Molly Kilete, Abuja The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has declared its readiness to deploy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to the Niger Delta region to secure oil and gas pipelines and other critical oil installations owned by Shell company in the country. The deployment of the UAVs, according to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal…
Kpanyi Kpanyi, an Abuja settlement, would have existed unnoticed. But the stench that oozes from the cassava processing site at the village has drawn unwanted attention to it, inevitably. The village is conspicuously situated at the foot of a number of hills and it is 300 metres away from the eight-lane Abuja Airport highway.
However, despite its visibility and location a few kilometres to the Aso Rock Villa, the seat of power, Kpanyi Kpanyi village speaks loudly of squalor, deprivation and lack of modernity.
It is an Abuja settlement without electricity, water, healthcare, school, toilet facilities and access road. It is a village where residents and cattle drink from the same River Upah, and where religion and fetish cultural practices mingle.
Surprisingly, it is also a village where land is allocated free, on the condition that the beneficiary must live with the villagers and must not take tenants or rent any part of his building.
With a population of less than 50,000, Kpanyi Kpanyi records high maternal and child mortality. The village also suffers from high incidence of drug abuse among the youth, and boasts of a good number of prostitutes and layabouts sagging their trousers.
Life in the village
Life in Kpanyi Kpanyi village is like hunger in the midst of abundance. It may have existed before the relocation of the Federal Capital but there is nothing to show that the village is part of the Abuja capital city.
More curious is the fact that the River Upah is the natural boundary between the village and the proposed Abuja Centenary City, yet the village is devoid of any social amenity.
Predominantly farmers, the life of the settlers is an admixture of farm work, cultural festivals, merriment, fishing, drug abuse and prostitution. The settlers are also at the mercy of certain hostilities like lack of potable water, herdsmen’s attacks and other vicissitudes of life.
Summing up the way of life in the settlement, the village head, Mr. Amos, told Daily Sun that they have resigned to fate following the failure of their repeated appeals for help from the FCT Administration.
“The indigenes have been living here before Independence,” he said, adding, “Life in this village has been very tough and brutish. We don’t have water, electric power supply, school for our children and any healthcare facility. We have repeatedly written to the FCT Administration but they kept promising to provide those amenities to us till date.”
It sounds unbelievable that a settlement 300 metres to the major Airport road does not have power. The children always leap for joy with shouts of “up NEPA” on sighting the streetlights nearby but the village, just three poles away to connect to the national grid, has never had a feel of what it means to use electricity.
“What we use as source of light is the local lantern, torchlights, and generators for the very few that can afford small ones. For years, our children would shout ‘up NEPA’ each time the streetlights come on on Abuja Airort road, but that is the much we can see of electricity.
“Government has erected electricity poles in the village but that was how far they could go with the project since last year when they started it. We are waiting for the second phase of the contract. We pay so much to charge our handsets from the generator-powered charging centres,” the village’s women leader, Mrs. Mariam Mohammed, said.
Thirsty in the midst of water
Interestingly, the village is blessed with a flowing river and springwater from a rock, but they are enough to meet the needs of Kpanyi Kpanyi residents. The water is only good for swimming and bathing, after boiling to a certain degrees, and risky drinking, after days of purification.
“The river we are using as our major source of water is more of poison because we can only use it to bath, cook or do anything after boiling it for a long time. Drinking the river water, no matter how long we boil the water, is totally out of it.
“There were high incidences of water-borne diseases among the settlers when we were drinking from the river. Those that ignored the warnings not to drink the water would end up urinating blood and even suffering skin rashes.
“The water situation in this village is critically grievous and has even become worse now that the villagers use the same river with Fulani cows. We have tried to persuade the herdsmen but they never listen to us. They told us that they need the water as much as we need it.
“Our means of sourcing reliable drinking water is to trek several kilometres or take the risk of crossing the major express road to fetch borehole water or, alternatively, rely on sachet (pure) water, for the very few that can afford it. We are spending a fortune buying pure water,” Mrs. Mohammed said.
“Things are very difficult in the village and when buying sachet water becomes impossible, the villagers fetch the water flowing from the rock by digging a foot-size hole from where they scoop the water, add purifier like alum, store it in buckets for four to five days for the dirt to settle before drinking from it,” the village head explained.
Like their elders, the children are not immune to the hostilities of village life. Children of school age are either farmhands or subjected to several risky hours of trekking to attend school far away. For now, according to the villagers, there is no school or hope of building one in the nearest future.
“There is no school for our children to attend in this entire village. The children trek several kilometres and the worst part of it is crossing the ever-busy airport road. The absence of a school in this village has resulted in high rate of out-of-school children. The future of our children is very bleak,” another villager lamented.
Total absence of healthcare facilities
Kpanyi Kpanyi village, with only one patent medicine shop as the highest healthcare provider, seats on keg of gunpowder. Residents are oftentimes at the receiving end of preventable and avoidable diseases and death. Maternal and child mortality have been on the rise every year, as women in labour have to travel several kilometres to get medical help or give birth at home.
“We are also suffering the same lack with the absence of any medical care here. The only medical presence here is the ‘chemist shop’ but it has limits to the medical cases it can handle.
“It is either our pregnant women deliver at home or they are rushed to hospitals kilometres away from here, like Kuje, Gwagwalada, Lugbe or inside the town. We are lucky that, in most cases, our women deliver at home but we have also recorded cases of complications that resulted in maternal or child mortality,” Mrs Mohammed lamented.
