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    Posted September 27, 2011 by
    Abuja, Nigeria
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Boot camp: Headline writing & story building

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               When I first moved to Abuja in 2001, I had difficulty adjusting to the city. Coming from Lagos where the constant activity of people inured you to constant honking, traffic congestion and the constant stream of a people with harried expressions on their faces, Abuja stuck me as odd and kind of surreal. Getting to my destination at the appointed time without being stuck in traffic took time getting used to, but eventually the iddylic settings of the city with its rocks and calm atmosphere eventually grew on me.


              Ten years later, the city is no longer the same. Now, long lines of cars on major highways leading to and within the city has made Abuja a former shadow of its self. Trash litters the sidewalks of some roads, and the mad dash of people reminds you of the ever vibrant Lagos, the present economic capital and former capital of Nigeria. Commercial bus drivers with their green buses with their white stripes operate by their own rules. They park by the street curbs and pick their passengers. Unkempt looking conducters yell loudly into the afternoon heat to attract propective passengers. Slowly, the city is beginning to take a new look, albeit an unattractive one, and the culprit for this unwelcome change is in the sea of faces you see each day at the close of the day's work.


            Once a small town, Abuja has grown to a city of seven million people, and everyday more people trudge to the city in large numbers. There are those who have fled cities in the North as a result of religious or political crises and there are those who have come to pick gold off the streets of the city, after all the city is home to some of the highest paid legislators in the world with senators earning as much as $1.7 million in salaries and allowances and house of representative members earning $1.45 million per annum, according to a Nigerian legal luminary Professor Itse Sagay in his research paper "the status and role of the legislature in a democratic society". Despite the apparent wealth of some of its residents and the posh settings of some highbrow area like Asokoro, Maitama, Life Camp, and some parts of Wuse, some people have no choice but to take up residence in surburbs or satellite towns outside the city where there is little or no infrastructure as the city continues to groan under the weight of a population boom. Houses are slapped around the landscape in a random manner. The commercial motorcyclists which were banned from the city proper take up spaces on narrow roads in these areas, competing with dangerous looking lorries and smaller cars. The atmosphere is chaotic, but the people seem to have no choice but to live under these conditions.


            On a visit to one of such places called Mpape, I saw how people lived or operated business in houses or sheds close to narrow roads, with their door steps only a few meters away from the ever busy roads. Markets thrived on fringes of these roads where people sold their wares on the ground or in short wooden tables. In these places, you could see the impact of unplanned population on existing structures. The roads are ridden with potholes and there is basically no sense of order.


             One of the traders I spoke with, a woman who sold dried yam peels in a wide basin beside the road believed that the population growth had a positive impact on her business. In pidgin English, she expressed her desire to see the government do more for the people of the area who work hard and earn little pay. She didn't seem to think the population was a problem and gave an emphatic "yes" when I asked if the population helped her business.


              However, her enthusiasm was not shared by Kevin Ebole, a resident of Kubwa, a satellite town outside the city who I spoke with. He complained that the traffic congestion made commuting difficult. He said it was not easy moving fom his place to the city where he worked. He called for the government to provide basic infrastructure to support the population.


            During my interview with a member of the hosue of representatives, Hon Chris Etta of the Ikom/Boki Federal constituency, I discussed the issue of population growth and obtained his views on the subject. He said, "No nation should be afraid of population growth". He reminded me that there are several countries with bigger populations which is managed properly. In his opinion, population only becomes a problem in the absence of supporting infrastructure. I brought up the U.N report that Nigeria's population is likely to reach 700 million by 2100, and he re-iterated his position that Nigeria does not have a problem with population, and that agitation should be made for development, nothing more.


             In spite of the several perpectives on the population issue of Nigeria, it is indeed clear that if unchecked, Nigeria may well fulfill U.N's prediction of reaching 700 miillion by 2100. According to the UN world population prospects (2008 revised edition), the Nigerian population at 1950 was 36,680,000 and is projected at 254,000,000 (low variant) and 326 million (high variant) in 2050. The Nigerian government needs to do more than pay lip service to the population growth as it is clearly becoming a problem. I believe that a mass orientation of the masses on the need of smaller families will go a long way in helping the country. As we lose serene towns like Abuja to the demands of a growing population, it is my hope that the society does not crumble under the weight of urbanization without real development. The social and economic implications will be too much to bear.

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