[NEWS AND VIEWS]
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December 02, 2003First impressions. I have just arrived in Abuja to spend ten days covering CHOGM 2003 and find myself in one of Africa's newest, and most unusual, capital cities.
Abuja was conceived in 1976, with work only starting in 1981 to build a city that would better serve Nigeria's diverse population than the vast and unsettled coastal metropolis of Lagos.
Slowly a new capital has grown from the wilderness inhabited by the semi-nomadic Fulani people, who still tend their cattle by the busy dual carriageways. The city has a broadly regular road network, but I was warned to beware of maps. "It is hard to find one that is reliable. Roads are marked that simply haven't been built."
The city is gradually filling up (and out), as the government moves its workforce to the city. Land prices are astronomical - with plots changing hand for as much as 40-45 million Naira (approximately 160,000 UK pounds) and rents are too high for most local wage earners.
"Abuja is now the fastest growing city in the world," said Mallam Nasir El Rufai, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, yesterday, as he opened the Commonwealth People's Market.
As across Africa, wealth sits beside poverty. In between the grand houses, farmers tend small patches of ground. Though at this time of the year, just after the rains, there are few crops still to be harvested.
Life is quieter than in Lagos, with Adeoluwa Akomolafe, an IT administrator, telling me he was glad to have escaped the stress of Nigeria's biggest city. "Here in Abuja," he says, "You can drive around the city and visit all the clubs and fish bars in one evening."
As I woke up on my first morning, I thought about the city's failure to yet banish the countryside. In bed, in the posh Rockview Hotel, I heard a cockerel crowing from the small holding next door.