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  • Opinion - Editorial
  • Updated: March 20, 2024

Abuja, a City nestled by slums

Abuja, a City nestled by slums

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

"Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance".Ban Ki-moon

"Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create." Pope John Paul II

Abuja is the federal capital territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by virtue of section 298 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which states that 'the federal capital territory, Abuja shall be the capital of the Federation and seat of the Government of the Federation'. 

Nigeria is a country of many nationalities with a population hovering between 200 million or above that estimated figure because there is no accurate census of the exact population of Nigerians that has ever been conducted. 

However, what is not in doubt is that Nigeria is the poverty capital of the World and even by the estimates of the government funded National Bureau of Statistics,  there are some 133 million multidimensionally poor households in Nigeria.  

This statistical information shows that Nigeria is largely a country of inequalities going by the large presence of people who are absolutely poor and the very few who are insanely rich. For instance, out of the ten richest Africans, about 5 are Nigerians. Yet, Nigeria is the poverty capital of the World. 

But in terms of settlements,  the poor often congregate closer to the seats of the national and sub-national governments because it is believed that the nearer they are to the people who decide the economic status of the population,  the nearer they are to resolving their existential crisis of survival in Nigeria. So the poor congregated in Lagos to an extent that Lagos got overpopulated.

Therefore the overpopulation  of Lagos, the then federal capital, formed the fulcrum  of the reason that Abuja was carved out from some states in the North Central of Nigeria such as Niger, Kogi and Nasarwa states, was the argument that the then federal capital located in Lagos, Nigeria was overpopulated and overcrowded and therefore the need arose for the Federation to build a brand new capital in compliance with the best global practices in the area of urban development. 

In 1992 or thereabout, the then military president General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida moved the federal capital from Lagos to Abuja with a lot of fanfare. 

Also, the federal government made a lot of investment in building basic infrastructures of road networks,  bridges, flyovers and housing assets. 

The elite similarly bought up choice landed assets and built personal houses and homes. The poor quickly followed the government officials to move into Abuja even when majority of these 'wretched of the Earth' do not have the faintest idea about where they would live or how their next meals would come. 

However, even when the Federal Housing Authority set up a massive housing estates in many parts of the FCT, there was no provisions for low cost or mass housing estates that civil servants and other artisans can afford to buy so they can live not very far away from the city centre whereby their services are required on daily basis. The truth is that the rich can't live in seclusion or in isolation of the poor because the bulk of the domestic staffs are persons from this classification of the hoi-polloi.

This was the genesis of illegal structures and slums that started springing up so very close to the Abuja metropolitan Area.

This situation became increasingly worse with the failure of the FCT Administration to relocate and resettle all the original natives of Abuja thereby letting some percentages of these natives to stay on in their slums living next doors to the newly arrived rich Abuja residents and government officials who moved in from Lagos following the directive of the Federal government for the instruments of governance to move to the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.

Hundreds of thousands of people massed around these illegal structures and slums because of the relative affordability and because planned houses in the city centre were and are still way beyond the affordability of these economically deprived tenants given the penchant of landlords for inflating the rents on yearly basis.

So Abuja gradually grew into a big city that is nestled by hundreds of urban slums with hundreds of thousands of people, households and youngsters, staying put in those structures notwithstanding the attendant risks such as insecurity and the possibility of those slums being pulled down at any given time by the authorities.

Most young persons staying in those unplanned houses believe that with the passage of time, they will obtain better paying white-collar jobs and then pull resources together so as to move into better apartments in places that are within the Abuja masterplan and beyond the reach of the demolition squads and their wicked bulldozers.

For over two decades, I have always known that several slums have sprang up around the city centre. But the stark reality of how grave this is, came to the open when the minister of the FCT  Nyesom Wike announced his intention to deploy bulldozers to demolish those illegal structures that he claimed were defacing the urban beauty and developmental planning of Abuja.

