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.