From Walter Ukaegbu, Abuja
It is a tale of striking ironies. Opulence on one side, squalor and debilitating poverty on the other side. That is the story of Koroduma, a slum near the highbrow Asokoro in the Federal Capital City of Abuja.
Undoubtedly, there are scores of slums in Abuja, but Koroduma stands out for its heart-rending narrative.
The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) in Nigeria has stated that about 80 million Nigerians, representing 79 per cent of the population, are living in slums. Growth of informal settlements are on the increase in the FCT. This is largely as a result of inadequate, unaffordable housing for all classes of the citizenry.
The challenges of securing land tenure for the teeming populace, the high cost of building materials, inaccessible mortgage mechanisms for the poor as well as the high rents of urban accommodation have been responsible for the mushrooming of many of the city’s suburban slums.
To get to Koroduma village, one needs to get to the “Asokoro AYA,” where tricylists line up for their turns to the bus stop called Kasangari. There, you would be greeted by hundreds of makeshift shacks, most of them made of mud, roofed with rusty zinc sheets.
The settlement, like every other village, despite the obvious chaos in the structures, has leaders and a system of law and order. To explore more about the village, Daily Sun rode visited the house of the Gwam of Kpaduma, where an indigene said the Gwam (Chief ) died two years ago. But Mr. Mohammed Nura, who said he was born in that village, claimed that his father came to the settlement 27 years ago. His father, of Fulani descent, came from Kaduna.
He and others like him met the Gwari people who were the original inhabitants of the village. They co-habited for a while, but disagreement and enmity later sprang up and forced some to flee the area. Those who remained installed a king addressed as Gwam.
According to Mohammed, the inhabitants of the village were originally from Niger and other northern states, and scores from southern Nigeria.
One feature of the village that stands out is its landscape. Roads are dusty and narrow. Every available space is littered with gabbage, especially polythene bags and used water packs popularly known as ‘pure water.’ Across the length and breadth of the village, a visitor is first greeted by blaring local music from loudspeakers, while young men and women loiter about, drinking and smoking cigarettes.
Daily Sun visited a ‘joint’ called Madam Delta D Lodge, where sex workers live and do business. At the lodge, there is a central point where visitors wait and drink as the call girls mill around displaying the shapes and contours of their body to attract customers.
Muhammed said they started the lodge by selling drinks. From there they constructed rooms around the place, where the prostitutes live and do their work, mostly at night.
Those who settle in the village do so to save cost. According to Muhammed, a room in the village costs N4,000 a month, depending on the nature of the house. He explained that an apartment built either with mud or cement costs between N100,000 and N150,000 in rent.
Although Koroduma lacks virtually everything that makes a place comfortable, residents have other headaches. Mr. Sunday Ojeme told Daily Sun that indigenes of the village have been having a running battle with the FCT administration to vacate the area. He claimed that most of them have been resettled around Deidei, Airport Road, but they still insist on staying, and, instead, they sold the houses allocated to them.
A prominent Gwari indigene, Mr. A.B. Mamman, was said to have quarreled with Nasir el-Rufai, then Minister of the FCT over the quit notice given to the people of the village. While there is noticeable absence of social amenities, there is a glut of religious centres. There are many churches, including the Reedeem Christian Church of God, and an extension of the Assumpta Catholic Church, Asokoro, among others. And, of course, there are many Mosques, too.
Mr. Philip Nyam, president of St. Vincent de Paul, a foundation of the Catholic Church dedicated to helping the poor, said the church assists the poor from the village every first Saturday of the month as it shares foodstuff, especially to widows from the village.
Nyam explained that the programme has been running since 1999 and at most 10 people are assisted every week. In a month, according to him, between 40 and 50 are helped by the foundation. He stated that Assumpta Catholic Church has gone further to give poor residents of the village free medical treatment and paid school fees for very poor villagers.
The church has a parish at Gbaduma among other areas of the village. He also affirmed that the FCT authorities have been threatening to demolish the village, but advised government to be cautious to avoid worsening the plight of residents of the slum.
Interestingly, while a visitor to he place may not be happy seeing residents living in such squalor, the residents seem to have come to terms with their community and see nothing wrong with their gabbage-infested environment.
Daily, the numerous drinking joints are filled to the brim; prostitutes are thriving at their business and there is a general air of fulfillment among residents. But it is a place that would always command attention and elicit questions such as, what really have the Koroduma residents done that they are left to wallow in such abject poverty even when Asokoro is just a shouting distance away?