How artisans, criminals, prostitutes co-habit
By ROMANUS UGWU
For most Federal Capital Territory (FCT) motorists and commuters crossing and crisscrossing the bridges along the ever-busy almost pothole-free Abuja road networks, nothing, apart from aquatic life exists under the bridges they drive across.
However, beyond the slight jerking of their cars that announce their driving across bumps on the bridges, what might shock many motorists is the quantum of human activities that take place under Abuja bridges.
What have now become routine activities taking place under the bridges could be described as an admixture of booming businesses for the artisans and craftsmen, sales and consumption of alcohol and marijuana, low scale prostitution and home for the homeless.
From Zone 7 under bridge to the Aminu Kano Crescent, the Finance Junction and the Airport Road under bridges, the activities are almost the same – a combination of crime and business, home for the homeless and hideouts for the perpetrators of nefarious activities. They are increasingly making Abuja an unsafe city.
In a large scale, there is life under the bridges; there are human activities that will make one sad and happy at the same time. Sad, because it depicts the level of misery and despair confronting many Nigerians. Happy, because beyond the crime and criminalities, beyond the squalor, something good can still actually come out of Nazareth considering the creativity of the artisans and craftsmen living under the bridges.
Under the multiple bridges across the length and breadth of Abuja, there exist gardeners, furniture makers, welders, inventors, destitute, drug addicts, armed robbers, collectors of disused metals popularly called “Bola” or “pantakers” and home for the homeless and prostitutes.
In reality, Abuja under bridge is abode where crime, criminality and expertise have mingled in equal proportion for several years. Unknown to many, life is really bubbling under the Abuja bridges.
Craftsmen and artisans
Doubting Thomas would be shocked to see the creativity of the craftsmen under the bridges in Abuja in the quality of the furniture and wielding works they produced. But more shocking would be the customers that patronise their products.
When Daily Sun visited one of the under bridges along the Aminu Kano Crescent, the bridge in between the City Park Gardens and Ayade Leisure Resort, it was a very pleasant sight and a confirmation of life under the several Abuja bridges. A furniture maker, who only identified himself as an indigene of Ondo State, admitted that the over five years spent under the bridge have been eventful and pleasant:
“I have spent five years as a furniture maker under this bridge, but there are some people who have spent over 10 years now. I have enjoyed this place and recorded most of my achievements working here. I have made good living producing quality furniture.
“Some of the seats they use in big Abuja hotels and offices came from the furniture makers under this bridge. Before now, furniture makers using here were more than eight. As you can see, we are not the only people using here, there are also those selling food and alcohol.
“This place was bubbling more than this until about two months ago when the Task Force came with the Minister of FCT and burnt down all the shanties and makeshift batcher houses people used as accommodations and shops. They claimed the action was part of government’s commitment to fight crime in the city.
“However, the biggest challenge we face here is the extortions from the security agents visiting here frequently. Criminals and Indian herm smokers usually run under the bridge for cover after operations or to smoke their weeds. We are always hard on them especially those smokers because police lump us together even when they usually come from the gardens around here.
“I remember sometime in 2012 when we helped the police arrest two armed robbers who ran into this place after an operation. We watched the mobile policemen shot them on the legs before dragging them out. They commended us for helping them arrest those criminals.
“The other set of people tormenting us are not those drinking alcohol, but those coming in here to smoke marijuana. They are the reason security agents are constantly raiding here and extorting money from us. Only recently, precisely last week of July, a robber snatched someone’s expensive handset late in the evening and ran to under this bridge, resulting in another raid.”
In the same category with the craftsmen are the gardeners who prefer to relocate their business close to under the bridges, understandably for regular supply of water to the flowers.
They equally have as their neighbours the collectors of disused iron and metals who use under the bridge as a comfortable zone to assemble the materials before finally selling them, also in that category are wielders.
The final group in this class is the homeless and area boys. With the increasing destruction of shanties and makeshift houses especially at the city centres, many of them found succour and comfortable homes living under the bridge.
