Abuja In the Midst Of Slums – The Story Of A Fast Decaying City

This mountain-sized dump site welcomes every visitor to Mpape, a hilly slum located of the expressway, Abuja
This mountain-sized dump site welcomes every visitor to Mpape, a hilly slum located off the Murtala Mohammed expressway, Abuja

By Chikezie Omeje

There are two cities in Abuja, the nation’s capital. One is the city of the powerful and the affluent; the other is the city of the downtrodden. Nowhere is this contrast sharper than in the difference between the highbrow Asokoro district and the low-life valley of Kpaduma.

At night when the bright street lights at Yusufu Bala Usman Street are lit, turning the quiet neighbourhood’s afterhours into daylight, Kpaduma, a mere stone throw away, is enveloped in a blinding darkness.

“They give us light only three days in a week,” Peter Maduka, a resident of Kpaduma who has lived in the slum for six years told our reporter.

While the streets on Asokoro have electricity supply daily, power supply to Kpaduma is rationed three days on and three days off but even on the days that the residents are expected to have electricity, it is usually epileptic.

Unlike the next street, Kpaduma does not have pipe borne water and the residents rely on private boreholes and wells. A gallon of water costs between N40 to N50.

A pathetic sight in Kpaduma is the crowded decrepit houses that do not have toilets, forcing many residents to practice open defecation.  This open defecation and indiscriminate waste disposal make Kpaduma a stinking slum.

Asokoro is, arguably, the most affluent part of the capital city and hosts the Presidential Villa, National Assembly, Supreme Court, ECOWAS headquarters, state governors’ lodges, several international organisations and embassies as well as residencies of Abuja’s richest class.

Asokoro bristles with power and affluence. The evidence is in the tarred roads and cobbled pavements with street lights, underground drainages, lush royal palm trees surrounding the residences with high fences, luxurious cars cruising around, security guards sitting comfortably at the gate houses, and waste collection containers at the corner of every house.

But Kpaduma residents would have to take tricycle or motorcycle through the streets of Asokoro and far into the parts of the slum.

Kpaduma is a densely populated informal settlement with substandard houses and shanties without sanitation and safe drinking water.

Maduka has a dream of moving to three bed-room flat in a place like Yusufu Bala Street in Asokoro with his wife but he would have to spend at least N3 million on annual rents. This money can pay for his current house rent for 50 years.

Maduka pays N60, 000 for the eight by eight feet mud house he lives in. The room has a tiny window and dwarf door and shares a pit toilet with tens of other occupants in the clustered mud houses.

A neighbourhood in Kpaduma, located right across the highbrow Asokoro district, Abuja
A neighbourhood in Kpaduma, located right across the highbrow Asokoro district, Abuja

Just as Kpaduma depicts squalor amidst Abuja’s most developed district, Mpape is another slum that rests uncomfortably on the side of Maitama, Abuja’s purported second most affluent district.

The 10-lane Murtala Mohammed Express Way stands between Maitama and Mpape, which is widely regarded as the most populated slum in the capital city.

The single hilly lane road leading to Mpape from the express often witnesses traffic congestion whenever the rickety cars that convey the inhabitants break down on the road. Any car that breaks down on the road must be removed before traffic can ease off.

Anyone standing in Mpape can see clearly the rich and beautiful district of Maitama with trees hooding the tarred streets and masquerade flowers around the beautiful mansions of the elite class.

But despite the proximity to the order, opulence and splendour of Maitama, Mpape is a disorderly and rustic settlement where the poor find succour in the capital city.

Situated atop a hill overlooking the highbrow neighbourhood of Maitama, Mpape has all the trappings of a growing slum. Dotted by sub-standard buildings and over-crowded residences with many lacking basic facilities such as toilets, pipe borne water and waste management, Mpape is home to thousands of people like Jennifer Odey, an NCE, holder who works as a nanny in the city.

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She sometimes uses the toilet in her work place in the city before coming home to avoid having to queue for hours before she could use the shanty toilet in her house.

Her household shares one toilet with six other families in the compound.

Odey and her husband share their room and parlour with four other family members, including two children. They live in a mud house inside Ajegunle in Mpape and pay N140, 000 annual rent.

Most times, residents of the area in a hurry to relive themselves defecate in the open where rain washes the faeces away into nearby wells that are uncovered.

Odey and her family members have miraculously managed to survive cholera outbreaks in the area, like the one in 2014, when more than 10 persons died in a single day.

The Federal Capital Territory, FCT, health authorities had explained at the time that the cholera outbreak was caused by open defecation. The first rain of that year had washed the faeces into the open wells, which constitute a major source of water for most residents of Mpape.

