Maje: Untold story of an Abuja slum
Less than 100 metres from a popular bus stop called Upstairs in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory lies Maje, a sprawling community where every ethnic, linguistic and religious group is represented – a microcosm of Nigeria.
Estimated at about seven square kilometres, entry into Maje community is through a muddy, rutted entrance that passes for a road.
Most of what the residents live in as houses are usually clustered, half-walled, partitioned spaces with broken, rusted metal sheets as roof struggling for space with smelly gutters that serve as drainage.
The stench emanating from broken sewage pipes laid without any plan and the indiscriminate dumping of cellophane bags and sachets contributeto the pollution of the environment.
Facilities such as health centres or schools are a luxury for the people of Maje.
But, difficult as it may seem to believe, Maje is located in Jabi, one of the major districts in the Federal Capital Territory and blessed with its share of beautiful landscape and the serene atmosphere the district is known for.
Jabi, over time, has endeared itself to many Abuja residents as an emerging area that could challenge the elite Maitama and Asokoro Districts in the future in terms of infrastructural development and elitist class culture.
Yet, within this beautiful environment lie communities such as Dakibiu and Maje, inner-city settlements set aside for aboriginal owners of Abuja, the Gbagi.
Contrary to earliest projections, those settlements have turned into slums, reeking with filth and decay.
But the steadily skyrocketing house rent in other developed parts of FCT has forced people of lower income into the enclave side by side with the Gbagi.
Mrs Oluwabunmi Edoh who has lived in the community for about 15 years said the environment is not conducive at all. “Without any drainage system, but dirty pools of water and refuse heaps at every corner, the stench is suffocating and this has been causing us ill health.
When it rains, it is usually very tough for residents. Most times, we have to engage in community effort to check the flood or our houses could collapse.
This likelihood is there because the houses are not strong .Whenever it rains; we sleep with one eye open.”
Edoh, who organised the first but short-lived private school called Brighter Tomorrow in Maje , continued:”People live here because there is no alternative. We have no other place to go. Houses are expensive in Abuja and people have to manage what they have. We buy water from water vendors; some others buy from boreholes dug by some private individuals around us.
“I operated one small private school with the assistance of the community leader, but the government said it was going to build War College on the land and demolished it.
The school was helping many families whose children could not read and write. They demolished it, promising to build a better one for the community, but they never did. So, for some parents, their children stay at home.”
Since there no police post, residents, at a point mooted the idea of vigilante group. Unfortunately, it did not function for long for reasons beyond their control.
“So, everybody is left to take care of his house. As you can see, no house is fenced. That is the condition under which we live,” Edoh said.
The paramount ruler, Chief Adams Jatau somehow amplifies the poverty in Maje.
Except for a few portraits on the walls of the small house in which he lives, no different from hundreds of others, and two small, carved lions, a symbol of strength of a king, standing by the old wooden chair that serves as throne, there is nothing to show the royal status of Chief Jatau.
As if he had read the mind of the reporter, the ruler bust out: “Look at my compound. Am I supposed to live like this as a chief? Am I not supposed to live like a chief? My house is supposed to be a decent house, and visitors do not need to be told that this is the palace of a chief. But without this signpost, you will not know this is the chief’s house. For how long can we remain like this?
“We have been crying unto government to come to our aid. If they are able to integrate us and give us plan for structures to build in this area, we will know how to go about it. There is no development within the community and community without development is dead and bound to crash,” he said.
But The Guardian gathered that the community may have been neglected, because of the people’s resistance to oppression of successive administrations that have considered them ‘as wretched of the earth’.
As communities open up around the district centres, government tends to relocate the original owners of Abuja back into the hinterland, while their land is sold to individuals.
But the Maje community has opposed this, with the people making a resolve to remain glued to their ancestral land until government gives cogent reason they should not be found at the city centres like other humans.
According to Jatau, “I can say that the problem we have with the infrastructure bordered on the fact that we were relocated here during Shehu Shagari’s administration.
“Before, we lived in Jabi Dam area and farmed here.In 1979 when the government decided to construct the dam so that Abuja could have water; they relocated us here to pave way for the dam. But the houses they provided afterwards were not enough. We had thought that government had our interest at heart. So, we have continued to manage our lives without social amenities. We expected government to show us kindness as people who lost their ancestral homes to development.
“After sometime, government returned to claim this place. They counted us and asked us to choose a place and we chose Kado Estate about seven kilometres away. We needed to remain close to our native land, but they suggested Shagari Quarters. Our people went and inspected the environment and returned with a complaint that the place was not conducive.”
Several other attempts have also been made subsequently to lure the inhabitants of Maje out of their ancestral land, but on each occasion, they had reasons to reject government’s offer.
“You want to take us away from our original land to one-bedroom apartments? What will be the future of our generations to come? Those they relocated from other areas have lost their tradition and culture. Those people are now destitute and their source of livelihood which was farming has been taken away.
“Having relocated us once, why do successive government want to relocate us again? Is it that this place is not good for us to live if well planned? If the reason is to make here a tourism destination, they should tell us. But if the reason is to take it from us and allocate it to individuals to build their mansions, that would not be possible. They must give reasons we should be driven away from our ancestral land. If we are sub-humans who do not deserve to live in good place, the government should tell us rather than frustrate us.
If they succeed now in relocating us, that could be laying the foundation for conflict in future.
Future generations might not tolerate them and when they grow up and learn that this is where their ancestors lived and they were relocated to where they cannot express themselves, there might be problem. To avoid such situations, government needs to look at the issue critically.
“The water we are using is tap water owned by an individual who sells to us. There is no single health centre around this area. The electricity is the only thing we have but it is not constant.
“Environmental pollution and degradation is high. People keep polluting the environment but the gutters are still serious challenge. It is only God that intervenes in our situation whenever it rains.”
Efforts to get the officials of FCT Social Secretariat to comment on the issue proved abortive, but a man, who gave his name as Dr. Peter Edozie, and operates a private hospital, decried the environment.
Edozie who has treated patients in the area, blamed high infant mortality on such environment that is highly prone to mosquitoes and all kinds of infections. He hoped government would be more sensitive to the needs of the people.
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