensconced within high, electric fences, in compounds where several luxurious cars are competing for space, with smartly decked security operatives standing guard.
Mpape another slum that lies close to Maitama, Abuja’s purported second most affluent district, is bordered on one side by Asokoro. Because of this, residents of the slum nicknamed the place “Asokoro extension.”
Located on a hilly terrain, Mpape, is adjudged to be the biggest slum in the FCT. Its residents, in 2012, accused the wife of the then President, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, of an attempt to takeover their land, when the Bala Mohammed-led FCT administration gave reasons for the demolition of the place. The move was, however, stalled after a court action instituted by the community’s landlords’ association.
On February 2, 2017, Justice Abubakar Kutugi, ruled that the slum should be left alone, but the FCDA, promised to study the judgment and appeal it. The Mabushi slum, which is also referred to as Mabushi Village, is just behind the Federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Power, and the Federal Ministry of Environment.
Very dirty and peopled by a battery of artisans, the stench oozing out of the community goes up into the two neighbouring ministries. Other than being infamous for the mounting heaps of refuse, the community is also said to be a den of thieves, and residents who venture out of their homes too early risk being dispossessed of their valuables.
Even with a police station located in the community, the law enforcement officers appear to be incapable of containing the excesses of the men of the underworld as most of these criminals leave in uncompleted buildings.
What appears like bad news for those who are willing to see a restoration of the Abuja Masterplan, is the fact that the incumbent administration is not setting any tone for discussion on a possible reversal of the ugly scenario to the original design of the city.
Even though the present minister, Muhammed Musa Bello, may not have the tough disposition of erstwhile counterpart, Nasir el-Rufai, who bulldozed his way to get things done his way, the truth remains that all the slums el-Rufai demolished then are back alive just as more are sprouting up and firming up the FCT’s infamous reputation as an emerging urban slum.
Bello’s excuses that Abuja was planned for a population of 1.6 million people, and expandable at its sides to 3.2 million people, as well as his submission that Abuja planners did not anticipate such influx of people into the city, as the population is currently around six million appears to be no longer tenable.