The Impact of Urbanization on the Gbagyi People of Abuja Area
TANKO THEOPHILUS CHIGUDU
Oral tradition has it that the history of the Gbagyi people is a record of a people’s experience in migration. The conventional/ mainstream view holds that the Gbagyi people were made to disperse due to scourge of war from Borno to the Zaria area. However, emergent views indicate that they may have dispersed from the central part of Nigeria before they finally moved to their present locations (Chigudu 2008:2). Although, the Gbagyi are widely spread and interspersed with other groups of people in Northern Nigeria, they still maintain their identity (Mohammed, 2008:36).
The Gbagyi people are known to be a peace-loving, transparent and accommodating people. No wonder relative peace and order is enjoyed in their various abodes even when they are trampled upon. Whatever is honesty inclined is attributed to the Gbagyi speaking people. In fact, Northerners are fond of saying in Hausa language “muyi shi Gwari Gwari” (meaning let’s do it like the Gbagyi or in the Gbagyi way). In addition the Gbagyi people have emerged as a unique breed of people among Nigerians, their culture shows how much they have come to terms with the universe. Daily they aspire to give life a meaning no matter the situation they find themselves.
The intention of this chapter therefore, is to intimate the reader with the impact of urbanization on the Gbagyi people in Abuja. This is in order to bring to the fore the way the movement of the federal capital to Abuja has affected the people (Gbagyi) with emphasis on the impact of urbanization. In an attempt to do justice to this, a brief history of the establishment of the federal capital in Abuja, and urbanization is considered and of course the impact of urbanization on the people shall be examined and lastly the conclusion.
Establishment of Federal Capital in Abuja
By a notice published in August 1975, the Federal Military Government appointed an eight-man committee headed by Justice T.T. Akinola Aguda to study the question of the federal capital of Nigeria, the other members of the committee being Dr. Tai Solarin, Alhaji Mohammed Musa Isma, Dr. Ajato Gandonu, Col. Monsignor Pedro Martins, Chief Owen Frebail and Professor O.K. Ogan and the secretary of the committee was Chief E.E. Nsefik. The committee was required to submit its recommendations to the federal military government not less than the 31 December 1975 (CEDDERT, 2006).
Drawing on the broad range and variety of views across the country, its experience from visiting other countries and its own detailed studies the Aguda panel highlighted a number of issues which in its opinion supported the widely held views that it was neither desirable nor feasible for Lagos to retain the dual role as federal and state capital. Among the issues or factors raised were: multiple role of Lagos as federal and state capital, inadequacy of land space and related issues, population dynamics, conflicts between federal and state governments, ethnicity etc. (CEDDERT, 2006).
Having determined that there were compelling reasons for relocating the federal capital, the panel on the basis of experiences gained from visits and study of other national capitals in the world as well as the views expressed in the memorandum received by it, identified several criteria which they intended to follow in determining the precise geographical location to recommend for the new federal capital. Among the criteria identified were centrality, multi-access possibilities, health and climatic conditions, availability and closeness of physical resources base, low population density, physical planning convenience and ethnic accord. There were on the whole thirteen criterias which the panel ranked in order of priority by assigning percentages as follows: centrality 22%, Health 12%, land availability and use 10%, water supply 10%, multi-access possibilities 7%, existence of local building materials 6%, low population density 5%, soil 5%, physical planning convenience 4% and ethnic accord 3% (CEDDERT, 2006). In the light of the above, the choice of Abuja as the new federal capital was a well thought out one by the Aguda panel (Chigudu, 2009: Chpt. 2).
On 12 December 1991, the seat of government was finally transferred from Lagos to Abuja. In realization of Nigeria’s long aw aited d ream, the nascent capital immed iately experienced a large influx of people on a daily basis, thus, the emergence of satellite towns e.g. Kubwa, Karmu, Dutse, etc. and consequently agitation for more area councils. It was as a result of the agitation that Bwari and Kwali area councils were created on 1 October 1996 in a national broadcast. However, prior to 1991 there was the transfer of several government ministries boards and parastatals of the federal government to Abuja (Chigudu, 2009: Chpt. 2).
