What You Should Know About Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory

Abuja, currently the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, has a rich history rooted in the southwestern region of the ancient Habe kingdom of Zazzau (Zaria). For centuries, it was home to various semi-autonomous tribes, with the Gbagyi (Gwari) being the largest, alongside the Koro and other smaller tribes. In the early 1800s, as Zaria fell to Fulani invaders, Muhammad Makau and his brothers, Abu Ja and Kwaka, fled south. Abu Ja succeeded Makau in 1825, and his full name was Abubakar, with Abu being his nickname. Some accounts attribute the “Ja” to his fair complexion, while others suggest it came from his father’s name, Ishaku Jatau. This marked the establishment of the Abuja kingdom.

Over time, Abuja evolved into a significant commercial hub where long-distance traders exchanged goods. Unlike neighboring areas, it managed to resist Fulani conquest. However, British colonial forces occupied Abuja in 1902, reorganizing the region into emirates. Until 1975, Abuja remained relatively quiet within Nigeria. The issues associated with Lagos being the capital prompted the search for a new capital in 1975, leading to the selection of Abuja from 33 potential sites. Criteria such as centrality, health, climate, land availability, water supply, accessibility, security, resources, drainage, soil quality, urban planning convenience, and ethnic harmony influenced this choice.

At that time, the Emir of Abuja, Altai Suleiman Bara, had to seek approval from the Emirate Council to contribute four of its districts to become part of the new capital. While some districts initially resisted this sacrifice, the council eventually consented. Consequently, Abuja in Niger State contributed 80% of the land, Plateau State (now Nassarawa State) provided 16% of the southeast territory, and Kwara State (now Kogi State) offered approximately 4% of the southwest territory. The Emirate also agreed to rename itself the Federal Capital Territory, anticipating global recognition.

Notably, in the Gbagyi (or Gwan) language, “Aso” signifies success or victory. The original inhabitants of the region lived near the Aso Rock for centuries without being conquered, considering it both a refuge and a source of mystical strength. The term “Aso Rock” now not only refers to the imposing physical rock but also symbolizes governmental power and the nation itself.

In accordance with local traditions, the indigenous people of the area resided at the foot of the rock for countless generations, remaining unconquered. This rock served as both a sanctuary and a mystical wellspring of strength. Consequently, the name of one of the local areas, Asoro (also known as Aso Koro), signifies a community of victors. Furthermore, the term “Aso Rock” is now commonly employed not only to describe the formidable physical rock formation in the region but also as a symbol representing governmental authority and the entire nation.


Written by Xavier Vivian

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