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Welcome to the most populous black nation in the world

Ros Atkins Ros Atkins | 18:37 UK time, Sunday, 13 May 2007

Wuse market in down town AbujaSo said a massive sign as we wandered bleary-eyed through Abuja airport very early on Saturday morning. However, there have been no signs saying ‘Welcome to the California of Nigeria’ as one Nigerian described Abuja to me before I left. Based on my two days here, that may be a little wide of the mark.

There are palm trees, it is very (35) hot, and the roads are wide and well-maintained. But that’s probably where the comparisons end. I’ve not seen markets selling luminous blue snails, patent white loafers or pirated Afrobeat CDs in my trips to LA… and my guess is that Crosby, Stills and Nash don’t get too many heads nodding here.

It is a far gentler pace than Nairobi, Jo’burg, Accra, and many other African capitals. There’s plenty of space to drive and walk. Maybe that is what they were getting at.

Before I write on, if you’d like to speak to WHYS’ Abuja listeners on Monday or Tuesday, email us your phone number. You're just as welcome to ask them about life in Nigeria, as you are to join in their discussions about democracy and corruption (the two big talking points here at the moment).

If you’ve got a message or question for our guests in Abuja, post them here on the blog.

And here are details of our two weeks in Africa, and some of your story and subject suggestions.

If last week was all about June 27th and Tony Blair (it’s his last day as PM), the beginning of this one may well be all about May 29th. That’s the day that Umaru Musa Yar’Adua will become the new president of Nigeria.

The headlines here are dominated by how much is being spent on the inauguration (in the region of 15 million dollars it’s claimed), and the amount of legislation, business deals and news jobs that are being sanctioned by those leaving office – primarily President Obasanjo.

One paper’s front-page reads – ’19 days to Obasanjo’s exit: Govt signs N585b contracts’. The N stands for the Nigerian currency the Naira, and the ‘b’, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, means billions.

The figure translates to over 350 million dollars. That’s suspiciously big business for an administration that’s ‘in its dying days’ says The Nation newspaper. No it’s not replies the Minister for Information and Communication Frank Nweke Jnr. ‘It is unfortunate that people still feel that an outgoing government should stop work simply because it is going out. Government is a continuum…’

It highlights the friction between supporters of the PDP (the People’s Democratic Party which has retained power through Obasanjo and Yar’Adua) and many other parties and factions in Nigeria who believe that both the recent election and numerous business deals conducted by the government are corrupt.

We’ll let our audience thrash it out. Life has clearly changed in the eight years under Obasanjo, I’m curious to hear how those of you here judge those changes, and what impact they have had on your day-to-day lives.

We did our two shows in Mumbai were in the open, but I’m glad Richard’s opted to put a roof over our heads for these two from Abuja. About an hour ago the heavens opened with spectacular effect. You could barely see 10 metres and lightning was flashing through the gloam. I remember from times in the Caribbean that after the rain comes a short period of cool. Not here. The humidity is unrelenting.

So we’re sure the show will be hot stuff, and judging by our taxi driver's passionate answer to our opening question about politics, the conversation may be as well. His voice had two gears - softly spoken and politics.

Please join in if you’re listening – we’ll have all the normal text, email and phone systems up and running, and the blog will be open for business.

Cheers, Ros


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