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[SPECIAL REPORT] The realities of living in Abuja and homeless

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HOUSING has remained a major problem in Nigeria.

The 2022 National Multidimensional Poverty Index report by the National Bureau of Statistics states that 133 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. This is more than half of the country’s 206 million estimated population. 

Interestingly, 42 per cent of the multi-dimensionally poor population live in urban centres as such they are often plagued with homelessness, as they cannot afford the cost of paying rent in the urban centre.

“My Life is a Tragedy”

A bricklayer, Friday Idoko is one of such person. He lives in an uncompleted building in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

Idoko and his family have been living in the uncompleted building around Durumi for three years.

Friday Idoko/ Credit ICIR

While speaking to The ICIR, Idoko sighed and said, “My life is a tragedy”.

“Living in an abandoned building like this was not my wish years back, and it has been misery. I feel despondent when I see my children growing up in a place like this, but I cannot control my fate. I have guilt feelings occasionally because they don’t have the chance to enjoy the goodies other kids are enjoying”, he stated.

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“If I’m earning more, I would have moved my family away from this building; this is not a livable place to raise one child.”, he added.

Idoko earns, on average N25,000 monthly as a bricklayer, but this is only when there is construction work ongoing. At the time The ICIR visited him, he has not worked for two months.

Living in an uncompleted building has numerous challenges, he said, include theft and having to deal with the rainy season.

“The rainy season is the worst; we (the occupants) are always ready to pack the remains of water that enters our rooms. During those times, it is extremely difficult to sleep with my two eyes shut, especially when my children feel cold or at night when my children are feasted upon by mosquitoes,” he stated.

“I am Surviving for Survival’s Sake”

“This Life has been so frustrating” is the first sentence, Abigail Jacobson, a 34-year-old mother of two, said while speaking with The ICIR. 

Abigail Jacobson/ Credit: ICIR
Abigail Jacobson/ Credit: ICIR

Jacobson said she became homeless when her house was demolished by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA).

“They made me homeless because they demolished everything that I had worked for. Almost all my properties were destroyed along with the FCTA demolition in March,” she said as she dabbed the tear that trickled down her cheek.

Uncompleted residential building in Durumi Area 1
Uncompleted residential building in Durumi Area 1
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The FCTA routinely carry out demolition exercises on illegal, poorly constructed/sited and unapproved houses and buildings.  In 2022 alone over 1000 houses were demolished across Abuja communities like Utako, Mpape, Bassa-Jiwa village, among others.

Living in uncompleted buildings is not rent free

Jacobson explained that securing and staying in an uncompleted building is also not without its financial burden.

She said they still have to pay rent as well as fix windows, doors and, in some cases, do a makeshift roof.

“Even this building (the uncompleted building where she now lives) is not free. We pay a sum of N40,000 despite the sad reality that it is substandard and unsafe,” she stated.

Jacobson also worries about raising her kids in the environment, “There are different kinds of people here, and I’m being careful who my children mixed with.”

Jacobson is aware that it’s not healthy to live in such an environment surrounded by refuse dumps, “We know, but we don’t have a choice what can we do? she asked.

Jacobson earns N60,000, but most of it goes for transportation, health expense and feeding; there is nothing left to pay for standard housing.

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“To get the least priced minimum of one bedroom flat or self-contain apartment, I would need at least N100,000 to N150,000”, she explained.

Her kids are out of school. She cannot afford to pay school fees, but she is not relenting. She has enrolled them to learn vocational skills instead.

“They are already learning vocational skills, which is different from the plan I had for them”, she said sadly.

Her immediate concern right now is getting another place to live. The uncompleted building where she lives has been sold. The new owner wants to resume construction.

One wrong investment and it’s homelessness for David

Chris David sorting some files inside the abandoned car/ Credit ICIR

Donning his purple long-sleeve shirt, black jeans and a pair of black slippers, David Chris, a forty-six-year-old man who works in the hospitality industry, sits on a wooden bench pondering and recounting how he got to this place.

David lives in an abandoned car in front of an uncompleted building in Utako village. It was not always like this for him.

“I invested some amount with my friend. Unfortunately, the business turned out to be fake,” he said.

He said he used all his savings which he estimated to be around N3.5 million.

Rooms and heaps of refuse/ Credit ICIR
Rooms and heaps of refuse/ Credit ICIR

The business was supposed to do with the supply of hydroengineering equipment, after six months, he realised he has been duped by the friend.

David complains about the filthy state of the environment.

“Although I sleep in an abandoned car outside the structure, however, I still take precautionary measures. To prove my point, if you go inside the building (pointed towards the main entrance) you will see faeces on the floor as you walk down, heaps of refuse on corridors and even beside where some people sleep, it is disgusting, but what will people do”, he said.

Utako village is an urban slum in Abuja metropolis.

Weeks of close observation by The ICIR reporter show that many residents practice open defecation, and people sleep and wake anywhere – under wooden tables, inside kiosks, unenclosed facilities, and in deserted buildings.

Amidst the filthy and unhygienic environment, some of the occupants deal in the food business.

“Sadly, we have people who prepare food for sale, and they still do that in this same environment without cleaning up where they cook. It is even inappropriate to cook in this environment,” he reiterated.

David, aside from the health implications of living in such an environment, they also have to deal with law enforcement as the facility harbours prostitutes, drug addicts, and criminals.

“There was a time security operative raided this structure, and many of us were accused and detained, and we had no choice but to bail ourselves. It is a pathetic experience that I don’t like to recall,” he narrated.

They are the victims of the system- Environmental Expert

Reacting to the plights and conditions of the residents of uncompleted buildings in Abuja, The Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Philip Jakpor said most of the people who live in uncompleted buildings and facilities are victims of the system.

snapshot of a food vendor/ Credit ICIR

“These people are victims. They are victims of a system that does not make room for the lower class of society to be able to have decent housing, so those who can not afford the luxury of a normal apartment end up utilizing the uncompleted building.”

“Some of these houses do not have roofs, windows and doors and these are people who ideally cannot afford expensive accommodation, although we have people who use it as their launching place for nefarious activities either to smoke, drink, prostitute or rape and sell illicit substances and constitute a nuisance,” he stressed.

“If these people get decent accommodation in town, I don’t think they will put themselves in trouble every day and it is the same with the people who end up patronising and exploring any uncompleted building.”

“We have people who live in faraway places, and they have to spend two-three hours on their way to get to work while some individuals can not bear the stress, so they resort to renting unconducive accommodation,” he added.

Jakpor stressed the need for the government to collaborate with the owners of uncompleted properties to protect the facilities to avoid being a hotbed of crime and a haven for criminals.

“If we have decent housing, people wouldn’t want to live there, so government should provide decent housing and ensure that the uncompleted facilities should be secured”.

Author profile

Stories with punches holding the powerful accountable. His determination to speak out against corruption and influence the conversation in Nigeria, the surrounding region and the continent inspires him.

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