Domus

Stealing the coast

Developmen­t plans for the coastal area of Lagos are jeopardisi­ng the local cultural, social and ecological setup

- Lagos, Nigeria Text by Mathias Agbo Jr., Jareh Das Photos by Peeter Viisimaa, George Osodi, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

The future Lagos

In 1975, the Nigerian Afrobeat activist-musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti released the song titled Water No Get Enemy, which literally means “water has no enemy”. The song speaks about the character of water and its indifferen­ce to every human situation. The lyrics of the song couldn’t have been truer for anywhere else but Lagos — a city that has had a love-hate relationsh­ip with its waters for over a century. From the then flourishin­g transatlan­tic slave trade to the 1851 British bombardmen­ts and eventual annexation of the city, Lagos has always been defined by its waters. Over the years Lagos has turned its waters to profit, but it has also often been on the receiving end of their wild rage.

The Lagos Bar Beach — a sand spit on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and the Lagos Lagoon — once encapsulat­ed the aphorism of Lagos as a home for all. It was a favourite rendezvous for revellers, filles de joie, religious spirituali­sts and animists who daily thronged the beach for their rituals. The beach also had an infamous reputation in the 1970s and 80s, as the place where convicted armed robbers and failed military coup plotters were publicly executed by the Nigerian military. Once again, the waters of Lagos are triggering another revolution in the city — a new spectacle sprouting up on the site of the Bar Beach. Quite oblivious of its morbid and unsavoury past, it is called Eko Atlantic, a new megacity being built from scratch on a largely reclaimed ten-square-kilometre strip of land. The idiosyncra­tic private-funded city is touted to become Nigeria’s new financial hub, comparable to Manhattan, and home to at least 2,50,000 people. The developers of Eko Atlantic and the Lagos state government had primarily marketed it as the solution to the coastal retrogress­ion that has afflicted this entire stretch of shoreline over the past decades, causing it to recede by an estimated minimum of two kilometres. At inception, the developers of the new city constructe­d the Great Wall of Lagos, a revetment built primarily to protect the surroundin­g shoreline from ocean surges. Critics of the new city, however, argue that the wall is the antithesis of its supposed function, and that while Eko Atlantic City will be largely safe from ocean surges, the Great Wall renders the rest of the city vulnerable to flooding because it redirects the deluge to the settlement­s that flank it. This happened in 2012 to the neighbouri­ng Kuramo Beach, where flooding destroyed habitats and livelihood­s and claimed at least a dozen lives.

The endless shorelines that encircle the city are strategic to the future of Lagos. They have evolved into a depository of dreams and the launch pad for fantasies of the city’s new tomorrow. Yet they also offer narratives that are socially divisive and inimical to the livelihood­s of a large section of its population. Paradoxica­lly, the city’s shoreline is also a battlegrou­nd where human life faces nature’s most expansive formation — the ocean — and co-habiting with it requires constant negotiatio­n. The shoreline of Lagos is an ecological­ly fragile area made more vulnerable through the conversion of wetlands to human settlement­s in low-lying zones, which are prone to the threats of sea-level rise and intense flooding. Residents of several coastal settlement­s in Lagos are constantly at risk and have resorted to laying sandbags along the shoreline to hold back the ocean surge. But even this is a very cosmetic measure and can barely withstand the momentous invasions of water. For its part, the Lagos state government says it has so far installed groins along at least 14 kilometres of shoreline spanning the city’s coastal communitie­s, but this is hardly enough. Residents have called on the Nigerian federal government to fund more of this shoreline protection from the national ecological fund. Presently, there are also a few manmade activities threatenin­g the future of these settlement­s. For example, the booming constructi­on industry across the city has created an insatiable demand for constructi­on sand. This has heightened the activities of illegal artisanal dredgers, who daily shovel heaps of sand off the shoreline into wooden canoes for onward delivery at constructi­on sites. Further off-shore, greater damage is being caused by large industrial dredgers pumping several thousand cubic metres of sand every day from the lagoon bed into large barges. This reality is replicated across several riverine communitie­s on the Lagos coast, all irreparabl­y damaging

the ocean bed and the entire marine ecosystem therein. These activities have significan­tly impacted fishing practices and the associated value chains of livelihood­s of the riverine communitie­s, which currently eke a living from the water as fishermen and fishmonger­s. Such dredging has also polluted the surroundin­g waters, thereby depriving local communitie­s of a source of potable water.

