On a recent Sunday afternoon, Gloria Akan walks out of a small cubicle behind her house where she had answered the nature’s call.
At the Nyanya labour camp, one of Abuja’s poorest slums, where she lives, Mrs. Akan and her family have used the latrine inside the cubicle for the last two years. Yet, she dreads the thought of returning there each time she is pressed.
Her greatest worry, however, is that her family shares the little latrine and a bathroom with five other families. Due to overuse, the toilet facilities have broken down, with coloured stinking water dripping from one of the pipes inches away from her bedroom window.
The Akans are only one among hundreds who live under terrible conditions at the Nyanya Labour Camp, a 20-minute drive from the Abuja city centre.
The camp was originally built by the Federal Government over 30 years ago to accommodate the labourers who built the Abuja city.
The houses were designed for one occupant per room, with the rooms facing each other. The rooms are built in clusters of five in a section for the lowest class and six-room-in-a-row blocks of one bedroom flats for others.
After the labourers left, the Abuja administration transferred the houses to civil servants and low ranking police officers.
Precisely in 2006, the government introduced the monetization system and began selling the rooms to mostly the lowest ranking civil servants as well as junior police officers. Unoccupied rooms were taken up by squatters.
“The labourers who came to [build the Nyanya Labour Camp] are done with the work so they have left and its over 30 years now,” Nosike Ogbuenyi the Special Assistant to the Federal Capital Territory said. “Most of them are dead by now, that was when the monetization system came into place.”
Soon, the camp became a full-blown slum.
Several residents have built extra rooms to the houses, some adding toilets within their rooms. The camp is overcrowded. The access roads are terrible, ridden with pot-holes with sewage from burst sewage pipes crisscrossing the camp.
Occupants narrated the experiences of living here for years.
Mrs. Akan said she treats her kids for malaria and typhoid fever nearly every month.
“The pipes that take the waste from the toilet to the soak-away are broken, likewise the soak-away itself. Our children play around there. Almost every month, I treat my kids for malaria as a result of mosquito bites,” she said.
A shop where she sells vegetables and fruits sits at the edge of an open drainage conveying sewage.
“I go there (her shop) with my kids most times to sell and while I am attending to customers, they play around the gutter,” she said.
Most residents of the camp admitted they settled there because they could not afford a decent home elsewhere.
“An average Nigerian would not like to live in this environment,” one of the residents, who sought anonymity because he is a civil servant, said. “As you can see, it’s an eyesore. The toilet system is really bad. The road is also bad but as a civil servant, one cannot afford a place in the major town and have to stay in such a poor environment.”
In 2006, the United Nations Habitat declared that the camp is not fit for human habitation.
The Nigerian government responded to the verdict by announcing a plan to relocate the residents of the labour camp.
Residents of the camp view the relocation with mixed feelings. While some residents look forward to better accommodation, many others view the relocation as an eviction plan with a goal of selling the camp’s land to some of Abuja’s deep pockets.
“The government should hasten up the relocation process so we can have a better place for living,” Mrs Akan said.
Most male residents, however, preferred that the government developed the slum rather than relocate its occupants entirely.
“We hear the new place will sell from N4 million and above. How many of us here can afford that?” one of the residents asked.
He advised the Nigerian Government to provide better infrastructure and social amenities at the camp rather than relocate them. He said relocation was a waste of money.
The government has named the 152-hectare Gidan Daya site in Kurudu, Kurudu District, Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC, as a possible relocation site. The new site may be completed in three years. It is expected to contain 8,064 flats.
N14.07 billion has been approved towards developing the site.
The Minister Of State for the Federal Capital Territory, Olajumoke Akinjide, said the new camp would include good roads, electricity, water supply, and a drainage system.
She added that support facilities planned for the site would include schools, markets, a police station, primary healthcare facilities, a fire station and every other thing lacking in the current camp.