A distance away from a popular bus stop – Upstairs – is Maje. The first sight that catches the attention of a passer-by is the influx of people into the community through a broken, filthy and narrow passage.
At a glance, the village can be mistaken for a community market (though unkept and unhealthy) due to the ever busy entries and exits of persons through that particular path.
Driven by curiousity, a walk deep into the slum reveals a community that is about four kilometres in length and three kilometres in width. The environment as expected through human traffic at the entrance is heavily populated by Nigerians of distinct ethnicities and religions.
The environment as expected through human traffic at the entrance is heavily populated by Nigerians of distinct ethnicities and religions.
Perhaps, due to lack of space and the population, the makeshift structures that characterise human shelter in the community are clustered, each, closely attached to another and living no space for either hitch-free pedestal or children playground (definitely not motorable). Even the narrow passages are littered with shallow gutters and filthy waters.
The environment also lacks basic social amenities such as, portable water, drainage system and basic environmental sanitation. The stench emanating from broken sewage pipes further contributes in fouling the already polluted environment.
Facilities such as, community health centre or basic schools are considered luxury for Maje.
Welcome to Jabi, a world of contradictions.
It is one of the major districts in the Federal Capital Territory. It is situated in the heart of the city and synonymous with one of the most populous artificial dams – The Jabi Dam.
Owing to its beautiful landscape and the serene atmosphere that nature bequeaths the District, Jabi, with time, has endeared itself to many Abuja residents as an emerging area that could challenge the highbrow Maitama and Asokoro Districts in the nearest future in terms of infrastructural development and elitist class culture.
Unfortunately, within this beautiful environment lie some pockets of villages such as, Dakibiu and Maje. These adjecent slums are said to be settlements for original owners of Abuja and if there are things they share in common, it is filth, decay and neglect.
According to a residence, who would not want his name in print, the only option for medical facilities is the general hospital, which is kilometres away.
“Without portable water, accessible road and medical facilities, the slum no doubt, poses serious social and health risk to the inhabitants,” he said.
Although Maje was a settlement reserved for the Gbagi people – the original inhabitants of Abuja, there are indications that the ever increasing house rent in other developed parts of FCT has forced people of lower or no income to the enclave.
This assumption was later confirmed by Mrs Oluwabunmi Edoh. She has lived in the community for about 15 years. She gave birth to her children there and organised the first and only private school called Brighter Tomorrow, for illitrate children and wards.
She was in a very good position to explain the living condition in Maje community.
Her words: “The environment is not conducive at all. There is no drainage system in the community presently. There are dirty waters in every corner and this has been causing us sickness. When it rains, it is usually tough for residents. Most times, we have to engage in community effort by controlling the flood individually so that it does not enter our houses. Most times, some houses collapse when it rains because they are not strongly constructed. We experience other terrible things whenever it rains. We sleep with one eye closed and one eye opened.
“People live here, because there is no alternative. They have no other place to go. Houses are expensive in Abuja and people have to manage what they have. We buy water from water vendors, some others buy from boreholes dug by some private individuals around us. There is nothing like health centre. Everybody goes to the general hospital. There is no alternative.
“I operated one small private school with the assistance of the community leader, but the government said it was going to build war college on the land and demolished it. The school was helping a lot of families that could not read and write, however, they demolished it, promising to build a better one for the community, but they never did. So, for some parents, who cannot afford a better one outside the community, their children stay at home.”
In spite of the vulnerability of the community, there is nothing like security of lives and property. But the people have learnt to take their destinies in their hands. So, at a point, some community members muted the idea of vigilante group. Unfortunately, it did not function for long for reasons beyond their control.
“So, everybody is left to take care of his house. As you can see, no house is fenced. That is the condition under which we live,” Edoh said.
However, beneath Edoh’s account is the untold story of this abandoned slum at the city centre, as vividly captured by the community leader, Chief Adams Jatau, whose palace is a true representation of poverty in the land.
Except for a few portraits that decorate the walls and two carved small lions, a symbol of strength of a king, standing by the old wooden chair that serves as royal stool, there is nothing to show the kingly status Chief Jatau.
The palace is not only small, it lacks basic ornamentation or embellishment expected of a community leader in the seat of government.
