After the high hopes of Independence in 1960, Nigeria was soon caught up in a series of intractable ethno-regional crises which culminated first in military coups, and then in a Civil War which lasted from 1967 to 1970, and during which over 1 million lives were lost.
In the aftermath of the war, the Nigerian state sought to rebuilt the nation, using a range of strategies: the re-design of the federal system to make the centre more powerful; affirmative action to make national institutions more representative; restructuring the party and political systems along majoritarian lines with thresholds to force politicians out of their ethnic comfort zones; the creation of pan national institutions like schools, universities and broadcast networks.
The building of Abuja, right in the centre of the country was yet another example of the unifying ambitions of the post-civil war Nigerian state.
In this presentation, I explore the logic implicit in the choice of Abuja as the space for the nation-building agenda of the Nigerian state. I highlight how the state ‘imagined’ the virgin space it wanted to transform into the symbol of national unity. I also highlight some of the obstacles to this transformational gaze of the state. Finally, I highlight the fact that relocating Nigerians to a new centrally located city has not necessarily cured them of their ethnic or religious biases.
Abuja is therefore a testament, both to the enduring nature of the hopes for Nigerian unity, and an illustration of the limits of the state in engineering that unity.