No motorable access road
Though less than a minute’s drive to a major expressway, the settlement can only boast of an erosion-ravaged road.
“Our road is impassable, especially when it rains. It is disappointing and painful to have an eight-lane road overlooking you while it is very difficult to connect the road 300 metres away.
“Erosion has not helped matters. It has devastated our only accessible road. Sometimes, the road becomes too impassable that we cannot step out of our houses,” Chief Amos said.
Intermingling of religion and culture
One wonders why a community housing over five churches, should allow tradition and fetish worship compete to the point of one eclipsing the other. The villagers are steeped in practises that mix religion and cultural traditions freely.
“We have Gbagyi culture and festivals that we celebrate annually, which feature masquerades of different types. There are others we celebrate every two to three months. We also have shrines of the deities protecting the village. If a woman commits adultery, she must go to the shrine to confess her sin or risk death.
“We also have a mountain festival held at the foot and top of this mountain overlooking us. As part of the celebration of our culture, we climb the mountain to celebrate it periodically.
“We also have a shrine where those that are sick can receive healing by drinking the water from the oracle pot. However, anybody under any spell would have to be very sure of the state of his purity before drinking the water.
“If, for instance, somebody is suffering from a strange illness, he can drink the water and get well, provided that the person is not guilty of offending anybody, which resulted in the strange illness.
“We have many churches and also mosques, but they don’t stop us from worshipping the deities. We cannot just stop the tradition and culture we inherited from our forefathers,” a villager quipped.
Means of livelihood
But for an insignificant few in the public service, the majority of the villagers are into farming and cassava processing as a means of livelihood. “We survive through farming, harvesting of our cash crops and our women processing cassava for sale.
“But almost all these means of livelihood are facing serious threat from the herdsmen destroying our farmlands and crops. Even the river our women fetch the water to process the cassava has been overrun by the cattle,” a villager lamented.
Perhaps because of the bushes surrounding them, little or no attention is paid to construction of toilet facilities within the village. Consequently, the stench of faeces from the nearby bushes discomforts every health-conscious person who visits the village.
“We don’t have toilets,” the village head confirmed, “We make use of the bushes around.”
Free allocation of land
In a city where ownership of land is beyond the reach of the ordinary person, it baffles one why the situation in Kpanyi Kpanyi is entirely different. If you can build and live in the community without renting to tenants, you can easily get land free.
“We deliberately did not sell any piece of land to anybody. We can give land free to anybody who wants to live with us here to build and stay. If the person is tired of staying, he would remove his roofing and leave without selling the land to anybody. We did not sell the land to even the churches.
“The implication is that the beneficiaries cannot wake up any day and claim our land. We want to avoid a situation where people will buy land, build and rent to tenants. Sometimes, they may rent to people with questionable character that will torment the villagers.
“There was an incident where an indigene sold land to a fraudster and he started acting funny, it took the combined intervention of the youths and myself to rescue the land from the buyer,” the village head said.
Social and sexual life in the village
Visitors thinking that the few cases of prostitution would make the villagers promiscuous have it all wrong. There is a dividing wall between the actions of the women of easy virtue and the decorous dress code of the villagers.
Those in doubt will get the answer from the village head. “Yes, there are prostitutes here but we are very passionate about how our youths dress in this village. If I see somebody who does not dress well, I will caution him or her.
“But if he or she persists like in the cases of boys sagging or ladies wearing mini skirts, we will strip the sagged shorts or trousers or flog the lady in mini skirt. Everybody must be decently dressed at every pointing time.”
Consumption of burukutu, drugs
For a village of farmers, the consumption of the local alcoholic drink, burukutu, is very high, especially on weekends. However, the main source of worry to the village head these days is the involvement of youths in drug abuse, which has been gaining ground.
Interestingly, the village is a no-go area for law enforcement agents. The handling of infractions starts from the youth leader, to the village head, and, if it becomes insoluble, they look to the police.
“Police cannot just come here to arrest anybody. They must first report to the village head, explain their mission and, if the case is not grievous, I will take permission from the police to handle it before they take charge of it. They have respect for me.
“Even if two persons quelling involve the police, the DPO would invite me and hand the case over to me. The good thing about this village is that we have strong security network that will make it very difficult for armed robbers to attack the village,” the village head said.
Except for the wisdom of the village head and, perhaps, the leadership of the herders’ community, the clashes between the community and the herdsmen would have escalated to disturbing extent by now.
“There have been clashes between the herdsmen and the villagers. It would have assumed dangerous dimensions, if not for wisdom given to me and the understanding of the Fulani community. Some of them would watch the cows and cattle enter and destroy the villagers’ farms.
“I don’t want to talk about our encounter with trying to stop them from using the only river serving the community. They have contributed in worsening the deplorable state of the river with their cows,” the village head said.
Attempts by the FCT Administration to take over the land
Conspicuously located, it is expected that land prospectors and the FCT Administration would be interested in relocating the villagers. “There have been attempts by the AMAC and some individuals to evict us from this settlement but they met stiff resistance. The only condition to evict us from this place is to relocate my people and myself.
“But even at that, we will frustrate any of such attempts by telling government to rather locate whoever it wants to settle him. This village has existed even before Nigeria’s independence and before Abuja became the Federal Capital Territory,” Chief Amos said, “We cannot leave our ancestral village to be strangers elsewhere. Government should rather think of how to empower the villagers with jobs in the ministries so they can be more useful to the society.”