Abuja was in the earlier 20th century the name of the nearby town now called Suleja.
The indigenous inhabitants of Abuja are the Gbagyi (Gwari) as the major language, Bassa, Gwandara, Gade, Ganagana, Koro etc. In light of the ethnic and religious divisions of Nigeria, plans had been devised since Nigeria's independence to have its capital in a place deemed neutral to all major ethnic parties, and also in close proximity to all the regions of Nigeria. The location was eventually designated in the centre of the country in the early 1970s as it signified neutrality and national unity.
Another impetus for Abuja came because of Lagos' population boom that made that city overcrowded and conditions squalid. As Lagos was already undergoing rapid economic development, the Nigerian regime felt the need to expand the economy towards the inner part of the country, and hence decided to move its capital to Abuja.The logic used was similar to the way Brazil planned its capital, Brasilia. Construction broke ground and was dedicated in the late 1970s but, due to economic and political instability, the initial stages of the city were not complete until the late 1980s.
The master plan for Abuja and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was developed by International Planning Associates (IPA), a consortium of three American firms: Planning Research Corporation; Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd; and Archisystems, a division of the Hughes Organization. The master plan for Abuja defined the general structure and major design elements of the city that are visible in its current form. More detailed design of the central areas of the capital, particularly its monumental core, was accomplished by Kenzo Tange, a renowned Japanese architect, with his team of city planners at Kenzo Tange and Urtec company.
Most countries relocated their embassies to Abuja, and many maintain their former embassies as consulates in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria. Abuja is the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the regional headquarters of OPEC. Abuja and the FCT have experienced huge population growth; it has been reported that some areas around Abuja have been growing at 20% to 30% per year. Squatter settlements and towns have spread rapidly in and outside the city limits. Tens of thousands of people have been evicted since former FCT minister Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai started a demolition campaign in 2003.
The Phase 1 area of the city is divided into ten districts known as cadastral zones.
There are also sixteen districts in Phase 2.
There are eleven districts in Phase 3.
There are five suburban districts:Nyanya, Karu, Gwagwalada, Kubwa, and Jukwoyi. Along the Airport Road are clusters of satellite settlements, namely Lugbe, Chika, Kuchigworo and Pyakassa. Other satellite settlements are Idu (the main industrial zone), Mpape, Karimu, Gwagwa, Dei-Dei (housing the International Livestock market and also International Building materials market).
Abuja's Central District also called Central Area, spans from the foot of Aso Rock, across the Three Arms Zone, to the southern base of the inner ring road. It is like the city's spinal cord, dividing it into the northern sector with Maitama and Wuse, and the southern sector with Garki and Asokoro. While each district has its own clearly demarcated commercial and residential sectors, the Central District is the city's principal Business Zone, where practically all parastatals and multinational corporationshave their offices. An attractive area in the Central District is the region known as the Three Arms Zone, so called because it houses the administrative offices of the executive, legislative and judicial arms of the federal government. A few of the other sites worth seeing in the area are the federal secretariats alongside Shehu Shagari Way, Aso Hill, the Abuja Plant Nursery, Eagle Square (which has important historic significance, as it was in this grounds that the present democratic dispensation had its origin on 29 May 1999) and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier across the road facing it. The National Mosque and National Church of Nigeria are opposite each other on either side of Independence Avenue.A well-known government office is the Ministry of Defense, colloquially nicknamed "Ship House".
The Garki District is the area in the southwest corner of the city, having the Central District to the north and the Asokoro District to the east. The district is subdivided into units called "Areas". Garki uses a distinctive naming convention of "Area" to refer to parts of Garki. These are designated as Areas 1 to 11. Garki II is used to differentiate the area from Garki Area 2. Visitors may find this system confusing.
Garki is presently the principal business district of Abuja. Numerous buildings of interest are in this area. Some of them include the General Post Office, Abuja International Conference Centre along the busy Herbert Maculay Way, Nicon Luxury Hotel (formally known as Abuja Sofitel Hotel and Le Meridian), Agura Hotel and Old Federal Secretariat Complex Buildings (Area 1). A new five-star hotel, Hawthorn Suites Abuja, is in Garki.
Area 2 is mainly used for residential purposes, although a zoological garden as well as Garki Shopping Centre are in Area 2. Several banks and other commercial offices are located along Moshood Abiola Way in Area 7. The headquarters of the Nigerian Armed Forces – Army, Airforce and Navy – are all in the Garki District.
The tallest building in this district is the Radio House, which houses the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications, the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria(FRCN) and Voice of Nigeria (VON). The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) stations and corporate headquarters are in Garki. The Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) which oversees and runs the Administration of the Federal Capital Territory has its offices in Garki.
The Office of the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja is in Area 10. Other places of note include the Arts and Culture Centre and The Nigerian Police Mobile Force headquarters in Area 10. The Abuja Municipal Area Council, which is the local government administration has its headquarters in Area 10. The new United States Embassy is in the Garki District.
Wuse District is the northwestern part of the city, with the Maitama District to its north and the Central District to its south. The District is numbered Zones 1–8. The Wuse Market is Abuja's principal market (Zone 5). The second most important post office in the city is here. This district houses the Sheraton Hotel and Towers (Zone 4), Ibro International hotel, the Foreign Affairs Ministry Headquarters (Zone 3) and Nigerian Customs Services Headquarters, Federal Civil Service Commission (Zone 3), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC) (Zone 7), Wuse General Hospital, and the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation. Just as Garki District has Garki II, Wuse has Wuse II. This is distinct from Wuse Zone 2.
Maitama District is to the north of the city, with the Wuse and Central Districts lying to its southwest and southeast respectively. This area is home to the top bracket sections of society and business, and has the reputation of being very exclusive and very expensive. Interesting buildings include the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Nigerian Communications Commission Headquarters (NCC), National Universities Commission (NUC), Soil Conservation Complex, and Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC). The British High Commission is located along Aguiyi Ironsi Way, in Maitama. Also, the Maitama District Hospital is another notable building in Maitama. Maitama District is home to many of the European and Asian embassies.
Asokoro District, the doyen of the districts, houses all of the state's lodges/guest houses. The ECOWAS secretariat is a focal point of interest. Asokoro is to the east of Garki District and south of Central District. It is one of the most exclusive districts of Abuja and houses virtually all of the federal cabinet ministers; in addition, the Presidential Palace (commonly referred to as the Aso Rock) is in Asokoro District. By virtue of this fact, Asokoro is the most secure area of the city.
Gwarinpa is the last district in the Abuja Municipal Area Council. It is a 20-kilometre (12 mi) drive from the central district and contains the largest single housing estate in Nigeria, the Gwarinpa Housing Estate. The estate was built by the administration of General Sani Abacha and is the largest of its kind in Africa. It provides residence for the majority of the civil servants in federal ministries and government parastatals. The ECOWAS Court has an official quarters for the President and Members of the Court in Gwarinpa.
Durumi District is located southwest of Abuja and is bordered by Garki Districts I and II to the northeast. Its borders are the Oladipo Dia Road to the southwest, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Express Way to the northeast, and Ahmadu Bello Way to the southeast.
The American International School of Abuja is located in the Durumi District.
Universities in Abuja