For most Nigerians, Abuja is believed to be a unique city where everything good happens. Beautiful mansions, tarred roads, uninterrupted electricity and water supply especially in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Garki and Utako districts in the city where the crème de la crème of the society resides. Hence the belief that whoever is in Abuja is comfortable.
Contrary to these wildly held beliefs, investigations have confirmed that some Nigerians who left their villages for the nation’s capital actually live on the streets. They live under the bridge, without a roof on their heads. One of such are those who have resorted to living under a bridge right underneath the tarred road on the popular City Park, Wuse 2 in the Federal Capital Territory(FCT), Abuja.
The bridge shades them from the scourging sun and harsh realities of life. There are two sides to the bridge which is inhabited as well and divided by a river making it difficult to cross to the other side where others stay except one goes out to use the not-easily-noticed entrance. Getting a place to stay in Abuja is expensive and an uphill task but under this bridge, rent is free.
It has become a home to some who do not have the resources to rent a place in the capital territory. It was also gathered that they don’t live there because it is comfortable for them but because they have no place to stay. They ply their trade, do menial jobs for survival. At the right-hand side of the entrance, sewing machines, wooden beds and a helicopter can be seen being built. Smoke goes up in the air as an elderly woman cooks with firewood and a pot darkened by the heat from the fire makes one wonder how people are able to cook or reside in such a filthy place. New National Star met Umar who resides under the bridge and works as an electrician.
He informs this newspaper that some of them are staying under the bridge as a result of the pandemic that brought them here. They lost their jobs because of Covid19 and things have not been easy since then. He went on to say that where he and his colleagues were working in Abuja, they were given accommodations so when they lost the jobs they had to leave their official accommodation as well.
Due to their number and lack of enough bed spaces, two people share a mattress covered with old mosquito nets. Umar told this newspaper that a lot of children seen playing around were given birth to here. Most times, people from Redeem Christian Church and other ministries come to fellowship with them. They bring them food, words of encouragement and other material things to sustain them.
New National Star gathered that these people are not totally helpless and jobless. Most of them have skills that they are doing. Umar further showed the reporter where they have their bath; behind a pillar that planks are used to cover the sides while they squat to bath. Going further, this reporter met Emmanuel who said he is a cook.
He and his younger brother cook then go to open areas, one of which is beside central park to sell and raise some money. Emmanuel told this newspaper that under the bridge used to be a market, buzzing with life and activities. There were barbers, food sellers, suya seller, shop owners, people come to buy clothes, provisions even chicken until the Taskforce came and burnt down the place. One can tell that it was a market place, looking at some of the remains from the ruins. When asked how people can help them, Emmanuel said he would prefer if people willing to assist will give them something substantial that can take them out of the place. A job that can pay them well enough to live a decent life and afford an apartment.
A lady in her mid-twenties who pleaded anonymity told this newspaper that after she lost her husband, her in-laws drove her and their eight – months old son out of the house. Having no place to turn to, she resorted to living under the bridge with her son who was seen playing around with other children. Bala Ahmed, another squatter, told this reporter that insecurity in the north where he was born forced him to come down to Abuja in search of greener pastures but since he could not afford a decent accommodation due to the high cost of living, he has to stay here and work as a ‘conductor’ for bus drivers.
Asked if those living under the bridge have a right to live there and what the law says as well as the legal implications, a legal practitioner, Mr. Chijioke Martins told New National Star that ‘’No. They do not have a right. Under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, according to section 41 : ”Every Citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom.” and subject to the provisions of the constitution, in section 43: “The right to acquire and own immovable property.”
“However, It has limitations in the sense that given the Federal Capital Territory(FCT) as a case study, you are not permitted to reside in a place designated as public places. For example under the bridges, parks, gardens etc. The administrators of the FCT are at liberty to make laws guiding and Prohibiting people who convert such public places as their residence. Whoever chooses to reside in such public places does so at his own peril or risk. “If FCTA decides to chase them away, they are doing so pursuant to a particular law against people residing or converting public utilities to personal properties. Such people are most often regarded as public nuisance.” He said.
FCT Police Spokesperson, ASP Yusuf Maria when contacted said; “The people responsible for kicking them out of the premises is not the police. We have carried out our responsibility of ensuring that our men in uniform and plain clothing conduct patrols at every part of Abuja at night to free those areas of any form of criminal activities.”
The Director, Social Development Welfare of the Federal Capital Development Authority(FCDA) Mr Atere Oludare when contacted said; “ I have no idea that people stay there. Now that we know about it, we will find out and something will be done. We have a Task Force that picks up beggars and miscreants on a daily basis. That is not the best place to be so why are they there?.” “Some of them staying there are drug addicts and they need rehabilitation but we have to find out. Those who can give authenticity of their situation will get help. The women and children, why are they there? If they had issues with their husbands, we will reconcile them, if they ran away from home because of a mistake, we will help plead with their families. We will not arrest them but see the solution we can proffer, guarantee the safety of the children.” He said.