Current Urban Studies
2013. Vol.1, No.1, 1-10
Published Online March 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 1
Exploiting Public Art, Architecture and Urban
Design for Political Power in Abuja: Modernism and
the Use of Christian, Islamic and Ancestral
Visual Icons
Nnamdi Elleh, David J. Edelman
University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, USA
Email: david.edelm
Received ********* 2013
Can public art, architecture and urban design be indices of the social, economic and political struggles for
hierarchies and dominance among contesting interest groups within a postcolonial society like Nigeria? In
1975, the Nigerian military proposed that building a new Federal Capital Territory at Abuja would facili-
tate the country’s “federal character” resolve the problem of nepotism, and ease ethnic tensions among the
two hundred and fifty cultural groups which constitute the nation (Afigbo, 1986; Ajayi, 1984)1. However,
a study of the architecture and the sculptures at the newly constructed National Assembly Complex sug-
gest otherwise. In this paper, it is argued that while the ideology of a nationalist architecture and the con-
cept of a “federal character” might have merit for a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, at Abuja, “federal
character” instead became the means with which the emergent postcolonial elite consolidated its eco-
nomic and political power through the exploitation of public art, as well as Modernist architectural and
urban design elements using Islamic, Christian, and Ancestral visual icons.
Keywords: Abuja; African Art; Architecture and Urban Design; African Religious Symbolism;
Nigerian Politics
Given that no city, let alone Abuja, Nigeria’s modern capital
city designed in the 1970s and built in the 1980s and 1990s,
could be expected to achieve the broad egalitarian goals indi-
cated by the postcolonial Nigerian authorities, what was achi-
eved instead? Why would the idea that architecture and urban
design might deliver such goals be imagined in Nigeria in 1975,
the time when the building and the inaugural experiences of
Brasília (Brazil), Chandigarh (India), Dodoma (Tanzania), and
Islamabad (Pakistan) had been receiving mixed reviews from
the architectural and urban design community, as well as from
politicians and social critics (Evenson, 1973; Epstein, 1973;
Kalia, 1987; Holston, 1989; Vale, 1992; Dovey, 1999)? How
did certain Modernist inspired architectural and urban design
elements utilizing Christian, Islamic and Ancestral modes of
visual representation, accompanied by public art, become in-
struments of economic and political struggle among the post-
colonial Nigerian ruling elite at Abuja? Answering these ques-
tions is the objective of this paper. This will be accomplished
by first, explaining the political setting surrounding the decision
to relocate the capital, second, discussing how Modernism, as
well as Christian, Islamic, and Ancestral Visual Icons, were
used to contest economic and political power at Abuja, third,
reviewing the struggle for economic and political dominance at
the critical central Three Arms Zone of Abuja, fourth, integrat-
ing the analysis provided by the three previous sections and,
finally, summarizing the findings of the study.
Prelude to the Battle: Relocating the Federal
Capital from Lagos to Abuja
1The terms “federal character” and national unity and identity suggest that
the count ry i s no t full y un ifi ed as the l ead er s an d ci tizen s wou ld lik e it to be.
That is not surprising since the country is a British creation. Within the
olitical lexicon of the country, Nigeria’s “federal character” refers to the
“distinct desire of the peoples of Nigeria to promote national unity, foster
national loyalty and give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the
nation notwithstanding the diversities of ethnic origin, culture, language or
religion which may exist and which it is their desire to nourish, and harness
to the enrichment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. In principle, it im-
plies equitable distribution of political power and national wealth but that is
hardly the case.
People from different ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural value sys-
tems were forced to become members of one nation by the British in 1914,
the period of consolidation of colonialism. There is severe competition for
the control of the political and economic resources of Nigeria between the
different ethnic groups.
When the Nigerian authorities proposed to build a new fed-
eral capital city at Abuja in 1975, the economy of the country
was booming with oil revenues. The oil embargo against the
“West” by the members states of the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Nigeria is a member,
had quadrupled the national revenue of the country, which once
depended on the export of agricultural produce such as cocoa,
palm oil, rubber, cassava, yam, cattle, leather, and different
kinds of tropical fruit (Second National Development Plan, 1970-
1974; Third National Development Plan, 1975-1980; Fourth
National Development Plan, 1981-1985; Aadekson, 1981; Tay-
lor, 1993)2. In 1975, the petroleum based economy provided the
basis for a new way of thinking about the development of the
country. That new way of thinking envisioned architecture and
urban design as a solution to socio-political problems, which
the country’s leaders, mainly a succession of military juntas,
could not solve at the negotiating table. At that time, the rea-
soning was that if the socio-political problems of the country
were to be solved, the starting point was at the capital of the
nation, Lagos, located at the southwest corner of the Atlantic
coast of the country. In order to implement the most important
aspects of the development problems confronting the country,
the Nigerian authorities encouraged their citizens to re-examine
the role of Lagos as both the federal capital and the capital of
the State of Lagos (Aguda Committee, 1975; Benson, 1975;
Onun, 1975; Eke, 1975; Afilakalaka, 1975; Omumu & Boji-
Boji, 1975)3. Questioning the suitability of Lagos as the capital
of the country was not at all new, although the military leaders
wanted the citizens to believe otherwise in 1975. In fact, the
role of the city as the capital of the country had been in ques-
tion from the time the country was founded in 1914 through
1960, when Nigeria became an independent state. In 1974,
when the debate for the relocation of the Federal Capital was at
its peak, Ishaya Audu, the then Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu
Bello University, Nigeria, wrote that, “Firstly, our attention is
drawn to the fact that this discussion has gone on since the
creation of Nigeria as one political entity, contrary to the belief
of some that the issue has only arisen as a result of recent
manifestations of physical congestion (Audu, 1974).” In order
to underscore the point that the idea of overcrowding in Lagos
did not emerge in 1975, Audu rhetorically writes that, “it is a
sobering thought, one that those who think that one more road
plan will master Lagos mushrooming growth should take to
heart, that the ‘growing congestion of the island’ was put for-
ward as an objection to Lagos’s suitability as early as the 1st of
January, 1914 when Nigeria first came into being as a political
entity (Ibid. Kirk-Greene, 1968).”
On 9 August 1975, when the debates on the location of the
capital of the country had reached a peak, and with the revenues
from petroleum exports flooding the country with different
kinds of imported goods, the Military Head of State, General
Murutala Mohammed, set up an eight member Committee on
the Location of the Federal Capital of Nigeria. The task of the
committee was to review the multiple roles of Lagos as the
federal capital of Ni geria, the capital of the State of Lagos, and
the economic capital of the country (Aguda, 1975). The com-
mittee adopted a four-step modus operandi in its deliberations.
