For decades Lagos’s Bar Beach has been slowly disappearing, eroded by the Atlantic seas that pound this dirty stretch of Nigeria’s coastline.Now, however, it is being reclaimed and may be poised to become the unlikely setting of an African Manhattan – a hi-tech megacity slowly taking shape in the heart of Lagos’s commercial centre of Victoria Island.
The multibillion-dollar Eko Atlantic project promises to turn Lagos, already one of the busiest commercial cities in Africa, into a financial powerhouse. With modern transport, wide boulevards, state-of-the-art offices and living quarters, advocates of the self contained city within a city say that it will provide a new gateway to Africa. Only Johannesburg in the South will rival it for facilities, its developers maintain.
“It will serve not just Lagos, but Nigeria and West Africa … the possibilities are immense,”Babatunde Raji Fashola, the 48-year-old Governor of Lagos state, told The Times. He sees the development as one of the central planks of his ambition to make Lagos, best known until recently for power cuts and crumbling infrastructure, one of Africa’s showpieces.
During the past four years Mr Fashola has transformed the local tax service, cleaned up and repaired pot-holed streets, built and equipped schools and hospitals and begun work on low-cost housing in nearby satellite cities. He is virtually certain to be re-elected to office this week in nationwide polls for governors of Nigeria’s 36 states and intends to use his second term to attract more international investors to a city already responsible for about 60 per cent of Nigeria’s booming economy.
“International companies must know the old Lagos has gone – they can come here and set up business and function with no problem at all,” he said. Eko Atlantic city, which will provide homes for 250,000 people and work for a further 150,000 commuters, is intended to help to unlock the economy of Lagos state, already worth about £ 20 billion, and that of the rest of West Africa.
The city, the greatest symbol yet of the changing Lagos, will be protected against erosion by a five-mile sea wall known as the Great Wall of Lagos. It will be made up of more than 10,000 tonnes of inter-locking concrete blocks. It is growing at a rate of six metres (20ft) a day, helped by a fleet of 90 lorries and one of the world’s largest dredgers working around the clock. The scale and ambition of the project are astounding: each day, 55,000 cubic metres of rock and sand are poured into the sea. When completed, a total of nine million
square metres will have been reclaimed.
All the finance for the project has been raised locally, backed mainly by Nigerian banks and a handful of private investors. Prince Adesegun Oniru, Lagos’s commissioner in charge of waterfront development, says that initially the project was put together to protect Lagos because the area was being washed away by the sea: “Population growth within Lagos is always a problem. We have 18 million people that reside in Lagos state, so you need projects like this to draw people away from the centre.”
Yet even though Lagos is overpopulated, thousands more people flood into the city every month. By 2020, it is estimated that it will be the third-largest city in the world. Moreover, such high demand means that the price of accommodation is among the highest on the continent. Many unfinished new plots have already been sold.
Eko Atlantic will, it is said, offer residents constant power and water, good roads and a light rail system to whisk them around the new financial centre. All the elements of modern life will be convenient – shops, schools, cultural services and nightclubs. Everything you might expect in Manhattan.