I was in Abuja during the week. I drove into the generic city after 9pm. I never cease to be fascinated by the city for many reasons. The city was grown, not developed. It was constructed not built. I call Abuja a generic city because it lacks culture. Except if you regard as culture the expensive lifestyle and pretentious opulence and aping of modernism – ala western. There is nothing about the architecture and planning that shows that it is Nigerian. Nothing to reveal that it is the construct of an organized community with inherited values and systems. There is nothing about it that has artistic, ritual or even spiritual significance. You almost always have to describe by shape, size, height, colour and glass. There is a curious definition of beauty that I often hear people repeating that convinces me that the planners and dwellers lack spirituality. It is the beauty of beauty. A city should be like a piece of art. Culture, whether tangible or intangible is a construct of the mind; an interpretation of a set of matrixes of community genius. Each time I drive into Abuja, I see tasteless beauty; bland artistry. I feel polluted and at risk of poisoning from fake drugs. I feel like a pirated book, I function like a fake spare part. Art, without indigenous cultural imprint is corruption. There is design and construction in Abuja but no building; there is aesthetic beauty but no art; there is planning but no order; there is thinking but no depth. One would like to salute the obvious brilliance of the planners, yet it should be possible to accept the absence of cultural interrogation. If beauty is a form of glitter, Abuja is lavish with it.
As one drives through the snaky hills of Akoko, through the valleys of the Niger, one is busy conversing with the hills and the meadows. The vegetations are full of lullabies; the Niger beats its rhythm. Every community shows its personality. Then suddenly, one runs into the arid mockery of the human personality. Yet, no one seems to see what I see. Whether in delusions or illusions, I admit to some beauty, but it is not of the inner type. It is composed of externalities, accessories and attachments; borrowed and corrupted. The city looks like its prostitutes. It is an assemblage of completely knocked down concepts. The city seems to poison those who run it. Policies are de-contextualised, denuded and devoid of culture to the point that it deforms. But we are told that we are being reformed. The city is demolishing, displacing and banishing the poor with fiendish satisfaction. We are told that they are being reformed. Culture is the soul of compassion. It puts human value to laws and policies. It is a people’s interpreter. Abuja creates delusions of wisdom and grandeur. Once you live in this city, you have made it, or at least so they think. I love the tough talking ministers who are reforming the rest of us. But their perspectives are deformed. They now worship rules for their own sake; they are fixated on change for the pleasure of flux. I praise them for their brilliance; for their excellence. As an inferior mortal, I bow and tremble. They must be brilliant although short in understanding; intelligent but lacking in wisdom; smart but deficient in knowledge. A lot of what happens in Abuja is a function of memory work. Albeit degraded by the absence of cultural and contextual perspectives. A lot of theory and templates have been imported and they are inserted with religious zeal. I admit to all the good works. There is construction where we ought to build. Destruction is practiced where we need to deconstruct. Let us heed the words of wisdom: except the Lord builds a house, those who labor do so in vain, except he guards a city, the watch men are mere losers. A city is not the walls and glass, it is the people.
Culled from Preying Mantis by Francis O. Egbokhare. Order for your copy via these links: