This was first published in Metropole Magazine.
Road (ab)use; I go jogging/speed-walking with my younger sister, Debbie, every morning. It is a delight. The roads are so wide – the pedestrian walk as wide as some Lagos roads, and asphalted within an inch of their lives – make you want to roller skate. Maybe this is the reason why there are so many people out jogging, I mean, in Lagos, you must be determined, and even then, you would approach jogging with gritted teeth, especially if you lived in most parts of the mainland. But in Abuja, the roads fair call out to you to take to them.
Also, in Lagos, the day begins at least two hours before it does in Abuja (apologies to those who live in the satellite towns of course).The downside is, Abuja drivers are pampered. I see people take turns in so wide an arc they gulp huge swathes of road in a simple turn, ending up on the other side before realigning themselves. I was amazed when I first saw this and remarked to Debbie. In Lagos, you learn road economy. An Abuja driver would have a hard time adapting. I have also seen people jogging in the centre of the road. Hmmm. The drivers also seem to have a problem with using their trafficators. We screamed at several, as well as engaged in some mindreading – is you is, or is you is not turning?
Manholes; Debbie issues a warning as we set out, “watch the manholes.” They are almost all open, mouths agape. I remember Metropole Columnist Elnathan John complaining about this, but from what Debbie says, it is not a government problem; it is a citizen problem. Obviously, the covers have been fitted – and stolen. I hear ironworkers are the culprits. Reminds me of when the U.J Esuene Stadium, Calabar, hosted some of the matches during Nigeria ’99. The floodlights were fitted – and promptly stolen. How someone can climb about 30m (approx 99 feet) above the ground to commit this delicate atrocity is quite beyond me.
Still on jogging; as we pass by a fellow jogger, I do the to-the-side solidarity clap that joggers do when they meet. It means nothing more than hey, I see you, carry on, I know it’s not easy, you are almost there etc . What it does NOT mean is hey, I am looking for a rich balding lover, please give me your blackberry messenger (they need to change this name to be cross-platform) pin or phone number, or whatever meaning this man’s mind conjured! as he ignored me. Debbie, however, tells me that I should not blame the man. It would appear that many young women take to the sidewalk for that very purpose there. Hmmm. I would suggest registering in a nice, expensive gym, which may not be as cost effective, but would take a great deal less trouble and will afford you more than just the three or so seconds when you pass by the person to make an impression. But what do I know?
A lady jogs past us and I think that’s one of ‘em. She is slim slim. But I quickly berate myself; I am the person who always says that slim does not mean fit, and even skinny people need to work out and eat healthily. Boo!!! on me.
A father comes, shepherding his children along. He is pushing them, barking, encouraging. The children look annoyed; they are a skinny bunch, both he and they. I am slightly put out by his methods, but also amused. What a way to go about it though.
I see a lady jogging with her Jalabiya, hijab and trainers . It is truly funny, I mean, I could have guessed what else would she jog in? Still. But then a man also jogs past in a caftan and I wonder what gives? When I think I have seen it all, I see another jogger in a burqa – not niqab, mind. Well, it’s all terribly exotic to this Lagos girl.
My near-misses; El-Rufai’s house is near my Abuja home. As I jog past every morning, I wonder what aberrant perverseness in my nature is responsible for my always squandering opportunities for future hobnobbing with the rich and famous. I sat a few feet from the man in a session at LABAF (Lagos Books and Arts Festival) a few months ago. I knew I was coming to Abuja; I knew he was my neighbour here; I knew I would go past his house. If only I’d thought to exchange contact details, shei now I’d call and say, “Hey, remember me? Pearl from LABAF? Listen, I’m going by your house, it would appear we are neighbours. . .” and next thing you know, I would be saying that El-Rufai is my friend, hell, we’d be refering to each other as Pearly/Ruffy… This same thing happened with the NLNG panel of judges for the 2012 Prize for literature, when I spent about 45 minutes, shooting the breeze with them, and I didn’t even know who they were, until they started calling them to the high table (ONE DAY I WILL WRITE ABOUT THIS DAY). Imagine my surprise. If I’d known, shei I would have… you know. The same thing happened with Funke Akindele, y’all remember? So I have a history. Anyway, spilled milk and all that. Oh and by the way, I have heard from enough Abuja residents to be firmly convinced that they are not exactly enamoured of their present FCT minister, Bala Mohammed. Eeya, many Lagosians don’t like Fashola too – but I dare say the reasons differ vastly.