The Concept of Urbanization
The gathering of people into urban centres marks one of the most fundamental transformations in human history. Starting about 6,000 years ago in various parts of the world, large towns and eventually cities, grew out of what were formerly agrarian village societies. This process, often called the urban revolution, involved much more than just an increase in the size of communities. It also included marked changes in the way people interacted , the people’s relationship w ith the environment, and in the way the people structured their societies. The processes and institutions that emerged at this time have continued to evolve, forming the basic structures of urban society today (Redman, 2008).
However, D. Clarke (1982) postulates that there are several meanings attached to the use of urbanization. The most common being its d emographic variant, w hich is the proportion of population living in the urban area and/ or involved in urban activities. Even that is unproblematic inasmuch as there are several criteria to define, and therefore to measure and enumerate urban population (Turaki 2007:89).
Urbanization is seen as a process of change both in quantitative and qualitative terms and central to our understanding of recent urban-environmental process, particularly those related to the presence of one dominant economic activity as trade, tourism, etc. urbanization is sometimes used as proxy of urban grow th either in demographic or spatial terms; at other times it is used to describe the particular features of an urbanized area or development in terms of provision of housing, services and basic infrastructure (Turaki 2007:89). Urbanization could also be described as the shift of population from rural areas to cities, and the resulting growth of urban areas.
Urbanization and Its Impact on the Gbagyi People of Abuja
The rapid transformation of the FCT area led to the sharp increase in population and size of several settlements in the FCT area, for instance, by 1996, towns such as Karu had a population of 17,253, Gwagwalada 23,174, Kubwa 18,668, Nyanya 34,864 and Abuja city 59,851. This obviously led to demands for new infrastructure, housing, roads, schools etc. w hich provid ed the basis for achieving meaningful development and infrastructure of the FCT. This implies that these emerging urban centres pulling immigrants are effectively generating socio-economic development in the new FCT, a situation that was absent twenty (20) years earlier (CEDDERT, 2006:71-72).
However, as the population in Abuja increases the challenges of urbanization staring it on the face. In fact, the d egree of urbanization in the FCT requires ad equate infrastructural development. These will include the provision of electricity, water supply, education, health facilities, transportation, communication etc. which lays the foundation of economic development. It is believed therefore that urbanization and the level of infrastructure available in a country suggests the level of socio-economic development of the country.
When the rapid physical development of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja (FCT) started in 1980 there were subsequent massive immigration of newcomers and the demography, infrastructures, society and gender roles and other spheres of the lives of the indigenous inhabitants there started to change (Filaba, 2004).
The construction of the Capital City was going on amidst the indigenous settlements that accommodated the newcomers. The construction, the mass relocation of federal government workers from Lagos to the new Capital City, and the FCT policies towards the indigenous groups, all combined to greatly change the earlier predominantly rural farmers and the demography and the composition of the inhabitants. The changes started with the accommodation of secondary families who were mainly professionals in the houses of primary families and the neighbourhood became more nationalized (Filaba, 2004).
The empowerment of the indigenous population in the FCT started with employment opportunities in the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) which recruited the indigenes into its various departments. The indigenes dominated the FCDA and Abuja Municipal Area Council [AMAC] (Filaba, 2007:105-106).
The rapid urbanization was characterized by massive immigration of the urban poor – the job seekers in the construction companies, petty professionals and their apprentices and hawkers that brought about primary families living together with secondary families in the same compound and becoming congested. This later came to have direct empowerment implications as the indigenes were influenced to seize opportunities and learn new ways of earning a living.
Indeed, more houses were built in the satellite towns to let (Filaba, 2007:105-106). The indigenes built these houses for rent in order to raise more money for the family’s use.
There were gradual changes in the family and gender roles as women started to become bread winners as politicians, employees, contractors, middle-dealers, professionals and so on, unlike before when almost all the women were full-time house wives. The first decade of the development of the FCT thus created empowerment opportunities; it also increased women’s roles and posed new challenges (Filaba, 2007:105106).
Furthermore, the urbanization of the Capital City directly impacted on the local economy – farming, animal rearing, crafts and marketing. Women have always been critical in the rural economy, particularly in porting back harvest and marketing them. The desire for pots for flower beds encouraged pottery, which was the monopoly of women. Despite the opening of new opportunities, farmers did not easily adjust by quickly embracing the new economy. In the first decade of the FCT, farming remained the main means of rural survival. Thus, the federal government’s initial taking over of their farmland for the construction of the Capital City recorded a sharp decline in the agricultural production (Filaba, 2007:105-106). However, between 1990 and 2000 there was a massive rise in the agricultural production as a result of the high demand of food stuff by the teeming population in Abuja. This increase in agricultural production was made possible with the full time involvement of women in the cultivation of farmlands.
The increased participation of women in farming was motivated by high demand rather than any policy. That may be why food from FCT was exported to the eastern, western and northern parts of the country. In fact, the satellite villages and the villages close to the FCT fed the whole teeming population in the FCT and as well sold their products to far away towns and cities (Filaba, 2007:105-106). The Ushafa area of the FCT for instance, sold its farm products to as far as Zaria. Yams were exported in large quantities and other important food items i.e. guinea corn, maize and rice, were produced in large quantity for food as before and for brewing local beer – burukutu, which both immigrants and indigenes consumed. Of course, the rapid urbanization and the offer of ‘good’ prices motivated massive farming of foods like cassava, rice, beans, pepper, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, maize, pepper, livestock and garden crops of many sorts. Some people were tempted to sell out almost all of their harvests because of the ‘good price’. This resulted in hunger in some households particularly in the months of March, April, May and June when new crops had not ripened (Filaba, 2007)
Apart from the high demand for food for the teeming immigrants, which directly stimulated farming more than before, mango and cashew nuts, earlier thrown as rubbish, came to be marketable. Many chemical and cosmetic industries appointed collectors of these nuts. Women were the main collectors and middle dealers in these nuts. Some of these middle women became rich. Thus, the coming of FCT Abuja, directly encouraged tree farming. New crops, like vineyards, cucumber, foreign plants and flowers, and birds, were introduced. These new crops were more valuable than local products (Filaba, 2004: Chpt. 5).
Those who lost their farms, however, started to do one thing or the other in order to live. Some of them sold their labour in the construction camps. Some became guards or rendered social services. Many people started to invest in the new economy. Households started to raise structures as rooms to let (Filaba, 2007:110).
Those people of Karu, Nyanya, Kurudu, Asokoro and
Karshi that were given the first installment of the compensation (Ago et al, 1999, 21-28) used the money in building houses to let. Others bought motorbikes and buses for commercial purposes. Some people invested the money in running food canteens and hotels.
In the first decade of the FCT in the satellite towns, apart from the new government quarters, almost all the restaurants, houses to let and accommodation hotels were owned by the indigenes. This was partly influenced by the demand for house to let. Since all the workers in the city became resident of satellite villages, every primary family head was influenced to build to let. The round thatched huts gave way for modern buildings. There was also the evolution of food and drink hotels, shops and technical workshops, which influenced family heads to erect structures in the open spaces and backyards to let out at exorbitant prices. Tenants were asked to give not less than a year’s advance before occupation (Filaba 2007:111).
Other important new economic changes carried out by the indigenous inhabitants included crafts and handworks like carpentry, mechanic, electronic, plumber, iron bender, welder, bricklayer, and other vocational training. They also started to invest in the motorbike hiring business called “going” also known as “express” or “achaba” in Hausa. Women started to establish kiosks, shops, food hotels, and myriad of petty businesses in the FCT (Filaba, 2004:5).
The rapid urbanization of Abuja w as similarly characterised with establishment of markets most of whose traders were women. Most of the inhabitants were workers and business people and they boosted trading in local products. Abuja workers and contractors followed producers right into their localities for their crafts, farm produce, fish and meats. This boosted and influenced the enlargement of roadside markets along Abuja-Keffi, Suleja Zuba and Abaji-Lokoja arteries. In addition to the food crops, the villages supplied cow milk and butter, fish, hides and skins, bush meat and honey. The villages along the roads like New Nyanya, Mararaba and Masaka had merged and were becoming primate cities of the Capital City. Since Abuja workers resided in these towns, their experiences and ways of life of the FCT were extended on them (Filaba, 2004:5).
The FCT absorbed even the agricultural population, which operated on a seasonal basis because there was poverty in the rural areas. G. Breese observed the movement of the skilled labour and the most hard working from the rural areas to the Capital Cities to be a universal phenomenon, and warned that there may be a diseconomy or dysfunction involved in the tendency of high talent persons to leave villages where it is necessary to have as many as possible return to villages for administration of national programs. Capital Cities are observed to be magnets for rural population worldwide (Breese, 1969:42).
Abuja as locus of economic power became headquarter of industrial, commercial and other enterprises, where they attempt to establish contacts with countries outside. Abuja’s dominance over other states and economic functions made “all roads led to Abuja.” Anybody who wished to make it within the shortest time possible went to Abuja, women inclusive.
Generally speaking, the coming of the FCT meant empowerment to the host communities. Although the agrarian communities were reluctant to change to the urban economy initially, they gradually picked up since 1990. Of course, there were job opportunities from which all benefited. Investment opportunities were open to all irrespective of tribe or religion. While the agrarian population adopted new professions and investment opportunities, the prospects for secondary schools, higher institutions and universities’ graduates became unlimited too (Filaba, 2007:115).
The infrastructural development in satellite towns like the establishment of schools, health centers, communication links, etc., directly impacted on the living conditions of the people. The teeming population in the FCT stimulated investment of all sorts that impacted on the agriculture, marketing, local industries and so on.
Other positive changes brought about by the rapid urbanization of Abuja includ ed unlimited investment opportunities, increased cash flow as land became costly and saw the rise in the living conditions of the indigenous communities. Some indigenes sold out their plots, which money was used to buy buses and cars and for employing large labour on the farms, and invested by building houses to let, bus commuting, motorbike riding and food and social services. The teeming population created good business environment and influenced family heads to erect structures to let out at exorbitant prices (Filaba, 2007:115).
Problems of Urbanization
Without any iota of doubt the movement of the federal capital from Lagos to Abuja has in no small measure impacted both positively and negatively on the indigenous population of the area most especially the Gbagyi people.
By 1980, Abuja witnessed a massive influx of people. This development eventually led to rapid increase in the population of Abuja. Several rural areas incidentally experienced a rapid increase in population.
These rural areas experienced a massive influx of people without any infrastructural development. Ushafa for instance, still remains the least urbanized and lacks industries. But, everyday it welcomes series of migrants. This migration of people became inevitable during the resettlement and relocation exercise that started between 1980 and 1986; and was reenforced during Malam Nasir el-Rufai’s administration from 2003-2007 (Chigudu 2009: Chpt 3) The implication being therefore, that the rural areas have become congested thereby leading to health hazards and over taxation of the land and resources. The rapid urbanization in Abuja has led to an unprecedented growth in population and this has inadvertently led to the over population of the rural areas (Chigudu 2009: Chpt 3).
Many of the problems that plagues the rural areas and cities inhabited by the Gbagyi are slums, environmental pollution, noise pollution, poor power supply, lack of good housing, roads, poor standard of education, inadequate water supply, unemployment etc. in addition, most of these rural areas affected by the rapid urbanization of Abuja has become a domain for hoodlums and crime.
Because of the low standard of living in the rural areas many rural dwellers migrate to the cities in search of better livelihood without any idea of how they are going to make a living and end up with problems for themselves and urban authorities concerned. And at the same time problems are sometimes created in rural areas when rural depopulation leads to abandoned farms and scarcity of farm labour (Turaki 2007:89-90).
The provision of facilities/ services in most of the rural areas is far from being adequate. Some of these rural areas still make use of shift structures for schools and clinics. Police stations, post offices, fire service stations and good roads are non-existent in most of the rural areas. However, the only facility that is common to all rural areas is the provision of primary schools (FCDA, 1980).
The creation of the FCT in Abuja brought along with it several d evelopments both positive and negative. Thus the establishment of the FCT in Abuja inadvertently led to transformation of the indigenous people’s lifestyle in all ramifications. Today, with the increase in the population of Abuja, the indigenes are faced with a lot of challenges such as conforming to the high demands of the present. Thus, most often, the indigenous population of Abuja is often relegated to the background with little or no effort by the urban authorities or government to better their lot.
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