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December 02, 2003

First 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.
Mick Fealty @ December 2, 2003 09:28 AM | TrackBack

Comments (3)
Mick's statement in the last paragraph "...I heard a cockerel crowing from the small holding next door." does not quite match the setting where the Rockview hotel is based. Inasmuch as it is a first impression, I think that it is a bit exaggerated, in referring to the area beside the hotel as a 'small holding next door'. Mick should actually visit the settlements and villages outside the city and interview the people that live there - I am one. I am not a farmer, not poor, or tend the ground and can afford 3 sqaure meals a day, and have a good legitimate job but have to live outside the city. Some of my colleagues do live in the city so the real issue, for those living outside is why is the government not definate about provision of land where the settlements are, since living in the city is not possible or affordable.

Bola Olaoye @ December 2, 2003 11:17 AM

This was a very first impression from a foreigner's perspective; although I have to say that did hear that cock crow when standing outside the front door of the hotel.

I'll look further into the issue of availablity of land in the settlements. Many thanks for this.

Mick @ December 2, 2003 12:04 PM
PS, I'd very much welcome other local perspectives on the land issue.
Mick @ December 2, 2003 12:05 PM

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