Senior Correspondent Moshood Isah went round the FCT and reports that beneath the superficial layer of affluence in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse and Garki is excruciating poverty with most residents unable to afford decent accommodation and good food.
The lingering problems of unpaid salaries in some states of the federation have in many ways aggravated the already increasing rate of poverty in the country. Media reports confirmed that civil servants in Oyo, Osun, Cross River, Rivers, Abia, Benue, Plateau and Bauchi state are being owed salaries ranging from three to eight months. While the states attributed the development to the drop in federal allocations, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, accused them of not prioritising salary payments.
Although the World Bank last year said, there has been significant progress made towards poverty eradication in the country, the report was preceded by a grim statistics of the population of Nigerians in abject poverty, released by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2013, which said that about 112million Nigerians live in extreme poverty.
Economic Confidential visited some communities within and around the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to see the real evidence that Nigerians are living in poverty. Our correspondents experienced difficulties getting access to some communities due to the clumsy nature of the roads.
For example Mpape, a densely populated settlement situated within the Abuja metropolis is characterized by narrow roads which host cars, buses both private and public shuttling to and from the area. It was also amazing to see that Mpape, despite being located within the FCT is a beehive of activities for motorcyclists. This is despite the ban on motorcycle in the Abuja. This shows that the community has received little or no attention by Abuja authorities. This might be the reason why there are incessant reports of social vices like armed robbery and prostitution in the area. This is obviously due to lack employment especially for youths which has become a menace in the country.
While speaking to some members of the Sherepe enclave, a slum within the larger Mpape community, Mr Jeleel Adebayo, who is a teacher in one of the government secondary schools in that area said the road that leads to the village has been under construction for more than three years now. According to Mr Adebayo “the only source of water supply here is the well I paid for diggers to dig for me when I came here. Also electricity is non-existent here even though we contributed to buy transformers more than two years ago; no single pole has passed through this community. Sound of generators is usually more than this but due to recent fuel scarcity, only few people have access to fuel to power their generating sets”.
In areas like Nyanya, Mararaba, Karu, Jikwoyi, Orozo and many other communities in the outskirts of FCT, are other areas where real evidence of poverty could also be seen. Sadam Ameh is a resident of Nyanya who was to wake up as early as 4.30am in order to beat the chronic traffic situation that characterizes his community. The Nyanya-Keffi road is dual carriage but surely not wide enough to occupy, the buses, taxis, motorcycles and street traders on the road. The road is always busy as it is the only route that leads to several other places like Mararaba, Massaka, Lafia, Keffi, which bounds the FCT with the neighbouring Nasarawa state. More so, commuters travelling to states like Benue, Lokoja, Kano, Kaduna, Jos and the likes, all depend on this same road for movement. Thus, the clumsiness of such area can only be imagined. It is along this axis that thousands of Abuja workers reside as they are unable to afford the exorbitant price of houses in the FCT.
Citizens who domicile in these areas are mostly civil servants, traders and semi-skilled labourers who earn between of N10, 000 and N50, 000 in a month. Considering the distance between their houses and places of work, most respondents lamented that, a large chunk of their salaries go for transportation. Thus, it was reported that, teachers and civil servants in the affected states mostly go to office once or twice in a week due to lack of fund for transportation. A local government worker, who identified herself simply as Kemi, said, “We have a roster in my office. We rotate it among ourselves, some would go on Mondays and others on Tuesdays. I don’t go to the office more than once in a week because of lack of transport fare.”
Workers also revert to soft loans from state government or cooperative societies, support from relatives and menial jobs to survive. In Oyo State for instance, where the government has not paid salaries for over five months, some civil servants now skip lunch. A vice-principal in one of the secondary schools in Ibadan told correspondents that it had become a habit for some teachers to ask him for money every day. He said, “My teachers come to me for money every day but I don’t have enough to give to them. I rely on my wife’s business to keep my home running. I have three children in tertiary institutions and one of them is now at home.
