If housing has become unaffordable for the employed citizens, especially civil servants in the federal capital territory (FCT), what then is the fate of the destitute? NANNA SELKUR in this piece explores the plight of the less privileged in the FCT and government’s efforts towards addressing them.
Abuja is the centre of the nation and it is common sight to see new buildings and companies springing up on a daily basis, offering vast opportunities for school leavers, graduates and the uneducated to earn a living.
It is therefore, not surprising that over twenty widows and their children travelled from as far as Maiduguri and Kano, in search of a means of survival. Some of them lost their husbands to the violence that erupted in some parts of the country. Without formal education, language as a barrier and other circumstances, these women make a living out of washing of dishes at eateries, for the sum of 100 to 150 daily.
Sadly, after the day’s struggle which begins at 5am, they retire to houses without doors, windows and a roof to rest their tired backs – they sleep in an uncompleted building, along old market road opposite the NNPC mega filling station in the Abuja.
Seven of the women, who spoke to LEADERSHIP, lamented that what the nation’s capital has offered them in terms of relieve from sorrow and pain is more pain than good, as each day, they suffer one aliment or the other due to the harsh living condition.
Although the women were apprehensive for fear of being evicted by the FCTA, they gathered around our correspondent, hoping they could reach the government through this medium.
Mrs Radiu Usman a mother of eight from Katsina State narrated: “After my husband’s death, three years ago , with no relatives to help us, my daughter decided to come to Abuja. She suffered several ordeals that I cannot go into now but eventually, the elderly man that occupies the security room at the entrance to this building offer her a room in this abandoned two storey building.
Finally, she started cooking food for sale at Area 4. Usually she sends some money through transport agencies to assist in the children’s up keep but it sometimes doesn’t get to me. Due to these reason, we decided to move to Abuja to stay with her,” she said.
Mrs Tanbawa Audu‘s story is not different, except that she also prepares rice - which is the major food they sell - in order to provide for her three children whom she brought along some two months ago from Kano.
She said she was evicted from the house which they were occupying, after the death of her husband, as she could not afford to pay the rent. She prefers to use the uncompleted building as shelters to enable her educate her children with the meagre amount gotten from the food sales.
She added that since most of them couldn’t go to school, they will do their best to send their children to school, especially if government would give them some work to do.
Mrs Hadiza Danbaba a mother of 11, from Bauchi State, while speaking with LEADERSHIP, said government should assist them with jobs, as it has become their utmost necessity. “I’m willing to do any job except stealing, I can work in a hotel, cook for students, clean hospitals, anything at all; I’m willing to do something to make ends meet. I don’t want to go on living in this kind of a place for the rest of my life,” she said.
One of the earliest occupants of the uncompleted building, Hajiya Aisha who hails from Katsina State said her family moved into the government-owned uncompleted building with the hope of owning their own house, when her husband is able to make some money from the business he was into.
Unfortunately, her husband took ill a few months after moving into the building and he died of typhoid. When asked why she has not returned to Katsina, she said there was nothing to return to, adding that she will continue to work as a dish washer, ending N100 daily and gathering remnant for her children to feed on.
Men are not left out in this settlement. Mr Jamaal Suleiman, an artist who specialises in the design of the National flags said, “I was at Kushingoro when this demolition exercise was carried out. I could not afford a place, so someone introduced me to this place.
Their source of water has being mother-nature (rains) and a construction company, M Salleh and Co. Their toilet is the closest green grass around the compound, while some erected planks to serve as bathroom for more than 30 persons, including children. With such conditions, frequent trips to the hospital are inevitable. Apart from the abnormal situation in which they find themselves, factors like no beds and lack of mosquitoes’ nets contributes to their frequent illness.
In terms of government efforts towards assisting the less privileged, the then minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai had been assisting the destitute with the sum of N4000 monthly, on grounds that they stay off the streets. Unfortunately, most of them are back on the streets of Abuja, begging, because the minister’s successors have failed to grant them access to these funds.
Human Rights Activist, Samuel Hussein said the Minister of Women Affairs Zainab Maina needs to look into the plight of widows, by providing avenues for empowerment, especially with the increase in death toll of the men, as a result of crisis, adding that little has been done towards their present predicament.
In terms of healthcare for the destitute, the Secretary of the Primary Health Care, said recently at one of their meetings that there are 221 primary health centres in the federal capital territory but as of present only 85 are functioning; the remaining are empty buildings lacking facilities. LEADERSHIP investigation reveals that a lot of people are unaware of these centres’ location.
Although the Local Education Authority provides an avenue for educating the less privileged, Mrs Rita Tanko, a headmistress in one of the schools said they poor usually finds it difficult to pay over N20,000 for school fees. She also said that the few available schools are usually over crowded, while calling on government to do something in this regard.
Meanwhile, media reports reveal that housing has being one of the most worrisome issues to civil servants in the federal capital territory. A cross-section of them that spoke to LEADERSHIP said their salaries cannot cover the cost of housing for them.
Some of them fear they might be forced to return to their hometown if they retire, as they cannot afford to build houses. “Although government sold some of the houses which they had rented to civil servants, a majority of us that were later employed into the federal civil services don’t have house.”
For the destitute, abandon building and some rickety structures made of woods and zinc characterise their shelter.