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Poor People Weren’t Part of the Plan for Abuja

1 8 15
05.09.2021

By the side of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, is a sign that reads, “No Parking. No Loitering. No Waiting.” That doesn’t stop the drivers of Abuja’s communal cabs (known as “along” because they go along fixed routes) from constantly dropping off and picking up passengers at what has effectively become, by rule of unspoken agreement, a bus stop. It’s a convenient location, right in the center of the city.

On Aug. 10, however, things were different. As cabs stopped outside the ministry building, un-uniformed men jumped in and forcefully pulled keys from the ignition while dragging drivers out by their collars. Armed members of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps stood a few paces away, silently observing the harassment.

“You have no right to treat people in this manner,” a commuter waiting for a cab, who asked for anonymity, said.

By the side of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, is a sign that reads, “No Parking. No Loitering. No Waiting.” That doesn’t stop the drivers of Abuja’s communal cabs (known as “along” because they go along fixed routes) from constantly dropping off and picking up passengers at what has effectively become, by rule of unspoken agreement, a bus stop. It’s a convenient location, right in the center of the city.

On Aug. 10, however, things were different. As cabs stopped outside the ministry building, un-uniformed men jumped in and forcefully pulled keys from the ignition while dragging drivers out by their collars. Armed members of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps stood a few paces away, silently observing the harassment.

“You have no right to treat people in this manner,” a commuter waiting for a cab, who asked for anonymity, said.

“We keep telling all of you that this place is not a bus stop,” one of the un-uniformed men said. “Look at the sign.”

“But you have provided no alternative. Where do you want people to wait for cabs?” the commuter asked. I had just started to record the incident when the officer walked toward me and attempted to grab my phone—even as I pointed out that I was a lawyer and knew my rights.

It was a typical operation by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board task force: a display of brute force suddenly enforcing long-forgotten or ignored rules.

The Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), established in 1997, is charged with the responsibility of protecting and managing the Federal Capital Territory’s environment, the enforcement of all environmental legislation, and the abatement of all forms of environmental degradation and nuisance. But in practice, the board and its associated task force have become synonymous with reports of harassment, brutality, extortion, and oppression, especially among the urban poor. Environmental degradation has become synonymous with the presence of the poor.

That’s a problem throughout the developing world, whether it’s enforced by Russian militias or China’s chengguan (urban enforcers). The images of metropolises in the heads of the men (and occasionally women) who run them are startlingly different from the reality needed to make the cities work—especially for the poor.

In Abuja, for instance, the space given over to private parking in the city’s center is far greater than that for public transportation—in a country where the minimum wage is 30,000 naira (around $75) monthly, and the vast majority of workers don’t drive. Bus stops are scattered on the edge of the city center, leaving........

© Foreign Policy


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