Underdevelopment: A Plea For Abuja’s Satellite Towns

Emitting-Smothering-smokeABUJA, Nigeria’s capital, is adjudged the fastest growing city in the country. The reason is obvious: power is concentrated at the centre, and nothing really moves unless approval comes from Abuja. This is quite unlike China where the land mass is distributed into provinces, and states assume some level of autonomy. And each, to some extent, can run its own affairs.

   Some might, of course, argue that the population of China supersedes that of Nigeria. It is possible to fly six hours non-stop within China. This scenario will provoke a governor in China to think twice before flying to Beijing, the capital, to get an approval from the President. A report released, last month, indicated that even the entire population of the United States could fit into the four most populous provinces of China.   

   There are cities in China that are more beautiful than the capital. Individual states have lifted their areas to enviable statuses, providing needed infrastructure and social amenities. It is such that citizens have no business migrating to Beijing for greener pastures. But because of over-concentration of development on Abuja, Nigerian citizens are flocking to the capital to get a piece of the action.

   The population of the city overshot its banks quickly. And the fact that the government lacks viable projections for growth has not helped matters. Those who built Abuja did not factor in the existence of artisans who would repair the vehicles of people in the corridors of power; cook for them; tend their flowers; chauffeur their wives and children; and carry out sundry assignments. This is not to mention civil servants made to relocate from Lagos when Abuja assumed the status of capital.  

   The effect of this lack of vision and projection is infrastructure deficit. No salary earner, meanwhile, can afford to live in the city centre, as a result of the high cost of renting an apartment. This resulted in the creation of sub-urban districts popularly called satellite towns where thousands of those who work in the capital city reside. These include Kubwa, Gwagawalada, Lugbe, Bwari, Karu, Nyanyan, Mararaba, Jikwoyi, Mpape, Karshi, Dei-Dei and Kwali.  

   The emergence of shanties and slums in the FCT became possible because of the concentration of government institutions and infrastructure in Abuja city, at the expense of corresponding development at satellite towns. Residents who cannot afford accommodation even in the satellite towns resorted to construction of shanties and makeshift settlements. And whenever government and its agencies wake up to realise that these are defacing the FCT, they demolish them. The occupants, meanwhile, simply relocate to another area. 

   In July last year, the Senate approved the N271bn 2014 budget proposal submitted to it by the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory and urged the Minister, Bala Mohammed, to pay serious attention to the plight of those living in satellite towns.

   The breakdown of the FCT budget shows: N49.2bn was earmarked for personnel costs; N62.8bn for overhead costs; N112bn for recurrent expenditure; and N159bn for capital expenditure. Of the sum, N2bn was earmarked for construction and completion of various infrastructural projects in the satellite towns of the territory.

   Government officials have attributed the situation in satellite towns to over concentration on the city centre by successive governments. One of such persons is the Minister of State for the FCT, Oloye Olajumoke Akinjide, who at a forum expressed disappointment on the state of the towns.    

   She said: “Money has to go into the satellite towns because if we do not develop the satellite towns, the city itself will fail. All the money sunk into the city will be wasted through the degradation that will take place. If people don’t have infrastructure, they are going to cluster around the areas where infrastructure is. The infrastructure will not be able to bear the burden and this will lead to collapse. We are already seeing this with the emergence of shanties and slums, as well as street hawkers.” 

   The FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, disclosed mid-last year that over N470 billion is needed to complete some projects in Abuja; many of which have been long overdue for completion. He tagged these “national priority projects”. These were awarded years back and had been recurring in the budget year after year.

   For instance, the construction of a cultural centre and Millennium Tower which when completed is projected to stand at 170 metres – the tallest building in the country – is still under construction, three years after the projected date of completion. The construction of the tower started in 2006 during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration and was expected to be completed in 2011. 

The construction of a dam, treatment plants, tanks and other bulk water supply facilities to Karshi satellite town was awarded in June, 2013; it is yet to be completed. Also the Apo-Karshi road, awarded in 2007, has dragged on for nearly eight years. The idea was to open up alternative access road to the city centre from the Apo intersection.  Construction and equipping of the 220-bed Utako District Hospital has also dragged on for years. 

   For the people of Bwari, for instance, clean air to breathe in is preferred above road construction and other social amenities. Residents of the area are being smothered daily by the huge refuse dump site just opposite the abattoir in the town.  Of course, the people cannot boost of good roads but the dump, they said, is of more priority. Every evening, refuse trucks around Abuja find their way into Bwari. The Guardian was in time to see refuse been offloaded. As scavengers sorted out things they could sell, fire is set on the remnant. And day after day, smoke emanating from the burning heap chokes the entire town. Residents said they are not able to drive even at 5pm without their headlamps on, as a result of the fog. 

Apart from those who reside in Bwari and work in the city centre, there are a couple of institutions located here. Residents said some students of one of the secondary schools in the area had to be rushed to the general hospital, having fainted as a result of the smoke.

   A medical doctor said to have treated the students at the hospital was not around to comment on the development.  An official at the Federal Government Girls’ College there, however, told The Guardian that students are sometimes forced out of their hostels at night, as the rooms becomes choked and visibility becomes near impossible.    

   A resident of Bwari, Mr. James, said Nigeria, by now, should be doing more of recycling than burning of refuse. “Every week, you hear that projects worth billions have been awarded, and you begin to wonder where these billions have entered. You can now see why people have lost faith in the government.”

    After The Guardian ran two stories on the deplorable road at Lugbe satellite town, the Acting Managing Director of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) Engr. David Igbazua, on September 29, personally visited the area, and promised that the road would be fixed. By early October, equipment was moved in and work commenced. The Guardian again ran a story on the development. But immediately the story was published, work stopped. The stretch that was repaired, meanwhile, was less than two feet.  

    When The Guardian called the Head, Corporate Communications of the FHA, Tunde Ipinmisho, to find out what the problem was, he said he would investigate and give a feedback. Up till now, however, nothing has been done on the road and the equipment is no longer on site. 

   This, of course, gives credence to the fear of abandonment expressed by residents when the repair started. They had voiced lack of faith in FHA’s ability to complete the project. They lamented that the estate is fast becoming a slum, and that the FHA, which is supposed to maintain it, is too far from the people. They also complained that key amenities, like water, are elusive in the estate.

   For residents of Gwagwalada, roads are said to be a major challenge, as is also being experienced in other satellite towns.

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