•Residents, government on war path
By Fred Ezeh
The popularly Nyanya Labour Camp, located inside Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, in a whirlpool of contradictions, emotions and situations. It is a short distance from the city centre, approximately 200 metres away from Nyanya bus terminal, which was the scene of the Boko Haram bomb explosions that claimed hundreds of lives on April 14, 2014.
Residents of the camp share a boundary with Asokoro, one of the richest districts in Abuja, the home ground of governors, senior government officials, diplomats and chief executive officers of blue-chip companies.
The camp, built over three decades ago, was to serve as a temporary accommodation facility for workers who were engaged in the construction of roads, bridges and skyscrapers that beautified the nation’s capital. But soon after the construction works, civil servants and other early callers took over the houses.
With people living there for over three decades, without regular maintenance, the structures have become an eyesore, a huge slum that deface scars the face f the city, due to prolonged neglect by the authorities. The surroundings have also been abused by human and other domestic animals that live thereof, resulting in total lost of the ecosystem.
The rusty brown roofs of the houses can easily be sighted from afar. Overgrown weeds, heaps of refuse amid the dilapidated structures and stagnant pools of water that breed mosquitoes, were pointers to the need for urgent government intervention, either directly or through private-public partnership, to protect the people from any outbreak of epidemic that might cost individual and government more to cure.
Being a temporary accommodation facility, the houses were built without basic sanitary facilities that would encourage personal hygiene and enhance the healthy living conditions of the residents, leaving the people with the option of sharing kitchens, toilets and bathrooms.
After the completion of works in major parts of Abuja city centre and the subsequent departure of the labourers that hitherto occupied the camp, the FCT Administration gave the facilities to civil servants to stay.
In 2006, when the chance to own the houses was offered to the civil servants, they quickly grabbed the opportunity and became landlords. Thereafter, a blind eye was turned to the issue of improving the infrastructure and living conditions of the residents.
Because of overuse and lack of maintenance, the access roads went bad to the point that some parts of the community were cut off from others because of bad roads. Soakaways broke down, spilling their putrid contents in the open.
It has become a precarious situation, said to a resident, Mrs. Nnenna Onyejike.
In Nyanya Camp, as the environment continued to deteriorate, the living condition of the people became a source of concern to government, with the residents living in fear of the possible outbreak of epidemics, due to the poor sanitary conditions of the settlement.
Even domestic animals like dogs, cats, goats and others share same facilities with humans.
Daily Sun was able to obtain a record from a recent survey that was conducted to ascertain the number of affected households in the camp. A breakdown of the figure revealed that there are 6,010 single rooms and 1,020 double stroke rooms in the camp. The figure, according to the survey, dropped following the recent construction of flyover and expansion of adjoining roads that claimed some houses on the road corridor.
Aside from the official records by the enumerators, there were rooms added to the existing ones, to accommodate the increasing number of households in need of shelter, even though they were not befitting. Many houses along the road have also been coverted to shops.
In the beginning
Checks by Daily Sun confirmed that the Nyanya Labour Camp project was conceived during Shhu Shagari’s days as President, even though the pattern was contrary to what he approved.
Alhaji Salisu Kabir Ahmed, who is referred to as the encyclopaedia of Nyanya, told the story of how corruption and insincerity of successive FCT administrations, particularly the immediate past administration, through the Satellite Town Development Department (STDD), resulted in infrastructural decadence and inhuman living conditions in the community.
S.K., as fondly called by friends, is the chairman of Nyanya Community Residents Forum (NCRF) and has lived in the camp for over 30 years. He was unhappy that the FCT Administration sold the houses to the occupant civil servants and failed to fulfil the promise of improving on the infrastructure. Rather, they began to consider the option of relocation to another site.
He said: “When government approached us to buy these houses in 2006, we told them that we were civil servants and don’t have such money to buy the houses. We requested that the houses be given to us free because they were already in a dilapidated condition and majority of us had lived there while working for government. They disagreed and followed it up with a deadline to effect the payments for the houses. We ran helter-scalter from one place to another in search of funds to meet to demand. Unfortunately, only a few of us could meet the deadline.
“The then FCT Minister, Nasir el-Rufai, in his wisdom, introduced us to Aso Savings Bank for the financial help. They requested that we furnish them with our employment letters and other requirements to them. We did as they said and they began to pay for the houses on our behalf. That was what helped us. But few years after collecting the money, the government suddenly develop interest in the place and started asking that we be ready for relocation, citing some unrealistic excuses.”
