Right in the heart of Abuja where some of the key institutions of government are concentrated is the urban area called Garki, but it also has one of the most neglected slums in the country, Olawale Ajimotokan reports
It may not be regarded as Nigeria’s seat of power, but Garki District as the main business district of Abuja is the heartbeat and pearl of the nation’s capital.
Some of Garki’s key features are boutique hotels, major roads and public institutions, where policy decisions regulating the matters of state are formulated.
The headquarters of Nigeria Army, the Old and Federal Secretariats, the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Ministry of Defence, Arts and Culture Centre, the General Post Office, Federal Capital Development Authority (FCTA) International Conference Centre, Nicon Luxury Hotel and Hawthorne Suites can all be found in Garki.
It also houses the cluster of foreign embassies chief among which are China, U.S., Brazil, Ghana and Angola, all conspicuous on both sides of Ernest Shonekan Drive.
Some of Nigeria’s foremost nationalists, including Herbert Macaulay, Tafawa Balewa, Ladoke Akintola, Ahmadu Bello, Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti and Moshood Abiola all have major roads named after them in Garki.
But at the southern most corner of the district is Garki II: a sharp contrast to the sterling attributes of Garki. It is here that the Garki Village, a cobweb of unplanned structures and one of the knockdown places in the heart of Abuja can be found.
The Garki Village scarcely exists in the consciousness of the decision makers, who place it on the same scale as Ajegunle, the sprawling slum in Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State, where public infrastructure and health facilities are decrepit and not adequate.
It is located in a place off the two major link roads, Ahmadu Bello Way and Samuel Ladoke Akintola Boulevard.
Aside parts of the only tarred roads- Lagos Street and Oka Akoko, that link the neighbourhood, plus the 80 metres stretch to the quarters of the Sa’Peyi (Village Chief), Alhaji Usman Nga- Kupi- the rest of the place is a ghetto conscripted to its fate by the relevant authority.
The bumpy roads, particularly Enugu Street and Nsukka Street have overtly evolved into ducts where waste water generated by the households gather as there is no functional drainage in the neighbourhood.
The lack of drainage exposes the inhabitants to the risk of malaria and other opportunistic diseases that thrive in dirty environment.
Water has become a scarce commodity for the community dwellers, whose regular source of supply is through truck pushers and untreated sachet water sold by retailers.
Private hospitals and the Garki Village Primary Health Centre built by Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) serve the medical needs of the residents.
The Primary Health Centre has a doctor, a few nurses and auxiliary medical personnel. It renders services on children immunisation, public healthcare, pregnancy and laboratory service.
“This is a settlement where all the ethnic groups of Nigeria are represented. The people here are law abiding but you can see for yourself the hardship we are subjected to. There is irregular supply of electricity, we buy unclean water that puts our health in jeopardy and there is no road. And scarcely do you see health workers come to immunise children. You can also see the drainage water dissecting the chief’s road. There is no planning here because it is a village for the common people of Nigeria. They have no regard for us,” lamented Daniel Imoto, a businessman at Garki Modern Market.
A tailor adjacent the Sa’peyi’s house, Sadik Awwal also listed similar plight which members of the community confront on daily basis. According to Awwal, steady electricity, water supply and medical facilities are some of the basic requirements of the community.
“We are minding our business as a people, there is no issue with security because there is a police barracks serving the whole community, but we feel we are unjustifiably excluded from the development around us. Government should live to its responsibility,’’ Awwal charged.
Lagos Street (Crescent) is the hub and melting pot of the Garki Village. Every night the peace of the community is disturbed by revelers who gather to drink and patronise the women of easy virtues who line the road for customers. It is also a notorious hangout for homosexuals, who sometimes openly solicit for patronage, though some are wary as they make overtures to male passersby.
There caution is because the Nigerian law criminalises homosexuality which is punishable by a 14-year jail term if an offender is convicted.
The call girls, provocatively dressed, wait patiently for their target, mainly the urban mobile patrons with flashy cars. They strike a deal and agree to meet at a getaway usually one of the nearby hotels in the area.
Both sides of Lagos Crescent are lined by rows of makeshift canteens where people are served bowls of hot, spicy foods and different types of alcohol.
The tang of the food as it is prepared on the stove in addition to the hum generated by the vehicles in a long line, combine to give the nightlife an added fervour.
“This is a community that rarely goes to bed. You can hardly go hungry here because by the nature of the night life here, food is available at any given time of the day. One can still get food to buy here by as late as 2a.m. It is one of the reasons that make this place special and bubbling,’’ noted Imoto.
But Ibrahim Idris, a bicycle repairer is happy with the business opportunities offered in the community.
Idris was born in Garki to Hausa parents and has been in the business of fixing creaky bicycles since his father initiated him into the profession 20 years ago.
The last in a family of five brothers, it was through the proceeds from the vocation that he used to educate himself and fend for the family.
‘’Business is booming in this community. I used to do work a little anytime I come out, but I get more patronage on Saturdays than on other days. Now I have five apprentices working under me,’’ Idris said.
“When you visit here in the night, you can hardly find a space because of the vehicular traffic. This is a good place. The only appeal I will make to government is to fix our roads to ease movement of people and goods.”