Developed pedestrian walkways in many districts of the nation's capital, Abuja, are today facing a lot of challenges, especially from property owners and developers in the city. It has become a common thing to see property owners in Abuja either totally blocking the pedestrian walkways or in many instances cutting, digging or barricading the walkways for personal reasons.
Survey conducted by LEADERSHIP Weekend revealed that many building owners do not even know that the pedestrian walkway is supposed to be a public property where pedestrians are entitled to use both for walking, riding of bicycles and general exercises as the case may be.
In some places especially in high density areas of the city, property owners have even rented the walkways into shops facing the main road, while the walls of their premises become the beginning of these shops. In such cases, those who rent these shops have equally extended into the drainage, thereby totally blocking the entire walkways. Pedestrians are therefore forced to use the major roads where they have to contend with cars, motor cycles and other pedestrians. A times, they will use iron rods and chains on the pedestrian walkways, thereby preventing pedestrians from freely using the walkways.
Mr Augustine Ebisike, registrar, Environmental Health Registration Council of Nigeria (EHRECON) told LEADERSHIP Weekend that pedestrian walkways give city residents an opportunity to exercise themselves and also serve as a safe area to walk around the neighbourhoods or on the streets, just as it also gives access to the drainage systems and gutters.
Ebisike frowned at the way many developers in Abuja have built structures along the public walkways, thereby denying the public users the privilege of using the facility both for health and recreational reasons.
"What we have in our cities today is that Mr A will build his wall from where his beckon is into the walkways because nobody cares. Pedestrian walkways should be cleared in such a way that somebody who lives in that neighbourhood can also ride a bicycle on that facility without encroaching into the plots to avoid being knocked down by motorists.
Many people don't even know that walkways are things that support health, because if blocked, will force residents in such areas to stay at home, since there are no outdoor activities for them. This has negative implication for public health," he said.
A further finding also showed that some property owners block the walkways for security purposes as is happening in many of the offices visited. This is common in some areas such as the NNPC towers, foreign embassies and other places where they claimed that they are doing so for security purposes.
The director, department of development control, federal capital territory administration, Yahaya Yusuf, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the department has been very careful removing the barricades on pedestrian walkways in places where they are being done on account of security.
In his words: "We have been careful on the way we remove such barricades built on pedestrian walkways because we all know that there is a genuine security threat in the country. Yes. We have to take considerations into such cases. What we do is to formally write to such organisations because in such cases, they have to turn those barricades into planters, just like what you have in front of NNPC towers, which have flowers on them". However, the registrar of EHRECON maintained that security issue does not extend to public walkways because where the plot beckon ends is where the land ownership stops. "We often forget that in any city or neighbourhood, where your beckons end is where your land ends as well. It is a public land. Where one's land ends, there is another parcel of land designed to accommodate the pedestrian walkways, the drainage and the sewer lines."
Yahaya maintained that the department has been clearing many structures that are built on the walkways in various parts of the Abuja city, adding that he just issued a directive to all the district officers in the department to look out for such structures built on the public walkways and clear them immediately.
He continued: "Such structures are blocking an access road because people have to move. So walkways are also supposed to be for pedestrians' traffic. So if you block it, we will not waste time removing it out rightly." Yahaya, however, appealed to the Nigerian public to be part of the process of making Abuja and the entire federal capital territory a befitting place to live in.