•Lack of water, roads, schools, health facilities make life unbearable for residents
From Fred Itua, Abuja
Abuja, the nation’s capital, is one of the finest cities in Africa. Its combination of beautiful road network, high-rise buildings and exotic cars makes the city the perfect exemplum of what a good city should be. Ironically, away from the beautiful city are villages and slums that cast doubts on the sincerity of leaders to replicate the same infrastructural gesture in the hinterlands of the nation’s capital.
In Ijabisa, a community in Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), lack of water has become a perennial monster. Water scarcity has been the major challenge of the community since its founders set their feet upon the land there over a century ago.
Men in the community are worried about the scarcity. No, they are not the ones saddled with the responsibility of fetching water. But their wives, whose lot it is to do that, are becoming fed up with such tasks. They have been abandoning their marriages, opting to relocate to their fathers’ houses.
“It happened to me,” the chief of the community, Dauda Husseini, said. “My wife could not handle the rigorous stress of fetching water every day. One day, she packed her things and went back to her father’s house. If I hadn’t been following this one that I am married to now, bumper to bumper, she would have gone too. I will not blame her because, who wants to suffer?”
The major sources of water for the community are streams flowing through the valleys. The water is said to be unhealthy for consumption, and the women have to wake up before cockcrow to fetch it. For them, the better part of their morning is spent fetching water. The case is complicated during the dry season when they have to go far in search of water, as the regular streams usually dry up.
Husseini noted that modern women are not as strong as their mothers who could cope with the harshest living conditions. He bemoaned the constant refusal of women from neighbouring communities to marry their men, owing to their lack of water.
“The women we have now are ‘agric.’ They can’t do hard work. They do little and get tired. When our young men approach them and they come down here and see what we are passing through, they decide to just quit the relationship,” he said.
He said many young men have complained to him over the issue, regretting that he was helpless and confused about how he could save the situation.
“I have tried to get some loans so that we could dig a borehole here. I was told that I would need over N600,000 for the job. The topography of this area is such that you’d have to dig very deep before you can get water. The wells we dig always dry up. It is a big challenge for us,” the chief lamented.
Husseini also expressed worry over the unhealthy nature of the water. He said many of his people have contracted ailments such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid: “As I am talking to you now, my mother is on drips. Three of my children are sick. One of them, after being treated here, was referred to a hospital in Kaduna State. Many of the people in my community complain of this same thing. We are really in a difficult situation.”
A native of the community, Mohammed Sani Musa, explained that a woman he had wanted to get married to rejected him because of the water scarcity in the community. He said he was forced to marry someone from a nearby village.
Musa added that the increase in population and climate change makes the situation worse during the dry season when streams dry up, compelling the people to head to farther streams in search of water.
He explained that those who had energy and patience could trek to Zhiko, a neighbouring community, to get drinking water from the borehole donated to them by a non-governmental organisation. He added that the borehole, which is being operated through solar power was being overused, owing to the huge population that depends on it for water.
Musa confessed that his sad experiences with women over lack of water prompted him to always assist his wife in fetching water, usually before going to work.
His words: “I really don’t want my wife to leave me. She has to wake up early in the morning to fetch water and prepare the children for school. The water fetching takes a whole lot of time. What I do sometimes is to use my bike to get the water; I tie the jerrycans to the bike. It helps us a lot.”
He explained that residents have written several letters to the Bwari Area Council about the issue, lamenting that nothing has been done to help the situation.
“They only come to us when they need our votes during election,” he said. “They give us salt and Maggi, promise us heaven and earth but never fulfil the promise. All the interventions we have been having are from NGOs. The only remarkable thing I can say the government did for us was the renovation of our primary school. But for water, we have always been on our own, and we need urgent help.”
Another native of the community, Mama Amina, agreed with Musa on the urgent need for water in the community. The 56-year-old mother said her experience in her 30 years of marriage was not a pleasant one.
“I always have pains all over my body. My neck and hands are always weak after I finish fetching water. I buy analgesic drugs all the time after fetching the water. I used to go like seven times to fill a container. Even now that I have grandchildren, I still fetch, unless my grandchildren are here to help. If they are not, I do the fetching,” mama said.
The woman, who spoke through an interpreter, added that it is just the love she has for her husband that has kept her in the village amid the water challenge.
For 18-year-old Halira Husseini, life in the community is exhausting with the elusive quest for water. Halira, a Junior Secondary School student, said she would marry outside the village after her education. “The suffering here is too much,” she said. “I wake up early in the morning around 4: am to fetch water so that I can meet up with school. I attend school in Niger State because there is no secondary school around here. No matter how early I wake up, I still end up going late to school and getting punished for it. It is exhausting.”
Ijabisa community is not alone in this hellish situation. Neighbouring communities, Zhiko, Paspa and Goyipe, have similar tales to tell. Apart from water scarcity, the road to the communities through Kubwa and Bwari are not passable. This makes it difficult for the people to take their farm produce like guinea corn, millet, yam, soya beans, cassava and groundnut to the markets in Kubwa and Bwari.
Another thing bothering the four communities is the lack of proper healthcare services. Speaking on the development, the Chief of Zhiko, Bulus Wakili, stated that the clinic that the four communities were managing was dilapidated, with no facilities or staff.
“The only staff we have, a nurse, decided to go back to school. The other person who manages to come is based in Niger State. When we fall sick at night, we are on our own. It is only God that will help us. That was how we lost Thomas’s pregnant wife and our youth leader,” he said.
The chief explained that the cases of the youth leader, Solomon Zaka, and the pregnant woman were similar. Both had fallen ill during the night and were unable to promptly get to hospital in Kubwa due to the terrible road and long distance between the two places.
He disclosed that some missionaries, like the Daughters of Charity Congregation, had earlier opened a clinic in the locality, but the bad road to the village hindered them from continuing with the health services they were rendering to the community. “One day, the chief of Ijabisa and I and had gone to Kubwa to get some drug and we were accosted by thieves. They beat the hell out of us. That is what we are facing,” he lamented.
The Waziri of Paspa, Muhammed Gyanyi Paspa, said, apart from the lack of potable water and inaccessible roads, the communities were in dire need of a secondary school. Gyanyi, who said he had to go to Nasarawa to get a degree in his old age, lamented that many children in the community have become drop-outs due to the distance they trek daily to school.
The four communities, he said, have agreed to allocate a large plot of land for a secondary school project. He said the area council had been informed. But, after a delegation from the council came to see the land, nothing had been forthcoming.
“We got two hectares of land. We have even spoken with the owners of the land and they said we will give them N1.5m settlement. We really need this school to encourage our children to further their education. They always ask ‘if we finish primary school, what next?’
It is really troubling for us,” he said.