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Notes on the Geography of Nigeria: Abuja

Canberra? Tick. Islamabad? Tick. Time for Abuja. The site, smack in the middle of Nigeria, was chosen in 1973. A master plan was prepared by the International Planning Association and submitted in 1979 to the Federal Capital Development Authority. It relied on a four-man international-review board with planners from Washington, Tanzania, the UK, and Pakistan. Sounds like everything was in order.

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"Wait, I haven't even said 'thank you' yet."

We've come in from the airport. The national stadium is the big thing up there behind the--clever name-- City Gate. If you're underwhelmed, take heart: the authorities have already commissioned a replacement, this one with a conference center, hotel, shops, etc. etc. How the new president feels about this is another matter; maybe he thinks there are better ways to spend $300 million.

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We've turned left onto Constitution Avenue and are passing the first of the city's many splendid granite domes, residual bits of the ancient continental core.

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Here's a bigger one. It's Aso Rock, seen here from an artificial lake in the National Childrens' Park. The name Aso, I regret to report, means "Victory." Who knows? Maybe it's about football.

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Climbing Aso Rock is out of the question, but here's one that's easy: Katampe Hill. The brass monument is said to mark the geographical center of Nigeria. It's not literally true, but you get the idea: in the same metaphorical way, Beijing is the center of China and Paris is the center of France.

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The tourist authorities were impressed enough to come up and plonk down these cylindrical blocks to mark the site of a forthcoming tourist center. Abuja needs something for tourists, because the things that would normally attract them--the National Assembly for starters--are off-limits. Fortunately, tourist arrivals are exiguous to the point of evanescence.

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Before the creation of the Federal Capital Territory, there were several hundred thousand people scattered here in villages. Many were forcibly relocated to make way for important people. Here's Katampe Village, moved here from an adjoining site and, with continuing growth in Abuja, unlikely to be permitted to survive on this new site much longer.

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Now this is what we want to see in the capital of the country with (say it again) Africa's Biggest Economy. The Churchgate Group's website says that the company is "Redefining Skylines and Enhancing Lifestyles." The caps should dispel any doubts you have.

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Across the street, the same Churchgate Group, in partnership with the Federal Capital Territory government, is building a World Trade Centre. (I'm practicing for my next life as a business journalist. Bloomberg, do you think? CNN?)

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A half-dozen towers are planned, and at least this one will be residential. Churchgate, headed by Bhagwan Mahtani, is based in Lagos.

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Where does the money come from? Most comes from slippery stuff in the ground, which is why we cannot ignore the headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

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Here's the federal secretariat.

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The ministry of foreign affairs.

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Somebody decided Abuja needed a national mosque. See the little princess in the doorway atop the minaret? Rats! She must have just darted back inside.

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There's a national church, too. Like the hot-dipped galvanized razor wire?

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Bet the security's good at the Sheraton, too.

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And so to homes.

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Lots more like this.

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A curbside mosque demonstrates the owner's piety.

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A standby generator.

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A South African supermarket chain has landed in the Silverbird shopping center. Check the limos at the door.

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We're at the Maitama farmer's market, which is a lot more fun than Shoprite but does raise questions. Pears? Apples? Plums? Grapes? In the tropics?

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Some of this is Nigerian, but the temperate fruits are coming from South Africa and Egypt. How? Air freight to Lagos, then truck.

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Here are some nice local yams, but we're still stuck with the question of who can buy imported produce. Answer: Maitama is the diplomatic quarter. Money's more or less no object.

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Down market a bit, we're come to a more peripheral neighborhood.

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Two worlds: the Sandralia Hotel and a fuelwood store.

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No Home Depot here, but lots of building materials. Rebar, of course; look closely and you'll see bags of cement.

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Paint.

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Across the street, the materials are put to work.

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Do you see what supports the masonry floors? Best to walk on tiptoes until we're sure.


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