While walking home from his duty post, James Tunde, an artisan with a construction company, who lives in a one-room apartment in Mabushi, Abuja, felt it was quicker for him to use the Mabushi fly-over bridge close to the new Gilmor Construction Company corporate headquarters nearing completion.
Unknown to him, some persons had turned the bridges into their homes, sleeping under them. Worse still, he was suddenly accosted and attacked, and his wallet containing his meagre take - home pay was snatched from him.
People living in Abuja, said to be the fastest-growing capital city in the world, are believed to be ‘neighbours’ to President Goodluck Jonathan and the FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed. But it is ironic that despite their closeness to the President and the Minister, there are still strindent complaints of the menace of thousands of people living under the bridges.
Just like prostitutes that were chased out of Abuja in the past, the number of street urchins taking refuge under the numerous bridges in the FCT and Abuja especially have become so numerous, that the President, it is expected, would be ashamed to acknowledge them as his neighbours.
It is very disheartening that the beauty and serenity synonymous with Abuja, is fast being eroded by urchins who have converted spaces under bridges into make - shift homes. And, most times, they congregate at night only to “disappear” at dawn.
Abuja is a city that practically has no place for the poor, except at satellite towns like Nyanya, Mararaba or Suleja. The high cost of housing in Abuja has made more and more people, who have come to the city to look for the proverbial greener pasture, turn the bellies of these bridges into their homes.
Judging by its design, it is obvious that the founding fathers of the capital city did not have the middle class in mind while planning Abuja and the present system does not have a place for them.
These urchins do not only sleep and make babies from under these bridges, they have also turned so many uncompleted buildings into homes. Some are people who are doing genuine work but lack a living place while several others are pure hoodlums and criminal - minded persons who at day time come across as angels, but are terrors at night.
Mr. Gambo Garba who lives at Mabushi told GOVERNMENT that it is unfortunate that the incidence of attacks under the bridges is becoming a daily affair in Abuja “yet the authorities pretend not to be aware of what’s going on.” According to him, the capital city had been devoid of all these until recently when they resurfaced. He thus advised the Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCT) and the police to check these trends before they get out of control.
Some of the bridges which the urchins have totally taken over include those at Area One and area Three and Mabushi, by the Federal Ministry of Works amongst others across the city. One is also bound to see them at Apo under the bridge close to Dalhatu Estate, leading to Minister’s Hill.
An official of the Abuja Environment Protection Agency has expressed frustration over the agency’s moves to rid Abuja of these urchins. “You chase them from here, they move to another place and when we get there, they change their location,” he said.
Nigeria being what it is, her citizens always have a way of solving their issues. Some of these urchins who have taken over some uncompleted buildings in Abuja, create make - shift homes, which mar the beauty of Abuja.
Another resident who spoke to GOVERNMENT on condition of anonymity noted that the FCT Minister, only about a month ago, had ordered security operatives in the city to flush out these criminals taking refuge in many uncompleted buildings around the city.
Some of these “would be landlords” constitute a nuisance to the environment: health wise- and cause physical harm to the populace.
Before Christmas Eve, the police raided some “black spots” around Abuja. GOVERNMENT was informed that the raids were targetted also at a motorcyclists known as “Achaba”, who had violated the rule of not operating within the city.
The police, with the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency, is called to rid the city of these urchins before Abuja degenerates into another eyesore.