By Soni Daniel & Omeiza Ajayi
Three major challenges staring at the Federal Capital Territory Administration in the face are obvious: the exponential growth of illegal settlements and how to deal with the attendant risks of insecurity thrown up by such unplanned habitations as well as a rising wave of crimes particularly, illicit drug sales and consumption.
Any way one turns in the well built, beautiful, and serene city, one is confronted with the menace of slums.
As a result, Abuja currently struggles with slums, illicit drugs, and crimes to the chagrin of many well-meaning residents but to the happiness of the depraved. No part of the city is spared of the twin menace of slums and drugs. Name them: Within Maitama, next door is Mpape, Asokoro, with many slums encircling it. Many slums in Garki, Wuse, Central Area, Utako, Kado, Gwarinpa, and Mabushi deface the beauty and the serenity that should adorn those high octane places.
In Karsana District, where big housing estates like Mabglobal, Efab, Queen, Sahara, and Deltahan are situated, a major slum spanning many kilometres has sprung up, even blocking the entrances to these estates to the discomfort of residents and owners of the estates.
The illegal settlements are busier in terms of business activities than the planned districts. The poor areas provide cheaper services for almost 24 hours and there is no dull moment at all. But just as they provide lawful and reasonable services, they also become havens for sundry crimes.
Rape, armed robbery, kidnapping, and prostitution are rife in the slums. But perhaps what appears to be the mainstay of the shanties is the uncontrolled smuggling, sale, and consumption of hard drugs by all categories of Nigerians- males, females, ordinary and law-enforcing elements and even juveniles.
The other items of trade on display in most of these squalid places cannot help the society: Most of the wares are fake household items, medicines as well as unwholesome consumer goods. But they are still being actively sold and consumed with passion apparently due to ignorance and poverty. The situation in these slums is dire but there is no one in sight to offer help, education or caution the operators.
Many times, officials of the Development Control unit of the FCTA come round to mark the shanties and alert them that where they are is illegal and can be pulled down at any time. But that is just that. The markings have been there in most cases for more than a decade and the operators of such places simply clean up the graffiti and continue with their illicit abode as if nothing is amiss.
This has become a normal situation in Nuwalege, Sauka, Kpaduma in Asokoro, Area One, Mpape, Durumi and Nyanya, Kado, Utako, Gwarinpa, Maitama, and other well-developed districts in Abuja. Slums go hand in hand with the city. No doubt, the FCT population has increased exponentially over the years, but not much has been done to accommodate the rapidly rising numbers by the government.
A United Nations report indicated that the population growth rate of Abuja increased at the rate of 139.7 per cent between 2000 and 2010. The report said that as of 2015, the territory was growing at the rate of 35 percent annually.
The dire housing situation has not been helped by the fact that the planners of Abuja only made provisions for high-ranking government officials like the president, ministers, governors, directors, and ambassadors and did not envisage that the middle cadre workers and the masses would ever live and work in the city.
With the formal movement of the nation’s capital from Lagos to Abuja many decades ago, not much has been done by the administration to cater for the lower rung of the society while the houses built in the top districts of Maitama, Asokoro, Garki, Wuse, Central Area, Utako, Kado and Gwarinpa have been priced out of the reach of the average Nigerian worker.
The 2018 drug report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNODC indicates that an estimated 14.4 per cent of the population in Nigeria or 14.3 million people between 15 and 64 years of age had used drugs, excluding alcohol and tobacco, in 2017.
The report added that cannabis was the most widely used substance in the past year in Nigeria, followed by pharmaceutical opioids (mainly Tramadol, and to a lesser extent Codeine or Morphine) and cough syrups containing Codeine or Dextromethorphan.
The National Bureau of Statistics NBS in its own report on drug use in the FCT said between 2010 and 2014 reveals that 31, 614.58kg of narcotic drugs were seized while 475 suspects were prosecuted. Abuja, the nation’s capital city is not free from the activities of illicit drug users.
The situation has been so bad that in January this year, the Federal Capital Territory FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, declared that his administration would not allow the territory to become a haven for illicit drug operations and users, disclosing that a high percentage of crimes that occur in the nation’s capital is linked to drug abuse.
