On a Tuesday morning, as the neighbourhood awakened, Mary Paul, pregnant with her seventh child, sat on the pavement at the front of her ramshackle makeshift apartment with a list in her hand as she watched one of her children munch a stick of boiled corn for her breakfast.
Behind her was a small dingy room. She shares the space with nine other family members. Their baggage, packed in Ghana-must-go bags, stacked in a corner of the room.
Down the road is a massive construction of luxury housing projects that will later define the emerging Waru District in Abuja. Back in January, Mrs. Paul and at least a thousand other refugees camped at the grounds opposite the construction site. They had all travelled long distances to converge on Waru after they fled heavy Boko Haram attacks in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, all in northeast Nigeria.
Shortly before President Goodluck Jonathan visited the district to flag off the housing projects in January, city officials moved in with bulldozers and evicted them. The camp was razed and the grounds cleared to create a beautiful scenery for the president’s visit.
No new camp was provided for the refugees, now displaced a second time.
“So many of us were left homeless, after the demolition,” another refugee, Jeremiah, said. “Some of us had to sleep under the tree for days before we got back on our feet, but as time went by we got shelter from our brother in the community.”
Jeremiah, now a carpenter at Waru, said they were told after the demolition that the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, ordered the camp cleared because the president did not want to see any shanties close to the project.
The FCTA however denied foreknowledge that the grounds near the construction site was occupied by Internally Displaced People fleeing Boko Haram carnage in the northeast.
“Before the demolition, we were not aware that the IDP occupied that place,” the Special Adviser to the FCT minister on media, Nosike Ogbuenyi, told PREMIUM TIMES. “All we knew was that residents of Waru community lived there.”
He claimed the first round of demolition was done one month before the IDPs settled, when the President was initially planned to commission the estate.
“We compensated those that lived in the houses before they were first demolished, but since the programme did not hold again, people went back to build on the open space,” he said.
He said the reason for the demolition in the first place was for cars to park and to make room for canopies set up during the president’s visit.
Hard life in Abuja
Mrs. Paul arrived Waru, back in November, from Mubi in Adamawa state with her six children, and three sisters. They fled after her husband was killed by the insurgents.
Her story is similar to that of many Internally Displaced Persons in Waru. Their communities and farmlands were destroyed by insurgents.
After the second displacement by the Abuja authorities, many of the refugees flooded the Waru village putting pressure on extremely scarce resources.
“I am currently paying N45,000 as house rent for just a room,” she lamented. “I stay here with my six kids and three sisters.”
Not only does she share a room with her family, the community of IDPs in her neighbourhood share a single open bathroom built with rusty zinc sheets; no door, no roof. The neighbourhood has no toilet. Defecation happens in open spaces around the settlements.
Mrs. Paul, like many other IDPs fled their villages in the northeast to Abuja hoping that the proximity with the authorities would earn them government’s attention and succour.
But life has been hard in Abuja. Feeding has been difficult. Her living condition has deteriorated.
“I will not lie to you, the government has not helped in any way whatsoever,” she said. “In my village I do not buy corn, let alone buy food products to plant, but here in Abuja I buy everything at very expensive prices.”
Another IDP, John Andrew, fled from Gwoza, Borno State, with his wife and three children.
“Ever since I ran for my life with my wife to Abuja, I have not heard or seen my mother, I do not know if she is dead or alive,” he said.
Recently, his mother-in-law joined them in Waru. She arrived with 10 kids who Mr. Andrew said were either orphaned or separated from their parents by the insurgency.
“Just as I am trying to provide for my family, my mother-in-law just arrived Abuja recently with 10 children from different parents,” he said.
Mr. Andrew currently sells provision at Waru. He is pressured to carter for himself and 15 dependents. He feels abandoned by the government.
“It has not been easy with my wife and three kids,” he said. “Now, I have additional family to look out for. We need the help of government.”
Since the IDPs arrived Abuja in November, they have been abandoned by the Federal government, they practically cater from themselves.
“I must confess to you, no help from the government at all, only once some people came to our aid,” Mrs Paul said
She explained that in January, during the presidential campaign, shortly after they were displaced from their camp for the presidential visit, President Jonathan’s campaign office sent them bags of rice and some other token.
She added that T Y Danjuma also came once to give them clothes and food, while the wife of the Minister of the Federal Capital territory dug a borehole for water.
“It’s only churches especially ECWA church that have kept their promises by coming constantly to give us things, ” Mr. Andrew said.
The list Mrs. Paul held in her hands that day contained names put together in preparation for the visit by the ECWA Women’s Association.
“ECWA women will be coming to visit us with items,” she said. “I have been told to gather the women together before they arrive here. It’s only ECWA that has been helpful from our arrival in Waru community till date.”
Mrs. Paul said a lot of government agencies have promised a lot of things to them but up till date, the promises have not been kept.
“There was a time we were all conveyed to a media house and we laid all our challenges and afterwards lots of promises were made, but yet nothing has come to us,” she said.
Mr. Ogbuenyi said the government supports IDPs by encouraging various non-governmental organisations to support them.
“Yes, we support them,” he said. “We cannot do it all by ourselves. We intervene through the FCT NEMA, and national bigger body to assist us by providing food and clothes.”
Audu Liberty, a project officer at the Centre for Democracy and Development contributed additional reporting.