Den of crime and criminality
Anyone mistaking all the Abuja under bridges as homes only for the harmless craftsmen and artisan is in for a shocker. Many of them are den of robbers with several abandoned bags.
In fact, it will be tantamount to embarking on a suicide mission risking entrance into some of the under bridges without the assistant of security forces. Several Abuja under bridges have really become evil forests and hideouts for dare-devil robbers snatching bags, handsets and attacking their unsuspecting victims and motorists.
Victims like Mrs. Elisabeth, whose bag containing traveling visa to USA was snatched by robbers on top of Bolingo Hotel Bridge, would for long live with such ugly memory. Heading home that late afternoon in June last year, she had out of enthusiasm forgot to wind up the passenger side of her car in a traffic light at the Bolingo Bridge.
She was shell shocked to notice the hands that snatched her handbag containing the traveling documents and disappeared into the bush under the bridge with the speed of lightening. She jumped out of her steaming car barefooted and attempted to pursue the bag snatcher, shouting thief, thief but it was rather too late.
An eyewitness recounted: “In fact, she attempted to jump down the bridge but was cautioned by other motorists of the dangers of such decision. Unfortunately, there was no police presence there then. Not even her alarm and shout of ‘thief, thief, my bag, my bag,’ could make any difference.
“She mobilised security forces into the evil bush under the bridge later, but unfortunately, she could not find her bag among the several others littered the bush.”
Elisabeth’s harrowing experience was typical of what many residents of FCT pass through in the hands of robbers and bag snatchers using under the bridge as escape route and hideout.
Many would easily mistake the bush overlooking the Ministry of Finance as one of the natural vegetation and green areas that dot the FCT. Beyond the greenery, it is also a haven and hideout for robbers and petty thieves.
On daily basis, unsuspecting residents of Abuja lose belongings to robbers who disappear into the nearby bush they use as cover. Confirming the incidents of such attacks, a police traffic warder, Ibrahim, who witnessed such attack on a corps member, told Daily Sun that the victim was left in the pool of his blood after attacking and dispossessing him of his personal effects by the roadside:
“He was almost bleeding to death while I battled to persuade passers-by and motorists to help me rush him to hospital. Nobody helped until his blood soaked my uniform to the extent that many thought I was the one involved in an accident. He had gotten weak to the point of almost giving up before we finally arrived the hospital.
“He narrated to me later how a gang of three men accosted him, demanding for his bag and handsets but he refused because the bag contained his certificate and other essential items. However, before he could realise it, they had injured him with a dangerous weapon, snatched his bag, handsets and disappeared into that bush.
“It was when I made an official security report about the robbery activities going on in that area that the authority concerned cleared the bush around the area.”
Home for prostitutes
There are many ladies either hanging out with male friends or living under bridges during the day and prostituting at night. This reporter was shocked seeing about four beautiful ladies casually dressed under the bridge along the Aminu Kano Crescent. An alcohol dealer confirmed that while some of them live with their male friends, other only sleep during the day and “go to work at night.”
He explained: “Oga, leave that thing. I don’t know why you are surprise seeing these ladies here. You would have been more surprises if you did not see any of them here. But, these ones are good girls, some of them are living with their boyfriends. Others who may not afford the Abuja high rent just sleep throughout the day, take their bath in the evening and go to work at night. They must hustle to survive in Abuja.”
How to escape attacks
Securities experts warned that pedestrians using the bridges must resist the temptation of crossing them at dark hours if they do not want to fall victims to the attackers hiding under the bridges. An expert told Daily Sun:
“Every motorist must ensure that all glasses are wound up completely or partially to the level impossible for anybody to slide his hands into the vehicle to snatch anything kept in the passenger’s seat. They must wind up once they approach the traffic junctions at the bridges or while they are on traffic holdups whether their cars have air-conditioner or not.
“Essentially, if it is possible, do not patronise street hawkers no matter the temptation to buy certain items needed because investigations have confirmed that some of them commit those crimes at traffic junctions and holdups.”