…People at home think some of us live in opulence, until they come and see that we live in slums –Resident
By Fred Itua, Nguamo Aka, Ruth Agada and Amaka Agu
The offensive odour oozing from the nearby gutter that is already choking with heaps of refuse and the makeshift structures of different shapes and forms which serve as houses leave the visitor in no doubt that he has left civilization behind. Here, good old fresh air is a rarity and residents do not seem to bother anyway. From their smiles and jokes, it is obvious they are at home with the stench. Welcome to Garki village, a slum right in the heart of Abuja metropolis!
For new comers to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the Garki slum is one of the many ghettos that dot the nation’s capital known for its posh buildings and home to the majority of the country’s richest men and women. In this shanty that is densely populated by lowly paid artisans and the unemployed, life and living are rough and tough, but the residents, apparently willing converts of providence, tend not to show it.
Like the others, this urban informal settlement is characterised by poor environmental sanitation, houses with poor ventilation, crime and gross under development. Howbeit, life goes on and even amid of glaring lack, the people make the best of the situation, drinking their frustrations away in makeshift palmwine bars and beer parlours, making babies as if they are in a competition.
A welder, Mr. Essien Isine, his wife and three children live in a small cubicle that cannot pass for a rest room in any modern apartment. Isine told Abuja Metro that visited the densely populated area that he relocated to the slum which is notorious for a number of illegalities, because his house was demolished by officials of the development control department of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) in 2013.
For the struggling father of two girls and one boy, it has not been easy living in the slum. According to him, residents in this ghetto face social challenges ranging from lack of water to electricity, stagnant dirty water that provides breeding ground for mosquitoes with the attendant diseases as malaria and cholera, among others.
Another resident of Garki village slum, Umar Danladi, talked about similar challenges but unlike Isine, his wife and children live in his home state, Zamfara. Danladi operates a small kiosk and earns about N2,000 a day, which cannot secure a decent apartment in the relatively developed neighbourhood.
In another slum in Mabuchi district of Abuja, Lucky Onuoha, a trader, told Abuja Metro that he could not afford a better accommodation due to his poor income. For him, a well designed building would have been his choice if wishes were horses. His words: “Nobody wants to live in a dirty place like this, but we do not have a choice. We cannot afford to pay what people in town pay. I am just a petty trader and barely manage to feed my family. So, if I do not live here, where else can I live? I cannot go back to my village because it is not better. Living here (FCT) makes us closer to the seat of power. People at home think some of us live in opulence, until they come and see that we live in slums. This house has no toilet.”
Apart from the two popular slums above, there are several others within the city of Abuja and the residents readily blame their poor earnings for being there instead of the other side where there is less filth and more shine.
Mrs Rose Agu, for instance, is a trader and a mother of six, who lives in Apo Mechanic village. She told our correspondents who visited the slum: “We do not have to pay the kind of rent they charge in Abuja. Where I am living is just N30,000 a year. We share toilets with other tenants and cook outside in a makeshift kitchen. Of course, we are not comfortable, but what can we do? My husband is a poor mason and there are times he cannot get jobs. So, I sell ogiri (local spice) to augment our income. We do not have any other place to stay.”
Another slum dweller who gave his name as Abu, said: “We have to queue in the morning with other residents in the compound to use a latrine constructed with old corrugated iron sheets. It was like a disaster when my house in Lugbe, on which I spent all my resources, was demolished a few years ago.”
Ebuka Okoro, an estate agent, said the high rents usually demanded for decent accommodation are responsible for the springing up of many slums in Abuja. “You do not blame people when they live in slums. Houses are very expensive, especially in big state capitals and FCT. A two- bedroom flat in Maitama goes for between N2 million and N3 million. It is N600, 000 in places like Karu and Nyanya. How do you expect somebody that earns less than N20,000 to rent a place like that or an artisan to pay that kind of money?
“ I do not blame or look down on people who live in slums because they have no option. Besides, the rich cannot live without the poor. If government does not want to see the slums, they should provide low cost housing for the masses.”
The pathetic accounts of these people succinctly capture the sorry state of Abuja slum and the pitiable living conditions of those that inhabit them. Ironically, these slums, unlike most of those in other commercial cities, including Lagos and Port Harcourt, share common boundaries with posh edifices that house top government functionaries. For instance, Garki village slum regarded as the biggest in Abuja, is situated at the heart of Abuja city. From the comfort of the first floor of Central Bank of Nigeria Quarters (CBN) in Garki, you can see the slum dwellers.
Apparently seen as a huge embarrassment, the FCT administration fenced off the slum. During the day, the slum is a beehive of activities and at night, there is no dull moment. From other parts of Abuja, people troop to the slum in search of cheap fun. On most days, especially at weekends, its estimated 5,000 population doubles.
Apart from the familiar lack of virtually all social amenities, the residents of the slum shelters also live with the endless fear that the bulldozers of the FCTA may invade their homes any time.
History of slums
Historically, slums were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States and Europe. More recently, slums have been predominantly found in urban regions of developing and underdeveloped parts of the world, and even in developed economies.
According to UN-Habitat, around 33 per cent of the urban population in the developing world in 2012 or about 863 million people lived in slums. The proportion of urban population living in slums was highest in sub-Saharan Africa (61.7 per cent), followed by South Asia (35 per cent), Southeast Asia (31 per cent), East Asia (28.2 per cent), West Asia (24.6 per cent), Oceania (24.1 per cent), Latin America and the Caribbean (23.5 per cent) and North Africa (13.3 per cent).
Also, Dr. Adesegun Nola Fatusi, a health expert, in one of his works, stated that most people in the slums are poor, adding that poverty has a strong link and two-way relationship with health. According to him, poverty makes people more vulnerable to ill-health, and sickness tends to lead to poverty.