The following month, he lamented the growing menace of cultism even in primary schools, a development he also attributed to illicit drug consumption. “Öne of the main areas of concern to us is the issue of drug abuse and cultism in our schools. We used to know of cults in the ’70s at the university level. Now you have cults in primary schools and we wonder how do they even get to go there?” the minister lamented.
From ‘Woman Boku’, a red-light zone in Kubwa, Constantine Street by Wuse Zone 4 Primary School, back of Banex Plaza in Wuse 2, Kpadna in Jabi, Zamfara Park in Kuje to ‘Kasuwan Dare’ in Gwagwalada, it is the same story of illicit drug sale and use and the peddlers and consumers have no fear at all.
Tora Gora Hills: The rise and fall of Abuja’s drug colony
However, if the aforementioned places are just drug markets, the Tora Gora Hills was the warehouse for illicit drugs until a few days ago when the FCT Ministerial Taskforce on City Sanitation led by a practising journalist, Ikharo Attah, took the battle to the drug lords. Often referred to as ‘Abbatoir’ by some residents and located near the Apo Roundabout, the Tora Gora Hills drug haven was a territory that even security operatives shied away from venturing into.
Tora Gora Hills was seen as a “depot” as the kingpins even distributed drugs from there to some of the FCT contiguous states. However, the drug haven had come under consistent raid from the Taskforce in the last three months. After the last demolition of the drug haven in June, Attah vowed that the FCT Administration would continue to raid other dark spots saying the raid on the Hills was like pulling a plant from the taproot. “We have started by hitting it from the very tap root, which is Tora Gora Hills and we have sacked it completely,” he boasted.
For each of the successive raids by the taskforce, bags of Indian hemp, cartons of Tramadol, Codeine, and other illicit drugs, as well as weapons, were recovered. Expensive female handbags, Italian shoes, jewellery, and other assets ostensibly stolen from other law-abiding residents, were common items recovered from the drug market.
Four illicit drug users were also arrested and handed over to the Nigeria Police Force for investigations and onward transfer to the NDLEA.
Unfortunately, the raid has not deterred the drug kingpins from opening new frontiers for their illicit trade. Those who were chased out of Tora Gora Hills immediately relocated to Shere Village while others went towards a cashew farm in Games Village, but Attah said even those areas have now been raided and rendered free.
Speaking on the raids, Attah said: “These drug dealers, addicts or criminals actually find that place as a safe haven for their operations. We are waging a strong war because Tora Gora has been the supply chain of drugs in the FCT.
The last time we went there, about a month ago, we discovered a firearm, bags of Indian hemp and Codeine and we have also discovered the same now; so we believe that if we give that a good fight, we will be saving people and making them mentally balanced.
“We hope not to stop because once or twice every week, we come out with bags of Indian hemp, boxes of Codeine and Tramadol, and we are going far. Each time we go there, we save a life and we need to increase the frequency of our raids in order to make society better”.
The crime rate is high as drug havens
The crime rate is as high as the drug havens which are scattered across the length and breadth of the city. It is so alarming now that many now sleep with one eye closed. A few weeks ago, the National Publicity Secretary of the National Association of Community Pharmacies, Mr. Sunday Ike, was killed in his shop, Suncell Pharmacy, in Gwarinpa and his car taken away by criminals, who were later arrested by the police in Nasarawa State and the car of the slain man, recovered.
Kidnappers, ritualists, rapists and those referred to as ‘One Chance robbers, who pose as commercial taxi drivers but use their vehicles as a bait to lure unsuspecting commuters to robbers’ den and rob them, now flood the streets of Abuja and its environs with little or no resistance from any quarters.
Commendable as the job of the taskforce is, the FCTA still has to redouble its effort to clear many of the illegal settlements dotting the town and increase the frequency of raids on illegal drug joints in order to checkmate the menace of drug abuse.
But if the FCTA continues to watch helplessly as the number of slums and shanties continues to rise coupled with the emergence of illicit drug points, the rate of crimes in Abuja and its environs can only be best imagined. For now, it must learn how best to cope with the threat of slums, drugs, and crimes!