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The mood at Tungan-Madaki, a large settlement around the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and other neighbouring communities in Jiwa Chiefdom of Abuja Municipal Area Council, is that of confusion, fear and despair. The bridge linking the community and other communities in Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) has become a harbinger of death, sorrow and untold hardship. Josephine Ejeh, who visited the community, reports.
FRIDAY, September 20, 2020, is a day villagers in Tungan Madaki District of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, will never forget. On that fateful day, the rain was heavy, but it was nothing unusual from the heavy downpours they had witnessed in the past.
School children were looking forward to resuming school activities the following week, but little did they know about the disaster that had just happened.
The 80 meter-long bridge, which was the only feeder road linking Tungan Madaki and other communities to the Abuja city centre, had collapsed as a result of heavy downpour, bringing social and economic activities to a halt and putting the education of children in the affected communities on hold.
Farmers heading to their farms were the first to behold the shocking and disturbing sight of the collapsed bridge. Amidst the shock and confusion, they returned to their villages to report the unfortunate incident to the other villagers, who rushed to the scene to catch a glimpse of what remained.
The bewildered crowd stood watching helplessly as they whispered to each other in low tones. Many left the scene wondering where would they start from, how would their children now go to school, how would they be able to continue with their farming business? It was the beginning of their suffering.
For over 50 years ago, the bridge had provided access within 18 communities, including Tunga Ashere, Tunga Wakili, Tunga Nasara, Tunga Kwaso, Angwa Bijimi and others.
Since the bridge collapse, children from surrounding villages no longer go to school in the community, especially during the rainy season because there is no longer an access road.
The river course was said to have gradually widened due to the annual rainfall to the point that the bridge became very small to accommodate the volume of water passing under it.
The damage has added to the problem of communities that also lack basic social amenities such as hospital, school, electricity and potable water supply.
The road has become a death trap, and children can no longer go to school, especially during the rainy season.
The ICIR visited the site of collapsed bridge and witnessed the hardship people of the villages experience. Men, women and children on foot and commercial motorcycle riders make frantic efforts to manoeuvre their ways from both ends of the collapsed bridge.
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Far away from the other end, women and children are seen descending or ascending carefully on the steep, crooked road. It was a risky venture as each of them navigate their way.
“Come! Come! Come and video us as we are coming down from the road,” they beckoned to our video cameraman.”
Before he could be done with the coverage, another group struggling to climb from the other end would call on him to focus the camera on them “so that the government can see how we are suffering here.”
Pointing to the villagers crossing under the collapsed bridge, a representative of the District Head of Tungan- Madaki District, Dahiru Madaki, said: “We are not safe crossing under the bridge at all, especially during the rainy season.
“We are jus putting our lives at risk our lives by crossing under the damaged bridge. We cannot use the bridge anymore when going to the neighbouring communities until we pass under the bridge the way you see these people doing now.”
Dahiru, who spoke on behalf of Alhaji Haruna Mohammed, told The ICIR that since the bridge’s collapse, it has become practically impossible for villagers to pass.
In 2019, when the bridge began to cave in, 15 persons lost their lives while attempting to cross the river. Four were school children who drowned while swimming across the overflown river on their way to the only junior secondary school located at Tungan-Madaki District.
Dahiru confirmed the incident.
“They didn’t want to miss their exams, but unfortunately, they lost their lives while attempting to swim across the flooded river. The other two were crossing to their farms when they drowned,” he recounted their experience with sad feelings.
12-year-old Abdulfatau Madaki was one of the unlucky ones.
He was the kind of child every parent would wish for. Though he was young; he was brave.
When many older people could not muster the courage, the JSS2 student who was skilful in swimming would carry on his back other school children who could not.
At the end of the bridge, he would ease them off to safety and help others. But he later lost his life in the river.
His grief-stricken aged father, Abubakar Madaki, who recounted the incident with bitter feelings, told The ICIR that Abdulfatau was the only one who takes care of him because of his children God-given caring nature.
“Among all my children, he is the one that shows me more sympathy and takes care of me very much. He was the child I was looking up to really help me at this time that I am becoming very old and weak. Since I lost my child, I have no other person that is taking care of me in this condition I find myself,” he agonised.
On the ill-fated day, he dived into the river, thinking it was business as usual, but the flood overpowered him, and he lost control. The other student at the bank of the river watched helplessly as he disappeared from their sight.
His death left fear in the heart of many villagers, children especially. Abdulfatau is not the only child who has drowned in the river. There was the 8-year-old son of Tungan-Wakili’s head, Alhaji Nuhu Jagaba.
The day he met his untimely death, the river appeared calm and harmless. But that was when the seven-year-old Ibrahim Nuhu left home for school; on the way back home, he encountered a massive flood across the river resulting from a heavy downpour.
