Walk the Talk and Keep Abuja Clean

We were supposed to gather at the Millennium Park at 7:00 am for the second edition of the Abuja Walk the Talk: The Health for all Challenge – the first edition last year had been part of the celebrations of the World Health Organization’s 70th anniversary and I had missed it. But I didn’t get there until almost eight o’clock. I had felt a compulsion to quickly write and share something on my blog before leaving home.

By the time I got to the place many cars had parked by the roadside and the place was full of people. Many Road Safety vehicles all over the place. I saw an ambulance or two. I entered and managed to find a parking space at the extreme end of the rough bumpy carpark. Why can’t they fix that place?

The Minister of Health was there, and the usual speeches were still going on. Largely preaching to the converted. Walk the Talk-branded tee-shirts were being distributed. My several attempts to register online for this year’s event had failed last night.  Soon, people started moving out of the park to begin the walk.

Many known faces. Many from my office. Many from the Federal Ministry of Health, NCDC, WHO, UNICEF, UMB, NPHCDA, GU. Many unknown faces from the Well-being foundation, Federal Ministry of Environment, Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports. Well-fed, well-groomed people in sporting gear. Many need to be to be doing this every weekend. Every day, in fact. Pants and tee-shirts almost breaking at the seams. They had all come for a symbolic walk.

Tee-shirts were still available but there was a queue. I joined the queue. Many people came and jumped the queue. I protested. But I nor too fit shout. Simple queue we can’t join. It has become a culture, as pernicious as it is. I wore the tee-shirt over my Super Eagles jersey. Just like I did last year over my Manchester United jersey.

The Rotary Club had organized a similar walk last year for polio where we gathered gathered at the Yar’adua Centre. We started between the Centre and Sheraton and jogged and walked 10 km to the sporting ground by Jabi Lake.

The heavens were heavy with clouds, almost gloomy. But it didn’t seem about to rain. It had rained in the night and the ground was sodden, muddy. The sun was invisible. Perfect condition for a walk or a hike.

There were three routes – 3 km, 4.7 km, 7.6 km – all in the central area of the city. Essentially the same trail as last year. Where is the 7.6 km group? They had gone ahead. I had to cross the Unity Square to join them on the other side of Shehu Shagari. The Unity Fountain and Square looked neglected, unkempt. Some states were dropping off. A great shame. Perhaps a price to pay for serving as the congregation point for many an anti-government protest over the years. Especially Bring Back Our Girls.

I saw a colleague from medical school days already sitting on a concrete block and resting after less than 300 metres of walking. Long time no see. We hugged. He wore a tee-shirt proclaiming war against diabetes and hypertension. Let him rest, a beg. He looked out of shape and had probably not taken a long walk in ages.

We crossed the bridge at the end of the fence of the Hilton. The muddy water from yesterday’s rain was still washing the rocky beds of the stream racing through the Millennium Park.

That road that turns right to connect to Ahmadu Bello Way in front of the Headquarters of the Federal High Court and La Taverna Hotel: why has it never been really paved? They forgot it? Somebody stole the money? I heard that its name is First Avenue. Unpaved, unflanked by trees, a misnomer.

At the Ministry of Justice was stationed a booth where you could pick up a bottle of water. The façade of the ministry building was unimaginative, plain and as severe as justice itself, unstately in its unexpectedly pinkish colour. An ungainly paradox of a building. The architect should be flogged.

We turned right to Kur Muhammed Avenue. A woman threw away her almost-full bottle of water. I instinctively wanted to preach to her about littering the street, but she didn’t look like she would listen. I picked it up with the intention of dropping it in the next trash can on my way.

I caught up with my former professor and I slowed down to her pace to complain about how Nigerians didn’t care about littering the streets. She contributed her lamentation. We turned left to Ahmadu Bello.

I soon outpaced her. At the bridge just before the Federal Secretariat, I saw a broken wine bottle. It must have dropped from the unsteady hands of an inebriated fellow last night. No rubbish bin in sight. I was still carrying the bottle dropped by that woman. I cannot come and be picking garbage upandan. I can’t save the world. I moved on.

To the left is the part of the Federal Secretariat Complex abandoned at the foundation level. Straight rusting steel rods stuck out of the discoloured concrete foundation ready to bear the next level. It was densely covered with climbing and creeping weeds; some of them bearing out-of-place yellow flowers. Wild yellow flowers. As if to ameliorate such an eye-sore right at the heart of our capital city. What is the story of that building? What happened to the plan? Who embezzled the money? Who is responsible for the mess, the waste?

Phase 2 of the Federal Secretariat Complex rises several storeys into the sky. I like to take panoramic pictures of the city from the offices of the Department of Public Health high up in the building.

The 3km track took a left turn to rejoin Shehu Shagari and get back to the Millennium Park. We moved on. I caught up with Peace from our office. We were joined by Isaac. I was still carrying the thrown-away plastic bottle. No waste bin in sight. I ranted. Why can we not have waste baskets every 100 metres? How can we hope to keep Abuja clean this way?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the left, named after independent Nigeria’s first de facto Minister for Foreign Affairs – Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

We passed by the Ministry of Finance. Isaac and I left Peace behind. There were large circular concrete flower pots bearing deep pink oleander. Nice. Beautiful. I wish we could have more of these in Abuja. But why did they paint these pots that garish green-white-green? Must we paint everything green-white-green? Even road medians and kerbs. Haba! The worst is painting trees in those colours. A crime against nature and aesthetics.

The 5km track turned left to loop back to Shehu Shagari. Isaac and I walked on.

There was another station for bottles of water.

Goodluck Jonathan Expressway: when are they going to finish that road? It looked like there’s still a layer of macadam or something to be added to the surface. And it’s already cracking in places.

Finally, at the RB Dikko junction, we turned left towards Shehu Shagari. We passed in front of Monoliza Amusement Park. I have never heard of anybody who has taken their kids to play in that place. Before the Police Headquarters, we met up with Lawunmi and walked the rest of the way back together, the three of us. Not surprised to see ‘Wunmi. That one, she can walk for Africa; her walking craze moderated only by the fear of being kidnapped.

Peace came and overtook us.

I was still carrying the plastic bottle. No refuse bins in sight. It seems there was not a single waste bin in the whole of the Central Area.

Many empty plastic bottles had been thrown onto the street and sidewalk as people Walked the Talk. We walked the talk and littered the city.

Head of Service Office. Eagle’s Square. Secretariat Park (does anybody go there for anything?).

Wide, almost empty street.

Moreen overtook us.

The authorities must provide waste bins to reduce littering and keep the place clean. And fix the street lights. Too many parts of the city are dangerously dark at night.

Back at the Millennium Park, at the gate, I found a green plastic waste bin and dropped the plastic bottle.

I felt like I had just warmed up and could go for another 8km.

I received my medal for completing the walk.

More known faces I didn’t see before we trooped out of the park for the walk.

Somebody had brought a drone-mounted camera.

A long queue for food.

AFENET staff gravitated towards each other. We took photos. Feeling peckish, I ignored Endie’s half-hearted protest and snatched her banana. She still had a pear. And she looked like she had already eaten an apple.

Loud music. Aerobics. Everybody joined.

The sun had begun to make its presence felt.

I left.

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