Moving to Abuja

If Lagos is the notorious and ill-perceived thorn so unceremoniously twisted in Nigeria’s side, expats moving to Abuja will quickly realise that this capital city is the glossy veneer the nation has haphazardly tried to use to cover its wounds.

Only created in the late 1970s with petrodollars and under the auspices of three watchful American company planners, Abuja was constructed as the answer to the sprawling slums, unsightly infrastructural tragedies and uncontainable overpopulation of the commercial centre, Lagos

It was meant to delve out a comfortable space for civil servants to complete their duties and was intended to act as a neutral, strategically placed force to unify an impressively diverse nation.

As a result, it’s not strange to find Western-seeming, sweeping boulevards, clover-style interchanges and modern, skyward-climbing buildings; but be forewarned, the wealth disparity that permeates much of the nation is far from absent here.

Furthermore, many of the same crippling problems that plague Lagos are found in Abuja. The electricity supply is inconsistent and unreliable, the roads can be chaotic and congested for those unaccustomed to such madness, and healthcare, even in private hospitals, is well below international standards.

The good news is that the abominable crime rate that’s come to characterise Lagos isn’t a statistic shared by the capital. Expats living in Abuja will be happy to find themselves in a relatively safe city, and as long as one acts sensibly, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about in the way of safety.

Many foreigners find their largest concern is negotiating the surprisingly steep cost of living in Abuja. Accommodation, in particular, is incredibly expensive and is well beyond the average Nigerian professional’s wages. Plus, demand far outweighs supply, and lengthy waiting lists for sought-after properties are commonplace.

That said, many expats moving to Abuja do so within the graces of a lucrative employment package and, in most cases, the sponsoring company foots the bill for housing, health insurance, transport needs and even flights home. In some cases, domestic help is even thrown into the deal, and looming mansions with swimming pools, electric gates and armed guards are squared away for assignees well before their arrival.

Expat life in Abuja can feel surprisingly luxurious, and many foreigners enjoy the closeness of a community made up mostly of foreigners. Not to mention, though still developing, the city claims shops, bars, cinemas and nightclubs, and is only a hop, skip and a jump away from some of the more naturally splendid areas of the country, like Gurara Falls.

Outside of the rainy season, skies are blue and clear, and temperatures are hot, soaring up to 105°F (40°C) on some days. So, the weather is good, and many expats report that the people are equally warm and friendly. 

Of course, it’s important to maintain some perspective and to realise that expat life in Nigeria’s capital can be challenging, and one of extreme and unbalanced privilege. However, as most people don’t end up spending long periods of time in Abuja, as they may do in destinations in Europe, Asia or America, it’s possible to quite easily work hard and live well, and in an unaffected manner.