The Federal Secretariat, Abuja, could rightly be described as the epicentre of Nigeria’s civil service. The concentrated gigantic tall structures, ranging from three to 11 storey towering buildings, could truly be labelled as the melting pot of activities in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The secretariat houses Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDGs), with close to 1000 workers and an events arena, the Eagles Square and other emoluments.
It is only during weekends that the vicinity is literally deserted, otherwise, it remains a beehive of activities during the working days, stretching from mobile traders, merchandising on clothes, shoes, recharge cards, decoders and even to job seekers.
The Federal Secretariat has become an unavoidable place for both visitors and residents of the FCT. It has become very rare to find a civil servant, public servant among many others that will not have transaction or the other to necessitate visit to the place. That describes how important Federal Secretariat has become to the country.
Among its structures is the Ministry of Health which has characteristically become synonymous with noise. Sometimes, different aggrieved union bodies converge, chant solidarity songs in protest to register their displeasure over what they find distasteful and considered an anathema like underserved promotion, non-payment of welfare package accrued to them by government.
The security architecture is very porous. The entrance and exit gates are mostly manned by retired civil servants who give salute to persons they believe will grease their palms.
However, beyond the strategic importance and location of Federal Secretariat, particularly the health ministry, is celebration of decays. The edifice is gradually rotting away due to lack of maintenance. From the entrance, weeds have taken over the surroundings that even on top of the first to the 11th floor are all covered with grasses.
The walls, aside being defaced by rain and water dripping from the air conditioners, are covered with posters of candidates seeking one office or the other, advertisements and obituaries defacing the aesthetics. Then cobwebs are visible at every corner, signifying total negligence. Every dark corner is a potential dumpsite because there are no trash cans were dirt can be disposed.
Even the ceilings are falling off daily, exposing naked wires, while electricity is constantly rationed, leaving workers running helter-skelter in search of a place to photocopy, print official documents or send mails. The only functional elevator can accommodate about 12 persons at a time, and intermittently malfunctions, trapping workers and other users inside it.
One unsettling problem that has continued to be a nightmare to workers is water scarcity. It is a problem which has been on in the last few months, leaving most workers with the only option of adopting open defecation to answer the call of nature than in the nearby bush.
While some visit their colleagues in other ministries to help themselves, others would saunter into any of the commercial banks in the complex claiming to carry out banking transaction only to end using their conveniences.
The stench oozing out of the environment is so discomforting and disturbing. It spreads like wildfire to different direction, to such extent that workers cover their noses. The odour is no respecter of persons or positions.
The only people who enjoy special privileges are ministers and permanent secretaries. Aside cleaners who are contracted to supply water to the toilets of these dignitaries, people from outside are making brisk profits as they now sell a bucket of water between N200 and N250, unapologetically.
A civil servant, who spoke to Daily Sun, off camera, lamented that the water scarcity has contributed to the low productivity and turnout of workers, adding that it is especially peculiar with menstruating women:
“The problem is becoming unbearable. We have appealed to the relevant authorities to help, but nobody is willing to come to our aid. We buy a bucket or 20 litres of water for N200 or N250. How much is the salary that civil servants will be buying water every day?
“It does not make sense. Most of my colleagues prefer to stay at home to come to an office without water. Look at our toilets, aside been insufficient, they are old and dirty. No matter how you wash them, they won’t look clean. Everything should be replaced. It does not speak well of us.”
Another worker, Mike Donald (not real name), disclosed that he capitalises on the problem to stay away from work: “What do you expect some of us to do? It is shameful that everybody is using one toilet in a building like this. It does not speak well of the civil service. Most times, I go to my shop to supervise my boys. The environment here is not conducive. My fear is fear is outbreak of epidemic and something needs to be done urgently.”
Evelyn, another civil servant, advocated that even as the number of toilets insufficient, they should be well managed. The mother of four said she would not mind paying before usage, inasmuch as the place is hygienic:
“I should not be saying these things in public, but one should not die in silence. You know that women are vulnerable when it comes to contaminating diseases. In most ministries, we have only two toilets -one for men and the other for women. It should not be so. Women alone need at least five toilets with constant water. These facilities should be built for us. If need be it should be commercialised, we will pay so long as it is properly maintained.”
A cleaner, Blessing James (not real name), revealed that in most cases, they use their personal money to buy detergents to clean the environment, especially the toilets because those whose duty it is to supply these items siphon the funds:
“I bought this detergent for N100 just to clean the toilets and air fresher for N500. Nobody is willing to provide these things. Those who should supply detergents and air fresheners take them home and ask us to manage what we have. They even accuse us of wasting them.
“And the day we fail to clean, the authorities will sanction us. Even when there is water, most workers will use the toilet without flushing. Is it now that there is no water that they would help us? As it is, they urinate on the floor because they cannot withstand the stench oozing out. We need hand gloves, mopping sticks and brushes to do work.”