Ibrahim drowned while crossing the river with other students, leaving his aged father heartbroken.
“I didn’t know about the incident until about 4 pm that day. I was informed that my son had not returned from school at that time which was very unusual, so we headed for the TunganMadaki community. That was when we were told what happened,” he told our reporter.
While he struggled to put behind the ugly incident, watching the rest of his children idling away every day at home, has been a major source of concern to him.
The children no longer go to the school for fear of becoming a victim of flooding while other children of their age in the safer environment are pursuing their education unhindered.
“My appeal is for the government to come and rehabilitate this bridge without further delay,” Nuhu pleaded as he struggled to control his emotion.
Dauda Mohammed, a resident of Tsohon-Jiwa who also lost a son to the flooding on the collapsed bridge, said his son, Abdulsalam died on his way to the farm while crossing the river.
“My son was together with some children and some elderly ones. The elders crossed successfully, leaving the children behind. It was in the process that he jumped into the water to swim that the water overpowered him, and he drowned because he doesn’t know how to swim well,” he recanted.
Since the bridge collapsed, women cannot access community clinics and markets, just as the children cannot access schools and farms, especially during the rainy season, for fear of drowning.
Impact on children’s education and healthcare
The LEA Primary School and Junior Secondary School in Tungan Madaki were deserted and under lock and key when The ICIR visited.
Most of the children who were candidates for the last Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination were unable to sit for the examinations because the rains were heavy during the examinations.
Not fewer than 20 students from Tungan-Ashere village attending the Junior Secondary School in Tungan-Madaki have withdrawn from the school due to persistent flooding of the river with no hope of returning to the school any time soon.
The revelation by the village Chief of Tungan Ashere, Sani Yakubu, emphasises the adverse impacts of the damaged bridge on the education of children across the affected communities.
He said parents have stopped their children from attending school to avoid risking their lives.
Though the community is mulling the idea of transferring the students to Zuba, Sani said, “our fear is the risks involved because they have to cross the road and the high cost of transportation fare involved. Also, kidnappers and thieves are attacking our people. We haven’t gotten any alternative school closer to our community.
“My appeal to the government is to assist us with this bridge because it is essential to us.”
Corroborating Sani, Yusuf Bin-Abdullahi, a resident of Tunga-Ashere, said the community attempted to get a transfer for the students, “but the school authority advised us to keep them at home that very soon the bridge will be constructed that is why until now the students are at home, but nothing has been done.”
Yusuf, whose two children go to the Junior Secondary School Tungan Madaki, said he always feels unfortunate and scared whenever they leave home for school.
“Once the rain falls, especially during the morning time and the level of the water increases, we usually stop them from going to school because we have been losing a lot of people at the bridge in the process of crossing the river to school and during their daily basis activities,” he said.
The development was a double blow on Yusuf because both children who were candidates missed the JSSC examination, which was conducted during the peak of the rains last year.
Zarau Aliyu missed writing the junior secondary school certificate examination, and may never complete her secondary school education.
The hardship she experienced on her way to school and back is enough discouragement.
During the rainy season, the 19-year-old resident from Tungan-Ashere stays away completely from school as she cannot swim like a few other students who are forced to take the risk.
Narrating her dilemma to The ICIR, she said: “Anytime it rains, and the volume of water is very much, we don’t go to school. The period they fixed our Junior WAEC exams was when it was raining very frequently and heavily, so I could not pass the river to school because I cannot swim. I couldn’t write the junior WAEC because the rains usually overflow the river bank.”
Like other children who could not complete junior school examination progress to senior secondary school, Zarau is depressed that she has to repeat JSS3 class.
Sefinat Adamu, a resident of Tungan Madaki schooling in Zuba, also said she pulled out of school during the rainy season to avoid losing his life.
“I have to go to school in Zuba because we don’t have a senior secondary school in Tungan Madaki where I live or any neighbouring communities. The collapsed bridge is a big risk to us, so we can no longer go to school in Zuba also,” the 15 years old SS2 student who missed the third term promotional examination told The ICIR.
Another student, Badamasi Usman from Tungan Wakili, shared a similar experience. ” Any day it rains, and the river is full. I will not go, but if the river is not full, I will go to school.”
Usman is one of the students who could not write his placement examinations last year due to the flooding.
“Because the river was full, there was no road for us to pass to school. I am not happy because I will repeat the class and now I can’t go to school. I am begging the government to please try and fix the bridge for us,” he pleaded.
Baratu Musa has also ruled out plan to continue school untill the bridge is reconstructed.
Another student who missed her JSSC examination expressed frustration that she has to start afresh.
