By Ben Agande and Immanuel Jannah
Any first time visitor to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, especially from other parts of Nigeria or other African countries, will be captivated by the spectacle of this only planned city in the country. It is a city that, like bees to nectar, attracts all manner of people. While some leave different parts of the country to find the proverbial green grasses in Abuja, others, especially those who are tired with the chaos and bustle of Lagos, for instance, come to Abuja to find peace. Its fantastically well laid roads and other infrastructure give a feeling that what many Nigerians see on television and foreign movies as what a planned city should look like can actually be found in Nigeria.
What the first time visitor to the city may not see and the authorities of the FCT try hard to hide, are the ghettos that dot the capital city landscape. From Garki to Jabi; from Durumi to Maitama, these ghettos survived the El Rufai demolition that took out illegal structures that then threatened to turn the beautiful city into a jungle. But while the demolition done by the former minister concentrated on structures built illegally or without approved building plans, the new ghettos in the city centre are settlements that pre-date Abuja as we all presently know them.
It would be recalled that when the Federal Government took the decision to move the capital city from Lagos to Abuja in the 70s, the aboriginal settlers in what is now the city centre were compensated and moved to new settlements which were named after their old settlements in neighbouring states of Nassarawa and Niger. However, for reasons that no administration has not been able to satisfactorily explain, some of these aboriginal Gbagi settlements in Garki (which is now pejoratively referred to as Garki Village), Durumi and Utako lost out as they were neither compensated nor moved out of the places that their ancestors had lived in for centuries. Successive governments were not able to relocate them, so the result is the existence of unplanned, disorganized, cramped, over-populated and under-developed communities living in substandard buildings and structures that have no potable water, unkempt and prone to diseases, surrounded by elegant and modern buildings with all social infrastructure right in the city centre.
One of the most popular (or notorious) of the Abuja ghettos is Garki village, located in the city centre. Despite the urban nature of Garki, which is one of the most developed districts in the FCT, Garki village sticks out like a sore thumb. Hemmed in by the Garki Police Station to the left, the prestigious Regina Pacis College to the North and CBN quarters to the east, the village represents the failure of government relocation programme for the Abuja aboriginal settlers. It has no clearly defined streets; no toilet facilities, no pipe borne water and is constantly under the threat of heavy refuse generated by large number of inhabitants. Although the Abuja Environmental Protection Board claim its officials collect refuse from this urban jungle daily, the reality on ground belie the claim.
Despite the presence of a police station, a police barrack, several banks and corporate organizations around Garki village, crime rate and other social malaise here are at their zenith. During the day, young boys, obviously high on narcotics, loiter around, while, at night, all the available space in this huge jungle is turned into a vast business area with women of easy virtue and petty criminals fighting for space. It is only in Garki village that every corner is turned into a watering hole in the night. It is a place that nobody sleeps at night.
Surprisingly, majority of the patrons of the various joints and nightly businesses around the area do not live in the ghetto. Obviously, they find something there that their upscale neighbourhoods may not be able to provide.
A sex worker on Lagos Street beside Garki summed it up thus: “Lagos Street is very populated. It has a lot of customer traffic and the street does not sleep like the real Lagos State that you know.”
Like Garki village, Durumi is also an old settlement of Gbagis who were not lucky to benefit from government’s compensation and relocation. While the former is located right inside Garki District Centre, Durumi is located off Nnamdi Azikiwe Express way, about four kilometres south of Garki District. The only tarred road leading to Durumi was constructed by Living Faith Church which has a huge premises just outside the village.
Like the tarred road that terminates just by Living Faith Church, it appears civilisation also stopped there as life inside Durumi is reminiscent of living in another era. Though it was initially populated mainly by the aborigines, the influx of people especially from the northern part of the country, has changed the population’s demography as minorities from other northern states have taken a firm foothold in the area.
In this slum, defecation in open places is the norm, women of easy virtue are rife, the only source of water is those sold in jerry cans by Mairuwas; a Hausa word for water hawkers. Unlike Garki village where there are semblance of brick structures, most of the building in Durumi are shanties made of mud, wood, zinc, and leather. This is where some people in the FCT call home.
The already bad situation in Durumi is further compounded by the huge influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the war-torn North-East. For these people, comfort is not what they can dream of.
Jabi village is another ghetto located right in the midst of highbrow Jabi District which is one of the districts that was opened in Abuja during the tenure of El-Rufai. Though this village shares boundary with construction giants, Julius Berger PLc and Arab Contractors, it has no paved road for its residents. Its story is the same with the other two ghettos in this narrative.
Congested residential buildings, lack of basic amenities, narrow roads, population density due to poverty and proximity to Utako modern market, Utako motor park, and a large construction company, result in a ‘ghetto lifestyle’ and these factors predispose the residents to social vices such as prostitution and drug peddling.
Ghettos within the nation’s capital can only become history when government realizes that Abuja has a large number of low and mid- income families providing services that support the rich and pay attention to the living conditions of these people.
According to a resident of one of the ghettos, Yemiafo Adunni, though the inhabitants live right in the city centres, “we are hidden behind the fancy buildings and well paved roads that beautify Abuja municipality”. With the over N500 billion that the Federal Capital Territory Administration says it requires to relocate the residents of this urban jungles and pay compensation to the original owners of the land, they will remain hidden behind the fancy buildings and well paved roads that beautify Abuja while also spreading diseases that their dirty and unkempt neighbourhood breed.
Meanwhile, one would think it is incumbent on government to reappraise these settlements and provide low-cost housing and infrastructure to make life more meaningful to them as well as reduce the crime which poverty and deprivation causes.