For all the problems Nigeria faces - corruption, Boka Haram terror, 419 scams, traffic jams, power cuts, unreliable water supply, etc., I learned to love the people and the place. (Incidentally "boka haram" is pidgen for "book is forbidden". The Nigerian Electric Power Authority, NEPA, is commonly referred to as "never enough power always") So, when my daughter announced that she and her husband had signed on to teach at the American International School in Abuja for two years, I was pleased. What goes round, comes round. I decided to follow to help them settle in and get acquainted. Will I find any good news in a place that gets so much bad press? Please read on.
We left Albuquerque airport early Monday morning and arrived in Abuja Tuesday afternoon. Only Salomé slept well. She is happy, excited, and wide-eyed. Grown-ups are tired, grubby and groggy. We are met by a man from the U.S. Embassy and two staff members from the school who usher us and our eight bulging bags past wary officials and onto a school van.
It is the rainy season in this part of Africa and the sky is overcast, leaden and gray. The air is moist and warm but not uncomfortable. The road into Abuja is good and traffic moves smoothly. The vegetation is lush and green but not the dense tropical tangle I remember from the south. We see rounded dark gray rock outcroppings here and there. Jeff wants to know if there is hiking in the hills. Our hosts are not encouraging. People here walk out of necessity, not for pleasure.
As we approach the city, the two, three, and four-storey cement block buildings are closer together but the density is nothing like Lagos. They look, for the most part, freshly painted and recently constructed. There is no sign of the tin-roofed, adobe houses typical of most of rural West Africa.
Thirty-three years ago when I left Nigeria, this city did not exist. Lagos was still the crowded, steamy, happening Capital as well as the major port of a nation of 70 million. It was too much for a city that had grown unplanned from a coastal swamp. Happily the military government of the time recognized the situation was untenable. They had the means and foresight to plan a new Capital and moved the Federal Government to a purpose-built city in the center of the country, Abuja. It was a good move.
Thirty minutes or so after leaving the airport, the school van turns abruptly off the main road onto a side street and passes a few small shops and street hawkers. We approach a tall metal gate; it swings open and we drive into a shady, quiet compound. Inside we are facing a solid-looking 3-storey apartment block. Our luggage is hauled up to the top floor and we are home at last.