I AM ALWAYS FASCINATED BY THE unpredictability of life in Nigeria. The unexpected is always around the corner, and the "normal" can be cruelly absent. Example: I am occupying a guest house at GRA, Ikeja, in Lagos, kindly made available to me by a good friend. I invite members of my family in Ghana to come and spend a weekend with me. We have a whale of a time, and after breakfast on the Saturday, we troop to Awolowo Road, in Ikoyi, to do some shopping.
Whilst my daughter-in-law is looking at some beautiful tie-died cloth, I try to photograph her to give her a permanent memento of her visit. But the cloth-seller suddenly hits the roof when he sees what I am doing! He doesn't want me to photograph him! I tell him he isn't even in the frame and that I am photographing my daughter-in-law. But nothing can placate him. He is really getting hysterical and I realise that I must think fast on my feet, or he will create a very ugly scene indeed.
Quick as a flash, I open the camera, take out the film and hand it to him. He stares at it and gives it back to me. He now has a satisfied look on his face. I breathe a sigh of relief. And we get out of there as fast as we can.
Now, I know that some people do not like to be photographed, because they genuinely believe that the camera will "steal" their soul and take it away. But this is a very popular tourist area of Ikoyi, and I would have thought that the hawkers there would be used to tourists taking photographs. But no. I feel thoroughly deflated in front of my family. I am supposed to be the experienced journalist who has travelled the whole world. And yet, in Lagos, a mere 50 minutes' jet ride from Accra, I have totally miscalculated, and thereby embarrassed myself.
However, I am glad to report that Abuja, which has been the capital of Nigeria since 1991, does not give me the creeps the way Lagos does.
But with Lagos at the back of my mind, I half-expected some sort of drama to occur, when I arrived at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, in September 2010. It did--but of a most pleasant kind.
Friends had arranged for me to be met and I went smoothly through immigration and customs without any of the usual hassle to which I was accustomed when arriving at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos. The only question I was asked was: "Are you bringing more than $10,000 into Nigeria?" I shook my head and within minutes, I was being chauffeur-driven into Abuja city.
Abuja has grown very beautiful since I was last there five years ago. At that time, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was about to take place, and I saw gardeners everywhere busy planting trees all along the boulevards of the city. In five years, they have blossomed luxuriantly and everywhere one looks on the sidewalks, there are shady trees nicely spaced out and well pruned. Many tall buildings have also been added to the skyline.
The move from Lagos by important parastatals and some private companies--decreed in 1976 by the president of the time, the late Gen. Murtala Muhammed--is now almost complete. And out of practically nothing--just a patch of land with a few huts here and there--one of the most thriving cities in Africa is rising.
It just goes to show that even an African government, when it contains people with a sense of purpose, can achieve objectives that might have seemed like pie in the sky when proposed.
Aso Rock, home of the Nigerian presidency, is a collection of villas tastefully put together by a firm called Julius Berger, which is best known in Nigeria for building roads. I first saw Aso Rock from the inside when I covered the visit, in April 1992, of the then South African President, F. W. de Klerk, for talks with Nigeria's then president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. In an answer to a question from me at a press conference, de Klerk gave me an inkling of the settlement he had in mind for South Africa. …