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Last Updated: Monday, 12 March 2007, 12:17 GMT
Abuja 'brimming with confidence'
A decision by the Canadian city of Halifax to pull out of the bidding process to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games leaves just one other city competing with Glasgow.

BBC Sport reporter Oluwashina Okeleji says the Nigerian capital of Abuja is determined to succeed in its bid to be the first African host of the games.

When the Nigerian city of Abuja announced in July 2005 that it would bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, cynics and critics were quick to bring out their knives.

Even though Africa's most populous nation successfully held the All Africa Games in 2003, the fact that no African country has hosted the games since they started in 1930, triggered severe opposition from sceptics.

Despite acclaimed success from organisers and sports officials, criticism was still levelled over the costs of staging the All Africa Games.

Critics - among them the World Bank - had questioned the $300m Nigeria had spent on the event, which is more than the country's health and education budgets combined.

Flyover in Abuja
Abuja is one of Africa's few purpose-built cities

Many consider the recent Commonwealth Games bid as another attempt to siphon public funds, but once it received the backing of the presidency, the seeming mumblings of discontent gradually disappeared.

Further backing from Thabo Mbeki, the leader of South Africa - the first country from the continent which will stage the Fifa World Cup - and the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa, led to a few plaudits from the media.

Beautiful, breathtaking and brilliantly built and mapped out, Abuja is regarded as a modern European city in the eyes of Nigerians.

It is one of Africa's few purpose-built cities.

It was intended to let civil servants escape the chronic congestion, overstretched infrastructure and unhygienic conditions of the former capital, Lagos.

Abuja officially became the Nigerian capital in 1991, and has recently been in the spotlight following drastic measures by the city's high-profile minister Nasir el-Rufai to ensure the area's "master plan" is followed.

After knocking down several 'illegal houses', he was famously quoted as having said Abuja was "not a city for the poor".

Oluwashina Okeleji
It is not an understatement to say that only hundreds of people in the city are aware of the Nigerian games bid
Oluwashina Okeleji

Mr el-Rufai said when he had finished putting central Abuja in perfect shape, his bulldozers would roll into the suburbs to clear the shacks, the garbage and any other 'illegal structures'.

He has since modified that controversial statement, insisting: "We are not saying Abuja is not for poor people, but it is definitely not a city for idlers either."

With the strength of facilities on the ground - a legacy of the All African Games - there is no doubt that Nigeria is not lacking.

The national stadium Abuja can hold 60,000 spectators while other facilities for swimming, basketball, cycling, volleyball, hockey, boxing, badminton are also readily available.

But when informed of the possibility of the city hosting the Commonwealth Games, a group of puzzled residents at the popular Wuse Market asked: "What is that?"

"I think we are more concerned about how to live an average life of feeding and looking after tomorrow," one said.

"Will the Commonwealth Games ensure we all have common wealth's like those living in those big houses in this city," said Musa Tijani, another aggrieved resident.

Many people in the city and its suburbs live in extreme poverty

"I saw people running on television in support of the bid and I realised that just like the All Africa Games, this is another ploy to steal money again," a civil servant who preferred to stay anonymous said.

It is not an understatement to say that only hundreds of people in the city are aware of the Nigerian games bid.

But John Amangele, the bid committee's media officer, refused to get drawn into a debate on a recent survey which showed lack of awareness, almost pretending to deny its existence.

"There is an iota of truth in such findings, but we are reaching out to the Abuja public through television, radio and the print media," he said.

"These reports have been exaggerated.

"After next month's general election, we will be visiting all six geo-political zones of the country to make sure it reaches the remotest of all places in the country."

'Finishing touches'

The bid committee's secretary-general Tijani Yusuf said the main thinking behind the bid is about a landmark African hosting of the games.

"We are hoping to use the games to portray Nigeria and the whole of Africa in a positive light," he said.

"No African nation has ever hosted this and we have enjoyed the support of other Commonwealth countries in Africa and as far as the Caribbean."

Mr Yusuf said the recent pull out by the Canadian city of Halifax has left the bid team brimming with confidence.

"It is now a race between us and Glasgow, we are putting the finishing touches to our bid dossier and we are very confident," he said.

"We have what they do not have and that much will be stressed in our dossier, it will be our games come 2014."

Commonwealth bid city pulls out
09 Mar 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
In pictures: Abuja's contrasts
13 Feb 07 |  In Pictures
Three 2014 Games bids confirmed
12 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games


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