You are thinking of the concept of cities and if, by any definition other than a demographic one, any place in Nigeria apart from Lagos qualifies to be a city. Especially the much touted Federal Capital Territory, whose residents often refer to it as a city. Instead of merely considering population size, population density and social heterogeneity, you prefer a more functional definition of a city. It is by this definition that you think Abuja falls short.
Every time you attempt to walk you notice how many traffic lights either don’t work at all or give confusing signals. Or how, with the exception of a few streets, most of the residential part of the city is filthy-- perhaps not in comparison to smaller towns but definitely filthy by any objective standard. Apart from the street lights on selected major streets and vulgar gargantuan mansions bereft of vegetation, you cannot name one urban experience that makes Abuja a city.
Perhaps, you think, its relatively safe night life which is one of the only reasons you prefer it to places like Lagos. You can go out in search of food or drinks at almost midnight. Tonight you are with Safiyanu and Mike, trying to find a garden that sells food in addition to alcoholic drinks.
After trying a couple of places, you end up in a large garden in Jabi, probably one of the liveliest in Abuja. At two in the morning when you are all strolling out, with new harmonized positions on previous arguments, and a few vulgar jokes befitting that time of the night, there are still sex workers standing under the bright yellow street lights.
As ubiquitous as sex workers are in Abuja, you still manage to notice them individually, especially after you interviewed a few of them for your story. With a little insight into their often risky, hard lives it is not hard for you to challenge anyone who dismisses them as being lazy or looking for easy money.
‘You see these guys who come out around two in the morning to pick prostitutes eh,’ you begin, ‘they understand the game. They are the pros. They know that around this time when the streets are getting empty and all the construction workers have picked up theirs, the girls remaining are desperate to find someone who will take them home and they are not in the best position to insist on high prices.’
It does not take you too long to see how this unsolicited but detailed piece of wisdom makes you look a commercial sex connoisseur. They both stare at you and you find yourself suddenly rambling to explain how you only know this because you have interacted a lot with sex workers. For work. You stress ‘for work’, whereupon they burst into uproarious laughter. You abandon the explanation before you shoot yourself further.
The four girls close by to your right stare at you for a minute, scanning your faces and bodies for any sign that you might want some action. One of them calls out: ‘brother how now?’ They turn away when a red wagon with two men slows to a halt. All three of you take an interest in the bargaining process.
The men in the wagon seem sure of their bargaining power and feign impatience. They begin to drive off and one of the girls chases after them shouting: ‘Oya I go suck am, wait now.’ The car drives around to the other side of the road where two other women are standing. After a few minutes, two relieved girls jump into the back seat.
None of you say it but you are all stretching your necks, curious for details, something to say who those men are who know exactly what time to get the best commercial sex bargain. All you see is an Abuja plate number and a large DUNAMIS sticker. Even though the driver clearly identifies as the member of a church, here out in the middle of nowhere it is just another car with a sticker.
Finally you get it. Perhaps the most important quality of Abuja which loosely qualifies it to be a city is an anonymity unaffected by things like specific church stickers or bright lights.
As your conversation moves to how dysfunctional Abuja has become, you conclude loudly ‘Abuja is a big fat lie jor.’
‘Nigeria is a big fat lie,’ Mike corrects you.
Touché, you think.