Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital city, continues to build modern infrastructure to support its economic expansion. But not all of its residents are benefitting from the city-state. Chineme Okafor speaks to two countryside women in Kayache, a community approximately 38 kilometres away from the city centre, on how Abuja’s development has remained non-inclusive
“My name is Laraba Obadiah, I am from Kayache community. I am married. I am a farmer and I have eight children and six grandchildren.
“The lands I farm on are three different plots and they all belong to my husband, I don’t have any of my own.
“Once, I lost a farm land I was using; I was at home when people came to me and said my attention was needed on the farm, they wanted me to come because a road construction was going to affect my farm,” said Obadiah.
Obadiah who puts her age at slightly above 40 years, is one of the many urban poor women who shared their life experiences with THISDAY.
THISDAY, which collaborates with the Media Information and Narrative Development (MIND), an Abuja-based non-governmental organisation to amplify the voices of the city’s urban poor through a strategic project on urban poverty – Women’s Advancement Through Cinema and Human exchange (WATCH), had spent time with community folks in Kayache to understudy their challenges living in the periphery of the opulent Abuja.
Cruising on a 100 kilometre per hour speed drive, it took this reporter an average of 22 minutes and 28 seconds from the city centre to get to Obadiah in her Kayache home.
In the centre of her enclosed home which was built with mud and cement, Obadiah sat on the floor threshing a heap of corn seeds she harvested from her farms. She engaged THISDAY in a lively chat, albeit with an occasional translator, Dikko Emmanuel who interfaced at instances of challenges with the English and Gbagyi language that the conversation was conducted.
Her husband was also busy behind her slicing Okro into sizeable bits for sun-drying while her female children cooked food for dinner from an end of the compound. Obadiah narrated to THISDAY her challenges living in a rapidly expanding Abuja society with no consideration for the civil liberties the national constitution guarantees her.
“When I got there, I asked them if they won’t let me harvest my products before they start the construction. I asked them how come my farm has become their land, and from whom they bought the land from?
“But they said they bought the land from the government. Then, I said to them, you paid the government but it is me that farms this land not the government.
“We had a long argument. Then they said they will pay me N8000 for the farm. I told them that if I farm the land I will get a lot more than that and how come they are offering me that, but they threatened that if I don’t take the money they will go ahead and construct the road anyway.
“We eventually settled when they rounded it up to N10, 000 and I had to take it. I was not happy the way my farm land was taken. It was very painful because every year I farm that land and get food to feed,” Obadiah explained.
Exiting from Obadiah’s home, the reporter walked some few metres away and into the home of Awyetu Elisha, another resident of Kayache whose story was not very different from that of Obadiah.
Though widowed, Elisha is also a farmer with six children. She also had a chat with THISDAY on her challenges with exclusion from Abuja’s progress.
Arriving at her home, Elisha was wrapping Corn Jellos, a local corn pottage commonly called agidi or eko across Nigeria, in transparent cellophane for sale to community members. She sat on a very low stool with a bowl containing the Corn Jellos between her thighs.
In very quick succession, she finished wrapping the Corn Jellos and then moved over to wrap the kuli-kuli (peanut bars) she earlier prepared and left open to cool, while she chatted with this reporter.
She stated that a wrap of the Corn Jellos and kuli-kuli sold for N50 and N20 respectively, and that she supplemented what she gets from them with her earnings from farming and wood picking.
She also explained that she had no farm land of her own and relied on people’s goodwill to cultivate any empty unused land within the community.
Although, she said it takes her between 25 and 35 minutes to walk to any of the farms she planted on, Elisha however stated that such uncertainties had hurt her in the past when a landowner dug up her crops without her knowledge and consideration of the work she had put in cultivating the land.
“I don’t own any farmland. There was one piece of land I farmed one time and the owner came one day and started building on it without even letting me know, I had to leave with nothing because the man came and dug up everything,” Elisha said.
She noted: “I told him that he should have told me before he dug them up but he said he owed me no explanation and does not need permission from me to build on his land.
“I had to accept it that way since the land does not belong to me. Honestly, I was hurt. I already planted on the land, and I pitied myself for the loss. It was very painful and made me shed tears,” she added.
Both women’s stories reflect the fears of the United Nations that most of the world’s largest cities notwithstanding their economic opportunities are also the most unequal in terms of social inclusion and defence against human rights abuses.
This is the backdrop against which MIND is leading a coalition of Abuja-based civil society groups and media organisations including THISDAY to facilitate a significant media action aimed at drawing public attention to the human rights implications of urban poverty.
Focusing particularly on the rights of women and girls who tend to be hardest hit by the negative outgrowths of urbanisation, the significant media action which is tagged 55 days of media based activism, aims to ‘step down poverty and step up human rights.’
The campaign also hopes to leverage on significant United Nations (UN) recognised international days between October 17, 2016 which was marked as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and December 10, 2016 which will be marked as World Human Rights Day to trigger a multi-platform media-based dialogue aimed at putting urban poverty in the FCT on the front burner of national discussion to equally urge newly elected political leaders across the FCT to respond to collected citizen’s petitions against the city’s sustained practice of unequal inclusion and step up public service delivery to urban poor residents living in and around it.
It was on the back of this that THISDAY’s time with Obadiah and Elisha showed what forms and ways being excluded from a city’s growth could come or mean.
“It is because I did not go to school; this is why they treated me that way,” Obadiah responded in reaction to her exclusion from the city’s development thoughts.
She also added: “If I had gone to school I would have known how to resist them. I feel really bad. If I had gone to school, I would have been doing better as a farmer, I would learn more about farming and gain more experience but I did not go to school and this makes it difficult for me. I hear there is school for adults. I won’t mind attending one.”
Similarly, Elisha said: “I didn’t have any right to take him to anywhere to demand for compensation, it was not my land, it belonged to him.”
She further stated: “If there is an association of female farmers here, I will like it, I will be happy to join them because it will help me, even if it is to get a farmland I can be using and repay for on installments, that way, nobody will come to dig up my crop without me harvesting them.”
Closely looking at their narratives, they indicate that Obadiah and Elisha do not still belong in the much gloried Abuja master plan, even though Kayache is approximately 38 kilometres away from the centre of Abuja, specifically the Three Arms Zone which houses the national legislative chambers, the federal courts, and the presidential villa.
Their stories from a development point of view also suggest that the productivity potential of urban poor women and girls like them are not considered by Abuja in its economic plan.
While they are denied their rights from participating in Abuja’s shared development, the women are equally overlooked as a part of the city’s productive citizens. This also pushes one to ask that in the face of increasing migrations to urban cities like Abuja, a trend that is happening across most of the regions of the country, how exactly is the larger development agenda of Nigeria including inclusions?