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Abuja stands as a testament to the nation’s history, resilience, and cultural diversity. In this blog post, we embark on a journey back in time to explore the fascinating origins of Abuja, from its ancient roots in the Habe kingdom of Zazzau to becoming the thriving capital it is today.
Ancient Habe Kingdom of Zazzau:
The story starts in the early 1800s, when the area that is now Abuja was a part of the Habe kingdom of Zazzau’s southwest. After generations of semi-independent tribes residing there, the Gbagyi (Gwari) became the main tribe, followed by the Koro and a few lesser groups.
The Exodus of Muhammed Makau:
How Abuja got its name
The turning point came when Zaria fell to Fulani invaders. Muhammed Makau, a key figure in the resistance, fled southward with his followers and brothers, Abu Ja and Kwaka. In 1825, Abu Ja, whose full name was Abubakar (with Abu as his nickname), succeeded Makau and laid the foundation for the kingdom of Abuja.
Abu-Ja, nicknamed for his fair complexion, became the visionary founder of Abuja. Some accounts suggest that “Ja” refers to the Hausa word for “red” or “fair-skinned,” while others propose it as a shortened form of his father’s name, Ishaku Jatau. Regardless, King Abubakar established Abuja as a major commercial center, successfully resisting Fulani incursions.
Abuja became a major commercial centre where goods were exchanged by long distance traders. The inhabitants successfully fought off the Fulani and were not conquered as the neighbouring lands were. In 1902, Abuja was occupied by the British colonial army. The British re organised the kingdoms and called them “emirates” which means “kingdoms” in Arabic. Until 1975, it remained a quiet part of Nigeria
The Birth of the Capital:
The quest for a new capital arose due to the challenges associated with Lagos. In 1975, Abuja was chosen as the capital from among 33 potential sites. The Emir of Abuja at the time, Altai Suleiman Barau, was asked to meet with his Emirate Council to approve contributing four of the five districts to Abuja to become the new capital.
The council was divided as some districts considered it too much of a sacrifice; but at the end, they approved the request from the Federal Government.
Thus, the Abuja in Niger State contributed 80% of the land of the territory, Plateau State (Now Nassarawa State) contributed 16 percent of the South east territory and Kwara State (now Kogi State) contributed about four percent of the south-west territory.
The Emirate was then asked to give up the Abuja for the Federal Capital Territory. Again the council was divided.
In the end, they agreed believing that the name of the emirate would become famous throughout the world. The previous town of Abuja was renamed Suleja after the then Emir of Suleiman Barau and “Ja” the last syllable of the first emir’s name.
Aso Rock: Symbol of Victory:
Another interesting historical fact is that in the Gbagyi (or Gwan) language, the word “Aso means “success” or “victory” According to tradition, the original inhabitants of the region lived at the base of the rock for centuries without being conquered. The rock was a refuge as well as mystical source strength. Asoro “(Aso Koro”) the name of the one of the local areas, therefore, means “people of victory.” In addition, the term “Aso Rock” is increasingly being used to refer not only to the physical structure of the most imposing rock in the area, but also as a symbol of government power and a nation.
Abuja’s journey from the ancient Habe kingdom to the vibrant capital city showcases the resilience and adaptability of the Nigerian people. As we walk through its streets, let’s remember the rich tapestry of history that has shaped Abuja into the thriving metropolis it is today.