Ensconced within the imposing structures of the twin-complex Federal Secretariat, Abuja, is an uncompleted building which over the years has housed a shanty that doubles for some as a residential and business point.
The shanty, which exists outside the federal capital city masterplan, without interference by government, is located in an abandoned building within the secretariat complex, with prominent government establishments, including the federal ministries of finance, education and health, as well as Louis Edet House (Nigeria Police Force Headquarters) among its neighbours.
A PREMIUM TIMES reporter, who visited the spot over several weeks to monitor activities there gathered that the building is originally part of Phase Three of the federal secretariat. But it was not allocated to any ministry or agency because it was not completed.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
The federal secretariat office complex was built by the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida who ruled Nigeria between August 27, 1985 and August 27, 1993. Mr. Babangida transferred the seat of the federal government from Lagos to Abuja on December12, 1991.
The particular uncompleted building has since existed in abandonment under several military and civilian administrations, from that of Mr. Babangida who built the secretariat, to those of Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Olusegun Obasanjo, late Umar Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and now Muhammadu Buhari.
Workers, who declined to be identified for fear of victimisation by government, said the illegal activities in the abandoned building and the general lawlessness of its occupants are well known at the secretariat.
“The abandoned decking building is also an office complex. Babangida gave the job to contractors but they did not finish it,” a ministry staff said to the reporter.
“Lots of people sleep in the federal secretariat. Millions of naira is allocated for the maintenance of the complex but the big bosses are squandering it,” said the worker when asked how such shanties could have escaped the attention of those maintaining the edifice.
IT’S OUR HOME, SOURCE OF INCOME – DWELLERS
Florence is a contract caterer in the abandoned building. She refused to disclose her surname.
“I have been here for over two years, I assist my madam to cook,” she told the reporter, pointing to a smelly, water-filled area she referred to as their kitchen. “After the government said we are out of recession we dey sell well, market is improving.”
She said the abandoned building has four entrances but one was blocked by the dwellers due to constant robbery and theft within the premises.
A meat seller at the part of the building behind the complex housing the ministries of education, health and the police service commission, told PREMIUM TIMES that he is patronized by workers from across the ministries.
A carwash operator, Chimi from Akwa Ibom State, said he provides service for ministry workers and visitors to the secretariat. He in turn buys his food and other needs in “the market” within the building.
“Hope you are not here to send us away? This is where I make my living,” he said suspiciously.
Government agencies and officials claim ignorance of the shanty and the mini-dumpsite it houses.
When asked about the maintenance of the federal secretariat, the deputy director of press at the Office of the Head of Service, Mohammed Manga, said it is under the charge of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
But Mohammed Nakoji, the spokesperson of the Office of the SGF, said in a phone interview that the office has asked the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, to take over the responsibility.
When contacted, the chief press secretary to the FCT Minister, Cosmas Uzodinma, directed the reporter to Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, on any issue related to maintenance of the secretariat.
At the FCDA, the spokesperson, Lamin Ishaku, asked a subordinate to direct this reporter to the director of maintenance and facilities of the FCTA, whose aide later said he was not available for a meeting.
“Our director only attends to visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Come back on those days if you want to see him, but we can give you the spokesperson’s number,” the secretary to the director said.
The director’s spokesperson, Vivian Adewoye, again transferred the responsibility to the FCDA saying the agency has a vote for “building and renovation” of the federal secretariat in its 2017 Budget.
“When they finish building and renovating, they hand it over to us (FCTA) for maintenance,” she said.
While the relevant agencies pass the buck on whose responsibility it is to maintain the secretariat, the shanty there has already turned to a dumpsite, something the agency responsible to waste disposal in the Nigerian capital, Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB, says it is unaware of.
The spokesperson of the agency, Muktar Ibrahim, confirmed that it handles cleaning of offices in the federal secretariat but through private contractors.
“The board is not aware of an abandoned building in the secretariat,” Mr. Ibrahim told PREMIUM TIMES. “Because apart from the waste, an abandoned building also has security implications. We would have done evacuation if we knew because we have an environmental monitoring unit.”
He absolved his agency of any responsibility in the federal secretariat shanty being turned to a dumpsite. He said the contractors could not have been disposing refuse within the precinct of the secretariat because there are designated dump sites in Goza, Karu and other satellite towns.
“AEPB engages 27 private contractors to carry out cleaning in the federal secretariats. We don’t have dump sites in the heart of town and if we know that there is one, we would have done evacuation.
“Any of the contractors that dump refuse where it is not supposed to dump it is illegal dumping,” he said.
Perhaps because the agency is not aware of the eyesore, life is set to go on for the dwellers of the slum at the very heart of the symbol of the Nigerian bureaucracy.