Pervasive poverty, further escalated by financial meltdown has continued to hit hard on various states and communities all over the country. Going a little bit further, is Mararaba which is the last community that connects Abuja to neighbouring Nasarawa state. Although it is geographically in Nassarawa state but large chunks of the citizens residing there make a living from the FCT. Economic Confidential spoke to one Mrs Janet who said she has lived in Mararaba for over a decade. According to Mrs Janet; ‘Electricity has been a major problem, at times we hardly get a cumulative 3hours of power supply in a week’. This is despite privatization and re-privatisation of the company. Mrs Janet lamented that any time residents go to purchase electricity units they have to pay much more due to fixed monthly charges even as they enjoy little or no power supply. When asked how bank workers and other civil servants iron their clothes, Mrs Janet shrugged and said ‘people have to pay for local dry cleaners around that use charcoal iron to straighten clothes’. In some other areas, the power is rationed in such a way that, you get light for a day or two and endure another day or two without power. Even that system doesn’t work as residents struggle to have 2-3hours of supply on their own days.
When our correspondents accosted another resident in the area, the story was almost the same. Ahmed Rufai is a university graduate and a resident of Mararaba for a period of time now. According to Rufai ‘There is only one road that connects Mararaba and Abuja and thus traffic congestion is always a serious issue. Workers and artisans spend up to 4hours in traffic just to get to the town and similar number of hours when returning home after a stressful day’. A seemingly disturbed Rufai pleaded with the FCT minister and the Nasarawa state government to provide alternative road, because the existing Nyanya-Keffi road has become too much accident prone.
Evidence of poverty is now glaring amongst the average Nigerian as most citizens hardly fulfil the major criteria for normal living. Civil servants who earn in the region of N40, 000-N50, 000 per month have continued to lament the abject condition they are living in. One worker said, “I work in the Ministry of Health but it has not been easy for many of us who are not professionals to survive because we are being owed for many months. Some of us have taken to doing menial work like cleaning the homes of some rich people in order to maintain our families. But I help my big friends to do laundry work every weekend in order to raise money.
The non-payment of salaries by the Osun State Government for the past six months has also forced many civil servants into ‘forced fasting’ and selling off their jewellery as well as household appliances. It was also gathered that some of the workers who operate had part time businesses were now paying more attention to them than before. Research also revealed that food, water and housing are three important parameters to measure the values of life and standard of living. This is because an individual is more or less comfortable with good food, adequate good drinking water and stable shelter.
It is visible that slum dwelling is fast taking over in most cities, towns and villages. Town planning departments of local government councils have gone comatose. This is the case in areas like Mararaba, Lugbe, Mpape, Karmajiji and many other communities which otherwise can be described as slums within and around the Federal Capital Territory. House rent in these areas ranges from N70,000 to N200,000 depending on location and ‘quality’. Economic Confidential found out how families of seven live in a single room and how landlords in such types of houses demand a minimum of two years rent upfront before letting out rooms.
One regular feature in all the areas visited by our correspondents is the nature of the environment which is unkempt. According to Sam who runs a barbing salon in Lugbe, ‘every resident is responsible for his or her dustbins’. While some residents pile up their refuse and burn it occasionally, the nonchalant ones just dispose it haphazardly. This is mainly the reason why the environment is always dirty thus serving as a breeding ground for diseases like malaria and typhoid, diarrhoea and other communicable diseases. Although some local refuse collectors come around to collect refuse and of course charge its owners from N100-N200 depending on size, but it was discovered that refuse collectors don’t dispose refuse properly. This contributes to the menace of dirty environment that characterized most of these areas. Another woman simply known as Mama Chikelu also revealed that some people drop their refuse in gutters when it is raining, which unfortunately eventually block drainages? ‘Sometimes, after raining, you just see a lump of rubbish in front of your door’ she said. It is needless to state that most houses in these areas lack latrines and tenants defecate indiscriminately further complicating worsening health and environmental situation.
Drainage system in these areas is another glaring evidence of squalor. Holes and gutters are dug haphazardly and the environment is odorous. In most cases, the little waterways available are usually blocked by indiscriminate refuse dumps. It is very visible to passersby. As a matter of fact, sometimes the refuse dumps divert dirty water into people’s homes when it rains. The problems faced by these slums seem to be unending with total absence of public water supply. Sources of water supply are dirty brooks, streams and boreholes sunk by those that can afford it for commercial purposes. Water vendors are major source of portable water. Other residents have luxury of well water which itself is not hygienic enough. The communities have either been neglected or not given desired attention.
Even though some of the problems like electricity and bad roads are national issues, those residing in these communities experience what could be described as ‘living below the poverty line’. While they struggle to earn stipends, they seem to have been neglected by various administrations in terms of basic amenities like proper housing, good water, and the likes.