In 1976 when then head of state, General Murtala Muhammed, announced a plan to move Nigeria’s capital from the congested Lagos to Abuja, locals in the area hoped that things were going to turn around for the Abuja was chosen for its central location in Nigeria and its low population density, and construction on the city began in 1980. The city was designed by a team of Nigerian and foreign architects, and it was built on a 7,830-square-kilometer site in the centre of the country.
The Gbagyi people are an ethnic group native to the Federal Capital Territory. They are also found in the neighbouring states of Kaduna, Niger, and Kogi. They are predominantly rural people who practice subsistence farming. They are also known for traditional arts and crafts, such as pottery, weaving, and metalworking.
Abwami Ishaya was only 25 when he was shouldered with the responsibility of being a Chief in the Anka community, a Municipal area in the south of Abuja. Knowing fully well all it would take, the young lad took up the task with hopes of a brighter future. Now 52, he has seen how all that he envisioned for his community has become a faint reality.
Ishaya had hoped for a better life for his people, a dream his predecessor had handed to him-They were host to the federal government and expected compensation for letting go of their ancestral lands.
“ I was young when I became the chief, and Abuja was already the Federal Capital Territory. All I was expecting was help from the government. We have been in Abuja, it is our home and we should be treated with care since we welcome everybody without quarrel,” Ishaya said.
The chief said his people have borne the brunt of Nigeria’s development and have been constantly displaced from their lands without recourse.
The chief said his community has made efforts to get what he deems is due them.
“We took the case of our compensation to court and nothing was done. Nothing has still been done presently. Today we are not even in places of power”
Ishaya added that constantly, the Gbagyi people are continuously pushed out of Abuja, and the politics of the area, as they don't have any representative in government.
Giwa Tanko, 33, a community member, added that the Bassa, Gwandara, Gade, Dibo, Egburra, Nupe, and Koro, are the original inhabitants of Abuja, but they are more or less refugees in their lands, as they have been constantly pushed out of their land.
“Places like AYA, Utako, Wuse, Kubuwa, Asokoro, Garki, Jabi, and others were all occupied by the Gbagiyi people until the creation of the FCT, which made all the people move into the bush to find a new home,” he said.
Tanko added that the government had initially promised to compensate the communities, but what they got instead is marginalization and the stifling of their opportunities.
“We are not fully represented at the Federal Executive Council, we don’t have a second tier of government where we can call out somebody from our place that can hear us out. We do not have a slot, and unemployment eats us up,” he said.
Landlords who live in squalor
Although they host the Nigerian Federal Government, the Gbagyi people live in squalor, with most of them struggling to make ends meet.
In Anka, for instance, Hauwa Bawa depends on her farm to send her two kids to school, and with no government support, the 40-year struggles yearly between food and ensuring her children have a future.
Since she lost her husband, Bawa, who stays in a house made of Zinc and is usually unsafe during the rainy season, had lost her husband, and does not benefit from any government social service.
Like Bawa, Janet Ishaya struggles every day to survive. The 28-year-old combines farming with trading and hair styling and does this to support her husband, who is a carpenter. “I am a hustler, I do all that I can to get money to train my children because I want them to be better than me,” she said.
Ishaya said their condition has pushed them to become very hard-working. “Men, women, young children, we all hustle," but sometimes, the government's failure takes a toll on them. " I am a very smart person, but I could not finish school because we were suffering. My father tried his best to train us, but we started looking for money at age 15,” She said.
Ishaya’s wish is to leave the house she stays in and move into a better one. She desires for her people to enjoy the dividends of hosting the federal government, but she is worried it might not happen in a lifetime.