At the Abuja disability located in Karamajiji, I learnt one of life's biggest lessons.
Past and present administrations have continued to grapple with the challenge of increase in population such that the Abuja Master Plan is not altered.
The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) is saddled with the responsibility of maintaining the city’s beautiful outlook.
But, like other parts upcountry, Abuja continues to struggle with the menace of street begging.
Attempts to rid the city of beggars and destitute by past and present administrations have remained a difficult task.
Former FCT minister, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai conceived the idea of creating a ‘special location’ for these Nigerians.
This gave birth to Karamajiji Disability Colony.
Apart from providing shelter for these physically challenged Nigerians, the FCTA through its Social Welfare Secretariat, is saddled with the responsibility of catering for other needs of the occupants.
The department also trains these Nigerians in various skills that would help them contribute meaningfully to their communities.
Despite all these, street beggars can still be found in selected locations within the capital city.
So Pulse decided to pay a visit to the Karamajiji disability colony.
Karamajiji is a hidden location right behind the National Military Cemetery; a few metres away from the popular city gate, along Umar Musa Yar’Adua Expressway.
The area is home to low income earners and some natives of Abuja, called the Gbagyi or Gwari.
After close to an hour search, we located the facility.
As the taxi approached the colony, some disabled were seen begging along the road with their kids.
But there’s a problem.
‘You must get the permission of the Social Welfare Secretariat'
The facility houses the blind, cripples, deaf and those suffering other forms of disability.
Standing outside the building was a man who simply introduced himself as the Secretary, People Living With Disabilities.
He tells Pulse that they are not allowed to speak to outsiders on their plight except there is a permission from the Social Welfare Secretariat.
“Good day, sir. I’ll like to meet the head of the colony,” I requested.
“Young lady, the head of this colony is an Emir and he is sleeping right now. You will need to come back some other time,” the Secretary said.
He also turned down my request to speak on some issues regarding the colony, unapologetically.
“You see; I cannot talk to you about anything except you have the permission of the FCT minister of the Social Welfare Secretariat. We’re under the Secretariat and they need to be aware of your coming here before me or anyone can speak to you.
“Please don’t take any pictures too until you bring a letter from either the minister or Secretariat. You will have to go and explain to them and if they permit you, then we can speak to you,” he added.
After much pressure, he asked us to come back at 10am on Friday.
“Call me before coming so you don’t waste money on transport again,” he warned.
We exchanged contacts and I left
A letter before I speak to the Emir? I wondered while trying to get a taxi that would take me back to the office.
Few kilometers after the colony were former occupants of the facility.
“We left that place because of everything that happens there,” said one who asked not to be named.
“A lot of politics goes on at the colony. When NGOs bring us things, the emir and others will select the best or the one that will satisfy the himself and the family.
“Later, they will share the remnant for us. It’s better I come here and work to get my own money
“After all, these politicians will not come here except during elections and they want our votes. That is when you all see them bringing food items for us so we can vote for them. It’s better I stay here and work,” he added.
I soon got a taxi and left Karamajiji for the secretariat.
'No permission needed'
Speaking to Pulse, the Public relations officer of the Social Development Secretariat, Shaka Sunday, denied the allegation.
“That is not true. There is no way the minister or this secretariat would ask them to demand for permission before speaking to you on their plight.
“How can we send them out because they expressed themselves? No, we can’t do that," he said.
While speaking on the relationship between the secretariat and the colony, the PRO advised Nigerians to stop giving alms to street beggars.
“As a matter of fact, that place we are building a better place for them because where they are now is a temporary location. The place is also small to properly house all of them.
“We take food items, clothing, drugs and other things to them on a regular basis.
“I will like to use this opportunity to please beg members of the public to stop giving alms to street beggars because it will encourage them to continue in the trade,” said Shaka.
On Friday morning, I called the secretary to inform him of the visit.
“My sister, the Emir is not around now but have you gotten the permission?” He asked.
“Yes, I spoke to the PRO and he said they never gave you such directive,” I answered.
“My sister, forget that thing. I know what I am saying. If anything happens, they won’t suffer it with us,” he noted.
'They were threatened'
A source at the FCTA who craved anonymity also claimed that they were threatened by ‘someone’.
He gave us an insight into the ‘conspiracy of silence’ at the colony.
“I heard someone threatened to send them out of that place if they speak that is why they are afraid. Before now, they do speak to people about their needs but everyone is now scared of what will happen if the minister sees their name on the paper.
“Again, they do not like to talk to people except you bring food items.
“If you had carried one carton of biscuit, Allah the man would have gone to wake the Emir from sleep. Those people are like Oliver Twist, they are always asking for more.
“The worst is; no one can satisfy their needs. Even if you give them Nigeria’s budget, they will still say it is not enough” the source said.
At this point, there was only one thing on my mind – deadline.
Threatened or not, the major lesson from all these is; do not go to the Karamajiji disability colony empty handed.