Yangoji, is a Leprosy Colony, 72km away from the city of Abuja, filled with aged people affected by leprosy. Although cured of their ailment, surviving amidst a growing young population facing poverty, disease, lack of education and employment remains a dilemma. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE, DAVID ADUGE-ANI AND YIRA-EEBA BEKEE (Abuja) report.
They live 72km away from the bustling capital city of Nigeria, Abuja on the Abuja-Lokoja expressway in Kwali area council of the Federal Capital City (FCT) in an appalling state. For four years, no drugs have been supplied to their clinic, women still give birth at home, malaria infection has continued to weigh down the people for over a decade, no access to clean water, many aged people are sick and can’t find healthcare and a large number of jobless youths are among the many predicaments facing FCT’s Leprosy Colony, also known as Alheri settlement.
The Leprosy Colony, is a community of over 600 persons, created by the FCT authorities to mop up all persons affected by Leprosy to settlements out the capital city where they can be decently accommodated along with basic facilities to cater for their needs.
Most of the residents of the colony are said to have been cured of leprosy, except for a few, whose ulcers are treated at the community clinic.
A recent visit by LEADERSHIP Weekend to the community, has revealed a decay in the facilities including their living rooms, toilets, clinic, school, access to water, vocational equipment and many others.
With all the adult population in the community having had one sort of leprosy or the other, many of them are unable to undertake any defined job for a living due the severity of their fingers and nails. As a result, most of the people are engaged in farming to eke out a living.
The implication for the community is the high rate of poverty and helplessness that is daily turning to frustration among the people. The feeling of being discriminated against, as people affected by Leprosy, separated from the general population and denied basic amenities, has compounded the woes of the community.
Many of the residents felt they are let down by government, even after lots of promises were made to when relocating them to Yangoji, over 10 years ago.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend at his palace, the Sarkin Kutari Abuja, Ali Isa, did not mince words in expressing his community’s frustration at the long neglect of government to their plights.
He started by lamenting the lack of drugs in the only health facility that serves the community, saying for over three years, “not a Paracetamol has been supplied to the clinic”. He said the FCT authorities have abandoned them to their fate.
“Under this administration, no assistance is coming from government, if we dare venture into the city, we will be arrested. For three years now, no Paracetamol has been supplied to our clinic specially built to cater for Leprosy.
“Today, we rely on herbs for our treatment as the cost of buying drugs is way above the income of many of the residents of this community, as they have no jobs. They are just peasant farmers and occasional beggars.
“We informed the Kwali area council and authorities of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) but to no avail,” Isa said.
Showing LEADERSHIP Weekend around the dilapidated facilities in the community, the traditional ruler lamented that even as the head of the community, life has been hard for him. As at the time LEADERSHIP Weekend visited the community, the local chief said he had been unable to visit his farm for 12 days, due to a leg challenge that had confined him to his immediate environment.
About six boreholes in the community are out of service, leaving the people to look for water from unsafe sources. All the water sources provided by government have not been functional for over seven years except for one donated by a non-governmental organisation.
“I have taken our complaints to the FCT Water Board, 10 times with no response from them,” Isa lamented.
LEADERSHIP Weekend was shown a borehole constructed by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources just over a year ago, but which has never pumped water even for a day for the community. Community leaders said they were not told why the project remained unusable for them since it was completed.
At the clinic, LEADERSHIP Weekend met a well-constructed building with all the basic facilities in it but with empty shelves for drugs except HIV/AIDS treatment drugs.
The clinic has an unused Ambulance, a modern water supply system and a newly constructed laboratory, built by the FCDA.
Sources close to the clinic confirmed to our correspondents that the last time drugs were received from the government, was in 2014, leaving the clinic incapable of providing care for residents of the Leprosy Colony.
Further findings by LEADERSHIP Weekend revealed that since the clinic received the last sets of drugs in 2014, the authority for drugs to the community has ignored several requisitions.
More so, LEADERSHIP Weekend was told that in 2014, after the last supplies were received, the Abuja Medical Store (AMS) requested from the clinic managers to pay 10 per cent of the cost of drugs supplied.
