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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 09:33 GMT
Life of poverty in Abuja's wealth
By Senan Murray
BBC News, Abuja

Man selling water, walking through rubbish heap
Slum residents buy their water off the streets
For Dayyabu Haruna, 43, home is an unfinished two-room bungalow, almost a shack, sitting next to a heap of stinking rubbish in Karu, a sprawling suburb on the edge of Nigeria's glossy new capital city, Abuja, built with petrodollars.

Abuja, one of Africa's few purpose-built cities, was intended to let civil servants, such as Mr Haruna, escape from the chronic congestion, overstretched infrastructure and unhygienic conditions of the former capital, Lagos.

But he, his two wives and seven children are not impressed with their surroundings.

Their house in central Abuja was demolished last year because it did not have planning permission, so they now find themselves in a slum on the edge of town.

Although there is a naked electric bulb hanging over the family bungalow, Mr Haruna says it is almost useless as his part of the town is rarely supplied electricity.

"We get electricity once or twice a week and on all occasions, we do not get to enjoy this light for more than three hours," he says.


The dirt track leading to his small shack is rutted with water gullies, dusty and littered with old polythene bags.

This stands in sharp contrast to the wide, well-planned tarmac roads and flyovers in the city centre, which are often virtually empty.

"No dumping" sign in front of rubbish heap
We are not saying Abuja is not for poor people, but it is definitely not a city for idlers either
Nasir el-Rufai
Minister for Abuja

Mr Haruna, like many of the residents here, works in plush air-conditioned offices in the city and return to this poverty-stricken slum at the close of business.

"The truth is that it is very frustrating to go the city and work in a very beautiful office with very nice surroundings, trimmed lawns, paved roads, the works, only to return to this hovel at the of the day," says Mr Haruna.

Mr Haruna is just one of hundreds of thousands of others who are condemned to life in Abuja's slums complete with rubbish heaps, fetid smells and blocked drains.

Strange neighbours

In Durumi, another ghetto community behind some government agency buildings in Abuja's Area One, man and cattle successfully co-exist as neighbours with cows, taking a leisurely afternoon walk through the streets.

Cattle waking past 4X4 vehicle in Abuja
Abuja's rich and poor live side by side

Although Karu, Durumi, Nyanya and Maraba have sprung up under the shadows of Abuja's oil-powered affluence, many residents in these suburbs have never seen pipe-born water.

Their drinking water comes from either wells, hand-pumped water boreholes or even a small stream where a group of young men were bathing.

"You need to come back here in the rainy season and see the roads that lead into this street," Veronica Ede says sitting in front of her house in Karmo, another suburb that lies east of Abuja.

Bags of 'stuff'

All the careful planning that went into Abuja seems to have been forgotten, as the new capital has attracted many thousands of newcomers.

But Abuja's high-profile minister Nasir el-Rufai is determined to put that right - which is why Mr Haruna's "illegal" house was knocked down.

Abuja skyscraper
Central Abuja feels like a different world to the slums
His efforts, however, have only concentrated on the city centre and have stopped short of Karmo.

Despite the new public health crisis presented by the recent human death from bird flu, there was a pile of dead rotting chickens on the garbage heap by a public road.

A closer look also reveals human faeces in polythene bags - known as "flying toilets".

"When you have no proper toilet, and since nature cannot be cheated, we are left with the option of using the nearby bushes or putting the stuff in polythene bags," says Karmo resident Dunga Ogbeche.

"Almost everybody here is doing it."


Mr el-Rufai says when he has finished putting central Abuja in perfect shape, his bulldozers will roll into the suburbs to clear the shacks, the garbage and any other 'illegal structures'.

He was once famously quoted as having said Abuja was "not a city for the poor".

Crowds in Abuja
Abuja has been overwhelmed by the influx of people to the capital
He has now modified that controversial statement.

"We are not saying Abuja is not for poor people, but it is definitely not a city for idlers either," he told a news conference marking the city's 30th anniversary last week.

But Mr Haruna says there are no idlers in Abuja.

"The city cannot function without poor people and if the minister is saying Abuja is not for idlers, maybe he should tell us who is an idler," he says.

"Abuja is such an expensive city that a person without a job cannot last here.

"I work in a government office in the city. But my salary is not enough to pay for the expensive houses in the city, that is why I had to move down to this place with my family."


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