by Iain Marlow, March 23rd, 2013
Ahmadu Bello Way runs along the coast past a row of dilapidated seaside hotels and businesses, many now boarded up and abandoned.
Historic maps show that the shoreline once extended almost another three kilometres into the Atlantic, but dredging in the early 1900s removed a crucial, protective sandbar. A few years ago, the erosion finally reached Ahmadu Bello Way, part of which collapsed into the sea.
Pledging to fix the problem, the Lagos governor at the time asked developers for plans and wound up with one of the most remarkable infrastructure projects on the planet: Eko Atlantic. It involves extensive dredging of the ocean floor to add a nine-square-kilometre wedge to Victoria Island (the central part of Lagos facing the Atlantic) for a gleaming city of 250,000.
As well as luxury apartments and a shining forest of corporate headquarters, Eko (the original name for Lagos, in Yoruba) will feature luxuries that most of Lagos currently lacks, such as uninterrupted power, clean drinking water and fibre-optic connections. “It’s enormous,” project director David Frame says.
After almost five years of work, there is little more than a huge spit of sand. But his vision includes a 60-metre-wide boulevard like the Champs-Élysées, waterways for yachts and a financial centre with ultramodern skyscrapers. A district called Harbour Lights that will look back toward Lagos proper, bustling with activity against a backdrop of five-star hotels, glittering lights and passing ships from around the world. Harbour Lights particularly enthralls Mr. Frame, a surveyor from London who arrived in Lagos in 1981: It is where he plans to live.
“Nigeria is in my blood,” he says after delivering an exhaustive technical briefing.
“You can sit on your balcony, sipping a martini, enjoying the view and, with that cool breeze, it’s a very attractive concept.”
Certainly, it’s much more attractive than Makoko, the floating slum the government wants to remove from Lagos Lagoon. But does Eko offer any more relief for a city with a real lack of middle-class housing? It strikes most observers as being purpose-built for the elite.
Sam Nwosu, the ebullient Nigerian-American country director for Nokia Siemens Networks, says building lots in the part of Lagos where he lives cost up to $500,000 U.S., yet he doesn’t feel he could afford Eko Atlantic. However, Mr. Nwosu adds, many truly well-off Nigerians are “willing to pay a premium for anything that works.”
Even so, Nigeria’s President chose Eko’s groundbreaking ceremony to unveil a federal plan (backed by $300-million from the World Bank) to boost residential construction and relax mortgage restrictions.
Mr. Frame, meanwhile, insists Eko developers are being encouraged to target middle- as well as high-income earners. His employer, South EnergyX Nigeria Ltd., can dictate what is built, and he says some units will cost about $300,000.
Still, at least one Nigerian sees Eko Atlantic as entirely segregated from the realities of Lagos life. Driving away from the site, along a road so flooded his car leaves a wake, he gestures back at the vast expanse of dirt and dreams.
“That place for big man,” he says bitterly. “That place like London – like other country.”