First, in response to the initiative of the military to question the
status of the city of Lagos, the committee called for memoranda
from the general public in all the major newspapers asking for
opinions on the subject of relocating the federal capital or
keeping it at Lagos. Second, the committee sought the opinions
of non-governmental agencies; trade unions; architectural, en-
gineering, and urban planning associations; and prominent per-
sonalities in the country. These individuals were from academia
and from federal and state government agencies and depart-
ments. The country’s important traditional rulers-Obas, chiefs,
Emirs, and local counselors-were also included. Third, the com-
mittee visited all the capitals of the then 19 states of Nigeria in
order to interview federal, state, and county officials and those
from various agencies. Finally, it visited 14 cities in 8 different
countries, which had had the experience of relocating their
capital cities during the twentieth century. The cities visited
included: Mombassa and Nairobi, Kenya; Livingstone and Lu-
saka, Zambia; Gaborone, Botswana; Dar Es Salaam and Do-
doma, Tanzania; Karachi and Islamabad, Pakistan; New Delhi,
India; Sydney and Canberra, Australia; and Rio de Janeiro and
Brasília, Brazil (Ibid.).
The committee, led by Federal High Court Justice Akinola
Aguda, concluded that a new federal capital would 1) improve
Nigeria’s national security; 2) enhance Nigerian interior devel-
opment; 3) encourage the decentralization of economic infra-
structure from Lagos; 4) enhance the development of an in-
digenous Nigerian building culture and industry (O’Malley,
1989)4; and 5) the capital would emphasize the fact that Nigeria
had emerged from the Civil War of 1967-70 (which took more
than 1.7 million lives) a more united, stable, and confident
country5. Seeing itself as the United States of Africa, a country
with more than 250 distinct ethnic groups, 1975-1979 was the
era in which Nigeria revised its constitution and patterned it
after the checks and balances system of the United States,
which divides power among the legislative (Congress), judicial
(Supreme Court), and executive (President) branches.
Nigerian law makers who shared the opinions of the com-
mittee, such as Justice Anthony Aniagolu, the Chairman of the
defunct Nigerian Constituent Assembly during the Second Re-
public (October 1, 1979-December 31, 1983), justified the idea
of developing a new federal capital by suggesting that there is a
fundamental need for a place where all Nigerians could come
together on an equal basis to help foster national unity (West
Africa, 1989). For Dr. D. S. Tafida, also a former Constituent
Assembly member, “Abuja is more important than any state
because it symbolizes unity and guarantees our sense of be-
longing.” Having just come through the bloody and damaging
Civil War over Biafran succession, it was felt that while Lagos
lies in a heavily Christian and Yoruba part of the country, the
federal capital should be independent of any religion or ethnic
group (Ibid.). The committee and the advocates of a new fed-
4It is important to keep in perspective that although the contexts and time
frames are different, the reasons that were given by Nigerian authorities
have been exploited in different countries when they sought to plan thei
capital cities. For example, upon reading the history of the development o
capital cities such as Washington, D.C., Brasília, Canberra, New Delhi,
Pretoria, Islamabad, and a provincial capital such as Chandigarh, such rea-
sons and sentiments were expressed in many ways by the political leaders
who planned the cities. See Therese O’Malley et al., 1989, The Mall in
Washington; John Epstein, 1973; Norma Evenson, 1969 and 1973; Ravi
Kalia on Chandigarh, 1987; James Holston on Brasília, 1989; and Lawrence
Vale on Architecture , Power, and National Identity, 1992.
5As a nation that emerged out of British colonialism in 1960 and began
planning a new f ederal capi tal city i n 197 5 , the p roj ect was load ed wi th an ti-
colonial ist rhetori c that also car ried the u ndertone of a continen t that was in
the process of self rehabilitation following the end of colonialism. Nigeria
also found increased resp onsibilities thrust on her as the giant of A f rica, with
an estimated population of over 90 million people, making her the most
opulous b lack nation on the face of th e earth and , hence, the fl ag bearer o
all African nations. This is of course a nationalistic sentiment which many
African countries would contest in different areas outside population and
national wealth.
2A study of Nigeria’s national expenditures will show how the budget ex-
panded over the years as the supply of petroleum products to the world
market increased. See p. 7, Nigeria, Second National Development Plan,
1970-1974, Second Progress Report; see Page 9 of the Nigeria, Third Na-
tional Development Plan, 1975-1980; and see p. 3 and p. 49 of Nigeria,
Fourth National Development Plan, 1981-1985. Bayo Aadekson’s book,
igeria in Search of a Stable Military System, page 100, is more specific on
this subject. Moreover, Louis C. Umeh was specific on the relationships
between the planning of Abuja and the oil boom of the 1970s in “The
Building of a New Federal Capital City: The Abuja Experience,” in Robert
W. Taylor’s Urban Development in Nigeria.
3It is important to state that the Aguda Committee on the Location of the
Federal Capital Report did openly encourage public participation on the
subject. The public provided suggestions to the members of the committee
through several newspaper articles, publi c debates , and direct mail.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
eral capital city also raised the problems of overcrowding and
lack of land for future expansion at Lagos, as well as the exis-
tence of severe social inequality in Lagos and other colonial
cities of Nigeria due to residential and infrastructural segrega-
tion based on race and class (Abu-Lughod, 1980).
Having laid out all the arguments justifying why Lagos
should no longer be the capital of the country, the political ad-
vocates for the city determined that Abuja should be conceived
as a place where Nigeria would show the world that it is free
from British colonization, has reformed urban segregation
based on race and class, and created a “federal character” with
which all Nigerians could identify regardless of their ethnic
In order to achieve these goals, the committee and its urban
planning and design consultant, International Planning Asso-
ciation (IPA) of the United States, which developed feasibility
studies for Abuja, believed that geographical centralization of
the proposed Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was an essential
“physical embodiment of the national goals for unity (The
Master Plan for Abuja, 1979),” because it symbolized physi-
cally the equal accessibility to the government of all the ethnic
groups, and that it also provided “a balanced development focus
for the nation (Ibid.).”
The Federal Government of Nigeria then produced a sched-
ule for implementing the committee’s recommendations on 4
February 1976. Decree No. 6 established for Nigeria a Federal
Capital Territory, i.e., an African version of the District of Co-
lumbia-a neutral ground where a Nigerian “federal character”
would be developed for the good of all Nigerians (Decree
Number 12, 1976; Constitution of the Federal Republic of Ni-
geria, 1979)6. The government took an 8000 sq. kilometer par-
cel (about 3088 sq miles, which is over twice the size of the
State of Lagos, or about 2½ times the size of Rhode Island) out
of three states largely inhabited by minority ethnic groups in the
center of the country, a strategy designed to deny any state the
claim to the future Federal Capital Territory. Within the terri-
tory, Abuja is located on the Gwagwa Plains in the middle of
Nigeria. The vegetation is predominantly Savannah-type, and
its high elevation and numerous hills give the region a pleasant
climate year round, which was one of the major attractions that
influenced the committee to select the site (Decree Number 12,
1976; Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979)7.
