The legendry Fela Anikulapo aptly captured the daily predicaments of the average Nigerian workers in his epic song, ‘Suffering and Smiling’. Many years after the release of the prophetic record, Nigerians’ plight has not improved, rather, as DONALD IORCHIR observes in this piece, their pitiable conditions get worse with deterioration of infrastructure in the nation’s capital city
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For too long, civil servants working in Abuja have been passing through traumatic stress moving from their residences on the outskirts of Abuja to their offices within the capital city. Due to high rents charged by landlords within the municipality, many civil servants have to seek alternative accommodation outside the city. A good number of civil servants live as far away as Suleja, in neighbouring Niger state, Masaka in Nasarawa state and many other slums along Keffi – Abuja Road, Abuja – Lokoja Road, as well as Kaduna-Abuja Road.
As early as 5am, civil servants from the neighbouring states cram buses and swarm into Abuja heading for their various places of work. In the evenings too, they scramble for buses and taxis to get back to their respective homes after the day’s work. Some civil servants who spoke with to Blueprint revealed that majority of civil servants have been dying in silence.
Okeke Uche, a staff of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, said his salary is about N70, 000 per month and as a result he had to secure accommodation in Mararaba at the rate of N 170,000, for a bedroom flat.
Struggle to board bus
According to him, “I spend more than an hour waiting for a bus in the morning, even when we eventually get a bus, valuable items like handset, money and important documents get missing, as a result of the struggle to board the bus”.
Mararaba is one of the slums in the outskirts of Nasarawa state bordering the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. After the demolishing exercise of 2003 and 2004 carried out by then Minister of FCT, Malam Nasir el-Ruiai, most of the affected persons sought refuge in a place like Mararaba and environs. Mararaba is always in chaos with bad roads, very poor sanitary condition couple with overcrowding and congestion. Even, criminals and hoodlums have taken advantage of the over population of Mararaba to make life miserable for residents.
Okeke suggested that government should construct houses according to individual level, civil servant salary should be increased and the government should increase the number of mass transit vehicles on the roads.
Similarly, Saliha Gutus, said the cost of living in the city is extremely high as a result she stays in ‘one man’ village in Nasarawa state.
“I have never gotten home before 9:pm due to hold up.” She stated that her entire salary goes to pay house rent; and always wakes up early to avoid the traffic hold up.
She suggested that government should decentralize the offices so that those staying in far place like Gwagwalada will find it easy to get to their offices on time.
She was of the opinion that if government could build houses like storey buildings in some places and give it out to people to pay on monthly basis, it would solve the stress of waking up early in the morning.
Likewise, Roselyn Yusuf Abdu, who works in the office of Head of Service, while commenting on the pathetic condition of civil servants said, she always wakes up as early as 4am to enable her get to her place of work, stating that sometimes, she gets late to the office due to the long queue waiting to board mass transit buses because it is one of the cheapest mode of transportation. “I spend up to three hours at times before I would get to my office as a result of traffic hold up on the road” she said.
Living from hand-to-mouth
Jombo James, who works in the Ministry of Transportation as a driver bared his mind, saying he and his family are ‘ living from hand to mouth due to his poor salary’. He added that corruption had eaten deep into the fabric of government and that civil servants would continue to suffer.
“There’s no government policy right now for construction of low cost house for low income earners. So, it is clear that the problem will persist for a long time, but prayed for the better”. He maintained.
He said instead of building affordable houses in places like Jabi, Karimo, Karu and Nyanya, where houses were demolished years back, government has shared the plots among top government officials. “There is no way low income earners can live within the city, of Abuja,“ he lamented.
Gloria Peter, while expressing her feelings in the same vain said, she spends one hour to get a vehicle, at the bus stop. “I stay in Mararaba because I can’t afford the house rent in the city.
“Some of us leave our offices by 3pm instead of 4pm in order to avoid the hold-up in the evenings and increment in transportation fare” she added that the income gap between the rich and the poor is widening every day. The truth of the matter is that, many people migrate every day in large numbers to settle in places like Mararaba, Suleja and other slums due to high cost of living and this has aggravated traffic congestion on the road”.
Build subsidised houses
She strongly believes that, the problem of civil servants would be surmounted If the government can build houses and subsidize them, adding that the government should help to increase the salary of civil servants which is now over due
Living conditions have continued to deteriorate on a daily basis with the devaluation of the naira without an equivalent increase in salaries and incomes. Since the early eighties the value, of the naira has continued to decline reducing the purchasing power of the average Nigerian while government has continual to remove fuel subsidy.
Lugbe, Gwarimpa houses no-go area
In Nigeria there is no social housing and majority of Nigerians have to seek any form of accommodation anywhere. There exist a Federal Housing Authority (FHA) that gets allocation of billions of naira every year to build houses for Nigerians; however the authority ends up building houses for only the super-rich. The Federal Housing Estate in Lugbe is supposed to be a low income estate meant for junior and intermediate staff but the cheapest house on the estate costs N 3.5 million, while rents is upwards of N500,000. Gwarimpa is a no go area for the honest Nigerian as houses on the estate sell for as much as N 22 million and rents are upwards of N 1 million and above.
Facing economic realities
The fact of the matter is that there is no affordable housing in Abuja. While civil servants are battling to cope with the challenges posed by the economy, the level of poverty in society has placed another burden on them coming from the extended family. Most Nigerians in the rural areas believe Abuja is a place of delight for everybody living there and as such believe all civil servants are living big while, in reality they are battling to cope with economic realities.
School fees in Abuja
School fees in Abuja are also on the high side with some schools charging as much as N300, 000 per term. Due to the high population density, “most residents cannot secure places for their children in the more affordable public schools and have to send their children to private schools where they have to pay exorbitant fees.
There urgent need for the Federal Capital Territory Administration to designate the area council as settlements for the low income groups and provide the necessary infrastructure and facilities for residents living in such areas. The administration of FCT should take drastic steps and do the needful to ameliorate the plight of FCT residents and workers.