These slums are even built around many parts of the city known as green areas in the original master plan of the Federal Capital Territory. That public notice made some of us realise the numerical strength of these urban slums in the FCT.

The Minister Mr. Nyesom Wike, a former Rivers State governor, made real moves to demolish slums in Garki, Jabi, 28 other districts of the FCT.

Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike stated that he had approved demolition of Garki, Jabi and other 28 slums which have earlier been surveyed by the Federal Capital Development Authority before this administration.

The demolition, according to the FCTA, will affect about 6,000 buildings which have been marked in an effort to rid the territory of shanties and illegal structures.

The FCTA said the demolition will affect 30 areas across the Federal Capital Territory.

Shortly after his inauguration as Minister, Wike, who is the immediate past governor of Rivers State, vowed to restore the master plan of FCT, saying that all illegal structures would be demolished and that his administration was ready to end land speculations.

He said he had moved round the FCT in the night to see things for himself and lamented that the master plan of the territory has been distorted with illegal structures in green areas of Abuja, insisting they will be demolished.

“At least 6,000 illegal structures in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) across 30 areas might be demolished by the Federal Government.

Wike said: “We will take back our land and give to those who want to develop, and you must sign that you must develop at so and so time.’’

However, the Director of the FCTA Department of Development Control, Muktar Galadima said, a new survey will be conducted.

“We would find time to go back and conduct a new survey, noting that the last survey carried out was in February, 2022.

Areas marked for demolition according to information which has been authenticated by the FCTA are: Apo Mechanic Village; Byanzhin; Dawaki; Dei Dei; Durumi; Dutse; Garki; Garki Village; Gishiri;  Gwagwalada: Idu;  Jabi; Kado Village: Karmo.

If the politicians governing Abuja wanted to provide scientific reasons for restructuring the urban planning of the Federal Capital Territory,  they can of course find scientific basis from the fact of the environmental degradation that comes with allowing slums to spring up in such cities like Abuja aside defacing the architectural beauty and aesthetics of the city.

But the minister chose to talk down on the poor resident of those slums which I mentioned earlier but I left out some other slums that were earmarked for demolition in such others places as Karshi; Karu; Katampe; Ketti Village;  Kpaduma; Kabusa; Kpana Village; Kubwa; Lokogoma; Lugbe; Mabushi; Mpape; Nyanya; Piya Kasa; Jikwoyi;  and Galadima.

Only Yesterday as I drove home in Garki, I saw that some of those slums just recently demolished by Abuja authorities have sprang back up and many of the displaced residents are back in their places.  And suddenly I saw a good scientific reasons why the FCT should be adequately planned and why the government of the FCT must apply law based measures to stop the proliferation of slums but with a view to making provisions for affordable housing for the deprived masses. But wait a minute, Abuja has just got a sad news around its neck.

This bad piece of news is that our own Abuja, Nigeria ranks 6th among capital cities with the worst air quality as reported by a journalist Chioma Chukwunedu.

Abuja, Nigeria, has been identified as the sixth capital city with the poorest air quality and highest levels of PM 2.5 pollution, according to a recent report by IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company renowned for its global air-sensor data collection.

The report, which highlights the most polluted and least polluted capital cities worldwide, identifies New Delhi, Dhaka, Ouagadougou, Dushanbe, and Baghdad as the top five cities with the worst air quality.

Conversely, capitals boasting the lowest concentrations of PM2.5 pollution include Wellington, Reykjavik, and Hamilton.

 

Why it matters

PM2.5 pollution, a common form of air pollution, has emerged as a significant health hazard, causing more fatalities than any other pollutant, as stated by Glory Dolphin Hammes, CEO of IQAir’s North American division.

Sources of PM2.5 pollution vary widely, with fossil fuel combustion, such as coal, oil, and gas burning, being the predominant contributor.

This pollution, responsible for over 4 million premature deaths annually worldwide, poses severe health risks, including cardiovascular ailments, strokes, and oxidative stress.

