Abuja does not feel like an African city: this new creation sprawls between modest, verdant hills. It is a city of wide streets and impressive Muslim and Christian places of worship with blindingly brilliant metallic domes and roofs.
There are orderly bus queues, efficient traffic police, high walls, barbed wire and security guards, but no visible names of the businesses within. Army and police headquarters dominate main streets, menacing vehicles parked at the entrances.
Street-sellers pop up at traffic lights with an array of supplies – mobile phone chargers, towels, doormats, groundnuts, okra, chewing gum, socks, modular shelving, key rings, sunglasses, fizzy drinks and books entitled Executive Intelligence or Teamwork.
But it does not feel like Africa. Where are the spontaneous markets? Or women, not in suits or sculpted national dress, but carrying babies and shopping bags? Where are the boys scrabbling for a makeshift football in the dust? Or the street vendors selling cane juice, tomatoes, top-up cards or cigarettes in the shade of a street-side umbrella? Where is the hubbub of markets, the drifting aromas of cooking and wood smoke?
People here are civil servants, business people and service providers, not inhabitants. They live far outside this new city, in homes a bus or cab ride away.
In the shade of a giant tree, opposite the Sheraton Hotel, Algabid Ibrahim provides a glimpse of an Africa beyond this newly created metropolis. Originally from Niger, with a home in Kano in north Nigeria, he travels here during Ramadan, looking for business. A skilled salesman, his work in leather and silver surpasses anything in local markets. With failing eyes he peers hard at the photos he shows of his work and struggles to write his phone number, confessing he is not literate.
His favourite photos show him a younger man, dressed for a desert climate, squatting in an open-air workshop. I order a leather photo frame, to be ready in three days. It is, beautifully. He presses me to tell friends about him when I go home. And where am I from, he asks. "Canada." "Ah, Canada, near to La France?"
Well, sort of. Good enough.