“We beg the government to build the bridge for us because we cannot go to school to achieve more knowledge without the bridge. We need to achieve knowledge to have a good future.”
Food crisis loom, maternal mortality rises
Apart from the two children the community lost to drowning while attempting to cross over the river, the community has lost other members to the collapsed bridge.
Bemoaning the hardship his community is facing due to the collapsed bridge, the village head of Tungan Wakili, Alhaji Shuaibu Wakili, told The ICIR: “ Even parents are suffering a lot because of our economic affairs. We have lost our mothers when they are in labour on their way to the hospital because we don’t have any other hospital here except the one in Tungan Madaki.”
“ In times of labour, we won’t get it easy until we take somebody to Zuba or Suleja,” the village head who spoke through his secretary, Alhaji Usman Mohammed, said.
“Three women in labour also lost their lives because they had to go a long distance through an alternative route from the airport, Ido and Giri axis to access health care in Zuba and Suleja on referral from the only primary health centre in the community.”
The above statement by Dahiru strengthens Usman’s comment earlier, which testifies that pregnant women bear the greater brunt of the abandoned bridge during an emergency.
School children and pregnant women are not the only people affected by the collapsed bridge. Adamu Ashere Idris from Tungan Wakili says farmers like him have also been facing many challenges crossing the collapsed bridge to their farmlands.
Households in the affected communities are suffering losses of income and food security as the hardship they encounter has forced them to cut down the quantity of farmland they cultivate and the quantity of crops they plant.
Sometimes the farmers had to swim to the other side of the bridge to go to their farms. Harvest time was another tougher period for them as they had to cross the river on foot with their farm produce on their head, sometimes losing some of the produce in the process.
While counting the losses suffered by farmers, Adamu told The ICIR: “If you had visited this place some three to four months ago, you would have seen a lot of damaged crops on this bridge in the course of crossing these goods to our homes. In the course of transporting our goods, we find it very difficult, and this is the closest proximity to our various homes.”
“As I am talking to you right now, I am not happy, and I know my parents here too are not happy about the collapse of this bridge. I’m pleading with the Federal government, state government, NGOs and individuals to join hands with the government to fix this bridge so that we can have an easy life,” he added.
Investigation revealed that some of the farmers who risked their lives by crossing under the damaged bridge lost their lives in the process.
Efforts by villagers to get government intervention
While the abandoned bridge has continued to wreak havoc on lives, the relevant government authorities expected to come to the aid of the suffering people have remained insensitive, the residents said.
Haruna Gaku, the education representative for the communities said efforts to get government attention remains futile, even as the collapsed bridge engenders “ backwardness to education” in the affected communities.
“I have been able to contact the College of Education Zuba; the Nigeria National Ecological Fund is about to divert the road linking the community from the new site, so I plead with the provost of the school to include everything together. But am yet to receive any positive outcome from the provost in writing,” he told The ICIR.
A representative of the District Head of Tungan- Madaki District, Dahiru Madaki, confirmed the statement of Mr. Gaku about the insensitivity of the government.
“We started with our counsellor, then the local government chairman, even to the FCDA, but we are yet to see the relevant authorities take visible action. We have been doing so many follow-ups, but there has been no positive action taken yet,” he said.
The ICIR learnt that letters were sent to the AMAC Chairman, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu Candido, the FCT Minister, Mohammed Musa Bello, House of Reps member Representing the AMAC/Bwari Constituency, Hon Micah Jiba and to the Senator Representing the people of FCT, Senator Philip Tanimu Aduda, copies of which our reporter obtained, but there is no response yet.
“I personally wrote to the Honourable Chairman of AMAC, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu Candido. I even went to our Royal Highness Alhaji Idris Musa, the Emir of Jiwa Chiefdom. We also went to the House of Reps member representing the Constituency, Hon Micah Jiba and to Senator Philip Tanimu Aduda, and we are still expecting their effort,” Sani Abubakar, the village head of Tungan Ashere, told The ICIR.
FCT Administration denies responsibility
Meanwhile, all the relevant authorities in the FCT approached by this reporter have denied responsibility for the bridge as they continued to shift responsibility to each other, as none openly admitting being responsible for rehabilitating the abandoned bridge.
Despite all entreaties, the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), the Federal Capital Territory Administration ( FCTA) have turned deaf ears to the people’s plights.
The Spokesman of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Richard, said it is the responsibility of the AMAC to rehabilitate and reconstruct the bridge.
“Please be informed that the site visit to the Bridge at Zuba-Tunga Madaki Airport Roadshows that it is a road that existed before the creation of the FCT in 1976.
All such Tertiary roads which link communities are under the purview of the Area Councils, in this case, the Abuja Municipal Area Council(AMAC),” he said in a chat with our reporter.
However, when contacted, the Divisional Head, Building Construction, Work Department in AMAC, Architect Haruna Galadima, denied being responsible for the bridge, saying it is not under their jurisdiction.
Haruna, who shifted the responsibility to the Satellite Town Development Department (STDD)of the FCT said the bridge was constructed by the department. “We are not the appropriate office to speak on the collapsed bridge but the Satellite Town Development Department(STDD),” he said, adding that AMAC had written officially to the STDD to draw their attention to the issue for urgent intervention.
“They constructed the bridge initially, and when the erosion now cut off the bridge, we still reported back to them. Even an engineer came to us from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing regarding the work. Equally, we told them the scope of the work is beyond the area council, and assure, we direct to the appropriate authorities where the problem can be taken care of in writing,” he said.
But STDD said it is not responsible for the rehabilitation of the bridge, insisting that since the bridge is within the city centre, it is the responsibility of the FCDA.
Explaining, the Coordinator, Engr Felix Obiora Nwankwo said Abuja is 8000 square kilometres, and while the FCDA is in charge of the City centre, which is 250 square kilometres, Satellite Town Development Department is in charge of the outskirts, 7750 square kilometres.
“The 250 square kilometres is bounded by the outer-northern expressway called Kubwa road, starting from Zuba into town to the Villa roundabout. Then we have the outer-southern expressway from the villa roundabout to Gwagwalada and then A2 road from Gwagwalada to Zuba. Anything inside there, including the airport road, is under the FCDA and that Tungan Madaki is at the back of the Airport, so it is the FCDA purview, not satellite town,” he stated.
Contrary to the claim by AMAC that the Satelite Town Department initially constructed the collapsed bridge, Felix said the bridge was constructed in the early 70s. At the same time, the STDD was only stabled in 2004, “so it was not done by Satellite town development department and it is not my area. I cannot go into the city centre and start doing any work because it is not within my jurisdiction.”
The ICIR learnt that aside from the official letters sent by the affected communities to the FCDA and the FCT minister’s office, following complaints received from the public about the faulty bridge, the FCT Call centre had sent a letter to the STDD, which it forwarded it to FCDA.
“The call Centre sent us a letter, and we forwarded it to FCDA that it is their responsibility, not ours. So my duty was to refer that letter from the call l centre to the Department of Engineering Services of the FCDA, so it is their duty to handle that. They may not have any contract there. Yes, it’s an old road that had that bridge.”
Several attempts by this reporter to ascertain the status of the letters sent to the department regarding the abandoned collapsed bridge were not successful as officials could not trace the letters.
At the Deputy Director’s office, City Infrastructure (Central), a staff member claimed the letter is with the regional office. Still, our reporter was denied access to further information on the status of the letter.
Similar efforts made by this reporter to confirm the status of the letter written to the FCT Minister Mohamed did not yield any positive result as the Special Assistant to the Minister on Media and Publicity, Alhaji Sani Abubakar who requested a copy of the letter from this reporter, which was provided, said he could not verify the status because the letters had no stamp of office of the FCT minister indicating receipt.
Further requests by this reporter directed to Sani on what the minister is doing to address the plight of the people were ignored.
Counsellor representing Tungan-Nasara, Tungan Ashere, Tungan Wakili and Tungan Giwa wards, Hon. Sunday Biko could not comment when contacted on the issue as he said he was at the Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital with his daughter, who was in a critical condition.
Asked what steps he had taken to ameliorate the people’s suffering, the House of Reps Member Representing AMAC/Bwari Federal Constituency, Hon. Micah Jiba said he has tabled the matter before the chamber but yet to get a favourable response.
He said he is very disturbed by the issue because the communities affected by the collapsed bridge are predominantly farming, and they are suffering seriously. “I’m not happy about that, he said, expressing hope that the FCT administration will do something about that.”
In a telephone interview with our reporter, the Senator Representing the FCT, Senator Philip Aduda, said it was inappropriate for the communities to have approached him for the issue when they had a local government chairman, the counsellor who was before him.
He, however, said he would put the matter into consideration under the constituency projects of the FCT in due course.
In 2016, 263 million school-aged children, one in five kids globally, remained out of school. The United Nations hopes that by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, all children worldwide will complete primary and secondary school, but situations like this may make this harder to achieve.
Without this road, there is no other road for the affected villages to access school and other basic facilities in the district. The affected villagers who have no other place to relocate to from their ancestral home will continue to suffer economic hardship. Threat to their lives and property due to the perennial flooding ravaging the area except the relevant authorities accept responsibility for the bridge and rise to the task of alleviating the sufferings of the people whose interests they swore an oath to protect.