4 February 2013

Nigeria: Daki Biyu - Story of an Urban Slum


While many such slums have fallen under the rampaging bulldozers of the city administration, Daki Biyu, an urban slum has weathered the storm so far.

It is a hot afternoon. The young children appear to be having the fun of their lives. Their chatter coupled with energetic steps is in perfect harmony as they vault the massive piles of dirt and garbage in a game of "catch me if you can." Presently, one of them stumbles in the murky pile and they all tumble over him in a jiffy, as they attempt to pull him out. Apparently one of them gets tired of the seemingly endless games and runs across the opposite field to join another group of street kids engaged in football: makeshift goal posts made up of separated pieces of stones and plastic. Another kid from the garbage heap suddenly has to heed the call of nature. He does what seems to be the natural thing in places like this. He has no clothes on his back so defecating is made easier. He simply crouches on his tiny legs and does his thing oblivious of the roving camera of the curious reporter. Not far away, some red eyed youths are playing snooker and smoking furiously, while discussing premiership matches at the top of their voices. At their back perhaps forming a formidable background perfect for a local film shoot depicting the ravages of war, are many houses in dire straits. But despite this sordid atmosphere many residents can be seen trooping out from the closely set row of houses on their way to take care of personal business. Welcome to Daki Biyu, Abuja's growing urban slum.

Daki Biyu, according to findings means a building of two rooms in Hausa. This harmless phrase has in the present day transmuted to describe one of the biggest slum areas that can be found right in the centre of the federal capital territory, Utako district to be specific. According to investigations, this vast settlement, predominantly occupied by low-income earners, has an origin that can be traced back to as far back as 100 years ago. "Katako the ancestral leader of the Gbagyi natives who were born and lived in the suburb was the first to raise a bungalow of two rooms. It was as a result of this that the name Daki Biyu came about," said a source.

The settlement today accommodates thousands of residents not limited to the local indigenes alone, but apparently civil servants who throng the area due to its easy accessibility to their workplaces in the city centre. But gradually it is becoming a source of worry not only for city officials who are constantly on the prowl, unsuccessfully looking for ways to remove the slight of Abuja's master plan, but equally for health practitioners who are shocked at the unhygienic environment residents of the village have to live in on a daily basis.

A visit to Daki Biyu would reveal an urgent need for attention by the authorities. Apart from the squalid state of the different human shelters in the slum, the arrangement of the houses with lack of ample space for ventilation, and less than hygienic status gives any wary observer a nagging sense of being in the midst of a refugee camp. There is a poor drainage system and no concrete means of disposing community garbage, which has led to filth taking over large swathes of the area. But residents appear happy to reside in the midst of slime and muck. A few others say the lack of a suitable alternative makes them unable to leave the slum.

One of such is Cordelia Ubong, who says she has no other choice but to stay in the slum until she finds the proverbial golden fleece that brought her into the capital city in the first place. 'Considering the cost of living in many parts of the city, living here has its own benefits. It's nearer to the city centre, so one does not need to spend a fortune on transportation. But of course there is the security implication as the place is known to be inhabited by criminal elements. But until I find a better job I have no choice but to stay here.' A few weeks earlier, Cordelia had her one room apartment burgled by criminals. She says she is one of the lucky few as other female inhabitants have been raped in similar attacks in the past.

Sanni, a community youth leader, however says that youths of the area have in the recent weeks organised themselves into vigilante groups in order to apprehend criminal elements in their midst. "In every community there are always criminals so ours is not peculiar, but we are working with the police to reduce incidences of crime in our community and we have made many arrests in the past. For others like Sunny, a barber, the fear of demolition is always the paramount issue for them. He says whenever there are rumours of planned demolitions the community is always put on high alert. 'Only the natives don't fear because they know that their homes can never be demolished. But for those of us who are not indigenes, we are always praying the scourge of demolition will never get to us because we have no other place to go..."

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