What do Canberra; Lima; and Washington, D.C. have in common? These cities were not the first capitals of Australia, Peru, and the United States. In fact, none were even considered a city beforehand. Each of these places was specifically designed, planned, and built to become the seat of its government. These cities have a different vibe because of this. It’s taken years for most of them to find their own identity. Now it’s Abuja’s turn.
Suleja was once a small village in the center of Nigeria. After the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s, the country’s leaders decided they needed a new capital that wasn’t predominated by any one ethnic group. In the 1980s, Suleja was planned, built, and renamed. Abuja officially replaced Lagos as the capital of Nigeria—and became Africa’s only purpose-built capital in the process—in 1991. In the last 25 years, it’s become one of the safest cities in Nigeria, one of the wealthiest cities on the continent, and one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.
Aso Rock dominates Abuja’s landscape. The 1,300-foot monolith—all that remained after lots of water erosion—looms over the northeast corner of the city. The Nigerian Presidential Complex, the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, and the National Arboretum were all built in front of the massive rock. The rest of the Central Business District extends south from there. Millennium Park, the largest park in the city. Eagle Square, where presidents are sworn in. The National Mosque and the National Church of Nigeria on either side of Independence Avenue. The Ministry of Defense, which is known as the Ship House. Abuja was remarkably well planned.
There are also modern buildings, foreign embassies, and new hotels (the Nordic Villa is a boutique hotel with Scandinavian decor). The streets are clean. Electricity is consistent (not a given in Nigeria). You can find anything and everything at Wuse Market. While bush bars—small shacks that offer drinks, food, and outdoor tables—are popping up all over the city. Abuja is the perfect spot for you to finally begin exploring Nigeria.