By Amaka Agu
Until most of them became unwilling residents of the colony, no, thanks to officials of Abuja Environmental Protection Agency(AEPA), life was comparatively better. At least, there was a feel of fun on the streets, with many cheerful givers to spare some naira notes.
Now, for inmates of the Beggars Colony in Karamajiji in the outskirts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), life and living are one hell on earth.
Located along Airport Road, the colony suffers many years of neglect and like its inmates, is in dire need of help.
A visit to the colony populated by about 1,000 disabled persons and their families, revealed that it is bereft of basic social amenities and hardly fit for human habitation; reason many of the inmates have since fled the place.
Life in the colony
Upon arrival in the colony, a visitor is greeted by swarms of flies and filthy environment that could pass for a poorly kept pigsty.
The norm is that a new resident on arrival, is allocated a land space by the chief of the colony, to erect a shack as shelter for himself, and if married, his wife and children, from where they go out every day to beg for alms and fend for themselves.
Speaking to Abuja Metro, the emir of the colony, Alhaji Mohammed Suleiman Kastina, bemoaned the plight of his people. He said it was unfortunate that many administrations neglect people living with disabilities. He recalled that the former government made pledges which were not fulfilled.
Miffed by the utter neglect, he said: “We are all human beings. We need to be taken care of. My appeal goes to the present administration. We know that things are not easy, but we believe that government can do something because people living with disability need to be taken care of. They are not happy that they are disabled. They need to be comfortable, like every other Nigerian.”
He urged the government to relocate them to their permanent site, so they could live a good life. According to him, life has been tough and rough for the inmates because they have been living in thatched houses and homes built with zinc for about 20 years.
“I think we need more than this. We do not want to lose hope on this present government because of the challenges Nigerians are facing now. We pray that this government will come to our aid unlike the past administration that made promises, but failed to fulfill them”, he said.
He reminded that handicapped persons are as normal as anyone else, saying they have children who attend schools in Lugbe, Area 1, Garki and other places because they realized that knowledge is power.
Suleiman insisted that they do not enjoy begging, even as he said most of their youths that hawk goods in town are not assisted by anyone. “The unfortunate thing is that whenever officials of Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) go around chasing street hawkers, they seize the wares of handicapped persons who had begged for years to get the start-up capital for their trade. This situation makes them resort to begging on the streets”, he said.
Appeal for help
Suleiman said although Karamajiji colony is where they feel accepted and wanted, it is a difficult place to live in because most of the things needed to make life a little bit easier for them are not available.
“Under these circumstances, therefore, we appeal to the government to come to our aid by making this environment more habitable. We need schools here for our children. The only primary school in this place was built by a church and was recently renovated by a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). If we have a school that is close by, it will reduce the risks our children face travelling far to learn.
“We also need a health care centre close by. We are always forced to travel long distance to receive medical treatment. It is more difficult when we have to rush our women in labour to such hospitals. If the government can provide these major needs, then we will feel as good as every other Nigerian”, he stated.
Also, the Woman Leader for the disabled in Karamajiji community, Rahina Haruna, confirmed the training of members by the Social Development Secretariat of the FCT. She said the people received training in soap making, tailoring, fishery, yoghurt production, arts and craft and lots more.
She stated, however, that due to the failure of the FCT administration to provide them with start-up capital, they have abandoned the knowledge they had acquired from the training and returned to begging to enable them cater for their families.
“Honestly, people here do not enjoy begging because of the insults they receive from people in the streets. Some treat them as useless people. Islam does not encourage begging, but they are forced onto the streets because of hunger and the need to provide for their children”, she said.
She appealed to the government and well-meaning Nigerians to assist them with pipe-borne water because they buy water at the rate of N30 a gallon. She also urged government to provide electricity in the colony because the community is always in darkness.
She assured that given a sense of belonging through the provision of basic social amenities, including schools, clinic and electricity, most of them would be off the streets.