If you have been reading my stories about Nigeria, you might have gotten the impression that entire Nigeria is all “rustic”, with old huts, dilapidated roads, untouched nature, the traditional way of dressing, tribal singing and dancing. Hence, in the midst of describing Nigerian culture and traditions, I have decided to write a little bit about the city I love so much – Abuja.
Before emotions overtake me as usual, let me drop some facts. Abuja is the capital city of Nigeria. I know many will get confused now, maybe do a Google search, or ponder “Isn’t Lagos the capital of Nigeria?”. Surprise, it is not! Lagos was the capital of Nigeria until 1991. Due to being overpopulated and some other political reasons, a government has decided to do decentralization of the country and make Abuja the capital city. It was, in my humble opinion, one of the best decisions made because Lagos is indeed OVERCROWDED. Each time I go to Lagos, I can’t help but wonder what would have been if they have not moved the capital. Yet, Lagos is a different topic to write about and I will definitely write more about it in the future.
So, in the year 1991, Abuja becomes the official capital city of Nigeria. Abuja is located somewhere in the middle of the country, for those that want to look for it on the map. Thus the capital city found itself in the middle of all the tribes, States, religions, cultures and customs. As it is a relatively new city, the building plan was excellently executed, and in the past twenty-something years, Nigeria made a truly beautiful capital, a city that would make many countries envious.
WHAT MAKES ABUJA DIFFERENT?
To begin with, the entire city skyline and roads. Every new government has tried to bring something innovative and contemporary to Abuja. The roads are wide, new, good quality. Many are even better than European roads, and very similar to American highways. As the first thing we see when we come into a new city is its highway, when you enter Abuja you get the impression that you are coming into a modern city.In the beginning, the government was giving free lands in Abuja to anybody who wants to move in and invest and build. Today, people from every side of Nigeria, from different States, cultures, tribes, religions live in peace and harmony here. Due to its diversity, the city is probably the safest place in Nigeria, both for Nigerians and foreigners.
Some governments contracted European companies to come and build; other governments employed Asian, Turkish or American companies. The result was the city of so many architectural styles that you might get a feeling that you are in several continents at once.
Abuja is surrounded by very peculiar hills, like rocks, which makes it look very exotic and different. I am not sure how to describe the hills so I will rely on pictures below.
WHY I LOVE ABUJA
Abuja is an extraordinarily green and clean city. As I was driving yesterday, I was actually thinking about how I might not have seen a cleaner city in a while. Whoever is in charge of Abuja waste, good job!
Even though palm and coconut trees are dominant in entire Nigeria, it is not like that in Abuja. Yes, there are both palm and coconut trees, but there are also many that I have never seen in my life. Some trees bloom yellow, purple, pink and red flowers. Despite the rapid development of the city, it seems like they are really preserving the trees. Once you turn from the major roads to any small street, you might feel like you have entered a fairy-tale. The streets are small, narrow and embraced by trees from both sides.
Abuja is a mixture of contrasts. The city is well equipped by modern malls, shops, modern houses and buildings, modern streets, yet it manages to preserve the “Nigerian” spirit. But let me go back to the “modern” part of it. There are many large grocery shops in Abuja where you can find literally everything, from oatmeal, almonds, hummus, Arabic coffee, both American and European brands of chocolate, blueberries, peaches, you name it! Whatever you prefer to eat you can find in some market, but get ready to spend some serious money!
Abuja is not cheap at all! Anything that is not produced in Nigeria and imported is 10 times more expensive than it actually is! So you might have to pay $20 for just a few blueberries, or $100 for a piece of uncooked salmon! A room in a decent hotel costs around $150 per night and more and buffet in the restaurants up to $50! There are local markets where you can buy items made and grown in Nigeria and they are cheaper, but still too expensive for average Nigerian salary.
Abuja has Hilton Hotel, Sheraton, super nice restaurants with different international cuisines, Johnny Rocket’s, KFC, Nike, Mango, Domino’s pizza, fancy swimming pools, jet ski on Jabi lake, new Theatres (movies come a little bit later, but they come), night clubs, poetry nights, fashion shows, concerts, jet setters… There is literally everything in Abuja. So, the foreigners that are concerned that they may feel like they are in a different world, you have nothing to be afraid of!
On the other hand, the city still keeps the “Nigerian spirit”. The vendors of different items are still on the side of the road, though fewer in numbers. They approach the cars only at the traffic lights. Nigerians wear their traditional clothes as work clothes too, so it adds to the colors of the city. The traffic is still chaotic, though less than in the other cities. You can still see random things being transported on the car roofs and backseats. You might bump into the herd of different animals crossing the major intersections, dancers and acrobats on the stop lights, street beggars, four people on the small motorcycle… Despite the fact that Keke Napep (Tricycle) is banned in Abuja, they can still be seen illegally transporting people in some parts of the town.
The city has “only” about two million habitats, so it is pretty peaceful. As I said before, so many different cultures live together in one place, the extremely rich and extremely poor share the same city streets, and we are all leaving together in perfect harmony.
I am not a big “partier”, so I do not go out to the night clubs in Abuja, but I have heard that nightlife is amazing. But I do enjoy warm weather and chilling at the pool. I love to sip on espresso coffee in beautiful gardens of different cafes. I am always happy to eat some “European” meal and eat “Reeses” chocolate. I also love to buy fresh pineapple at the local market while I am being pulled from every side to see what each person has to offer. I like to walk through local markets, instinctively shaking my head as big “NO”. NO to bananas, NO to the water sachets, NO to changing foreign currencies, NO to new movies, NO to beggars, NO to recharge cards. No, no, no… I like to drive on the nice, wide, empty roads on weekends. I love to work out in the gym with a pool view, I love to buy new books and I love Nigerian fashion.
If I could compare myself to a city, that city would be Abuja. A mixture of ancient and contemporary, colorful and sunny; deeply spiritual with street personality; keeping its roots but constantly growing, changing and developing; full of life, light, hope, and laughter.
In Abuja, I got to encounter different lifestyles that I have not had a chance to see before – from the worst poverty to the highest possible wealth. I have sat at the gold plated tables with millionaires and in the dust with the starving.
I found my second home in Abuja. Abuja is the city that has changed me entirely from the first day. It is the city where I have learned to be patient and tolerant, to accept the differences and embrace them. It has thought me humility and gratitude. I have learned how to appreciate all the blessings such as waking up with a roof above my head, clean water, electricity, health… And above all it made me appreciate the fact that every day we get the opportunity to give our small contributions to the betterment of this planet, and the ability to use it, while we are still here.