The land now called Abuja was originally the south-western part of the ancient Habe (Hausa) kingdom of Zazzau (Zaria). It was populated for centuries by several semi-independent tribes. The largest of the tribes was Gbagyi (Gwari), followed by the Koro and a few other smaller tribes.
In early 1800’′s when Zaria fell to Fulani invaders, Muhammed Makau, fled south with some followers and his brothers- Abu Ja and Kwaka. Abu Ja succeeded Makau in 1825. The full name of the king was Abubakar, Abu was his nickname. By some accounts his fair complexion earned him the nickname Ja which means red or fair-skinned in Hausa.
He became known as Abu-Ja meaning Abu the red or Abubakar the fair one. Other sources say that the Ja is a shortened form of lshaku Jatau, his father’s name. King Abubakar founded the kingdom of Abuja.
Abuja became a major commercial center 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 reorganized the kingdoms and called them emirates which means kingdoms in Arabic. Until 1975, it remained a quiet part of Nigeria.
The problems associated with the capital being in Lagos, led to the search for a new capital that year. Abuja was selected from amongst 33 possible sites. The criteria used for selection included: centrality, health, climate, land availability and use, water supply, multi-access possibilities, security, existence of resources, drainage, good soil, physical planning convenience and ethnic accord.
The Emir of Abuja at the time, Altai Suleiman Bara, was asked to meet with his Emirate Council to approve contributing four of the live 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% of the South east territory and Kwara State (now Kogi State) contributed about 4% of the south west territory.
The Emirate was then asked to give up the name 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 emirate’s name. 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 of 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.