Using Modernism, as Well as Christian,
Islamic, and Ancestral Visual Icons, to
Contest Economic and Political Power at Abuja
Shaped like a heart that is located in the center of the Nige-
rian nation, Abuja was officially designated as the Federal
Capital Territory (FCT) prior to its construction. Within the
Federal Capital Territory, there is the Federal Capital City
(FCC). Designed for 3 million inhabitants, the FCC is divided
into districts that include: the Three Arms Zone, the Ministerial
Zone, the Central Business District, Diplomatic Zones, and
residential zones, which were planned as sectors for 200,000 to
250,000 inhabitants (The Master Plan for Abuja, 1979). Nu-
merous satellite towns that were planned simultaneously with
the FCC are located along the major expressway that trans-
verses the territory in a north-south direction and connects the
town of Lokoja with the city of Kaduna. The satellite towns
were planned as preventive measures against the problems of
overcrowding in the FCC and FCT as a whole. These satellite
towns are in different stages of development, and some are
highly specialized in function. For example, the town of Sheda
was planned primarily for research institutions, which are
charged with technical and national development plans, and its
residents are primarily academics and scientists. On the other
hand, some of the other satellite towns were intended for the
relocation of the displaced inhabitants whose lands were taken
for the construction of the city and territory. Many of the rest of
the towns were developed for different grades of federal gov-
ernment staff and bureaucrats (TADCO Consultants, 1986;
Masree Plan for Gwagwalada, 1980; Kaduna Polytechnic, 1985;
Greater Usuma Town, 1985; Federal Capital Development
Authority, 1989; Niger Consultants, 1986).
The actions of the Nigerian authorities in this regard suggest
they were keen to build the satellite towns because of lessons
learned from the experiences of Brasília and Chandigarh, where
there were not enough housing amenities for low-income resi-
dents who had migrated to the newly planned cities. Also, the
master plan for the FCT and FCC calls to mind the master plan,
which Le Corbusier prepared for his visionary “Experimental
City” for 3.1 million inhabitants, in which he located the resi-
dential facilities for the elite within the city center, while lower
income groups were provided accommodations in the city’s
periphery (Evenson, 1969; Blake, 1976; Fishman, 1999). Today,
reality in Abuja reflects this vision in that middle and low-
income earners cannot afford housing within the FCC. Only
millionaires, high-level government officials, and diplomats can
afford that luxury (Elleh, 2001). This is in stark contrast to the
major social objective of equal access that inspired the creation
of Abuja. Poor housing facilities for the colonized subjects and
segregation based on class and race during colonial times was
often a major po i nt of conte nti on between t he co loni al authorities
and the African populations whom they ruled. One would
imagine such extreme social inequalities would be avoided at
Abuja, but that is so far not the case. It means that the Nigerian
officials who led and supervised the planning process with regard
to Abuja have failed to take a leaf from critical texts on colonial
architectural policies in Africa (Abu-Lughod, 1980; Robinow,
1989; Wright, 1991; Çelik, 1997)8.
8The “European Quarter” was a common part in all European designed cities
in Africa during the colonial era. See Janet Abu-Lughod, 1980. This study
explores the consequences and the sources of the segregated cities of Mo-
rocco, especially Rabat. See also Paul Robinow, “Techno-Cosmopol-
itanism,” in French Modern.1989, who details how General Lyautey, the
French Governor General of Morocco initiated and executed a number o
urban planning schemes in the country. These schemes completely restruc-
tured Moroccan cities, like Rabat, Fez, and Casablanca, intoold and new
twin-cities with unequal distinct characters in terms of social amenities.
See as well Gwendolyn Wright, “Introduction,” in The Politics of Design in
French Co lonial Urbani sm, 1991. Wright explores how the urban projects o
France in the colonies were a well coordinated effort at the highest level o
the French government for the purposes of building a greater France.
Finally, Zeynep Çelik’s Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations, Algiers
Under French Rule, Berkeley, 1997 is useful in this context.
6See the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979, Chapter One,
Part I, Chapter VIII, Part I., and First Schedule, Part II. The geographical
boundaries of the Federal Capital Territory were clearly delineated. See
Appendix 3.
7A point that should not be overlooked is: the creation of Abuja was part o
the major post-civil war national restructuring efforts by the military juntas.
One major as pect of th e restructurin g was the need to keep the fed eral gov-
ernment of the country the supreme power by gradually fragmenting the
major eth n i c co nstituencies of the country into multip l e states with their o wn
identities and names regardless of the fact that they shared common lan-
guages. Hence, one could see why Yorubaland was subdivided into more
than si x st at es , I g bol and, into more than four states, and t he north, into about
12 states regardless of the fact that the Hausa language is seen as the major
language of communication throughout the vast r egion.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 3
Modernist urban design schemes, such as the Le Corbusier
inspired master plan for the Experimental City, did not get im-
plemented in the Abuja master plan by accident. First and fore-
most, the process of building the city was from the beginning
an international business effort that is tied to the petroleum
economy. For that reason, designing, building and developing
Abuja involved designers and contractors from different parts
of the world, including but not limited to, Japan, the United
States, the United Kingdom, France, Greece, Germany, the
Netherlands, and, in later years, China and South Korea. The
ambitious enterprise attracted the largest construction and in-
frastructure development corporations from around the world9.
Perhaps, the most telling part of the influence of Le Corbusier
on the project comes from the self-consciousness of the firms
that were involved in becoming a part of planning, urban design
and architectural history by building from scratch a city on a
scale that had never before been achieved in such a short period
of time. Thus, besides searching for urban design precedents
that provided design ideas for the kind of city that the Nigerian
authorities were interested in constructing, the precedents that
the architects were studying led them to the experimental urban
projects that Le Corbusier had proposed during the second
decade of the twentieth century. This is evident in the master
plan of Abuja, which details how the principal planners went
about designing the city (Master Plan for Abuja, 1979).
To begin, the master plan for the FCT and FCC was prepared
by the prominent Philadelphia-based firm of Wallace, McHarg,
Roberts, and Todd, Inc. The firm planned the whole Federal
Capital Territory and laid out the location of the Federal Capital
City, i.e., the central city of the territory. Thereafter, Kenzo
Tange of Japan prepared the detailed master plan of the city
itself and determined the relationships of the whole to its com-
ponent parts: the residential, business, ceremonial, cultural, and
diplomatic zones of the FCC. Tange was also in charge of de-
signing most of the national buildings within the Three Arms
Zone, the Ministerial Zone, and the Central Business District. It
is also useful to mention here that Abuja’s Three Arms Zone is
a latter version of Brasília’s Triangle of Powers, where the
Presidency, the Legislature, and the Judiciary are located. The
difference is that Abuja’s Three Arms Zone is a circle that is 1
kilometer in diameter instead of the triangle, which Lucio
Coasta designed for Brasília.