As if he had read the mind of the writer, the king decried his living condition when he busted out: “Look at my compound. Am I supposed to live like this as a chief? I am not supposed to live like a chief? My house is supposed to be a decent house, and visitors do not need to be told that this is the palace of a chief. But without this signpost, you will not know that this place is the chief’s . For how long can we remain like this?
“We have been crying unto government to look at our issue and come to our aid. If they are able to integrate us and give us plan of structures to build in this area, we will know how to go about it. There is no development within the community and community without development is dead and bound to crash,” he said.
But that is not the story. Maybe not. But The Guardian gathered that the very reason the communuty is neglected is, because of the people’s resistance to oppression of successive administrations that have considered the people ‘as wretched of the earth’.
It was gathered that as communities open, government tend to relocate the original owners of Abuja back into the hitherland, while their land is sold to individuals. But the Maje community has opposed this, with the people making a resolve to remain glued to their ancestral land until government gives cogent reason they should not be found at the city centres like other humans.
His account: “Well, I can say that the problem we have with the infrastructure bordered on the fact that this place is a place we were relocated during Shehu Shagari’s regime.
“Before, we lived in the Dam area. This place was our farm land, but a time came in 1979 when the government decided to construct the dam so that Abuja can have water. They discovered that the development would affect us. So, they relocated us here to pave way for the construction of Jabi Dam. But the houses they provided afterwards were not enough for us. We had thought that government had our interest at heart. So, we have continued to manage our lives in a critical way without social amenities or anything to lean on. We expected government to show us kindness as people who lost their original habitants to development.”
The community leader said, “after sometime, the successive government returned to claim this place. They enumerated us and asked us to choose a place. We chose Kado Estate (about seven kilometres away). We needed to remain close to our native land, but they suggested Shagari Quarters, our people went and inspected the environment and returned with a complaint that the place was not conducive.”
Several other attempts have also been made subsequently to chase the inhabitants of Maje out of their ancestral land, but on each occasion, they had reasons to reject government’s offer. Either the structures were not strong, not spacious or they were far inside the bush.
“You want to take us away from our original land to a one bedroom apartment. What will be the way and future of our generations to come? Those they relocated from other areas have lost their tradition and culture. People now live as destitute and their source of livelihood which was farming has been taken away,” he said. “Having relocated us once, why do successive government want to relocate us again? Is it that this place is not habitable for human beings? If the reason was to make here a tourism destination, they should tell us. If also, they want to build amenities that would benefit humanities, they should let us know. But if the reason is to take it from us and still allocate it to individuals to build their houses, that would not be possible. They must give reasons we should be taken away from our ancestral land. If we are sub-humans who do not deserve to live in good place, the government should tell us rather than frustrate us. We live in a cage, we live in bondage. There is no provision for expansion.”
The chief said if they go as planned, they will end up causing conflict between them and the host community they are being relocated to. “Because if they succeed now in relocating us, what we are tolerating today, our future generations might not tolerate them. Maybe when they grow up, they hear that this is where their ancestors emanated and they were relocated to where they cannot express themselves, there might be problem. To avoid such situations, government needs to look at the issue critically.
“The water we are using is tap water owned by an individual who sell to us. There is government presence in that regard. We also tried to see if we can have any health centre but there is no possibility. There is no single health centre around this area. The electricity is the only thing we have but it is not constant.
“Environmental pollution and degradation is high. People keep polluting the environment but it appears to be minimising now as the environmental personnel are beginning to set in. But the gutters are still serious challenge. It is only God that intervenes in our situation whenever it rains.”
Efforts to get the officials of FCT Social Secretariat to comment on the issue proved abortive, but a man, who gave his name as Dr. Peter Edozie, and operates a private hospital, decried the environment.
Edozie who had treated patients in the area, blamed high infant mortality on such environment that is highly prone to mosquitoes and all kinds of infections. He hoped government would be more sensitive to the people.
The fact remains that in whosoever favour the story goes between the government and the inhabitants, the living condition of the people of Maje is deplorable and environment, degrading.
Unless something urgent is done to arrest the situation, the psychological impact on the younger generations of Nigerians raised in such environment would be devastating in the nearest future.
By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja