Ogbonna Casmir of the Punch writes about Enugu community where expectant mothers are taken to hospital in a wheelbarrow and children below age eight shun schools during rainy season for fear of drowning
For the residents of Gabon Camp in Emene, Enugu East Local Government Area, life is brutish, hard and unforgiving. Their daily existence typifies the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is savagely cruel with daily struggle for survival as a permanent feature.
It may sound strange that there is a Gabon camp in Enugu, Nigeria but it has nothing to do with the Republic of Gabon, a sovereign state on the west coast of Central Africa, bordering Equatorial Guinea to the northwest, Cameroon to the north, the Republic of the Congo to the east and south, and the Gulf of Guinea to the west.
The Gabon camp in Enugu is a settlement with no access road; health facility, either owned by government or private; no potable water; school or electricity.
The community, located behind Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, has 120 family compounds with an estimated population of 5,000. It is dominated by people mainly from Ezza clan in Ebonyi State.
To access the settlement, a first-time visitor would need to cross the rail line towards the bank of Ekulu River, and walk for over 2km. Sadly, the community is cut off from the rest of the state, due to lack of access road. Visiting the community is a nightmare as it is only accessible through a track road by the bank of Ekulu River by foot or motorcycle, popularly known as ‘Okada’. There have been reports that people often drown whenever the river overflows its bank. As the rainy season is here, residents of the community are becoming apprehensive about what might become their lot for the duration of the rainy season.
In the community, expectant mothers go through hell due to lack of access to medical care. Children trek for hours in the scorching sun to attend school. The hardship being faced by the people is akin to hell on earth due to the absence of basic infrastructure and social amenities. The people live like refugees in their fatherland with no sign of concern by government.
When Saturday PUNCH visited the community during the week, many families were seen busy trying to repair their houses destroyed by rainstorm the previous day. It was observed that all the 120 compounds were built with mud.
The President of the Gabon Women Association, Mrs Elizabeth Imo, told Saturday PUNCH that the community would remain grateful to the Nigerian Air Force for allowing them to live in the settlement. She narrated the hardship and suffering the community had been subjected to over the years.
She said apart from their landlord, NAF, only the wife of Enugu State Governor, Mrs Monica Ugwuanyi, had remembered the community. According to her, in 2017, she took her medical outreach to the people, which was the first time they would enjoy such. The Nigerian Air Force equally extended its medical outreach to the community.
Imo said, “We suffer so much here; if anyone is ill, they may die in the process of getting them to the hospital because of the distance we have to travel to access health care.
“The situation is more precarious if a woman is in labour. For instance, at night, we will need to get a man that can accompany us to take the woman to the hospital in a wheelbarrow.
“You can imagine carrying somebody in a wheelbarrow at around 12 midnight for two hours. That is our lot in Gabon community.”
Further narrating their ordeal, Imo said, “At times, while we are trying to take the pregnant woman to the hospital, she may die on the way, so we have to turn around and bring her corpse back to the house for burial.
“The challenge is that a woman in labour cannot ride on a motorcycle, and unfortunately, Okada is the only means of transportation here. So the alternative is to take the woman to the hospital in a wheelbarrow.”
Imo narrated her experience when she had her last child, adding that she was also taken to the hospital in a wheelbarrow. But in her case, she gave birth before she got to the hospital.
“On the day I was in labour, I could not walk. It was a wheelbarrow that was used to carry me from this camp to the town but I was delivered of my baby before we got to the health centre, so I named my baby, Chinasaokwu, meaning God answered me,” she said.
“We don’t have schools in this community and on some occasions when it rains, our children would not attend school or they would go very late for fear that they may drown. We don’t have electricity; look at the condition of our houses.”
On why the settlement was called Gabon camp, the leader of the community, Igwe Johnson, told Saturday PUNCH that the community was so named “because we want good things here like other communities around”.
He said, “We named it Gabon because there was a time the only access road was blocked with a perimeter fence by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and we had no way of going out or connecting to Emene except by crossing the Ekulu River.
“That was why we named it Gabon village because on one side, we were blocked with a perimeter fence and on the other side, there is a River, and for you to survive, you must cross it. Gabon here means community blocked or fenced off.
“Any day it rains, we don’t go out of the house to avoid being swept away by flood. We thank God that FAAN has seen our suffering and provided the community with a track road.”
A former youth leader in the community, Mr Nweke Raphael, called on the state government to have compassion on the people and come to their aid.
Nweke identified lack of access road as the major challenge confronting the beleaguered community.
He said, “You can see what the road looks like, it is a big challenge for the people. Over 5,000 people are living in this community and this is the only thing that is supposed to be an access road, so the community is not accessible, especially during the rainy season. You cannot pass this road during the rainy season; you can’t find it easy visiting the community.”
The former youth leader lamented the absence of government presence in the community.
“There is no school, health centre or potable water. We depend on a pond for our water needs. The only means of going out is motorbikes. This place is less than 2km from Emene Layout, but you can see that we don’t have power supply and there is no hope of getting electricity unless the government comes to our aid.
“We don’t have local birth attendants here. Our women find it difficult to get medical attention because private nurses are not willing to come to the community to provide medical services. The reason is obvious – lack of access road and electricity,” Nweke said, adding that they should not only be remembered during elections.
He said that the residents were willing to pool their resources to provide certain social amenities, but noted that the authorities would not permit them to put any structure in the area because the land belonged to NAF.
When contacted, the state Commissioner for Information in the last dispensation, Mr Ogbuagu Aniekwe, said he could not speak officially as commissioner as the state government had yet to inaugurate a new cabinet after May 29, 2019’s inauguration.