The satellite town, highway system, and development zone
master plans were prepared by Constantinos Doxiades, while
the layout for the resettlement towns and some of the experi-
mental residential districts were designed by Milton Keynes
Development Corporation of the United Kingdom (Dynasys,
1992). Although these great architects, planners and urban de-
signers were determined to focus their energies on designing
and developing the new FCT and FCC, the nature of their con-
tracts with the Nigerian government, the principal patron of the
Abuja project, co-opted their designs and transformed them into
ideological instruments of the social, political and economic
hierarchal struggles that were already in progress throughout
the nation before the Abuja project began. Thus, the struggles
became apparent in the designs of the internationally renowned
architects and planners as they implemented the wishes of the
Nigerian postcolonial leaders who employed them10.
The Contest for Economic and Political
Dominance at the Three Arms Zone
Studying the architectural and national monuments that have
been built in the Three Arms Zone reveals that all the reasons
provided by the Aguda Committee for the relocation of the
capital were guises for masking the economic and political
struggles that were going on in the country among different
interest groups. What was at stake was the knowledge that
whoever controlled the political center of power would control
the resources of the country-especially the vast petroleum and
natural gas resources. However, the Nigerian authorities mas-
terminding the Abuja project did not want to convey that mes-
sage to their citizens. They wanted the public to believe that
they were acting in the name of justice, common good, and
Nigeria’s unity and nationalism (Nigerian Tribune, 1975; New
Nigerian, 1975)11.
When Kenzo Tange was commissioned in 1978 to design the
National Assembly Building in the Three Arms Zone, he
started the project with the belief that the National Assembly
Complex would be “the most important symbol of the new
capital (Tange, op.cit.).” Tange’s challenge was how he could
design the Nigerian Senate and the House of Representatives in
order to realize a building that is articulated with symbols that
would project a sense of democracy to all Nigerians. Tange
went to different parts of Nigeria and adopted ethnic motifs that
are used in wall decorations, ritual practices, and textiles for his
design of the complex. Such traditional symbols are icons with
which most Nigerians can connect to the buildings regardless of
the policies that succeeding governments might implement. A
salient point to note here is that Tange’s journey to the nation’s
various indigenous cultures as a source of visual elements was
an effort to democratize Abuja’s monumental buildings and
10One piece of evidence of the struggle in the built objects is the changes
that were made after Tange departed the scene following the military coup
d’état that overthrew the government of the elected President, Shehu Shagari
on 31 December 1983/1 January 1984. While the original contract was for
Tange to design all the minist erial buildings, the Nigeri an authorities quickly
changed the contract and began to design different styles of ministerial
buildings outside of what Tange had proposed. Such fragmentation was
done specifically for the purposes of redistributing the lucrative contracts for
the design of the federal ministerial buildings. This seriously undercut a
uniform aesthetic around the national mall. Here, one can cite as a specific
case the alteration to the design of the Ministry of External Affairs and the
Executiv e Office o f the Pres ident, whi ch was later design ed by Alb ert Speer
of Germany.
11The Nigerian authorities, especially, the military, had reason to hide the
commercial dimensions and motives of the project. However, one can point
to the excessive importation of cement from abroad as evidence that the
military juntas were already using the oil money for their own profit. The
over importation of cement and the congestion of the seaports throughout
the country were clearly signs that the military was anxious to take advan-
tage of nationalism in order to create a grand construction scheme. Thus,
Abuja pr ovided the perfect cov er for thei r commercial intentio ns. Details o
excessive cement import were released by the then Minister of Transport, Lt.
Col. Yar’ Adua, on 31 October 1975. See the Nigeria Tribune, 31 Octo
1975, cover page. He called it “a world wide conspiracy to sabotage the
igerian economy.” The cement importation was widely covered in the
igerian press including the Nigerian Ports Authorities documentation
reported by the New Nigerian newspaper on Tuesday, 6 August 1975, page
9The presence of different planning firms from around the world from the
beginning of the project confirms the international dimension of the Abuja
development experience. For example, the Consortium, IPA, which was lead
by Wallace, McHaag, Roberts, and Todd of Philadelphia, consisted of three
American planning firms. Doxiades of Greece and Milton Keynes Devel-
opment Corporation of UK, as well as Kenzo Tange of Japan all worked
simultaneously on the project during the initial stages. When Construction
began, Figero, a French based firm and Julius Berger, a German Construc-
tion giant in addition to firms from the Netherlands, China, and South Korea
were/are still in Abuja.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
make them as relevant to local traditions as he could. In this
process, however, he also neutralized the ethnic identities of the
symbols for his design by combining elements of wall decora-
tions from the housing types of different ethnic groups. This
was a conscious act, and an important one, not only in his at-
tempt to use ancestral motifs, but also to use them in a way to
bring Nigerians of all ethnic groups and religions together
Rosenblum, 1996; Ozenfant, 1952; Vogt, 1996; Togovnick,
From his travels around the country, Tange was aware that
wall decoration is an important aspect of architectural articula-
tion in Nigeria (Goldwater, 1986; Rosenblum, 1969; Crow,
1985)13. Its most distinguishing characteristic is the multiple
designs, which vary among Nigeria’s 250 ethnic groups. In
southern Nigeria, for example, the art of wall decoration is
described as uli among different Igbo speaking groups. “Tradi-
tional uli was employed in many social situations, such as at
title taking, marriage, memorial services for the dead, and har-
vest rites, even if the designs themselves rarely depicted human
situations (Ottenberg, 1997)”14. Uli is a black pigment from the
bud of a fruit. The pigment is obtained by grinding the seed and
pressing the ink out of the wet fiber. The black ink is used for
multiple purposes, including body painting and wall decora-
tions, especially on walls, which are built with clay. The art of
uli functions as a medium for personal expression, and it is
essential for resolving certain cultural and political anxieties
that are linked to national identity and quotidian cognitive cul-
turally based experiences among the Igbos. Clay is a suitable
material for the manipulation of colors. The most common
method of applying clay plaster is by natural movement of the
builder’s hand, sometimes with the aid of a sponge or other soft
material that helps to produce the desired effects and symbols
(Dike and Oyelola, 1998). While uli practices are common in
the south, similar traditions for house decoration deploying
different geometrical elements are also common in northern
Nigeria. Just as in the south, where the well-to-do and the mid-
dle class have started to utilize paints and concrete materials in
order to achieve visual effects that evoke traditional clay build-
ing techniques, in the northern parts of the country, the transi-
tion from the use of only clay and adobe construction methods
is also quite visible. For example, in the city of Zaria, located
forty minutes from Abuja, the wall that surrounds the Emir's
palace was originally built with clay materials. In its recent
reconstruction, however, it was rebuilt with cement and quar-
ried stones. Nevertheless, the traditional designs that appealed
to Tange appear on the surfaces of the exterior and the interior
of the Palace’s massive entry pylon. Out of all the motifs,
which he selected, the triangular form stood out for him. Ac-
cording to Tange:
In designing this formal monument for a nation, we were
very attracted by the traditional primitive Nigerian or Af-
rican patterns. Triangular shapes can be designed into
pyramids and circles. Patterns made up of these elements
and the recurring zigzags are very dynamic from the point
of view of local custom. That is the reason we incorpo-
rated them into our design language (Tange, op.cit.Vol.2).