Misbath Daouda, an expert in health equity and environmental justice at the University of California, Berkeley, emphasises the detrimental effects of PM2.5 pollution on human health, particularly its ability to penetrate the respiratory system and bloodstream.

Furthermore, exposure to PM2.5 pollution has been linked to various illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease and cancer, and can impede brain development in young children.

Despite efforts by the World Health Organization to tighten pollution guidelines, PM2.5 pollution levels remain alarmingly high in many regions.

 

What you should know

IQAir’s comprehensive analysis blends data from governmental sources and lower-cost sensors to provide valuable insights into air quality.

These sensors, while more affordable, offer essential information, especially in resource-constrained settings where deploying regulatory-grade monitors is impractical.

While the report underscores the pervasive nature of PM2.5 pollution, it also acknowledges positive strides in air quality improvement, notably in countries like China, Chile, and South Africa.

This rating of our air pollution in the FCT to me is an emergency that the government in the FCT should address. But rather, Wike went into overdrive to over-dramatise his aversion for poor residents when he wrongly blamed the poor for the heightened state of insecurity and crimes in the FCT.

The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, said he has prohibited street vending in Abuja saying that street traders, including those selling corn, contribute to crime and instability in the city.

The minister made this announcement during a meeting with the management staff of the Federal Capital Territory Administration and Federal Capital Development Authority, urging them to prioritise doing what is right.

“The important thing we must do is to ensure that Abuja is back to what it ought to be. I moved around Abuja and found out there is total darkness in most of the places.

“What we need to do is to ensure light comes back as soon as possible,” he said.

Wike ordered the immediate cleanup of Abuja adding, “If you are in charge of sanitation, I will call you at any time of the day.”

He warned that he would not hesitate to remove any official who is not meeting his standards of cleanliness. He also stated that motor parks would not be allowed to operate in unauthorised areas.

He added, “Street trading is prohibited. People selling corn will drop their waste indiscriminately and these are the things that cause insecurity. Criminals come to buy and use the opportunity to spy and give information to criminals. It is imperative we clear street hawkers.

“Development control is a serious crisis area we have to stop. Why are there illegal structures and shanties everywhere? We will demolish any illegal structure. No matter how highly placed, the structure will come down,” he reiterated.

But the honourable minister of FCT is incredibly wrong to blame poor corn sellers who provide essential services of providing beneficial foods to low level consumers in the city as the agents of crime. 

Nothing can be further from the truth and the honourable minister knows this since he is an honourable man as I'm told by his friends like the erstwhile Enugu State governor Honourable Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

What to do to reduce the challenges posed to urban planners by those who set up these slums, is to pass an enforceable legislation to check the exorbitant rents charged by landlords of Abuja and to force them to stop hiking rents all the time.

Second strategy is for the government to set up low cost housing estates in the FCT so workers and other low income earners can find ways and means of raising money through the mortgage system to buy their own affordable houses.

Thirdly, there is no reason why urban slums should be allowed to fester in the city because whether we like it or not, many undesirable elements somehow find their ways to settle amongst those law abiding slum settlers since those places are virtually free of charge or are set up through a MIGHT IS RIGHT SYSTEM meaning that the strongest amongst the poor masses can gain access to plots where they can set up their own slums. 

Urban slums when permitted to become a part of the city, most times metamorphosed into settlements controlled by armed gangsters and hoodlums. This untoward development if permitted will endanger the security of the Federal Capital Territory.

So I support the plan by the FCT Administration to continuously sanitise the urban centres of these slums but then again, the government must be sensitive towards providing shelter to the poor members of our community who do not have the economic wherewithal to obtain or build, rent their humane and properly planned housing accommodations.

Shelter is a constitutional right and I think the government shouldn't reduce the majority of us the citizens of Nigeria into the situation  of impoverishment  to a level of destitution that makes people set up slums within the urban city centres.

This may have far reaching implications.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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