The social scene; Typically, in Lagos, people (particularly those who work 9-5 which feels more like 4am-11pm) wait for the weekend, to really get down and party hard. Unless it’s an emergency, you will scarcely get a friend to meet and hang out, and even if they did, they would be watching the clock. Most times when you see people hanging out, they are simple waiting out the after-work traffic. Not so Abuja. Everyday might very well be a weekend. It’s the unhurried pace of the city, the sanity. People groove on a Tuesday as they would a Friday night. Abuja is also very much a civil servant city. In Lagos, people are forever talking shop and striking deals. In Abuja, they are talking about their menopausal bosses and hot office assistants. There are, as usual, always exceptions.
Cost; We have by now all heard that Abuja is such an expensive place. But I am beginning to wonder if it isn’t a case of penny wise, pound foolish; at least as it compares with Lagos. Now, this comparison I’m about to make is hardly representative of all of Lagos, or all of Abuja. Here goes;
Housing; My elder sister, Racheal’s rent is the same as mine; but while hers is a self-contained apartment, mine is a two bedroom house. Automatically, this would lead me to say that her house is more expensive. But then I begin to think about it. Her neighbourhood is nicer. That neighbourhood that seems pretty regular in Abuja, would be somewhere in Lekki or Victoria Island if it were in Lagos. And so in Lagos, her house would have been more expensive than it is in Abuja.
Secondly, Racheal spends three thousand, five hundred naira on electricity bill, waste management, sanitation, and security monthly. I spend the same three thousand five hundred on light and another four thousand Naira or so extra on these other costs. Both our rents cover water but while her water is from water board and is both safe for drinking and steady, my water is supplied by a borehole that is subject to the whims of power supply. It is also not safe for drinking. As a result, I spend about three thousand Naira monthly on drinking water, and another maybe two thousand naira to buy water for house use when power fails.
Speaking of power; Racheal she does not even own a generator. In the nine days I spent there, power failed only three times – a few hours the first time and not more than ten minutes the other two times. Here is my situation. I have spent almost sixty thousand Naira first to buy a generator, then spend between ten to fifteen thousand Naira on fuel monthly, and that is outside the cost of servicing and repair of the generator.
Racheal’s house is pretty new; mine isn’t. Sometimes when there are issues, the landlady fixes them (although she is likely to use substandard stuff). I spend almost eight to ten thousand Naira monthly fixing one thing or the other – if it isn’t the light, it’s the tank that needs washing, it’s the sewage pipe that has broken, it’s the sink that is leaky, and we do it all ourselves. Lagos Landlords, or at least mine, take the rent, disappear and surface again when it is due.
Racheal’s street is well paved, and it is called a street. My street is in a terrible state of disrepair and it is called an Estate. You cannot quantify the money that is spent by car owners who suffer damage as a result of the road which is getting worse every day.
Transportation; a cab distance worth four hundred Naira in Abuja, would be two thousand and above in Lagos.
Food; most of the food we eat comes from the North, staples like fruits, vegetables, cereals and meat. By the time they get here, cost doubles (and quality reduces). On this score, Abuja is again cheaper than Lagos by far.
Time; Lagos traffic is a cliché not worth dwelling on. If anyone did a study of the man-hours lost in Lagos traffic and quantified it in monetary terms, it would be clear how expensive Lagos is on this score.
This is my humble submission – that Abuja only seems more expensive than Lagos, but this is not so when you count all the costs, real and derived.
A small caveat, however, would be that Lagos is so rife with opportunities and generous to the hustler, that it would be kinder to the beginner than Abuja ever could be.
If I was going to compare any two places with competitive quality in Housing (including road network and condition, security, utilities), Health, Light, Transportation etc, I would rather Abuja versus Calabar. That would still be an unequal comparison because Abuja would provide more opportunities than Calabar for wealth creation. Still, it’d be closer. Lagos is all grime beneath the glitz.
Airport; For a city as organized as Abuja (at least in comparison with Lagos), the airport is appallingly disorganized. You may not be able to tell right away – until you are late for your flight and have only a few minutes to check in before the counter closes, then it hits you. In Lagos and Calabar Airports (and I’d like to think most sane places in the world), at the check-in counter, there are several queues, first to different destinations, and then for the same destinations, according to departure time. Not so Abuja airport. So you who is going to Lagos on the 3 o’clock flight could find yourself at the end of a long queue by 2:15, while the person who is going to Port Harcourt by 6p.m would be at the head of (wait for it) the very same queue. Doesn’t make any sense. Very nearly missed my flight for the second time, that last time I travelled. It was really desperate. And maybe that is the reason why the business of young men and women who loiter around, ‘helping’ people check in for an unspecified amount of money “give me anytin wey you get” is booming.
Trivia; Lagos airport buses are like cruise liners; Abuja’s are just ordinary jor.
But, I love Abuja.