Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

08 Oct Written by  Kimberly Ward

Is Abuja a War Zone?

Kimberly Ward is unsettled by Abuja's military. Coming from a land – England – where the sight of a soldier elicits excitable whispers and curious glances, and the intrusion of policemen into your otherwise mufti existence heralds either a crime or an accident, I found Abuja a revelation.

Right from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, men in various uniforms can be seen milling around doing everything and nothing. Whether directing traffic on highway intersections, randomly checking cars by day, manning make-shift road blocks at night, opening doors to almost every commercial and business building, sitting outside every office and public institution or even stationed outside schools and supermarkets, uniformed personnel are a constant sight in the FCT.

But I still can’t get used to them. I still feel discomfort mixed with apprehension every time I pass one by or whenever one opens a door for me. In England, the banks, fast food outlets and supermarkets are gloriously unmanned, as citizens are trusted to open doors and park their cars without paid help. And the security guards in many British high-street stores merely stand by the door and don’t interfere with you, only leaping to action when alerted to a theft.

Perhaps if Abuja’s uniformed service providers smiled more often I would be more at ease, but they also carry guns! In my whole life in the UK, I never ever saw a gun except on TV. I remember years ago in my neighbourhood there was a rumour that a boy had found a gun hidden in the bushes in the local park, but by the time my fellow tweens and I embarked on a furtive expedition to said bushes, the police had been called and the site cordoned off.

Guns were fictional instruments of death that did not belong in polite society; even the British police refrain from carrying arms in public and stick to their black batons. But in Abuja, long Kalashnikovs (often held together with tape or other make-shift gripping device) are part of the apparel of the ubiquitous FCT officer. Seeing one in broad daylight at peace time is unnerving enough, but having to respond to an imposing personnel in full uniform holding unto a mean-looking AK-47 one night had me stuttering as the car I was in was told to park for a routine roadside check-up. My palms sweaty as I tried to feign indifference, I avoided the officer’s eyes and hoped that that didn’t make me look guilty.

Luckily he was satisfied with our paperwork (I’ve heard of incidents of ‘accidental discharge’ so I made silent appeals to God to keep this officer’s rickety death-fire-kill instrument from misfiring) and as we drove off, my heart was still racing as my Nigerian driver resumed conversation as if nothing had happened. My American friend – for whom armed police and gunshots were her reality – is equally blasé about Abuja’s armed harassers, I mean officers.

 I know that in time my aversion to uniformed men will subside, and only then will I go around Abuja without suppressing the impulse to keep my hands up in perpetual surrender.

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