Unfortunately, the triangular shape which Tange chose for
his first design for the National Assembly Complex was re-
jected by the Nigerian authorities, who feared that it symbol-
ized the Senate and the House of Representative hugging each
other in an endless boxing duel. That was not the image they
wanted to project to the world after the recent bloody Civil War.
In order to appease the demands of his Nigerian patrons, Tange
produced a circular, domed design, which simulated the shape
of Aso Rock, an important historical symbol in Nigeria, and the
traditional hut. This design was approved. However, despite all
the work Tange put into the design of this building, future po-
litical developments following a military coup d’état on 31
December 1983 produced very different and unforseen results
(Tange, op.cit., Vol. 111).
First, upon viewing the National Assembly Complex that
was actually built, and finally completed in 1999 during the
brutal military regime of General Sani Abacha, who had de-
posed the democratically elected President Shehu Shagari, one
discovers that the edifice reflected most of the colonial memo-
ries, which it was supposed to erase. Its dome evokes the dome
of a mosque that was designed and built in 1950 by the Public
Works Department when Nigeria was still a British colony.
This mosque is located in the northern city of Kano, and it is
anything but a symbol of Nigeria’s national unity. When the
dome of a mosque from the colonial era appears on the nation’s
Parliament Building, it raises an alarm to many southern Chris-
tian and Animist Nigerians of the possibility that a northern
based, Moslem, military and civilian intelligentsia, to which the
late Abacha belonged, would dominate Nigeria’s political and
artistic culture. It begs for an explanation regarding why the
original modernist-inspired design by Tange was suddenly
abandoned in favor of a design that was approved by fiat by an
unelected, military junta, which had muscled its way to the
political apex of the country through a military coup d’état
(New York Times Magazine, 2002; Mabogunje, 1999)15.
12There is another way of looking at Tange’s search for native design ele-
ments. Modern art has always borrowed from cultures that it considers
“primitive” in order to reinvent itself as something new. Here, the works o
Robert Rosenblum Cubism and Twentieth Century Art, 1966/2001; Founda-
tions of Modern Art, Ozenfant, 1952; Adolf Max Vogt’s Le Corbusier, The
oble Savage “Toward an Archeology of Modernis
,” 1996; and Marianna
Togovnick’s Gone Primitive: Savage I ntellects, Modern Live s, 1990, discuss
precedents in such adventures by modernist architects and artists.
13A lot has been written on the appropriation of ideas and forms from the
so-called primitive to the high modern. See Robert Goldwater, “Romantic
Primitivism-Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven,” in Primitivism in Mod-
ern Art, 1986, as well as “Intellectual Primitivism-The Direct Influence o
Primitive Sculpture,” in Primitivism in Modern Art in the same volume.;
Robert Rosenblum, “The Foundations of Cubism,” in Cubism and Twenti-
eth-Century Art, 1960; and Thomas Crow, “Modernism and Mass Culture in
the Visual Arts,” in Frans cina Francis (ed .), Pollock an d After: The Criti cal
Debate, 1985.
14The multiple uses of the art of uli have appeared in contemporary Nigerian
artistic practices.
One could also speculate that had President Shagari com-
pleted his second term in office, the National Assembly Build-
ing would have been built in his idealized nationalist image,
15The differences in religion between the north and the south have always
been a source of contention. As recently as 2000 to 2003, many northern
states in the Nigerian federation adopted sharia law running parallel to the
constitu tional laws that b ind the country. Th e case of Suf iya, a woman who
was sentenced to death by stoning, received wide press attention as barbaric
around the world, but internally, it was more illustrative of how the south
opposed the northern way of handling social issues. See The New York
Times Magazine, January 2002, pages 28-30. At the heart of this is resource
control through the control of federal power at Abuja. Some of these issues
are now be in g d escribed by Nigerian pundits as failures of the Abuja project.
See Akin L. Mabogunje, “Abuja: The Promise, the Performance and the
Prospect,” a p aper p res ented at the wo rkshop on th e revi ew of Abuj a Master
Plan organized by the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory in Abuja in late
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 5
which Tange was so dedicated to and remarkably able to pro-
vide (This Day, 2005)16.Also, one might add that Tange’s mod-
ernist design could have removed most of the religious tensions
that were evoked and provoked by the completed structure. By
deliberately avoiding the architecture of any specific ethnic
group, Tange managed to create a neutral architectural vocabu-
lary with which many Nigerians could identify, regardless of
their ethnic or religious affiliation. Moreover, one can argue
that, while not espousing any religious affiliation, Tange’s
modernist-inspired neutral design appealed to the Christian
communities who saw it as the emblem of modernization and
new civility for their country. If that were the case, the large
Moslem communities, whose social and cultural affiliations
have been with the Islamic states of North Africa and the Gulf,
were probably lukewarm about Tange’s design as it indirectly
evoked Euro-American Christian modernism.
Tange’s design also suggests that the elected civilian admini-
stration of Shagari was more conscious and sensitive to the
issues of national unity than the military regime of Sani Abacha,
which succeeded it. The Abacha regime wanted to cement what
the northern establishment conceived as its national victory in
relocating the capital of the country from Lagos to Abuja by
imposing a mosque-like form on the National Assembly edifice.
However, the visual meanings of the building only succeeded in
heightening the anxieties of the large Christian communities in
the country. Moreover, the mosque-like form of the National
Assembly structure inspired the southern political elite to see
the relocation of the federal capital of the country from Lagos
to Abuja as a shift of political power from the south to the north,
which is primarily dominated by Moslem communities. Along
this line of thinking, there are southern leaders who would go
so far as to argue that Abuja signifies the trophy, which the
north gained by winning the 1967-1970 civil war. Consequently
by locating the nation’s capital in the north, the revenues that
accrue from the vast petroleum resources of the country, which
come primarily from the southern delta states, are been si-
phoned off to develop the northern part of the nation. In addi-
tion, the completed National Assembly Building, so different
from the one originally designed, also calls attention to a gov-
ernmental lack of governance and accountability, as well as to
issues relating to law and order and the responsibilities of na-
tional leaders to obey laws that are enacted by the Assembly
(Idris, 1975; Benson, 1975; Onun, 1975; Eke, 1975; Afilakala-
ka, 1975; Omumu & Boji-Boji, 1975)17.