Further inquest by the clinic to the Public Health Department of the FCT Health and Human Services, yielded same demand. The clinic was asked by PHD to charge the patients to pay 10 per cent of the drugs.
The clinic, subsequently, was only able to raise N25, 000 of the total cost of drugs, which later, the FCT authorities asked for full payment of all drugs supplied. That marked the end of drugs supply to Yangoji clinic because the people could not pay for their drugs.
Other sources within the community informed LEADERSHIP Weekend that even when drugs were supplied to the clinic, not a few of the drugs were looted, leaving them in a precarious state.
In a reaction, the coordinator, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Tuberculosis and Leprosy (TBL) Control Programme, Dr Josephine Okechukwu, denied the claims of the community even though our correspondents met empty drug shelves at the clinic.
“The issue of not supplying drugs to the Lepers’ Colony, Alheri Settlement, in Yangoji, Kwali area council, since 2014, is not true, very untrue. We have regularly been supplying drugs to that facility.
“We have a clinic there that is comprehensive in its service, in that settlement and it treats cases of leprosy, as they are reported. Let me inform you, in all the leprosy cases we have in that facility, none has an active case, because all the patients have been treated and cured of leprosy.
“They have drugs all the time, because every quarter, we supply drugs to that facility. I don’t know where they got such information that there are no drugs in that facility. It is very untrue. We have enough tuberculosis drugs and leprosy drugs,” she said.
She added that those treated at the facility have refused to leave the facility and have been there and getting married and procreating in the settlement.
“So, as at today, you have over 600 people living in the settlement. Many of them claimed that they don’t know where to go from there and coupled with the free things they are getting, they have refused to vacate the facility, even though they have been treated of leprosy and even empowered by government.
“Some even bring in their relations to come and live with them there and that is why the number of people living in the facility is high.
“So, government is trying to see how it can decentralise their stay in that facility, so that they can go back to where they are coming from, because they came in from different states of the country.
“In the past, we have tried all our best by sensitising and empowering them so that they can go back to where they came from, but they have refused to go back to their homes. And we cannot send them away.
“So, the only thing the government is thinking of doing is to expand the services, because the services there are collapsing. The houses there are overstretched. The houses were built to accommodate about 150 inmates, but today, we have more than 600 inmates in the facility.
“Their children have also grown to become big girls and big boys. Some of them, who have attended primary and secondary schools, are still living with their parents there. It is a problem for the government.”
Youth Population Explosion Forces Parents To Concentrate On Boys’ Education
After spending 10 years in the community as a teacher, Bashir Aliyu, the acting head master of Alheri Primary School, Yangoji, is worried that the settlement is faced with youth joblessness as the number of children leaving primary school has been on the rise.
After their primary education, many of the children simply stay at home because their parents cannot afford the fees of secondary education. Some, he said, are secondary school dropouts due to the inability of their parents to raise money for their school.
LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt that the situation has forced several parents to abandon girl-child education and concentrate on the boys. After primary school, the girls are left to wait for a suitor in marriage.
“I cannot afford N10, 000 for my daughter to start JSS, so she has to join her mates in hawking and waiting for a man that will come for her in marriage. All I do now is to concentrate on my boys,” a resident said.
Fatima Ismail, 15, who finished primary school in 2015, wishes she is in secondary school, but due to the inability of her father to raise money for education, she has no choice than to wait to be married out.
Head Teacher, Bashir Aliyu, said while government had tried in providing some of the basic teaching items in the school, the inability of parents to provide their children writing materials and uniforms, is a major challenge to learning.
“We can’t ask government to provide writing materials to pupils. The parents see buying writing materials and uniforms as luxury things. We, teachers and some NGOs, do donate to the pupils in order to keep them in school,” he said.
He further lamented the lack of functioning toilets in the school, even as doors to classrooms and facilities are in bad shape.
Aliyu urged government to set up entrepreneurial facilities in the area to engage the several youths roaming around. “If they cannot afford the cost of schooling, they should learn a trade.”
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