The hilly and rocky nature of Mpape makes it difficult for most residents to build toilets, forcing them opt for open defecation.

Mpape has no pipe borne water and resident mostly rely on water vendors for their daily water needs. Health practitioners say this practice is quite unhygienic
Mpape has no pipe borne water and resident mostly rely on water vendors for their daily water needs. Health practitioners say this practice is quite unhygienic

The absence of drainage system manifests in stagnant and stinking water as residents channel waste water into the narrow paths that separate their decrepit houses.

The windows of Odey’s room are too tiny for proper ventilation and they have to choose between leaving their door ajar and allowing in the smell from the putrid, dark water that passes in front of their house or shut their door and bear the heat.

“Even during the day, we close our door because of the smell from the gutter,” Odey said.

Mpape is widely regarded as the biggest slum in the city of Abuja and government has been making arrangement to demolish the slum since the past five years.

It is a densely populated slum, and by the census figure of Mpape Community Development Association, MRCDA, it has about 60,000 houses and hundreds of thousands of residents.

Odey’s house is one of the numerous houses marked for demolition by the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, since 2012 but the order had met stiff resistance by the residents.

In February 2, 2017, the residents won a court case they instituted since 2012 to stop FCDA from demolishing their houses.

The residents had staged several protests against the demolition since they were served with quit notice by FCDA.

“When I came to Abuja, I was told that rich people want to take over here by destroying all these houses here,” Odey said. “I am just wondering where the big people will get their servants from when they chase everybody away.”

Driving away from Mpape to Nnamdi Azikiwe Express Way to Mabushi is another sordid slum, known as Mabushi village.

Ironically, the Mabushi village is directly behind the Federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Power and the Federal Ministry of Environment.  This slum is where 24-year old Abdulmalik Sani, a commercial wheelbarrow pusher has made his home for years.

He is a regular face in the settlement. When not busy, his wheelbarrow is parked beside the wall of the vigilante office where the wide umbrella of a yam seller provide him shade from the blazing sun as he lay down in his wheelbarrow. Even in the hot sun, Sani slept undisturbed by the noisy children playing around in bare foot.

“Work no dey,” Sani muttered to icirnigeria.org as he wiped off sleep from his eyes and spittle from his mouth.

Outside the vigilante office stands a mango tree under which Sani and about a hundred other youths sleep at night. The mango tree is surrounded by the house of the traditional Chief of Mabushi village, a decrepit little mosque and the vigilante office.

The village, crowded by mud houses with light zinc roofing is also home to over 500 artisans and labourers like Sani who live under the shade of trees and on narrow corridors of dilapidated houses.

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Sani has lived in the slum, under the mango tree for seven years since he relocated from Zamfara State to Abuja. His ‘home’ is just about 30 meters away from the elegant building housing the Federal Ministry of Works, Housing, and Power.

Sabi Isah with his roomates in front of their house in the Mabushi slum
Sabo Isah with his roomates in front of their house in the Mabushi slum

He works as a wheelbarrow pusher but also engages in masonry at construction sites, and does other menial jobs to augment income but he still does not earn decent enough wages to rent a room for himself.

“When rain come, you go find one corner or you go use cement bag cover yourself,” Sani said as he explained survival during the rainy season since he has no roof over his head.

To relieve himself at night, Sani would go beside the fence of the Ministry of Works, Housing and Power but during the day, he would pay N40 to use the shanty toilet walled with rusty zinc. He usually goes for days without a shower. But on the day he decides to bathe, he pays N100 to use a corner of the same toilet.

Those who have roofs over their heads in the settlement are only slightly better off. Like Sabo Isah, also a wheelbarrow pusher, stays in a small room with two others. The room is less than eight feet wide and is accessed through a narrow pathway between mud houses. The houses are ventilated through tiny box-size windows. When the windows open to let in air, horrible stinking smell from dirty stagnant water outside assailed the nose.

“Na we be the rich people here,” Isah told our correspondent with pride. “We dey only three in the room. Others they reach eight in the room.”

The 25-year-old Isah who hails from Kano pays N4, 000 monthly for the little room. The room shares a makeshift toilet and bathroom with more than 30 other residents in the clustered settlement. Everyone here buys water in gallons from those rich enough to dig a borehole.

Others who cannot afford to buy a gallon of water for N30 rely on well water for their cooking and drink.

“E no dey easy to live here,” Isah lamented as he narrated the daily ordeal of residents of Mabushi village.