The issue of relocation, according to the resident, came up during Senator Bala Mohammed’s tenure as the Minister of the FCT. The then minister had claimed that his action was prompted by a United Nations report that mentioned that Nyanya wasn’t conducieve for human habitation, leaving him with relocation as the only option.
“But we never trusted Bala because we knew he was up to a game. What he wanted in simple terms was to evict us from Nyanya and re-allocate same to his elite friends and family members because of proximity to Abuja city centre. We launched our independent investigations and we discovered that there was never any UN report anywhere that mentioned Nyanya as unsafe for human habitation, neither had the UN at any time asked the federal government to relocate us for any reason. The affected villages were in Agege, Lagos, New Karu in Nasarawa and another village in Onitsha, Anambra State.
“The ex-Minister rode on falsehood to convince the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to approve over N14 billion for the purpose of providing engineering infrastructures in the Gidan Daya, preparatory to the planned relocation exercise,” he added.
The residents had insisted to know why the choice of relocation, and what the government was to use the land for, if they were evicted. But the answers were not forthcoming from either the government or the contractor. Even the STDD did not have answers to the questions despite being directly in charge of the project.
That and other undisclosed reasons made the residents to stand their ground, insisting that they would not bow to intimidation and blackmail from anyone neither would they move an inch from the houses that were duly sold to them by the government. They, however, advised the government to extinguish the flame of relocation and focus same energy and attention to reconstruction of the labour camp, which would be more beneficial to the residents, thereby giving a facelift to the environment.
Secretary of the community association, Mr. Steven Shaku, told Abuja Metro that the residents were aware of the hard economic situation of the country and absence of funds for such projects, but they are willing, based on mutual and flexible agreements, to pay additional cost to support the reconstruction of the houses, if government would agree.
“We have suggested to government to give each individual a building plan to construct the houses, in accordance to specifications.
“There’s no doubt that our environment is no longer conducieve for human habitation but that’s not enough excuse for our relocation. We insisted on reconstruction of the houses and not otherwise, and that is where we still stand. Initially the government had wanted to use force and intimidation to evict us but we told them on each of the occasion that no amount of intimidation would make us to relocate to wherever they want.
“When the going was good, the ex-Minister of State for FCT, Olajumoke Akinjide, in one of her meetings with the residents suggested a building plan that would have multiple storey buildings but it was quickly rejected by the residents, reason being that some of them are aged and can’t afford to climb staircase to meet their needs. Another area of contention was the size of houses that would be used to swap.”
New site (Gidan Daya)
The Federal Executive Council on June 25, 2014, approved the sum of N14 billon for the provision of engineering infrastructures in Gidan Daya along Nyanya-Karshi road, preparatory to the planned relocation of Nyanya residents which has become a huge slum in the capital city.
The new site, according to government, spans 152 hectares of land, which will accommodate 8,064 decent flats for over 50,000 families. Regrettably, a few years after the contract was awarded, nothing is on ground to justify the mobilisation fee that was said to have been paid to the contractor (NAIRDA Limited).
Meanwhile, a team from Nyanya landlords informed Abuja Metro that they were shocked to meet absence of access road, water and other basic amenities needed for human habitation when they visited the new site.
One of the workers at the site who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that work stopped there long ago, shortly after over N1.7 billion was spent in the course of mobilization to site.
FCT Administration’s response
Abuja Metro was informed that the project, which is directly under the supervision of STDD, is being delayed due to funding hiccups. STDD spokesperson, Felicia Meeme, said that all paperwork had been completed, awaiting the release of funds for the project to commence.
She also clarified that no final agreement has been reached with the residents, as some of them are still undecided.
“Some agreed and others disagreed on the option of relocation, and both gave their genuine reasons for their decisions. We understand their fears, which was because no structure is on ground to convince them that government is sincere about the planned relocation. I am sure that by the time serious construction work begins in the site and structures are springing up on daily basis, they might be more convinced to move without much persuasion from anyone,” she said.
She explained that the attention of the Minister of FCT, Muhammad Bello, has been drawn to the issue and he is still studying the books to know the next line of action to achieve peaceful and harmonious plan of action.