Nigeria hoping for sea change with Africa’s answer to Dubai

BAR Beach in Lagos was once a meeting place for the people of this sprawling megacity.

Informal bars stretched along the narrow belt of sand, church groups came to pray, children played in the water and touts, prostitutes and others plied their trade.

But as the relentless encroachment of the Atlantic Ocean took its toll, and all manner of methods to stop the flooding of the beach and the built-up area beyond it were put in place, they started moving off.

The beach adjoins Victoria Island, the city’s prime commercial district, where most major Nigerian and international corporations in the country have their headquarters.

Much of the island used to be a swamp that was reclaimed to enable the advance of the middle class to new areas untainted by the urban sprawl that characterises much of the older parts of the city.

The buildings along the seafront at Bar Beach are now deserted and the road in front of them bears the scars of regular flooding.

Sea levels are rising along the entire West African coast. UN-Habitat suggests that more than 25% of people living within 100km of this heavily populated coastline are at risk from rising seas.

Parts of existing urban areas may disappear altogether.

Lagos is particularly at risk given that much of this coastal city is just a few metres above sea level and some parts are below it. Victoria Island is the worst hit area, although there are other areas of concern.

A large housing estate in the nearby area of Lekki, which was built in 2003 more than 100m from the ocean, is now just 20m from the water’s edge.

A lasting solution to the problem has yet to be found, although the Nigerian conglomerate, the Chagoury Group, believes it has found one that will not only save Victoria Island, but will simultaneously provide the solution to another problem — the shortage of A-grade residential, office and retail space in this fast-growing city.

The resulting privately funded Eko Atlantic new city project, pitched as Africa’s answer to Dubai, will be built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean.

The high-rise buildings will be protected from the sea by an 8m-high wall.

When I visited the site last week, the wall was well under way and many of the new city’s underpinnings were already in place.

Roads and bridges are being built and the first high-rise buildings are nearing completion.

Some of Nigeria’s biggest banks have already signed up for properties there.

Global expertise in land reclamation was sourced in the design and implementation of the project, which benefited from skills sourced cheaply from Dubai after the 2008 financial crash.

The city will be self-sufficient in power, producing 1,500MW — more than a third of current power supply to the whole country.

Generators, on which Nigerians rely for most of their power needs, will be banned.

The Eko Atlantic project gives planners a chance to build the kind of city many Nigerians aspire to, avoiding the pitfalls suffered by other areas of the city.

Those areas suffer from poor planning, mismanagement and a lack of proper maintenance, leading to persistent traffic jams, urban degradation and ad hoc land use.

These are factors that have pushed wealthy Nigerians and companies to the coastal fringes of Africa’s largest city.

There are concerns that playing with nature may have its own consequences — resulting in problems elsewhere else along the coast.

The new city will also only tackle the needs of the elite, not the millions of Nigerians living in slums and rundown suburbs.

But the Eko Atlantic project is testament to the need for quality urban development in fast-growing cities that have become victims, rather than beneficiaries, of rampant urbanisation.

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