Like Kpaduma and Mpape, Mabushi is a settlement not expected to be in the city. By the Abuja Master Plan, the villages were expected to be relocated outside the territory to give room for effective planning of the new capital city.   An ecological survey and pre-compensation census indicated that about N1.8 billion was needed for resettlement. But the idea died when government said it could not raise the money.

The federal government later adopted the policy of resettling the natives until their abode are affected by development projects as the capital was finally moved to Abuja in 1991 and subsequent development projects failed to resettle the natives when they were affected.

This was how the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing was built without the relocation of Mabushi Village where poor Nigerians who come to the city in search of a better future now find abode.

Abuja was designed to have a population of 1.6 million people and expandable at its sides to 3.2 million people. This plan, however, did not anticipate an influx of people into the capital as the population is currently around 6 million, according to the Minister of FCT, Muhammad Bello.

Abuja is regarded as the most planned city in Nigeria but the authorities in FCT have cited unexpected influx of people and the eventual overstretching of infrastructure as the major reason for the increase in slums in the capital.

Slums everywhere in the capital city

Checks by icirnigeria.org show that slums are fast taking up undeveloped plots of land in the capital city.

Apart from Central Business Area and Wuse, it was discovered that every other district in the capital city has sordid slums that present an ugly picture of Abuja, which was once thought to be the fastest growing capital city in Africa.

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FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello
FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello

It may still well be. But rise in the number of slums around the city is a growing concern.

In Jabi, Utako, Garki, Katampe, and Asokoro which are all within the 250 square kilometers of the capital city, slums are situated around elegant houses and infrastructure.

This website observed that the suburbs, such as Kubwa, Nyanya, Karu and Lugbe have all been taken over by slums.

An environmentalist and the president of Climate Transformation and Energy Remediation Society, Smart Chukwuma Amaefula, said in an interview with our reporter in Abuja that informal settlements are springing up in Abuja because of poverty and inequality.

Amaefula said slums pose serious risks as residents live in an overcrowded and unsafe environment without basic amenities, such as water and sanitation.

“Most of the slum residents don’t have toilets. Most of them use polyethene bags to go to the toilet which they call shot-put. We know that polyethene is non-bio-degradable substances that litter the slums. They are not going to decay, rather they will stay on the ground and begin to emit heat into the atmosphere,” Amaefula said.

According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitant, about 80 million Nigerians are living in slums.

The organisation attributed the growth of informal settlements to inadequate and non-affordable housing for all classes of the citizenry.

UN-Habitant in its World Cities Report 2016 noted that when unplanned and unmanaged, urbanisation can lead to increased inequality, the growth of slums and disastrous impacts on climate.

UN-Habitant projected that by 2030, the urban population of developing countries will double, while the area covered by cities could triple.

Government Response

From 2004 to 2007, the Former Minister of FCT and currently governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai demolished several slums in Jabi, Utako, Karmo, Idu, and Durumi in an effort to give Abuja a befitting outlook.

However, our correspondent who visited Karmo and Idu discovered that slums have returned in places demolished by the former minister.

A resident of Karmo, Simon Eze, told our reporter that they now build their houses with mud so that they would not lose so much if the government decided to demolish the place.

“If I have the means to live  at a better place, I will do so,” Eze said. “I don’t feel comfortable bringing up my children in this place.”

According to the former Minister of FCT, Bala Mohammed, out of the 17 million housing deficit in the country, FCT accounts for 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, former chairman, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, NITP, Abuja chapter, Saka Olajide, urged the government to embark on massive and affordable housing schemes for the poor.

“The most pragmatic way to go about it is for the local government or other agencies like the housing authority to build mass housing for the public on the owner-occupier basis, where there would be a robust mortgage system that would finance the houses,” Olajide said.

“All the money deducted from pension, pension funds, all sort of funds that are wasting away in various banks can be utilised for development purposes. They can make the houses less than 10% interest rate so that people can acquire the houses.

“As long as you don’t have effective mortgage system in Nigeria, housing may not be cheap and may not be available to everybody. And the people who are building big houses in the town are not building for the poor. They cannot go and borrow money at 25 to 30% and you say they should give it to the poor. Banks will not do it, individuals will not do it, only government can do it. Government has the land, they can develop the infrastructure as their own contribution and allow people to build the houses through mortgage system. Without mortgage system, I don’t see us getting out of the problem of lack of housing.”

Efforts by our reporter to speak with the director, Department of Development Control in FCT, Mukhtar Usman, on the plan by the present administration in addressing the sprawling slums failed as he directed our reporter to obtain consent from the FCT Permanent Secretary before he could speak on the matter.

According to Usman, he cannot disclose policy statements without authorisation as he is just a civil servant.