ABUJA, Nigeria

On Dec. 12, 1991, the city of Abuja became the new capital of Nigeria. President Ibrahim Babangida officially took up residence in the new presidential Palace on that day. While the new city was in process of completion, many of the government offices remained in Lagos, the former capital--and many government workers were very reluctant to leave this seacoast city for the interior. Located 300 miles (480 kilometers) inland, almost in the center of Nigeria, Abuja is a new city. It was started in 1976 within the newly created Federal Capital Territory. The territory, with an area of 2,824 square miles (7,315 square kilometers), lies at the juncture of the Niger and Benue rivers. It lies just south of the old emirate of Abuja, which was founded in 1828 and named for its founder--whose name means Abu the Red. The region is now called Suleja.

Construction of the new city began during the term of President Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who planned to have it finished in 1983. Construction was delayed for a number of reasons, however. First, Nigeria's oil revenues dropped drastically between 1976 and 1980. In addition, there has been frequent tribal and religious unrest within the country. In late 1983, Shagari's government was overthrown, but work went on.

Nigeria's Federal Capital Development Authority was in charge of the whole project. The city plan was drawn up by International Planning Associates, an American firm. The city center, four square miles (ten square kilometers) in area, was to contain most of the new government buildings. It was designed by the Japanese firm of Kenzo Tange and Urtec. The total planned city area was 174 square miles (451 square kilometers). By 1987 Abuja had a population of 15,000. At that time water and telephone systems were already in place for a projected large population boom. Population (1992 estimate), 298,300.