The ‘unknown children of Abuja’

They are everywhere in Abuja, a time bomb, ticking slow and waiting to explode.

They form colonies in every available unoccupied space within the city centres and suburbs, including the Area Councils. They sleep in open spaces available in local markets, motor parks, mosques and any available structure, forming small cells of settlement groups.

They are the ‘unknown children of Abuja’.

Like a festering sore, their activities constitute a great danger in the slums of Mpape, Lugbe, Kuje, Gwagwalada, Kubwa and Gwarimpa.

Within the Abuja city centers of Area one shopping complex, the Arab Contractors site, Utako Motor Park, the Garki market and its environs, Dawaki and Durumi village settlements, they constitute environmental hazards.

To survive, they engage in menial jobs, move about the city with work tools, such as axes, machetes, shovels, hoes etc, during the day, in search of daily food. They often beg, clean windscreen of moving vehicles mostly at traffic points – whether their service is solicited or not. Most of them get aggressive at times, possibly out of frustration which they take out on whosoever tries to get in their way.

In the evenings, they gather together, share food bought with the money they had accumulated from their labour during the day, while at night, they transit into crimes.

BusinessDay discovered that they troop into Abuja daily in their numbers, either in search of ‘greener pastures’ or to escape ravaging activities of terrorism, kidnapping, banditry and communal clashes in states bordering the FCT such Niger, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Benue.

Others migrate to Abuja from faraway places like Zamfara, Sokoto, Yobe and Borno.

Their names usually reflect cities where they are fleeing from, like Aminu Sokoto, Ibrahim Gusau, Ahmed Geshua, Isa Geidam, Musa Kaltungo, Mohammed Michika, Abubakar Hadeija etc.

In the evenings, they gather together, share food bought with the money they had accumulated from their labour during the day, while at night, they transit into crimes

The places where they operate or live often suffer great health, security and environmental hazards as they engage in open defecation, due to lack of social facilities such as public toilets.

These unwholesome practices are further fuelled by the laissez-faire attitude of the FCT environmental protection officials and the law enforcement agencies, who feign ignorance of the existence of these groups.

BusinessDay enquiry revealed that the young adults among them who engage in menial vocations also contribute to the large population of these people.

They marry many women. And because they lack a permanent abode or reliable source of income, when these women give birth, they send them to their mothers to nurture until they are old enough to fend for themselves, and the cycle continues.

“Abuja as the capital of Nigeria no doubt, is gradually losing its serenity and peace, as a result of the activities of the ‘unknown children of Abuja’,” Frances Obalim, an Abuja based lawyer notes in his assessment.

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“It is indeed a time bomb; crime rate has increased in the FCT, especially the petty crimes of break and entry. You can’t drive your cars with your glasses down because every item in your car stands the risk of being stolen, especially when traffic builds up.”

Obalim revealed that going by the cases he has handled, it is obvious that most of these migrants are informants to kidnappers and armed robbers.

Josephine Adeh, FCT Police Spokesperson, however disagrees. She argues that the crime rate within Abuja and its environs has declined considerably, since Babaji Sunday, the new FCT Commissioner of Police took over.

“We are not directly in charge of the issue of influx of people into the FCT, that is the job of the FCT administration, but as for crime rate, I can assure you that people now sleep with both eyes closed in Abuja.

“However, what we advise citizens is to report any suspicious activities of any group to the nearest Police station and we will take prompt actions,” Adeh said.

Dawaki Village, a suburb along the Abuja-Suleja Expressway, is a large settlement of these ‘unknown children’ loitering. Dawaki was originally inhabited by the Gbagyi speaking people of Nasarawa and other adjoining states.

With the influx of people fleeing insurgency-ravaged northern states, the village, now, can easily pass for a settlement for these folks.

With no home or bed to rest their weak bones, they rise up long before dawn each day, some scavenging public dustbins, swarming the nooks and crannies of the city in search of means of survival.

During the day time, they roam the city in search of menial jobs, those who are lucky, get engaged as hawkers of all sorts, while others, especially in the area council, become emergency motorcyclists.

They engage in commercial transport, where they operate as “untouchables”. Their young men engage in all manner of menial vocations such as water vending, called ‘Mai Ruwa’; commercial Motorcycle riders called ‘Mai Okada’; waste disposers called ‘Baban Boola’; shoe mending called ‘Mai shoe’, etc.

These young men often have no homes to return to after the day’s work. They sleep anywhere the night meets them – including makeshift shanty apartments, and even inside tricycles, called ‘Keke NAPEP’.

The young children amongst them just loiter the areas without aim or ambition, and like the older ones do not have any particular place to sleep at night. Sometimes they share the makeshift abode with the older ones. They may not be particularly related except that they share the same origin.

BusinessDay spoke with one Abdullahi, who said he is one of the officials in a local mosque in Dawaki. He confirmed that the background of some of the children who throng the mosque daily were not known. They have no family who cater for their livelihood.

Asked about the children who throng the mosque daily and where they come from, the official said everyone is allowed to come in as long as they behave themselves with reverence.

“The children are allowed to come here to worship Allah. They come from their parents’ homes but there are many who we do not really know where they come from, but as long as they behave themselves here, they are allowed to come. Some of them attend the Islamic school here where they learn the Islamic way but they do not attend the conventional schools. They cannot read or write English but they understand the Arabic Language”.

During an inquiry, Attah Ikharo, Senior Special Assistant (SSA), to the FCT Minister, on Inspection, Monitoring and Enforcement, said it was impossible to stop migration in times of crises, but that camps equipped with social infrastructural facilities have been established for such people.

Attah was quick to reassure that the FCT administration is strengthening enforcement to ensure that the Abuja master plan is not distorted.

“You know that from time immemorial people move a lot when they are faced with a crisis situation like we have in our hands today in Nigeria. So, you cannot stop people from migrating.

“People move because they are fleeing crisis zones to safer places in search of security and greener pastures,” he tells BusinessDay.

On measures to cater for these migrants, Attah notes that “although there are no long term measures, the FCT has training camps located within the six Area Councils, adding that some persons have been trained in various areas of skills acquisition.

“Even sex workers are being trained at the FCT training centres, located at Sabo Lugbe, where they are trained and equipped with tools, like sewing machine, hairdressing facilities and small startup loans.

“The Minister, Mohammed Bello is working very hard to make the FCT comfortable for everyone. He has given us a mandate to ensure compliance with the FCT Master plan.”