On the Nigerian Capital City
By Chippla Vandu
Abuja is something of an oddity. Conceived in the mid 1970s and built from scratch on land obtained by the Federal government of Nigeria, Abuja is the next best thing to Lagos when one speaks of cosmopolitan Nigerian cities.
In reality though, Abuja is very different from Lagos. While the latter is heavily congested and suffers from infrastructural decay, the former, it appears, has managed to blossom, maintaining a sense of decorum and orderliness that can hardly be found in any other large Nigerian city.
Unlike Lagos, Abuja enjoys the status of 'federal capital.' This was the status held by Lagos from October 1960 till December 1991. Having the status of federal capital directly translates to the allocation of extra funds from the public purse to maintain existing infrastructure and build new ones.
Thus, today in Abuja, one finds residential buildings, roads and flyovers being constructed (albeit at a rather slow pace) for a 'befitting' federal capital city. The city of Abuja could rightly be described as a huge construction project, which still has a long way to go. Worn down structures and road signs are regularly replaced—in contrast to what one often finds in other Nigerian cities.
In multi-ethnic and multi-religious Nigeria, Abuja is as close as one gets (after Lagos) to a city that isn't overtly dominated by a single ethnic group. This allows for the evolution of the city's own identity, with the hope that someday, it could become a true melting pot, not just of Nigerians but West Africans and other Africans. Officially described as the 'Center of Unity,' Abuja does something which no other Nigerian city does (with the exception of Lagos), i.e., welcoming all Nigerians and making them feel at home in a city to which they claim no ancestral links.
By any standard, Abuja is beautiful. But what makes it even more beautiful is the fact that it is a livable city—albeit a pretty expensive one. Unlike Lagos, Tokyo or Amsterdam, it has so much space. And thanks to the current Abuja city administration, greeneries have become much a part of this city, allowing one to remain in tune with nature when taking a walk, commuting or driving around.
While this writer is unaware of any data on air pollution levels in Abuja, the absence of heavy industries and heavy traffic mean very clean air. Fewer residents, competent city administrators and an effective waste management system in Abuja have contributed to making a relatively clean city, where garbage heaps are a rare exception, rather than the norm as in Lagos.
Abuja is often described as a rich man's city. Some months back, the city administration banned commercial motorcyclists (popularly known as okadas) from operating within the city proper, confining them to the less wealthy satellite towns around the city. The banning of okadas was in preparation for the introduction of regular commercial bus services around the city and its adjoining satellite towns.
Today, one finds these buses plying various routes (often filled with passengers). Though the buses are far from sufficient to meet the needs of commuters who, by choice or economic condition, are compelled to use public transportation, their introduction is a good start. 'Chaotic' Lagos it appears, took a cue from Abuja, having introduced the LagBus (Lagos Bus) scheme a couple of days back.
The city of Abuja hasn't been spared the current energy crisis that is gripping Nigeria. While some neighborhoods enjoy uninterrupted power supply (provided by the monopolistic state-run energy company), other neighborhoods barely get to see ten hours of electricity a day.
For fun-loving individuals, Abuja could be said to be a boring place to live in, when compared to Lagos. The number of parks and recreation centers is on the increase, but at a rather slow pace. Abuja has a beautiful children's zoo and a cinema though, and a children's amusement park is being constructed just outside the city gate. This city of politics and diplomacy certainly has some way to go if it ever intends to become a prime city of tourism, the arts and fun—a bit of which are certainly needed to cool ever raging Nigerian political tempers.
By law, the current Abuja administration, headed by Mr. Nasir El-Rufai (who is also called 'Mr. Demolition Man' for ordering the demolition of illegal structures and buildings in Abuja, even those owned by powerful and once untouchable politicians) will be out of office in May 2007. The next Nigerian government must appoint people who at least have the guts of Mr. El-Rufai to manage the capital city. Going by the records of Mr. El-Rufai's predecessors, the making or breaking of Abuja largely rests on the individuals who govern it.
Should the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Nigeria win the April 2007 gubernatorial election in Lagos state, Mr. El-Rufai will be heading to Lagos to advise on urban management.
Whether or not he would be able to oversee the introduction of an Abuja-type sanity, to the chaotic mega city that Lagos has become, is difficult to tell. For now though, one thing is certain—in the words of Mr. El-Rufai, everything is being done "to prevent Abuja from becoming another Lagos." To a large extent Mr. El-Rufai, and those working with him, have done a great job.
Chippla Vandu is a writer and research scientist. He blogs as Chippla.
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