Kuje forest is more than an ordinary one. It means many things to the residents. For some, it means an evil forest, for others, it is a forest of life.
– Inside the forest everything is possible
For visitors to the Kuje Area Council, an outskirt of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, mention of forest awakens curiosity and anxiety. Curiosity because of the dangers associated with forest – wild animals, ritualism, terrorist enclave, etc.
And anxiety because of the danger forest may pose to residents around the area and the safety of those crossing the visibility. Forest in a place of human residence ought to raise concerns.
Kuje forest, as it is commonly known, is more than an ordinary one. It means many things to the residents. For some, it means an evil forest, for others, it is a forest of life. Kuje forest is a mix grill of the good, the beautiful, the bad and the ugly.
Surprisingly, it is a forest where the good exists side by side, in the same proportion, with the evil. While many visit the forest to source for foodstuffs, livestock and other goodies abundant inside the forest, several others visit in search of hard drugs, alcohol and to patronise women of easy virtues.
READ ALSO: FCT police arrest 17 over sale of hard drugs
For those searching for where to cheaply buy yams and other foodstuffs that confer the enviable dignifying status of food basket of the FCT on Kuje, the forest provides the most reliable venue. For those looking for where to source for fresh fruits, fish, palm wine, tribal and local meat delicacies, second hand electronics and family used upholstery materials, Kuje forest is where to go.
The forest satisfactorily supplies the visitors and residents with liquor and all manners of drugs. It is a forest to source for alcohol – ogogoro, burukutu and other local intoxicating agents. There are also dog meat, puck meat, snake meat and other assorted bushmeat on demand and supply.
As disturbing as it may sound, the forest according to an account was an enclave for trading on human parts and every kind of herbal property. With these bad and good sides of Kuje forest, it could sincerely and rightly be described as one stop forest market.
The atmospheric nature of the forest provides succour, relaxation to the satisfaction of the residents that visit there with mats and or camp beds with families to battle the inclement, scourging dry season weather.
There may not be Iroko, Masonia, Mahoganies, Obeche and other forest trees, but the countless numbers of clustered menala trees still standing tall and providing sheds are large and tall enough to confer the area with the status symbol of a forest.
There are certainly no wild animals or big games like the big cat families, Kangaroo, python or buffalo, but the visitors can easily source and consume satisfactorily any or all of such animals at many of the drinking joints inside the forest.
Many times over, security operatives have raided the forest, but the result has been of very minimal effect. The forest has continued to bubble day and night with human presence. Despite police parading Kuje forest every minutes and hour, little successes have been recorded in curtailing the sale and consumption of hard drugs and other nefarious activities that last till the early hours of the morning.
There are certainly living souls inside the forest, but many of them have become addicted to solution, hard drugs and alcohol. The forest may be bubbling with life, but the occupants comprise youths that have constituted themselves as easy and available tools in the hands of desperate politicians recruiting them as thugs to disrupt electoral processes and snatch ballot boxes.
The forest is home for crime and criminality. It harbours terrorist recruits and robbery gangs. With the forest absorbing hundreds of youths arriving Abuja in droves mostly from North and neighbouring countries, the forest has been recruitment and training ground for terrorists and robbers.
Robbery operations are conceived, hatched, plotted and prosecuted with proceeds shared under the cover of the forest. Kuje forest is a nest for destitutes and home for the homeless. It is a forest where good and bad cohabit in equal proportions. It is a forest to source for evil and good things.
It is surrounded by government agencies and residential estate. In front of the forest is the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO), beside is the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), while behind is a large settlement, Angwa Lado, whose occupants have been victims of endless attacks from the criminals operating under the cover of the forest.
Origin of the forest
The Gomo of Kuje, Alhaji Haruna Jibrin Tanko, told Daily Sun: “The forest is as old as Kuje. The name came from the multiple trees in the area. It was a no go area in the past because it was originally a reserved area. Only relevant government officials could authorise anybody access into the forest.
