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Squatters, Drug Users Take Over Abandoned Utako District Hospital

Ten years after the Federal Capital Development Authority(FCDA) awarded a N4.3 billion contract for the provision of a diagnostic and trauma centre and a general hospital for residents of Utako district, investigations reveal that the project has been abandoned. In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), each district has a government general hospital; while Garki’s General Hospital is being operated as a PrivatePublic hospital, Asokoro and Maitama districts’ are operated as public hospitals.

Although the construction of the Utako District Hospital building is abandoned, New National Star observes that some Nigerians and foreigners are living in the building.

In fact, some ply their trade in this structure. On a sunny Thursday morning in Utako, a ten-year-old boy is trying to scale the fence surrounding the structure with a bucket filled with eggs. Through the railings of the fence, a middle-aged woman is finishing up her cooking on a firewood hearth, the results of her labour will be akamu (pap) that will be sold to those around the building, some will be residents and others passersby conducting their business in that space.

The construction site has some finished wings but mostly unfinished sections. New National Star observes that some of the structures are already falling down from being left to the strength of nature’s many seasons, others stand strong though. For most Nigerians, getting a place to hide their heads and property in Abuja is expensive and a herculean task, but in this structure, a room costs N 10,000, it used to be cheaper but the price went up after the FCDA development control demolished the Utako village that shares a boundary with the structure. Now, this structure is the home to some who do not have enough money to rent even a room in Abuja.

A building whose original intent was for the accommodation of the sick and convalescents is now home to the homeless and drug users. The Utako District Hospital is a 10-minute walk away from the Berger bus-stop, beside Peace Plaza that houses different stores. Quite a number of people must have noticed it, but only a few wish to talk about it, they have just accepted it as a norm. To get the inside picture of those who live in this building under construction, New National Star investigative reporter meets Odogwu, one of the five security guards ‘in charge’ of rent and maintenance, with Jagaban, the carpenter who fixes the doors and mosquito netting for those moving in.

The woman preparing food informs this newspaper that the actual fee is N 5,000 for’ fresh tenants’ and N 1,000 per month from then on. However, Odogwu says that a small space fitting the size of a kitchenette will cost N 10,000 for a start then, later on, N 1,000 per month. Around the building is a weather-beaten mat and a set of clothes spread in an open space on the premises to dry. The surrounding of the structure is like what you see the next day after a party or a market. Extremely dirty! At an uttermost part of the structure is an abattoir gleaming with blood as flies gather over the butchered animals.

The attendants at the abattoir are mostly men of Northern extraction garbed in long flowing robes, shorts and vests. Heaps of dirt and waste are lodged between blocks at different points. Given the openness of the place, people move in and out at will. Some drunks and drug abusers defecate on the floors of the building and its surroundings; the makeshift toilets constructed like pit toilets stink of unwashed urine. Some of the windows formerly installed by contractors to the project have been carted away by some criminals for quick gains. Odogwu confesses that the building is owned by the government, yet no member of the FCT Task Force comes and the ‘tenants’ are free to operate at their whims as long as they pay their dues on time. Our reporter gathers that rooms in this uncompleted building are hot deals and refusal to pay the agreed ‘ rent’ at the stipulated time has dire consequences such as getting one’s property thrown out as many homeless people are jostling to get a space there. Some sections, according to Odogwu, are like living in the highbrow elitist Asokoro or Maitama districts.

These sections are quieter and occupied by less stressful neighbours while the others are more populated, noisier and teeming with troublemakers. Jagaban, with his family, resides in one of the quiet sections. In Jagaban’s part, there is a hearth on the concrete floor for cooking. New National Star observes that these quiet sections are neatly managed, much like the street beside the building but unlike that street, it is one of neatness in extreme poverty. Odogwu gives no explanation of how the money collected will be shared, even though Jagaban says that the usual rate is N 15,000 and those in the FCDA offices allegedly take part in sharing the ‘rent’ collected.

Odogwu, however, is willing to help any squatter who is ready to make some extra money by going out with the movers and shakers of the territory who desperately need local and not too expensive partners. Investigations by New National Star shows that the project of Utako District Hospital was awarded to PPC (formerly Philips Project Centre) Limited while Sen. Bala Mohammed was the FCT Minister. Efforts to contact PPC Ltd were abortive as calls put across to their landlines went unanswered as well as messages dropped in their ‘contact us’ section on the company’s webpage. According to an inside source that works at the FCDA Department of Health And Human Services Secretariat, the project was awarded in 2011. Another source says nobody talks about projects officially in the Federal Capital Territory.

Efforts to get an official reaction from officers at the secretariat were unsuccessful as one of our reporters was told that the deputy director of works was busy every time she went there. Our source said that in 2016, Mohammed Musa Bello, the FCT minister, in company with Babatope Ajakaiye, the Permanent Secretary, visited the abandoned hospital project and promised its completion in a short while under his watch. Four years later, not one block has been added, instead, the ones already completed keep crumbling. The Federal Capital Territory Administration Health and Human Services Department, according to residents of Utako district, has left the district without a medical facility with the alleged help of the contractors PPC Ltd.

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