For some civil servants at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, there is an office before the official office. An office where their needs are met and are made comfortable before the day’s job. Welcome to “Channel O” where the big and mighty in the civil service of the federation meets to “cool down” before the day’s stressful duty. Located between Block A and Block B where Federal Ministry of Health is, Channel O is a reporter’s delight! A tarred road beside the Ministry building leads to the car park of the building, then extends to the uncompleted extension of Phase 2 of the Federal Secretariat. On the right side of the road are Nigeria’s commitment to the Green Revolution; trees and plants.
A drive a little further shows a different department, revealing the type of cosmopolitan civil servants we have in Nigeria. There are cobblers who resume as early as 7:00am and are skilled to take care of shoes of those who come to offices or visitors who want to transact business at the Federal Secretariat. There are seven of them at the location last week. Immediately after the cobblers are traditional barbers. Their duty is to remove the hair on the head, clean the beards and mustache. The cost is very cheap, N100! A clean-cut at the beauty salon in nearby hotels cost an average of N1000 and N15000.
After the barbers are the local snacks sellers. They sell Okpa, a local delicacy made from Bambara nut. The Okpa sellers share boundaries with those who sell food. They have rice, beans, plantain and “swallow”- pray, don’t their customers swallow the rice, beans and plantain? In the local parlance, ‘swallow’ means Eba popularly called Gari, Akpu of Fufu, Pounded Yam, Wheat and Semo. There are more than 12 Buka owners in this section. Each with its own set of chairs , benches and tables and a big umbrella to cover the source of power- where the prepared foods are kept. On the left side of the makeshift stalls is an abandoned uncompleted building.
Those familiar with the architectural map of the Federal Secretariat Block B claim it is an extension of the building currently being occupied by the Federal Ministries of Education and Health. It is inside this abandoned uncompleted building, the ground floor of the extension that these food sellers keep their things- uncooked food, leftovers, chairs, umbrellas, cooking pots, plates, plastics for washing plates and hands and the iron charcoal stove. It should be noted that dirty water generated from washing plates and hands and remnants are thrown behind the stalls; inside the bush between the car park of Federal Secretariat building A and B. Those whose noses are very sensitive may not be able to cope with the stench in this place.
Just after, is the underground Federal Secretariat building roundabout. Here is where the action is in the morning. It was observed that some male civil servants move to this roundabout after filling their tummies with food. The administration under the bridge is slightly different from what transpired at the upper part. A good level of social distancing is maintained by the traders here.
A trader has a small table on which she displays her waresassorted drinks! Chairs and benches are then arranged either in front of the trader or around her. The traders also brought ingenuity to it; used tires are arranged and a plank placed on it for customers to sit on. Under the Federal Secretariat building underground roundabout, there is no type of spirit and beer that is not available.
They also have beer in cans for customers who are in a hurry to go back to their offices. If you think they sell only local cheap spirits, you are wrong. A visit to Iya Ope stand would convince and confuse you not to go to wine and whiskey shops again in Abuja as they are amazingly very cheap. The women, however, provide value-added services. There are local doctors (in some cases, the traders) that listen to complaints of their customers and prescribe which type of herb-soaked drink could solve the challenge. For some civil servants, policemen, Road Safety Officers and men, commercial drivers battling malaria, pile and joint pains, Channel O is where to begin the day’s work.
Incidentally, these diseases do not disappear immediately after the herbal drinks are taken. According to Mr. Tor, a regular patron, the inability of the herbs to heal instantly make customers come daily. It was observed that some buy herbal drinks and take them home. All is not about spirits, Mama Ilorin, one of the sellers informed this newspaper that some herbal drinks are made with water. Last Friday when a team of reporters and a photographer visited the roundabout, Mama Ilorin complained that the city’s Task Force on environmental matters was troubling her and other herbal traders under the bridge. After listening to the complaint of one of our reporters, Mama Ilorin got up from a wooden bench she sat on and went to a car parked nearby. She opened the boot of the car and brought out three plastic containers from which she dispensed the herbs.
As Mama Ilorin was serving the reporter, Mr. Abdul, a regular customer arrived and was quickly attended to by the old woman. Mama Ilorin informed our reporter that the customer is the king under the bridge. Some minutes later, Mr. Abdul announced that it was time to go to the office for the day’s job. The time was 11:00 am. New National Star observed that under the bridge was a parking lot for vehicles involved in accidents and staff buses belonging to the Ministry of Police Affairs and Ministry of Women Affairs An official of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA)’s Environmental and Development Control who sought anonymity said, “No, I am not aware of it. Our team will look into it and conduct an investigation to find out the status of the place. Was it given to them for a staff canteen? Are they illegal occupants? An enforcement team will be sent to go and dislodge them. Why are they there? It is not allowed, the place is inappropriate for selling activities being that it is a work environment.
At the Federal Secretariat, there is a food court, they would have gone there to sell their wares.” New National Star investigations revealed that government had provided a decent food court at the Eagle Square car park that is underutilized.
Contacted for comments on the effect of drinking herbal drinks made with spirits on health, a medical doctor who would not want his names in print said it has negative impact on the liver and the kidney as sellers may not be able to know the right quality and quantity of the spirit to take. The medical doctor also explained that the effect of alcoholic drinks on the civil servants at their job would partly be sluggishness and a lack of concentration.