Middle-class life in Lekki
Malls, art and improving infrastructure are attracting people to this fast-growing part of Lagos
When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visited Lagos last August, he went on a jog across the Lekki-ikoyi Bridge. It is a landmark that serves as a gateway to a relatively new district of the city: the development of Lekki Peninsula is about the same age as the millennial generation to which the tech company billionaire belongs. Lagos’s administrators uphold Lekki as an ideal neighbourhood for the middle class. To residents, the hope is that Lekki’s development can be controlled to allow it to remain an attractive piece of real estate for a long time, unlike parts of the Lagos mainland. Jerry Agba, a human resources professional who lives in a Lekki suburb, tells The Africa Report: “We moved here because it’s a new area, unlike Anthony, where I used to live. Lekki is decent and neat compared with other parts of Lagos, so we hope the government can keep it this way.” Located on a naturally formed neck of land, Lekki has been blossoming gradually since the early 1980s, when the state government built 80km of roads through what was then mostly a swampy rainforest. The road linked the upscale Victoria Island district to Epe, an ancient town at the eastern edge of the state.
ALL ABOUT THE MALL
About 10 years ago, Lekki became the site of the country’ s first modern shopping mall, the Palms Shopping Centre. Located near Victoria Island, it has anchor stores that include Shoprite and Game – South African department stores brands that have since expanded their footprint in the country. Since then, Lekki has become a prized residential district, with the sprouting up of numerous housing estates, more shopping malls and recreational facilit- ies such as beaches, a wildlife conservation area and night-time spots. This growth of amenities is part of what makes Lekki attractive to residents. So says Ashley Okwuosa, a journalist who recently moved back to Nigeria from the United States: “Lekki is a thriving hub, and it’s one of the reasons I like living here,” she says. Drawing parallels between Lekki and Newark, New Jersey, she counts the abundance of establishments that provide essential services, and even cultural institutions like the popular Nike Centre for Art and Culture, as part of what makes Lekki a desirable place to live. “I can find almost everything I need without having to cross the toll gate or Lekki-ikoyi Bridge,” she adds. The peninsula is also home to an emerging freetrade zone that is located further a field from Victoria Island. Major industrial projects in the area include an oil refinery complex currently being built by the Dangote Group, as well as a deepsea port and an international airport, both of which are being promoted by the state government. There is also a new shopping mall. The Novare Lekki mall is situated in the Sangotedo area, about 4km from the campus of the Lagos Business School and one hour from Victoria Island in light traffic. Set in an area that is still very much under development, the mall has been established in anticipation of an expected boom. Manager of the mall Johan Blom notes that the number of residential estates within proximity of the facility underscores a market opportunity: “There are no less than 15 residential estates nearby, in addition to the Lekki Free Trade Zone area, where numerous commercial activities are already developing,” he says. Blom points out that since the mall was opened in August, customer traffic has been increasing by 30% each month. But despite the residential and commercial boom throughout the Lekki Peninsula, there are notable infrastructure challenges that threaten its appeal. One of these is power. Blom notes that constant power from the national grid to the area remains a challenge, but adds that this is not peculiar to the area where the mall is located. Within the housing estates and inner streets of the main Lekki communities, the state of roads are far from ideal, while drainage systems are particularly problematic, causing flooding – and traffic – whenever it rains. The well-heeled residents, some of whose properties sit on plots of land that are valued at as much as N500m ($1.6m) in the prime areas like Lekki Phase 1 and 2, hope the urban planning mishaps that plague other parts of Lagos will not re-occur. Charles Idem in Lagos