The ideological confrontation at the Three Arms Zone reached
a crescendo when Bruce Igbinide on, a southerner from Edo State,
had the opportunity to design a national monument to stand in
front of the National Assembly Complex, which many Christians
complained was a hallmark of imposition of Moslem inspired
culture over the Christian and other non-Moslem communities in
the country. Although Igbinideon’s sculpture was inaugurated in
the year 2000, it was commissioned several years earlier during
the military regimes of General Babangida and Abacha, two
military juntas, which ruled the country with an iron fist. Iden-
tified in the Nigerian press as a symbol of democracy and unity,
Igbinideon called the larger-than-life bronze ensemble “The
Seen from a Nigerian nationalist perspective, one would
conclude that Igbinideon’s work encapsulates, celebrates, and
unifies certain experiences of the cultures of the Nigerian peo-
ples. However underneath the sculptor’s nationalist vision is a
southern-based ancestrally inspired nationalism that echoes the
cultures of the South, particularly that of the Edo speaking part
of the Niger Delta. Unlike the mosque-inspired National As-
sembly Complex, Igbinideon attempted with his ensemble
piece to be inclusive of people from the major ethnic groups in
the country. A Fulani woman, who could be any sub-Saharan
African woman, is nursing a baby while two children cling to
her. A woman, who could be either an Edo or Ijaw and from
any of the Riverine parts of southern Nigeria, is dressed in a
ashoke, the traditional fabric that is worn during ceremonies by
many of the cultural groups in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria.
She carries a calabash, which is stringed with beads while she
dances and shakes the instrument. A figure depicting a Yoruba
chief or a Hausa Mallam in his three-piece Agbada is also part
of the formation. A Hausa woman who is wearing an elaborate
hair ornament is depicted in her skirt, which stands out from her
body like an umbrella. The Fulani maid who spends her daily
life selling milk, which she carries in a large calabash on her
head, is also featured. An Igbo Chief, wearing a woven hat, a
jompa made of embroidered textiles, and tying a wrapper,
which measures from his waist to his ankles, is also present.
This Igbo chief also wears beads, perhaps a gold necklace, and
holds a woven fan made from raffia palm. An elephant tusk is
slung over his shoulder with his right hand-a sign of initiation
and high title in his community. The cowboy, mostly of Fulani
and Hausa origin in the north, with his cattle driving cane over
his shoulders, is present as well. This man is dressed in a kaftan,
which has large airy openings on the sides. The Chief from the
Riverine part of the country, dressed in jompa, holding part of
his wrapper in display, and a staff in one hand, stands next to a
woman from the same part of the country. His buttons are em-
bellished with gold. The last member of the group is a fisher-
man from the southern coast.
The ensemble has an irony which cannot be overlooked. Ig-
binideon has deliberately omitted the major political force in
16This is not mere speculation. Since a civilian regime returned to power
under President Obasanjo, the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Mallam
asir el-Rufai, has been talking about returning Abuja to its original master
plan. His efforts towards this include demolishing houses that were built on
lands that were earmarked by Tange as parklands. While he cannot demolish
the National Assembly Complex, his efforts and constant enunciations a
returning Abuja to its original master plan suggest that civilian regimes,
such as the one that President Shagari headed, have had different agendas
from the military juntas.
18Commissioned during the 1990s, particularly after the annulment of the 12
June 1993 national election that would have brought to power the Nigerian
businessman, Chief Moshood Abiola, who hales from southwestern Nige-
rian, one cannot rule out the possibility that Igbinideon, a Southerner, was
making reference to the mandate that the people of Nigeria sup
osedly gave
to Abiola, although the military junta refused to acknowledge it. June 12 has
remained a major point of contention in Nigerian political discourse since
the annulment of the election. Every year, many followers of Chief Abiola
commemorate the anniversary. They highlight the point thathe died in
rison when he refused to give in to the demands of the military rulers when
General Sani Abacha was still in power by claiming to be the elected
17Like the authors of so many essays written on this subject, Idris made an
effort to argue from a historical perspective that Kaduna has always been the
intended colonial capital of Nigeria. Thus, moving the capital to Kadun
would be fu lfilling a colonial project. See A . M. Idri s, “Kadun a as Our Ne w
Capital,” New Nigerian, Thursday, 4 September 1975, p.5. Such debates
were widely published in Nigerian newspapers. One overriding element the
debates had in common was the question of where the capital should be
located. Should it be in the North or in the South, or should it remain at
Lagos wher e it was already lo cated? Such d ebates can be seen as reflecting
the struggle for poli t ical and e conomic power within the Nigerian n ation.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
the Nigerian nation during the period when the National As-
sembly Complex was under construction at the Three Arms
Zone. That is, no military official is represented, although the
military has ruled the country for most of the time since its
independence from Britain in 1960. Moreover, it was the mili-
tary that initiated the Abuja project and also gave Igbinideon
the commission for the sculpture. Why would Igbinideon ex-
clude the military from the most important sculpture in the
nation’s center of power? Was it an oversight? More alarming,
however, is Igbinedion’s omission of the whole Nigerian bu-
reaucratic establishment, which manages the country on day-
to-day basis.
From the ensemble, it can be inferred that Igbinideon wished
to cast: 1) a symbol of national unity by representing people
from different parts of the country; 2) Igbinedion was creating a
symbol of a sacred ancestor’s ceremonial ritual sword or mace-
known as the ada in the Edo language. In Igbinedion’s creation,
the aggressive posture with which the strong fisted arm held the
national mace suggests that he was looking for strong visual
rhetoric to confront what he perceived as the military and
northern domination of Nigerian politics. Ultimately, one can
suggest that Igbinedion understood that the people’s power is
greater and should be given priority over the power of single
junta leaders who impose their aims on the whole society. Yet,
one cannot overlook the possibility that he was acquiescing to
the fascist ideological tendencies of the military regimes by
providing a sculpture that acceded to their rhetoric. Finally 3),
Igbinedion was conjuring and evoking the symbol of an ances-
tor’s compound where the sacred ritual sword is kept and pro-
tected-usually at the tomb or an ancestor’s alter and burial site19.
While the discussion in previous paragraphs makes it clear that
the ensemble has a unifying role, is this mace, no doubt a com-
ment by Igbinideon on his own Edo heritage, really a symbol of
Nigeria? A review of the traditional usage of the sword will make
this clear.
Usually held by the priests, chiefs, elders, or chosen ones,
who also pour libations to the ancestors and the gods, the mace
is the final stamp of the gods and the ancestors. The sword
affords security to its bearer similar to the kind of security
which the pangolin (a toothless mammal like a sloth, armadillo
or aardvark) derives from its scales. The Edos use the metaphor
of the pangolin, which can coil itself up and cover its flesh
beneath resilient scales if it is attacked by a more powerful
animal such as the leopard. The metaphor refers to the contests
between the Oba of Benin and the minor chiefs, with the Oba
being the leopard while the chiefs are the pangolins who had
learned to defend themselves from the might of the Oba. Often,
the Oba, symbolized as the leopard in many bronze and brass
castings, carried the sword, which he used to behead his ene-
mies, just as the leopard was able to tear up its prey with its
sharp teeth and mighty claws. A sketch of the burial place of the
King of Benin, drawn by the explorer Giovanni Belzoni in 1823,
shows an ensemble alter containing the commemorative bronze
and brass heads of the ruler’s deceased ancestors (Ben-Amos,
1995). Carved giant elephant tusks, the symbols of greatness and
power, are placed on the holes on top of the cast heads. Two
ceremonial swords are mounted on the walls of the alter (Pre-
ston-Blier, 1998). Paula Ben-Amos writes that, “On top of each
head rests a carved ivory tusk. In the old days the king used to
receive one tusk from every elephant killed in the kingdom; some
were sold t o European trade rs during the long years of commerce
with the West, others were given as gifts to faithful chiefs, and still
others were displayed on the royal ancestral shrines (Ben-Amos,
op.cit.).” Ben-Amos’ observations are confirmed by Michèle
Croquet who writes that depicted at the base of certain of these
heads are symbols of the sovereign’s power such as leopards,
elephant trunks, silurids and crocodiles (Croqet, 1998).
