TUCKED behind the National Military Cemetery along Airport Road is Karon Majigi, a suburb in Nigeria’s capital city, where many low-income people in Abuja are residents.
In Karon Majigi, a colony for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) was established by former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Nasir El-Rufai to rid Abuja of beggars on the streets.
According to the Emir of the PWDs Suleiman Mohammed Katsina, about 520 PWDs live in the colonies with their families.
Most of the houses are built with zinc roofing sheets and wood. The streets are marked by rivulets of dirty water and accumulated debris.
The PWDs living in this colony face several difficulties, because they lack the financial capacity to cater to their daily needs.
They rely on charities from well-meaning individuals or organisations and the gift of able-bodied members of their families for survival.
Children bear the brunt
Children make up a large number of able-bodied occupants of the colony, and the basic amenities are luxury.
Many are out of school, since most families cannot afford tuition fees. In most cases, the children hawk food items around the community to augment the family income.
Seven-year-old Khadija Umar lives in the colony with her father, a PWD. She dropped out of school due to accumulated fees that her parents could not pay.
“They said I should stop coming to school because there is no money to pay my school fees,” she said.
She now sells ‘wara,’ a local chese consumed in northern Nigeria.
Mariya is a trader who lives in the colony with her husband, a PWD, and three children.
She told The ICIR that she could not afford to enrol any of her children in school, as feeding was already a daily struggle.
“We cannot even afford to eat or take care of ourselves. How can we afford an education if we cannot take care of feeding?” she asked.
The difficult conditions under which the PWDs live have pushed many of them into begging. Since they cannot afford education for their children, some families use them as guides when they go into the city to beg.
A seven-year-old who identified himself as Kabir was spotted leading an old blind man while begging for alms at Life Camp.
Kabir told The ICIR that he has never been in school but spends his days begging with his blind grandfather.
“I have never been to school. I come here with baba every morning to beg, and we go back to Karon Magiji in the evening,” he said.
Some children, especially the PWDs in the colony, are sent to beg for alms by their parents rather than go to school.
Hadiza Ismail is a sixteen-year-old PWD and the third of four children who live with their parents at the colony.
Both parents, also PWDs, enrolled her three siblings in school, but Ismail is sent out every day to beg on the streets.
“I leave the house by 5.00 AM every day for a mosque at Jabi. I have a bike man who drops me off at the junction in the mornings,” she said.
She told The ICIR that she had suffered sexual advances from men who tried to lure her to their homes from the streets where she makes between N1000 and N2000 a day; on some days, nothing.
“When I tell my parents about it, they tell me to insult the men,” she said.
Ismail said she wanted to go to school but could not save up enough to afford an education, as proceeds from begging went into the family purse.
What the law says
Section 16(1) of the Discrimination Against People with Disabilities Act prohibits using a PWD for begging.
“A person shall not employ use or involve a person with disability in begging; parade persons with disability in public with intention of soliciting for alms or use condition of disability as a guise for the purpose of begging in public,” it states.
Unfortunately, people like Ismail have no alternatives as they cannot survive without government support.
The Act also provides in Sec 17(2) that a person with disabilities is entitled to free education up to secondary school level.
The ICIR visited the only school in the colony, LEA Primary School, Disability Colony, Karon Majigi, to ascertain if children with disabilities were given free education.
The stench of urine hung around the school compound, and there was no electricity or water supply at the time of the visit. The toilet in the school was also locked up.
According to the pioneer teacher in the school, Shuaibu Ahmed, the school built in 2013 by a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), was taken over by the government in 2019.
Out of about 200 school children, only one child living with a disability, Khadija Muhammad, a primary five pupil, was enrolled.
Like every other pupil in the school, sixteen-year-old Muhammad paid a registration fee of N4,500 and N2,000 for school uniforms upon enrolment.
Every term, she and other pupils were expected to pay N1,000 for the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) levy and an examination fee of N200 for printing question papers. This makes a total of almost N8,000 upon entry per child, a sum most residents of the colony cannot afford.
In an interview with The ICIR, the Headteacher, Maryam Elela, said the PTA levy collected from the pupils was used to pay most teachers.
Elela said there were only two teachers and a clerk approved for the school since 2019, and these are the only staff members on the government’s payroll.
“Most of the teachers are PTA teachers from the community helping the children. Whst the PTA collects is what I use in paying teachers. I pay them N10,000 every month.
“The government that took over the school is not taking the responsibility by posting teachers to the school. My assistant and I are the only government teachers posted here,” she said.
She also said the teachers were not trained to cater to the educational needs of children living with disabilities as many of them did not even possess a university degree.
