Leleyi Gwari: The Forgotten Community Of Kwali Area Council

By Chidinma Chikwe

The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) formed in 1976 had a sparse population of mostly people of Gwari descent but has seen a massive development in its 44 years of existence. Today, the FCT has 6 area councils that make up the FCT. While development sweeps through the more developed city centres, original indigenes and the poor population are pushed further away from civilization in the city centre for sundry reasons such as high cost of rent, high cost of utility and low-income and are often forgotten in terms of taking development to these communities where they have been pushed to, only to be remembered every four years when it is time for elections.

This pitiable situation is the case of Leleyi Gwari, an indigent agrarian community in Kwali Area Council with a population of roughly 4000 people located 64km from the city centre and away from the opulence of accessible well-paved roads, electricity, health facilities, schools and potable water among other needs.

According to Power for All (an international NGO campaigning for the provision of electricity in many African countries), about 93 million Nigerians are not connected to the national grid, this is about 40% of Nigeria's population. It is not under contest, how electricity can drive a society's social and economic development. Leleyi Gwari in its over 50 years of existence has never experienced electricity (on/off-grid). It is rather depressing to mention, that the community looks on as transmission lines pass through their corridor and convey electricity to the city and that other neighboring communities are all powered up while it sits as a rejected child in obscure darkness at night.

The lack of electricity hampers small businesses from thriving, which in turn affects their livelihood and other social development. One would imagine that electricity is the only infrastructural issue affecting the people, but this would be a wrong assumption as many other problems abound in this community.

As an agrarian community, one of the biggest need would be access-to-market for their farm produce and yet again, this need is not met as the road leading to the community is impassable during the rainy season and the cost of transportation to market most times outweighs or equals the price of good they have to sell, and yet again one can see how the infrastructural deficit locks the people in poverty. On the other hand, the people are grappling with the government for a chance at survival as the government have grabbed almost all the indigenous land and sold out to wealthy individuals who now operate mechanized farms, putting these smallholders' farmers out of business, therefore, making life extremely difficult without any viable alternative.

Leleyi Gwari is surrounded by over 10 industrial farms whose need for human labor is minimal and owners of these farms prefer to hire people who are not indigenes of the community. With fewer land to farm, no electricity to process their farm produces unemployment is rising in the community especially among the youth population.

It is the inherent nature of humans to fall sick at one point or another, and with the coronavirus pandemic ravaging through countries and Nigeria in particular with evidence of community spread cases recorded, it is no news that primary health care which is the first point of contact members of communities have with the health system has a huge role to play, however, until 2009 Leleyi Gwari did not have a Primary HealthCare Centre (PHC) constructed by the government except for the one built by ActionAid Nigeria, In 2009 under the Millennium Development Goals intervention projects it got lucky to have one PHC constructed and as at today, the PHC building at the verge of collapse, devoid of electricity, water and a fence which makes access to health care all the more difficult at night especially for pregnant women who end up having complications sometimes having to be transported on bikes to Bako community health centre which is about 6km from Leleyi Gwari.

Nigeria in its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to combat Climate Change has pledged to plant 25 million trees by the year 2030, however many rural residents still depend heavily on firewood for their energy, while the people are aware of the importance of trees, the environmental and health benefits, the absence of any other alternative pushes them to fell trees and new clean energy sources must be introduced to communities like Leleyi.

While many of us cannot stay few minutes without fiddling with our phone and will scream the moment our connection gets slow, the people of Leleyi struggle daily to find a single bar of mobile network to make calls, this poor network connectivity within Leleyi also threatens access to quality information and opportunities among the youth in the community. Many of the youths complain of lack of timely information regarding opportunities such as job interviews as common services such as emails and social media notifications are only accessible to them in Leleyi at higher altitudes such as the top of tall trees or hills. Unfortunately, network providers have not found it necessary to mount masts in the community at the moment. If you're ever going to visit Leleyi be warned that once you enter the community, all network signals disappear.

With these infrastructural and social problems, it begs the question, "how are politicians able to access these communities only when it serves them but are unable to provide these communities with their most basic needs?", "how are they serving the people?" The story of Leleyi Gwari is similar to those of many other indigent communities' in the FCT who are greatly underserved but promised development and a better life every four years.

The highlighted problems touch on all of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and in this decade of action for the SDGs, we at Hipcity Innovation Centre, have pledged to organize and engage communities in the FCT to hear their demands and assist them in developing Demand Charters, call on the government and its agencies, alongside private institutions to look into the lack of development ravaging these communities. We call on the Kwali Area Council to live up to its mandate and serve the people of Leleyi Gwari community as the constitution demands that they do.

Chidinma Chikwe is the Programs Manager, Hipcity Innovation Centre