Some years ago, the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Nasir el-Rufai considered beggars a nuisance on the streets of Abuja and decided to forcefully evacuate them to a “special location”. The idea was to give Abuja, the Capital City, a facelift. However, many years after, the vision appears to have been derailed. CALEB ONWE reports
Karamajiji, a sprawling ghetto is home to both Gwari aborigines and other tribes, especially, low income earners. It is hidden right behind the National Military Cemetery, a few metres away from the popular City gate, along Umar Musa Yar’Adua Expressway.
The colony of beggars was meant to be a quarantine centre for these handicapped members of the society. Before their arrival in Karamajiji, there were people already living there, albeit on a temporary basis.
The type of structures available there do not fit into the definitions allowed by the Abuja master plan and other slums of its grade around the vicinity had been cleared by the then Minister Nafiu El’rufai’s bulldozers.
Purpose of the quarantine centre
When the clamp down, arrest and forceful evacuation of the beggars started, there was public outcry against the actions of the FCTA officials. The move was then considered as a great injustice against the under- privileged members of the society.
These were people who were only living at the mercy and by the goodwill of the public as they begged for alms on the streets. To evade the wrath of many human rights activists, who were already threatening fire and brimstone, the FCTA officials smartly hired spin doctors who concocted some sugar coated messages meant to soothe the injury that their action had already inflicted on the minds of the people.
They also employed media propagandists to brainwash the public into believing that the beggars were being evacuated to a semi-paradise, where they would be camped temporarily, before being repatriated to their various states of origin.
As these measures calmed down frayed nerves, budget was made, both for the officials who were used as evacuating contractors and those who provided short-lived care services to the beggars.
Now, after many years of opening the temporary quarantine, the promise of giving them minimal comfort, empowering them with vocational skills and assisting them to go back to their states of origin to start a new life sustaining venture has become a mirage.
It appears it was just another political gimmick to siphon money from the public treasury and create opportunities for some government officials to become richer over night.
From all indications, it appear that all the frenzy of creating a transit camp for the beggars have fizzled out, and all the promises the government made about their welfare have been forgotten. The destitute in the camp have been abandoned to their fate.
Life in the colony
The quarantine officially known as ‘Karamajiji Disability Colony’ is a separate community, about 50 meters away from where the other village residents live. The houses in the colony are simply shanties with the exception of a few.
The only houses built with concrete are those of the community school and the Emir’s palace. The community has metamorphosed from its original plan of a transit camp to a permanent abode of the less privileged members of the society.
It now has a well established Emirate Council and has a sitting Emir. However, the gory state of the environment and the living conditions of the residents have remained a challenge.
In the colony, people with different forms of physical disability like, the blind, the crippled, the dumb, even people with all manner of diseases are found here.
Inside Abuja, while on a visit to the place, observed that most of the people in the camp, especially aged women and children are not engaged in any productive activities.
While a few young men were seen mending foot wears, others were engaged in other menial jobs. A good number of men and women in the camp move around on wheelchairs. Some of the them were seen sitting in clusters in front of the Emir’s palace.
The environment is a far cry from what a human habitat ought to be. A first time visitor to the camp would vow not to return to the place, if by divine providence the visitor leaves without contracting any communicable disease.
Inside Abuja had an uphill task communicating with the people, because of language barrier. However, some of the who managed to respond to the inquiries of our correspondent, said they survive in the camp by donations and gifts from good spirited individuals and philanthropic organisations.
Inside Abuja could confirm that they get support from organisations because going by the inscription, the Mosque in the colony was built for them by the Turkish Embassy.
One of the barriers encountered by Inside Abuja in the camp was the alleged order by FCTA, specifically, the Social Development Secretariat,that the residents should never talk to anyone suspected to be a journalist.
The Emir of Karamajiji, Alhaji Suleiman Katsina, was not around, but the Secretary, Mr. Mohammed Dantani, who was called upon to come and attend to the issues raised by this correspondent, emphatically said, ” there is an order by FCT that we should not talk to people like you, until we get permission to talk from the office.
The reason is because there are many stories that media people have done about us which that we did not even appreciate” To get an official reaction from the FCTA Social Development Secretariat, Inside Abuja reached out to Mr. Shaka Sunday, the Public Relations Officer.
Though, he did not pick the calls put through to his line, but responded to a text message. Sunday said in response to the text message: ” I’m on break officially. May I plead that you re-direct your queries after the break, my regrets, thanks”.
Some media report had earlier quoted the Emir as saying that, “the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, established the colony eight years ago. Mallam El-Rufai then had the disabled people relocated from their former settlement at Ruga, near the City Gate, to the present location.
“This place is supposed to be a temporal site,” the Emir said, “but many years after, we are still here, and nobody has said anything about relocating us to a permanent site.”
Inside Abuja also observed that apart from the school built as a transit camp school for the children of the community, there is no other social amenity that showed the seriousness of the government in empathising with these handicapped persons. Inside Abuja observed two non functioning boreholes within the environment.
“We don’t have electricity, even though we have been paying electricity bills for many years. We have no water. We have no roads. We want the government to come to our help on these things,” a resident of the community said.
Since then, the government appeared to have forgotten its initial plans of having the place as a transit camp, and have practically abandoned them to their fate.
The members of the community have gone back to their trade of begging for alms. Those who can engage in menial jobs have also started roaming about in search of what they could do to fend for themselves.