[NEWS AND VIEWS]
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December 02, 2003Never be afraid of being lost. Abuja, federal capital city of Nigeria, is wearing a new look as it prepares to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which kicks off in earnest in a three days.
And why shouldn't it? 54 world leaders are expected - head of countries where 30% of the world's population live. Many who live in the satellite settlements of Kubwa, Nyaya, Karu, and Gwagwa may be apathetic, as they have been ever since the government became addicted to hosting lavish international meetings. But for the army of unemployed, CHOGM spells one thing - opportunity.
For weeks now, they have besieged the CHOGM task force secretariat. Hordes of energetic university graduates, currently doing their National Youth Service programme, have been engaged in traffic control.
An array of beautiful ladies are now trained as ushers, while many diggers, painters and horticulturists are having a field day.
"Now we are having visitors, take them without arguing," advises Salisu Ahmed, a taxi driver. "You know our people will normally argue with you over money, so now I concentrate mostly in picking up these visitors. I have been plying the Conference centre route for quite some time now. It is better for me that way"
Commercial motorcyclists around the city have also caught the fever; in a different kind of way. Usually seen as nuisance, they are now being told that they cannot ply certain routes while the summit lasts. Apparently, international visitors cannot be allowed to witness the menace of these riders who glide through the city's roads without protective helmets for themselves and their passengers!
The hospitality industry is also at top gear, with the Hilton expecting all 54 world leaders. Other visitors have been moved out and security beefed up. It's much the same at the Sheraton, where "normal" visitors are not welcome for the duration of the summit.
Addressing civil society groups yesterday, the minister of the federal capital territory, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, guaranteed security for all visitors. He did not stop there:" You can take time out to savour the beauty of our city. Everywhere, there are enchanting rocks and hills. The people are friendly. Never be afraid of getting lost."
One person who will certainly be kept safe is the Commonwealth's titular head: the Queen of England, Elizabeth II. She will be quartered at Aguda House, within the precincts of the well-protected Presidential Villa at Asokoro.