INTRO: Several countries of the world have experimented with changing of the location of their capital cities. Countries such as Brazil moved her capital city from Rio de Janeiro to the built-for-the-purpose Brasilia in 1961; Kazakhstan moved from Almaty to Astana in 1997; and Cote d'Ivoire moved from Abijan to Yamoussoukro in 1983. In the year 1991, Nigeria joined the ranks of countries that for one reason or another relocated their capital cities when she moved her capital city from Lagos to Abuja.
The move was initiated in 1975 by the military government of General Murtala Mohammed when he set up a 7-man panel under the chairmanship of Dr. Akinola Aguda to examine the issue of a new capital city for Nigeria. The panel after their studies recommended Abuja and the military government under Decree No. 6 of 1976 established the Federal Capital Development Authority to midwife the planning, designing and developing of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The Murtala administration did not live to complete what it started due to the abortive but bloody coup of 1976 that claimed his life. Subsequent governments contributed their quota during their reign but the dream was only actualized in 1991 by the military government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. The reasons for the relocation of Nigeria's capital city from Lagos to Abuja include the following:
1) Security: Lagos is a coastal city bordering the Atlantic Ocean. This geographical location leaves the city susceptible to attacks from air or sea by enemy countries; and in a war, when a capital city falls, the whole country has fallen. Unlike Lagos, Abuja is located at the heart of Nigeria's land.
2) Overpopulation: Lagos is a densely populated city due to the fact that it was not just the seat of power but also the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. It has been the destination for the bulk of Nigeria's rural-urban migration in search of greener pasture. This overpopulation causes serious congestion and environmental degradation, makes nonsense of every developmental efforts in the city, and renders the city unfit for a capital city.
3) Lack of Land for Expansion: Lagos has limited area of land that will accommodate the future expansions of a typical capital city. With an area of 8,000 sq. kms, Abuja is twice the area of Lagos State. Currently covering 250 sq. km, Abuja still have over 7,000 sq. km in reserve for future expansion.
4) Neutrality: Lagos is the land of the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria. Even till today, Yoruba people are not happy when Lagos is referred to as "no man's land." Unlike Lagos, Abuja bestrides different tribes in a way that nobody could lay claim to the land. The entire territory itself was carved out from three state, namely, Niger State which contributed 79% of the land area and 71% of the indigenous population, Nasarawa State which contributed 16% and 21% respectively, and Kogi state which made a contribution of 5% and 8% respectively. This neutral stance of the city explains why it is called the Centre of Unity.
5) Purpose: Lagos city was not built for the purpose of being a capital city, and pushing the the city to fit the purpose if possible is not desirable because of the socio-economic implications. Abuja was designed and built for the purpose of being the capital city of Nigeria.
6) An Expression of Independence: Lagos was made the capital by the colonial masters. Relocation of the capital city from the former colonial base sends the message of repudiation across to the former masters that "Nigeria has come of age, and is no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power." Policies similar to this relocation of the capital city was the changing of currency from Pounds to Naira, and the system of government from Parliamentarism to Presidentialism.