“However, when the community started to witness rapid development, more human presence increased. The regulatory authority, the Agriculture and Forestry Development reduced its hard stance on people accessing the forest, resulting in the increased human presence. The Area Council authority also shifted the four-day market originally located near the AA Rano filling station to the area.”
Activities in the forest
In the past, the activities inside the forest were shrouded in secrecy. It was forest for hunting of games and an enclave where herbal properties were sourced. According to a native of Kuje, Mustapha: “In the past, only hunters and herbalists were courageous enough to enter the forest.
“It was regarded as a fearful evil forest where all manners of fetish and ritual activities were going on. For understandable reasons, there were so many speculations about trading of human parts for ritual purposes inside the forest. But since nobody could courageously go into the forest then to confirm the speculations about sales of human parts, it remained in the realm of rumours.”
Beyond the myths of selling human parts, negative human activities like all forms of social vices seem to have taken over the forest. Potpourri of drinking joints, consumption of hard drugs, gambling/betting activities, dumping and sales of stolen items and all sorts have constituted the area into a menace.
Drinking joints, consumption of drugs
Every part of the country seems to be represented in the competition for the consumption of alcohol and local meat delicacies. While the Benue natives are engrossed with the consumption of intoxicants like Burukutu, others from the other parts of country enjoy palm wine and local hard gin liquors like the popular ogogoro drinks. Varieties of meat delicacies like dog, snake and bush meats superstitiously considered medicinal are not in short supply and demand. To complete the circle, hard drugs and all kinds of concoctions are consumed with impunity. Youths and the elderlies visibly hawking the drugs in their stocked handbags have ensured the steady supply of the drugs.
Visitors to the forest in the early hours of the day may be deceived that prostitution is forbidden. But those familiar with the the forest would rather not be deceived because emotional rewards await those that are aware that arrival and commencement of prostitution activities start by the early hours of the night.
As early as 6.00 p.m., ladies of ethnic cleavages, complexion, shapes and sizes would start pouring into the forest in search of men already in the killer mood and already subsumed in alcohol and drug. Prices vary depending on the kind of services to be provided.
Short time, till day break services have price tags ranging from N500 to N5,000. Like drug, alcohol intoxicants, prostitutes are not in short demand and supply in the forest.
Expressing concerns over the nefarious activities going on inside the forest, Gomo lamented that: “The social activities going on there are threats to the community. The forest has been converted into all manners of things. People are drinking, smoking and engaging in other forms of social activities not good for the community. Such activities are not meant for that place.
“The good thing is that government has started taking action. Only recently, the forest area was fenced round. Government is serious about taking over the place because it has become a serious security threat to the community. They are committed to sanitising the whole place.
“I cannot confirm to you the truth in the rumour about sales of human parts. However, it has remained a rumour as one of the negative activities going on there.
“The most terrifying experience I have had was the persistence rumour about the sales of human parts and all kinds of things going on there. We are also aware of the prostitution going on there too. Such is however understandable because of the activities going at night. Trading at night comes with abuse of social activities.
“We have the security reports that so many things are happening there under the cover of darkness. But, I think the Area Council chairman should be in the best position to explain what plans government has for the forest.”
The deforestation of the area gave rise to all kinds of human activities in the forest. The market is one of the most visible human activities inside the forest. The forest market, every four days, to the residents of Kuje, Gwagwalada, Zuba and other neighbouring suburbs of the FCT, is a hub and must patronise.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, plantains, tomatoes, potatoes, grains, onions, yams, livestock and many more farm and pottery produces straight from the village farmers are transacted.
In the early hours of the market day, traders from far and wide, would arrive with vehicles loaded with all kinds of articles of trade. Vehicular and human traffic usually ground the area from morning till night.
Confronted with accommodation difficulties and challenges, many of the youths surviving through motorcycle operation business, okada, use the forest as abode. Like the okada riders, robbery gangs, refuse and disused material collectors popularly called Baban Bola, use the forest as home. It is not therefore unusual to see hundreds of motorcycles lined up and used as comfortable bed spaces every night.
Kuje forest has become a home for the homeless. The resultant effect is the nightlife laced with nefarious activities that ensure the forest bubbles till the early hours of the next morning.