20 Years of Abuja
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th July, 2011
For the past week, I have been at a Leadership Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, which has attracted an extraordinary range of Ministers (past and present, including several former Heads of Government), academics and religious figures, particularly from Africa but in fact from all over the world — as well as the odd entertainer, such as the singer Patti Boulaye, who is here promoting the work she does on AIDS with children in Africa. I’ll be writing about some of the discussions we’ve had elsewhere, but I want to highlight here the host city itself: one I have often mentioned in my lectures at SOAS — as a planned capital, built from scratch, like Brasilia — but had never actually visited before. This year it is celebrating its 20th anniversary as federal capital, which is a convenient milestone at which to pause and reflect. Building began in the 1970s, at the height of Nigeria’s oil bonanza, but that subsequently stalled, and the construction is still continuing, far from complete. Many high-level civil servants and foreign diplomatic staff reportedly used to go back to Lagos (the former capital and by far the country’s largest city) at weekends, as they found Abuja to be so boring. But these days there are more facilities and it is actually rather a green and pleasant place, with a nicer climate, fewer traffic jams and a much lower rate of criminality than Lagos. There are few “OMG, wow!” buildings than in Brasilia, but the main mosque is rather fine and stands out against the skyline. I visited the National Christian Centre, which is an immense non-denominational church, which I imagine must be quite impressive when thronged. Here, as all over Nigeria, religion is taken very seriously, and the number of different churches is dizying.