Igbinedion was aware of the historical and symbolic meanings
of the mace before he used it at the Three Arms Zone in an en-
semble that seemingly unifies the citizens of the country. He un-
derstood the counterpoint it would provide to the mosque-like
structure that dominates the Three Arms Zone by providing a
strong symbol of ancestral culture. This strength comes from the
symbolism of the sword. For example, royal stools display the
sword. The r oyal bra ss sto ol of Oba Ere soyen, who r uled i n 1735,
is said to have ta ken a fter the roy a l stool of Oba E sigie, who rule d
from the late 15th century to the early 16th century. A great python,
the symbol of po wer, forms th e trunk of the stool. Land and wate r
creatures such as frogs are represented on its base. It has several
cosmograms, includi ng the Chri stian cross, the moon, the su n, but
also several versi ons of the cere m onial sword a nd mac hete s. Al so,
the blacksmith’s tool, the anvil, as well as the face of a leopard,
another symbol of strength, are represented. All are delicately
bounded by the symbolic intertwining strings that hold the uni-
verse together20.
The coronation of the Oba of B enin in 1979 is another in stance
where one can observe the usage of the ancestor’s sword as a
symbol of power. In the photographs of that event, Oba Eredua
holds the sacred sword in one hand while he takes the oath of
office following the death of his father, Akinzua II in 1978. The
manner in which Oba Ere du a hol d s the swor d ca n b e co mpare d to
the central figure in the alter representing his ancestor, Oba Ewaka
the II, in the late 19th century. Here, Eweka II wields the sword of
power in one hand and holds a Christian cross on the other. One is
reminded here that the Portuguese and the E dos ha ve been tra ding
since the 16th century. In the early years, the Portuguese unsuc-
cessfully proselytized to the Edo monarchs and their people. In
fact, one monarch wa s known to have co nverted to Ch ristianity in
the 17th century, but he was soon deposed. As a result of lengthy
exposure to the Portuguese, however, even when there were few
conversions, certain Christian icons such as the cross were still
adopted and incorporated into Edo representations of power. In
addition, when a contemporary Oba, Oba Eredua, performs the
ritual of driving evil spirits away, his page bears the ceremonial
mace ahead of him. The sound of the ivory gong warns the evil
spirits to flee as the great Oba approaches with his mighty sword.
Dressed in the invinci ble outfit of his ancestor, the Oba is believed
to have superior powers over evil spirits.
Analytical Integration
In tying the preceding analysis together, it is important to an-
swer three crucial questions. First, how doe s one re ad the j uxtapo-
19The roles of the ancest or’s alter an d the cere monial sword s in Benin r oyal
art have been covered by many scholars, including Paul Hamlyn, Benin Art,
1960. See plate 37 - 38 where the ceremonial swords are represented in
plaques. Also, see Phillip J. C. Clark, An Introduction to Benin Art and
Technology, 1973 and Epko Eyo and Frank Willett, Treasures of Ancient
igeria, 1980, p. 139.
20This is a historical fact that is marked by the explorations of the Portu-
guese for a sea route to India along the West Coast of Africa. In addition to
trade, another consequence of such exploration was the construction o
Elmina Castle in Ghana in 1482. Such fortr esses were established for trading
purposes, and the Kingdom of Benin became a major part of that West
African trading connection with Portugal.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 7
sitions of the federal district’s master plan prepared by Wallace,
McHarg, Robe rts, and Todd ; Kenz o Tange’ s detaile d planni ng for
the city center and ethnically eclectic unity design for the National
Assembly; Constantinos Doxiadis’ satellite towns, highways and
development zones; Milton Keynes’ resettlement towns and ex-
perimental residential districts; Sani Abacha’s Islamic-inspired
National Assembly Complex; and Igbinideon’s ancestral sculp-
ture? Second, how do the ideals and the rhetoric of building a
place where all Nigerians can come together to debate the issues
that affect their lives match the visible conflicts of the master plan,
detailed plans, and the monumental government architecture and
sculpture of Abuja? Finally, why is it that the Nigerian military
sees itself as the institution that is most qualified to enforce the
British mandate of unifying more than 250 ethnic groups, in-
stead of the civilians who inherited political power from the
British? These will be answered below.
Evidence provided by the monumental architecture realized
at Abuja’s Three Arms Zone suggests that the intense struggle
for social hierarchies and political power among different seg-
ments of the postcolonial Nigerian elite, including, but not lim-
ited to, the military, national politicians, bureaucrats, chiefs,
religious interests, as well as regional and ethnically loyal po-
litical groups, can better explain the reasons why there are so
many conflicts in Abuja’s master planning and realization pro-
cess. The struggles began from the very moment the British
founded the country in 1914 because the amalgamation of the
country which involved the unification of people from different
geographic, ethnic, and religious groups also facilitated the
creation of what can be seen as a Nigerian identity and nation-
alism among the natives (Kirk-Greene, 1968; Awa, 1964; Rot-
berg, 1965).
When the British departed the country on 1 October 1960,
they handed the government to Prime Minister Sir Abubakar
Tafawa-Balewa. Modeling his role after the monarch in the
British Parliamentary system, President Nnamdi Azikiwe, po-
pularly known as Zik, held a ceremonial position, while the
day-to-day operation of the government rested in the hands of
Tafawa-Balewa. Lagos was the capital of the country when the
first coup d’état was staged on 15 January 1966. Prime Minister
Tafawa-Balewa and many other federal government officials
were assassinated that day. Following the overthrow, the State
House in Lagos was renamed Dodan Barracks in order to re-
flect the ideology of military leadership derived from ancient
Hausa warriors. Before independence, when Governor-General
Frederick Lugard and many other British Governors and Gov-
ernors-General ruled the country, the State House was called
Government House. Lagos was still the seat of the government
of the nation when the first military leader of the country, Ma-
jor General Ironsi, was assassinated on 29 July 1966, and Lieu-
tenant Colonel Yakabu Gowan seized power. He remained in
power until 27 July 1975 when the then General Gowon, the
man who led the federal government against the Biafran rebels,
was overthrown. General Murutala Muhammed, the successor
of Gowon, initiated the movement of the capital to Abuja by
signing it into law in 1976. However, he ruled for only six
months before he was assassinated on his way to the mosque on
Friday, 13 February 1976. Muhammed was succeeded by his
deputy, the then General Olusegun Obasanjo (having been
elected as a civilian president in 1999, Obasanjo is now gov-
erning Nigeria for the second time).
