Metropole Magazine

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

13 Sep Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

Slouching Towards Abuja

Abuja is the destination. It is the terminus for the young and discontent; the romantic’s hope of a life other than the reality of his hinterland. Many have come in search of livelihood and life itself, to see the possibility of rewriting the story of their lives, starting with the setting. It is the place where lost dreams are found and new ones are formed. Everybody is in Abuja, people of diverse origins and qualifications.

I have started to keep a note of old friends that I run into. On 10th, I saw Henry. On 11th, I saw Helen. Jakes on the 13th. The past few days have seen me make multiple entries into my journal. I meet them all: old school mates, former neighbours, clan members and others. I meet them on the road, in churches, and from a vehicle. Some have called to say they sighted me, hopefully in a decorous state. I hear the long-drawn echo of my name called out from a distance. I muster sufficient excitement in advance of such encounters. Suddenly the city is full of familiar faces.

Abuja is a natural choice for anyone seeking a life elsewhere. It is the nation’s capital― which happens to be at the centre of the country― so we all have equal rights of occupancy. The centripetal force though is its beauty. “Cities can be either premeditated or unpremeditated,” wrote Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 'Notes from the Underground'. Abuja is premeditated but not artificial― it has enough gardens to make villages go green. It is the most premeditated city in Nigeria. It is built on purpose to tantalise, with instructions from a voluminous master plan. Many have taken this invitation literally, only to find there is no space for all, at least, not in the city centre.

For those who persevere, there are three possible ends to their stories. Given a few years, some break even, move closer, or into the city centre, buy a car and turn the roads to formula 1 tracks; behind the wheels, they are James Bond. Some, despite their ambitions, turn to nocturnal roadside sellers and settle to the game of hide and seek with officers Abuja Environmental Protection Board or become taxi drivers. Some become bitter critics of the upper class, coveting their properties, lamenting that there are enough empty mansions in the city to accommodate all residents of Abuja.

On a recent trip outside Abuja, I heard for the first time the theory of the allure, as expounded by a stranger who had just learned of my location. “Some people make money from the allure,” he said. “Others are impoverished by it.” This was only a preamble to a lecture on the futility of living in Abuja. He has done his research. A single room apartment, 25km from the city centre where you work, on the average costs N300, 000. You cannot argue. You are living for the landlords. You cannot refute that either. How do you cope in Abuja? It is like saving water in a strainer. So the question is, why insist on living in Abuja, as opposed to say Birnin Kebbi? Earn less, save more and have a more luxurious life?

Often, the show of concern is less pity, more scorn. I want to say, yes the allure is everything, that I live just for it, that it is like marrying a beautiful woman who cannot cook (Abuja is not as good for nothing else though), that it may be an unwise choice, but it is okay to be foolhardy sometimes, and that the severe loathing of foolishness is unfounded. But it is only polite to corroborate the notion of my misery. Ah, the traffic is hell, I lose five hours daily commuting. True, with my pay I would be a millionaire anywhere else, but circumstances beyond my control has ensured that I remain in the city.