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A suburb where residents float in despair

Literarily, Abujan Talakawa means ‘Abuja for the masses’, and its densely populated nature and the category of occupants, most of whom are middle cadre civil…

Literarily, Abujan Talakawa means ‘Abuja for the masses’, and its densely populated nature and the category of occupants, most of whom are middle cadre civil servants, artisans and petty traders, makes the name seemingly apt probably because its development is at variance with the original Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory which is acclaimed to be one of the fastest growing cities in the world through deliberate design with the concept of urbanization to guide buildings for public, residential and commercial purposes.

Unlike the FCT’s Abuja which has good road networks, potable water, beautiful edifices amongst others, buildings in Abujan Talakawa in Maiduguri seemed poorly supervised by concerned government agencies, and not in compliance with building regulations that ensure compulsory construction of drainages around buildings and this makes almost all houses in the area built without drainages.

To make matters worse for Abujan Talakawa, the soil type and topography of the area is prone to water logging.

The onset of the rainy season is always a disaster to residents of Abuja Talakawa. For almost three weeks now, constant long hours of rainfall has caused an unprecedented flood in the area, making it almost impossible to move across the streets, as well as into the area on foot, bicycle, motorcycle and car.

Because the streets and entire surrounding is flooded, canoes have now become the most convenient means of transportation from street to street, house to house, or in and out of the area.

The flood has also rendered many homeless, destroyed their properties and forced them to abandon their homes. Those who have no place to go say they have resigned to their fate to living with the fear of uncertainty.

The source of potable water in the neighbourhood has also been affected because the borehole which initially served the area has now become flooded and contaminated. They now rely on water vendors who have to ferry the water across, at a cost more for the buyers.

Evlyn, a young lady residing in the area, who works full time in her mother’s food joint in the neighborhood lay on a wooden bench. She said food was ready but there were no buyers. Her mother’s shop and the surrounding thatched tents, she said, were usually filled with customers. Now it was empty. She told our correspondent that life has not been easy for the family since the flood.

“The experience has been unpleasant. Our customers who come to eat in the restaurant no longer have easy access to walk in, resulting in drastic drop in sales. We have now resorted to cooking the food and using the canoe to transport it to the road side, which we also use to buy foodstuffs every day. Each passenger pays ten N10.00 per trip and additional money for the load. But when there was no flood, a lot of people came here to eat and we walked to and fro to the main road,” she narrated.

The area also houses the main yam market in the metropolis. The access road to the area has also been blocked. The entire surrounding of the market has been flooded, leaving a little dry land. This has forced the yam traders to ply their trade beside the roads.

Alhaji Ibrahim Zangava, the chairman of the yam sellers association said the problem is an annual one, but was quick to add that it has never been witnessed in such a magnitude. “It has been reoccurring for many years now. Last year, we did not experience such floods because the state government filled up the area with trucks of sand. But this year, due to constant rainfall within short intervals, the area is witnessing this unprecedented flood.

“Since the inception of this market, we have never used canoes to transport our yams from the market to the roadside where they are displayed to make it easy for motorists to buy, except this year. We are in dire need of government assistance to construct drainages along the roads to create water channels. As it is now, some people whose houses were submerged during the last torrential rains have moved out because of fear that if the rains continue, they could be drowned.” he appealed.

Our correspondent learnt that the yam traders have incurred a lot of loss. They said that before now, they offload no less than 20 trucks every week. Last week, they only offloaded three trucks. This, they attributed to lack of space for storage resulting from lack of access roads for the trucks which could not pass through the water to the market to offload. They said they are now forced to offload by the roadside, limiting their storage capacity and availability of yams in the market.

To quantify their loss, Alhaji Zangava said that every truck load of yam costs about N2 million. Instead of offloading about N40 million worth of yams, they were only about to offload about N6 million worth in the market last week. This, according to some of the traders, could create hike in price due to shortage in supply, thereby causing untold hardship to consumers.

Some residents who spoke to Sunday Trust reveal that the stagnant water is very dangerous because it contains household sewage wastes discharged from various residences, most of which contain faeces and urine.  “If you walk through the water, you experience some itches on your body and when you scratch, it produces skin rashes. Most of the time, local Qur’anic school children (almajirai) bath in the water,” one residents complained.

The canoe operators who are making brisk business from the situation also operate at nights, but never exceeding 8pm. At such times, it was discovered that the operators use battery powered touch lights for easy visibility. “If you are unlucky and have to return or go out after 8pm, you have to walk through the water, which is often dangerous because at such times, you could get injured by an object buried in the water. Not too long ago, a black snake was killed in the water. The people who know about snakes said it is a dangerous specie. Only God knows what would happen if it had not been killed,” another resident said.

A youth resident in the area who simply identified himself as Mohammed, was found washing his commercial motorcycle with the stagnant water at one of the entry points in the area. Beside him were two canoes, waiting to convey passengers. Our correspondent learnt that the second boat was provided a day before, an indication that some people were profiting from the predicament of residents of the area.

“Pedestrians cannot walk through, neither can cyclists. The canoe has become our only means of transportation here. Government should please come to our aid. The situation is pathetic. The environment is densely populated, but only about seven or 10 people can be carried in the canoe at a time. Sometimes, the canoes are operated by very small children whose judgment at turbulent times could cause accidents. But the people have no choice. They have to move about to conduct their daily affairs. People must go to work, to  the market or run  errands. Thank God students are on holidays now. It is our prayers that government assists us before school resumes else we fear the worse would happen,” Mohammed pleaded.

Residents in the area have also paid dearly with their lives as our correspondent reliably gathered that 13 people died from cholera in the area during the recent outbreak of the disease that has now spread to eight local government areas in the state with over 42 deaths and more than 131 reported cases, Sunday Trust learnt.

A newly wedded bride who boarded one of the canoes with our correspondent was so scared that she shivered throughout the journey and held tightly to the side, tilting the weight and causing the boat to rock from side to side. The paddler kept warning her, saying she could cause it to capsize. She shared her earlier experience. “This is even better. Wait until you are driven by one of the younger ones. He almost threw us into the dirty water. I wonder what I would have done. I cannot swim. I cannot imagine that this is a regular routine for people in the area, including small children,” she declared pitifully.

The Borno State Government has inaugurated a committee, headed by the former Head of Service and now commissioner, Engineer Ali Gambo Maina saddled with the responsibility of clearing drainages to ensure free flow of water across the state to avert flooding. The committee is presently evacuating blocked drainages in the state. Ironically, the evacuation exercise only began long after the rains set in.

Maina, the committee’s chairman, recently said during an assessment visit at evacuation sites that all drainages within Maiduguri and Jere would soon be cleared.

Disturbingly, clearing of drainages may not directly erase the sudden rivers in ‘Abuja Talakwa’ because the community has no drainages in the first place and this means more canoes will be needed to transport residents to their houses in what may turn to be an endless misery.

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