“I read special education, and my area is learning disability. If any other impairment arises, I will not be able to cater to that need, and there is no one here that will do that. They have promised so many times that they will send me teachers, but they have not,” she said.
Nasara Persons with Disability Centre, Bwari
The colony at Karon Majigi is a temporary structure and cannot accommodate all PWDs in Abuja. Some can be found living under similarly deplorable conditions in the five other area councils within the FCT.
They often visit Karon Magiji, especially when gifts are shared, but due to its distance from other Area Councils in Abuja, PWDs living in Dei-Dei, Bwari, are making efforts to build the Nasara Persons with Disabilities Centre.
According to the Secretary, PWDs in Bwari Area Council Peter Umar, the new colony, Nasara Person with Disabilities Centre, can only accommodate 11 families out of over 100 others in Dei-Dei.
Other PWDs still live outside the settlement hoping that it will one day be expanded to accommodate everyone.
“Every Area Council has their leader as per disability. We choose to be here because if we are there, it will not contain all of us,” he said.
Even in this budding community, children are more interested in begging than education.
Displaced by the insecurity in Katsina, Usama relocated to the FCT earlier this year with his grandmother, a PWD.
Before their displacement, she was being taken care of by members of his extended family. However, she is now solely dependent on him for mobility and survival.
With no other means of sustenance, Lawal takes his grandmother around town in her wheelchair to beg for money with which they feed.
“We go to Zuba, Dei-Dei, Gwarinpa, Galadima, Dutse, Nyanya to beg from morning till night,” he said.
He said they make between N2000 and N4000 a day, but he cannot go to school as there is no one to look after his grandmother in his absence.
For Ramatu Useni, a PWD who also lives in Dei-Dei, her five children dropped out of school and only attend Islamic school as she could no longer handle tuition payments.
Her husband is blind, which makes the burden heavier for Useni, a petty trader.
Her children sometimes have to hawk food items to support the family income and she, occasionally begs for alms when things begin to get too rough.
“That is why we are crying out to the government to help us. There is hunger, poverty and we have children. They are stopping us from begging, and they have not provided alternatives,”
The Chairman of the budding colony, Abdullahi Kamara, told The ICIR that a skills acquisition centre had been built in the new colony, funded by the FCT Community and Social Development Project (CSDP) and other well-meaning individuals.
Kamara said he had warned his subjects against begging and advised them to learn skills to take care of their financial needs.
He, however, noted that the centre no longer functions at its best due to a lack of equipment.
“I tell our people that begging is embarrassing. I am an artist. But there are no materials to work with because the government is no more involved. If we had the materials, everyone would work here every day,” he said.
Secretary, PWDs in Dei-Dei Peter Umar said he had reached out to various government agencies, but only the Chairman, Bwari Area Council, John Gabaya and some NGOs had responded.
“We have been to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Women Affairs on several occasions with many letters. There was no attention given to us.
“We have written to the office of the Secretary, Persons with Disabilities. He has never even come here. But the Chairman Bwari Area Council has been trying,” he said.
The ICIR paid two visits to the office of the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD), James David Lalu. He was not available to respond to questions on both days.
In an interview with The ICIR, Spokesperson of the Social Development Secretariat, Shaka Sunday, said the newly appointed Mandate Secretary, Hadiza Mohammed Kabir, is committed to the welfare of PWDs in the FCT.
“Even before she was appointed, she had been going to Karon Majigi to give them relief materials and cater for them in the best way she can.
“Now that she has been made the secretary who oversees the department responsible for issues like that, everything that has to do with them is going to be catered for,” he said.
On free education for children with disabilities, Director, Department of Special Needs Education Jonah Ataru said there are three schools in Jabi and Kuje that cater to the education of PWDs for free.
“We observed that these schools are far-flung and cannot provide accommodation for all the children with disabilities and that is why the need to pursue the inclusive policy has become very important,” Ataru said.
He noted that traditional schools in the city lacked facilities to address the needs of children with disabilities, but the FCT was working on an inclusion policy that would equip them with requirements for educating PWDs.
“On the 15th, there was a stakeholders’ meeting on that policy. The final meeting has been done, and as soon as that policy is endorsed, all the schools will be remodelled to accommodate the special needs children.
Ataru noted, however, that LEA Secretaries in all the area councils had been putting in efforts to make schools in their domain accessible to persons with special needs.
He encouraged children with disabilities to enrol in the existing specialised schools which provide, pending the outcome of the policy.
Acting Director, Social Welfare Service Department, Sani Amir Abe, did not respond to calls or text messages as at the time of filing this report.