Nigeria: Wolumo - the Abuja Airport Community Lacking Electricity, Potable Water, Schools, Hospital

Abuja city gate (file photo).
24 December 2020

"I am an indigene of Wolumo. My father and forefathers lived and died here. I am 38 years but we have never had one single electric pole or transformer talk more of electricity."

Abuja, Nigeria's capital can be described as a dual society. One part is the city of the powerful and the affluent, the other is the city of the downtrodden.

A dual society typically has rural, impoverished, and neglected parts surrounding a more developed and advanced part - with the two having little interaction.

Arguably, nowhere is this contrast sharper than in the difference between the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and its nearby community of Wolumo.

Though the international airport, the second busiest in the country, is 20 kilometres west of the Abuja main city, it is surrounded by lush landmarks and posh edifices.

Important landmarks such as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority head office, the Air Force Base, and other are in this area.

Flying into Abuja at night is such a splendour. Driving through the long airport road, the bright street lights are lit, turning the quiet neighbourhood's after-hours into daylight. The trees on the roadside are lined in perfect harmony.

Bright lights from houses at the Air Force Base and filling stations illuminate the serene environment to give Abuja and its airport the befitting ambience until of course, you decide to take a left turn into the valley of Wolumo.

A mere stone throwaway, the village is enveloped in a blinding darkness.

"I am an indigene of Wolumo. My father and forefathers lived and died here. This is where I was born and raised. I am 38 years but we have never had one single electric pole or transformer talk more of electricity," a visibly sad Saliu Musa told our reporters on Saturday.

These journalists inquisitively entered the village when they visited Nigeria's national vaccine plant, which is the first and last quality building you will see when entering Wolumo.

After passing the tarred roads and cobbled pavements with street lights, underground drainages, lush royal palm trees surrounding the residences with high fences, luxurious cars cruising around, it is a bit hard to imagine how a village like Wolumo will be tucked in the middle of all these.

Abandoned

Wolumo, a community under the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), is densely populated with substandard houses and shanties lacking sanitation and safe drinking water, depicting squalor right in the middle of the road leading to the airport.

The major road that leads to Wolumo is ironically named after a former American president.

Along Bill Clinton Way, Wolumo sits directly opposite the presidential wing of the airport.

Aside from the absence of electricity, there are no schools or health facilities in the entire community with about a thousand residents.

Wolumo residents would have to take tricycles or motorcycles to the airport base for schooling, health care, and other essential services.

Mr Musa was quick to show the reporters one of the decrepit wells which serve as a source of water in the community.

"We have repeatedly requested from AMAC to supply electricity to this community but we are yet to get a response from them for ages. We started with our councillor, then the chairman and up till date nothing has been done," Mr Musa, a farmer, said.

"No single school has been built in this community since its existence. The children attend a school located at the airport base. No potable water supply in this community. Our only source of water is a stream and well dug in some households.

"During election campaigns, politicians will come and promise light, school, water, and other basic amenities but once they win, they won't fulfill their promises.

"There is no healthcare centre in this community. We travel all the way to the air force base hospital to access healthcare."

Ladidi Kasim, a mother of four, owns a food store in the village. She lamented how the lack of electricity is affecting her business.

"We are still praying for God to provide electricity for us in this village. Lack of light has greatly affected my business. Most of my customers request cold drinks and water due to the hot weather. I buy ice block every day", said Kasim who spoke partially in pidgin.

"We have to travel out of the community to access vaccines for the children. When it's time for childbirth too, we have to take a bike to the nearest hospital at Bassa."

Left out from COVID-19 palliatives

The Wolumo village chief, Sule Sariki explained how the community was left out during the sharing of COVID-19 palliatives.

During the severest part of the lockdown, the government created a national register of about 3.6 million vulnerable persons. Residents of Wolumo should, ordinarily, fall under this category.

"During the COVID-19 lockdown, some people came to the community to document our names and bank details, promising to send some money to mitigate the impact of the lockdown but to date, we haven't received any money. Residents of the nearby communities said they received some money from the government," the chief said.

"We have reached out to our councillors numerous times but he said there is no budget for our community yet."

For Yakubu Abbas, there is a bit of tension and insecurity in the community due to the situation of the community. "I plead with our leaders to have mercy and provide basic and social amenities for us."

Sadiq Mohammed, 27, said, "I want the federal government to remember us in this community and help solve all our problems."

No response from government

The village chief, Mr Sariki, showed our reporters a letter dating back to 2014 written to AMAC through the councillor representing Gwui ward, which Wolumo is under.

Despite repeated reminders and several visits to the councilor, Mr Saraki said there has not been any response.

"With the fact that security challenges in the country is on the high side, we humbly plead for electrification of our village... attached is the formal letter... this is a reminder to our request", the letter dated April 24, 2014 read.

Contacted last week, Sunday Bikko, the councilor of Gwui ward said he would not discuss matters regarding development of the community over the phone, insisting that our reporter comes to his office.

But when contacted later in a bid to schedule the said visit, Mr Bikko did not take calls or return text messages.

Felix Nwankwo, the director of Satellite Town Development Department of the FCT, when contacted, said his office is not in charge of the area in which Wolumo is located. "Call the FCTA office", he said on phone Sunday morning.

But Hajiya Rabiu, the information officer of the FCTA, said the community actually falls under the purview of Mr Nwankwo.

"The Satellite Town Development Department is the office to contact", she said in a phone interview. "They are responsible for developing suburbs: communities within urban areas but lack basic amenities".

The official promised to "get back to us" with more information. She has yet to do so at press time.

Dual society

Wolumo is just one of the long-abandoned communities that make Nigeria's national capital, Abuja, a dual city.

As PREMIUM TIMES' investigation showed that in Abuja officials take refuge in their fortified houses and offices with standard infrastructure and services at the centre, leaving hundreds of thousands of others to wallow in extremely torrid circumstances in the rural peripheries.

Outside of the enclaves of the rich, like Maitama or Asokoro, Abuja has many urban slums, such as Dakibiu, Nyanya, Orozo, Karimo, or Dei Dei. These places are often not connected to public water service and lack sanitation and planning. But this is just a small hint of Abuja's development crises.

Just like Wolumo, some of the abandoned communities are home to the indigenous people who originally lived in Abuja before it became Nigeria's national capital decades ago.

A previous PREMIUM TIMES report showed how the village of Gomani which lies inward from Yangoji on the Abuja-Lokoja Expressway was abandoned for years with no basic amenities.

Danladi Jeji, the president of the Original Inhabitants Development Association of Abuja, had told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that the original inhabitants have become orphans in Nigeria's equation.

As the constitution provides, Mr Jeji noted, the President and the National Assembly have the executive and legislative responsibilities over the people of the FCT respectively.

"But for the 43 years of FCT, the government has been unfair to the original people," he said. "And this is a democracy. They don't remember us."

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