Thus, the election of 1979, in which General Obasanjo
handed over power to Shehu Shagari, can be compared to a
relay race, in which the military’s baton, i.e., its political and
economic agenda, was handed over to an elected regime. It is,
therefore, not surprising that when President Shagari took of-
fice on 1 October 1979 his most immediate agenda item was to
speed up the movement of the capital from Lagos to Abuja-
projected for 1982 inauguration. Before Shagari embarked on
the Abuja project, however, he changed the name of Dodan
Barracks to State House once again. This change is not mere
nomenclature for historical or aesthetic purposes. It represents
the intense struggle for power between two opposing sides—
the civilians versus the military association—an unregistered
political party. However, Shagari failed to complete his goal for
Abuja before he was overthrown on 1 January 1984 by the mili-
tary regime of General Mohammed Buhari and General Tunde
Idiagbon. Once again, after the coup, the public, which had
been disenchanted with the short-lived Shagari regime, cele-
brated in the streets with music and dance, believing that the
military had come to rescue it from a corrupt civilian admini-
stration. Under Buhari, the State House at Lagos was once
again named Dodan Barracks. Buhari wanted to suspend the
Abuja project for a while to concentrate on enforcing discipline
among the populace and eradicate corruption from the public
service. Israel Okoye writes that:
There is no gainsay that the Buhari regime tried militantly
to enforce discipline in the Nigerian body politic. The
launching of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) was a
major stride in that direction. The desire to inculcate
self-discipline and to re-order the ethical orientations of
the Nigerian populace occupied much of the attention of
the Government (Okoye, 1991).
The Buhari/Idiagbon administration was so obsessed with
indiscipline that the policies of the regime became too tyranni-
cal for the nation to withstand. With the heavy and increasing
public outcry faced by the regime, the minister of defense, then
General Ibrahim Babangida, exploited the situation and staged
a successful coup that brought him to power on 29 August
After three major coup attempts against his regime in Lagos
over the next few years, the fear of a fourth attempt that he
might not survive inspired Babangida to speed up the evacua-
tion of the Federal Government of Nigeria from the city on 12
December 1991—the date that Abuja was inaugurated as the
country’s federal capital. Following the cancellation of the
results of the election of 12 June 1993 without any justification,
Babangida resigned from office and appointed a powerless
interim president, Chief Ernest Shonikon over his rival Chief
Moshood Abiola. Six months later General Sani Abacha, Ba-
bangida’s military right hand man, took over the reigns of
power. The succeeding struggle for power among Babangida,
Abiola, Shonikon, and Abacha, took place in Abuja, and the
struggles among the various interest groups within the country
are manifest in the urban design form, architecture and monu-
mental sculpture of the newly inaugurated capital city and its
National Assembly edifice.
As an organization whose members want to protect their
personal and institutional interests, the Nigerian military prefers
coup d’état as a means for usurping political power. After each
coup d’état in the nation’s history, the leaders have presented
themselves as national heroes who rescued the masses from
oppressive leaders. The coup plotters often promised the provi-
sion of mass employment, free education, healthcare, higher
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
wages, political freedom, and “government of the people by the
people,” and this was certainly so at the time Abuja was con-
ceived in 1975 as Nigeria’s future capital. According to Chris
Alli (2001: 241):
Coup d’état is a behavioral pattern of actions, conspirato-
rial in nature, by which an individual or groups with
vested interests seek to change by violent overthrow the
status quo. In Nigeria’s experience, the motivations have
been personal ambition, tribal, ideological, hegemonic
and regional imperatives. It also has been applied to pre-
vent changes in power nuances and equations (Alli, 2001).
Alli sheds light on the fact that the outcome of each coup
d’état has been the entrenchment of the government of a minor-
ity at the expense of the majority, and election has been out of
the question. The northern dominated military wanted to locate
the Federal Government of Nigeria at a place where it felt se-
cure, and Abuja provided a safe haven for that purpose. Abuja
was a strategic center that was exploited by the regimes of
General Babangida and General Abacha for the purpose of
controlling the oil resources of the nation, and for dispatching
troops to quell disturbances in other parts of the country when-
ever the military felt threatened and when the oil installations
were under threat by subversive groups. As an ongoing con-
struction site for federal administrative infrastructure, Abuja
also provided the military with opportunities for the enrichment
of its senior officers and key supporters through the awarding
of lucrative construction contracts.
If one can for a moment imagine the Nigerian military out-
side the usual paradigm of a war-fighting institution, by con-
sidering how various segments of the army fought against each
other and against democratically elected regimes, one might be
able to see that the Nigerian military is more a political associa-
tion than a national army. As a political association, the Nige-
rian military can be compared to powerful national trade unions
such as the Academic Union of University Lecturers, the Nige-
rian Teachers’ Union, the Nigerian Doctors’ Union, the Nurses
Union, the Transport Workers Union, the Oil Workers’ Union,
and the Plumbers’ Union. Each of these unions can go on strike.
They are able to shut down their branches, and their strikes
have ripple effects on other industries. Such ripple effects can
essentially paralyze several activities in the country if the gov-
ernment does not act quickly and appropriately. As trade unions,
they use their power to bargain for their economic and political
The oil revenue enabled the Nigerian military to coalesce
into a political association (class) and to carry out its own eco-
nomic agenda. This is a widely held view by scholars of Nige-
rian history such Major General James J. Oluleye, 1985; Sid-
dique Mohammed and Tony Edoh, et al., 1986; Israel Kelue
Okoye 1991; Cyruk, Ndoh, Cletus Emezi et al. 1997; and Femi
Aluko, 1998 (Oluleye, 1985; Mohammed & Edoh, 1986; Oko-
ye, 1991; Ndoh & Emezi, 1997; Aluko, 1998). These scholars
have studied the performance of military administrations in
Nigeria, and they suggest that unlike political parties in democ-
ratic societies, the Nigerian military does not depend on the
peoples’ electoral mandate in order for it to assume power.
Once in power, it has done everything within its means to le-
gitimize its reign. Conclusion
The planning, design, development and construction of the
initial phases of Abuja, that is, the period from the promulga-
tion of the project in 1975 to the relocation of the federal gov-
ernment to the Federal Capital District in 1999, saw many ad-
ministrations. The FCD and FCC was the nation’s la rgest, most
expensive and most significant enterprise dedicated to national
unity. Nevertheless, this paper has demonstrated that the na-
tionalist undertaking at Abuja, reflected in the architecture of
the newly constructed National Assembly Complex at the Three
Arms Zone in the new Federal Capital City (FCC) of Abuja and
the sculpture accompanying that complex, became, in fact, the
means by which the military, when it was in power, civilian
regimes, when they ruled the country, and various other com-
peting segments within Nigerian society exploited different
artistic, architectural and urban design vocabularies for the
purpose of consolidating their political, social and economic
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