Michael NnebeThursday, June 5, 2014
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buja was designed as a shining city on the hill, a brand new city carved out of nothing in the dead center of Nigeria. It was supposed to be our own Brasilia, a capital in a neutral territory, away from the overcrowded and growing slums of Lagos. But make no mistake about it, the Hausa military junta wanted to move the capital to the North and they got their wish or rather implemented their wish. It did not come easily though; The Abuja concept first came about in the seventies under Murtala Mohammed, but it took hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions in infrastructural and structural development before the Federal Government finally relocated the capital from Lagos to Abuja officially in 1991. It quickly grew, becoming the new place to be, but only for the adventurous and the brave, most of whom settled on the outskirts of the city proper. Everything changed overnight after the advent of our current democratic experience in 1999 when suddenly oil prices rose significantly, money became awash in Abuja, and finally everybody wants to be in Abuja.

The lush green grasses and well-manicured lawns of well-built homes became the golden attraction. I was pleasantly surprised the first time I visited in late 1999 to obtain a US visa for my dad who was ill at the time. I barely had time to look around, and returned to Lagos after a restless night at the Nicon Noga Hilton as it was called then. I visited again the next year under a better circumstance when in search of a school for my son I went to interview the principal of Loyola College. Although I did not spend the night, there was so much time between my arrival and departure flights and I decided to drive around town. I was amusingly surprised that Nigeria could create and maintain such an oasis. When my children visited from the US a couple of years ago we spent some time in Lagos where I deliberately took them around town. We then flew to Abuja, spent about the same period, and I once again took them around town. Later I asked them where they would like to stay between Lagos and Abuja, and I was not surprised they all said Abuja without hesitation. Who could blame them after spending more than four hours stuck in traffic on the third mainland bridge on our way from Ikoyi to Ikeja airport in Lagos.

I had resisted anything to do with Abuja. Ever since I came back to Nigeria I could count on my fingers how many times I have visited there. As much as I like Abuja it has always been my thing to stay away from politicians at all levels and you cannot spend time in Abuja without meeting all sorts of politicians. But after my children's high endorsement of the beauty and cleanliness of the city, and their desire to own a home there, I centered my mind on Guzape, a hillside new residential area behind Asokoro. While I was making plans to build in Abuja things began to slowly fall apart. There was a bomb here and then another one there, and each time I'll consider them as isolated events. Surely Abuja is neither Damaturu nor is it anywhere in the Northeast where most of the Boko Haram actions take place. But after counting so many isolated incidents in Abuja it suddenly dawned on me that this notion that Abuja is safe is only an illusion. My own illusion and that of many Nigerians who currently live in Abuja, and cannot begin to imagine that this oasis, this castle in the sand is about to crumble. I may not be as simplistic as it sounds, but the sad and hard truth is that Abuja is no longer safe, period.

Initially these bombs began going off at only high profile targets; the United Nations building, then the police headquarters, then at Eagle square, then the military barracks, then the security agents offices, then newspaper offices, then at a nightclub, then at several police stations, then at Nyanya, and again at Nyanya, and now at Wuse II. If you look at these locations one can easily conclude that Boko Haram can simply strike anywhere in Abuja at will. They have targeted and successfully bombed just about every part of Abuja, and every target soft or hard. In the past few years Boko Haram has successfully bombed over a dozen targets in Abuja. Now, it appears to me that the best that can be said about Abuja is that it is still relatively safe, but relative to what and where? Outside of the core Northeast or perhaps the city of Jos, I do not know of any city in Nigeria that has been bombed as frequently as Abuja. As for me, my desire to own a home in Abuja has sufficiently waned and my private advice to all my Igbo friends who live in Abuja is this; if you must stay due to your work, politics, or business, perhaps it is time to consider moving your family elsewhere, to a place like Enugu for their own safety, for it appears to me that these bombings are likely to get worse before they can get better if indeed they will ever get better.

What is very humbling to me about this latest bombing at Emab plaza is that when I am in Abuja, I usually stay just a few minutes' walk from that mall. My friends live very close to the mall while several others have offices and businesses within the neighborhood. I have actually visited this Emab plaza and the adjacent Banex plaza over a dozen times in my last three visits. If I was in Abuja I easily could have been in this plaza at the time of the blast. The barber I use while in Abuja is in this plaza, and many other shops that I routinely patronize were all there. It now appears to me that these idiots are in Abuja to stay and although my hopes are not yet thoroughly quenched I now have the obligation to be very cautious about building anything new in Abuja. Have I become a coward and now giving in to these faceless terrorists? Not necessarily, but I have now surely come to the painful realization that Abuja is no longer safe and therefore must trade carefully. I hope you do so too.