In the aftermath of the Nigerian-Biafra War, the Nigerian government sought to locate its capital in a location not predominated by any one ethnic group. The site of Abuja was chosen for the Fedeal Capital Territory as it was centrally located and had few existing residents. Today, it is Africa’s only purpose-built capital city.
I heart Abuja. Remember that old New York campaign? Where the word “love” was replaced by a heart? I heart New York? Well, like that. Many people may find it strange or bewildering – I HEART Abuja. Let me explain.
I heart every square metre of Abuja’s empty dustbowl landscape, every strange shopfront that disguises surprises within, every cool bar and restaurant hidden behind piles of electronic shops and quirky optometrists.
Most people prefer Lagos with its booming culture and vibrant business life. But not me. Abuja is decisively the second city of Nigeria, with far less going on than Lagos. In a sense, it was designed that way, and that is why I like it.
I love the Millenium Tower. Smack in the middle of the city centre, next to the famed National Mosque, it’s at least five years behind schedule with no end in sight.
I love the lack of traffic. Abuja is probably Nigeria’s only major city in which traffic is a non-entity. You can actually get from one side of the city to the other side in less than 30 minutes, worst case an hour – and better yet, a taxi to do it costs no more than 10 dollars. Whereas in Lagos sometimes to go from one side to the other of Victoria Island takes hours with a price ten times higher. Uber is relatively useless in this city, because the savings are not possible.
I love the endless rows of totally clean building, not damage by smog or neglect, no messy graffiti, buildings that look like they could be in any major city in the developed world. (On the outside that is. Inside, so many are quite gaudy and betray Nigeria’s predilection for staircases that are too wide and steep, and enormous furniture that dominates rooms).
I love that Abuja was designed from scratch mainly by American and Japanese architects. And that it is in fact so international. The Millenium Tower is an Italian design, and it seems that at least 10% of the city’s population are expats – but from almost every country in the world, none dominating.
I love the fact that like a small handful of others (Brasilia Johannesburg), Abuja is one of the very few major cities not built on a naturally occurring body of water.
Abuja is artificial in every way but one, and I love that. The one way – the people, who are very friendly and very international in their outlook. It is not a Nigerian city, it is an international city, shockingly in the middle of a country that is very inwardly focused most of the time.
I love most of all the fact that the city has no clear identity and seems to be forging it slowly right in front of me.
I have always lived, my whole adult life, in societies in transition. First Prague, then New York during the period of 9/11, then South Africa just before 10 years of democracy hit. So my stint in Abuja is immediately fascinating to me – this is not a society in transition per se, it is an actual city in transition. You can watch it grow before your eyes. A city that stands for all matter, because it, like an atom, is mostly empty space.
I have to remind myself over and again that Abuja was born after me.
Forty years ago Abuja was just an idea.
Thirty years ago, though building had started, it was not yet really functional.
Twenty years ago it still did not even appear on many maps.
The entire city has come together in less than twenty years. Surely we have to forgive it its challenges then?
Today, Abuja has more cranes per square kilometer surely than other city besides Dubai. I really love those cranes.