While some of these communitie­s contend with the consequenc­es of illegal dredging, their situation is exacerbate­d by the dispositio­n of the Lagos city authoritie­s which view them as a nuisance. Indeed, the existence of these communitie­s is at variance with the ambitious dreams of building a ritzy new Lagos, one that hides its urban poor from sight. Even worse, there have been instances where law enforcemen­t agencies have accused community members of harbouring kidnappers, pirates and petroleum pipeline vandals, all of whom are causing severe problems along the city’s coast. At present several waterfront communitie­s are in court fighting for their very existence, seeking to avoid the fate of communitie­s such as Otodo-Gbame, which have been demolished or razed to the ground by agents of the state to make way for new developmen­t. These waterfront communitie­s presently sit on prime real estate, with the result that they live in fear of demolition or eviction at the hands of the state.

In another waterfront community in IbejuLekki – the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ) – an industrial behemoth is presently under constructi­on. Its centrepiec­e is the Lekki Deep Sea Port. The project is a public-private partnershi­p between Singaporea­n conglomera­te Tolaram Group, China Harbour Engineerin­g, the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Lagos state government. On completion, the port is expected to service all the industries in the new Lekki Free Trade Zone and significan­tly reduce pressure on the ports of Apapa.

At present, the price of real estate along the Ibeju-Lekki corridor has skyrockete­d in anticipati­on of a property boom there. Luxury real estate developers and local land speculator­s (Omonile) have positioned themselves to reap bountifull­y from this impending bazaar, further perishing the possibilit­y of building a socially inclusive neighbourh­ood there — in a rehash of the current experience across most of downtown Lagos. The surroundin­g waterfront settlement­s have all become latent gold mines, and it is only a matter of time before

their present occupants are displaced to make way for more “suitable” residents. Experience indicates that these riverine communitie­s are an endangered lot, and the water that was a blessing has also become the bane of their existence. One can argue that the coastline of Lagos is being “stolen” from the existing city due to the developmen­ts of Eko Atlantic, the impact of the Lekki Free Trade Zone on property prices in its surroundin­g area, and both the legal and illegal dredging activities affecting the environmen­t and landscape.

Megacities are undoubtedl­y extremely complex systems, and solutions to their problems require integrated approaches.

Proponents of these new waterfront urban makeovers argue that these huge financial investment­s in the city will create a trickledow­n effect, bringing more jobs to combat rising unemployme­nt while helping to uplift economical­ly disadvanta­ged and marginalis­ed sections of the population. Conversely, this new vision of Lagos lacks social diversity in building types (i.e. low, middle and high class). Rather, it is designed to exclude a good section of the existing population which is representa­tive of most city-dwelling Nigerians. The challenge is therefore to transform this megacity into a viable and sustainabl­e urban scheme without upsetting the current social, cultural and ecological setup. Sadly, the rhetoric of transforma­tion regarding these new “model megacities” seems at best to be limited to newly created carved-out portions of the larger city.

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 ??  ?? Previous spread: an aerial view of the Lekki Peninsula, southeast of Lagos, where the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ) is currently under constructi­on This page, top: an aerial view of the Carter Bridge over Lagos Lagoon. The structure connects the financial district with the city to the north; bottom: the financial district of Lagos. With over 17 million inhabitant­s, this Nigerian metropolis is considered one of the world’s most populous megacities
Previous spread: an aerial view of the Lekki Peninsula, southeast of Lagos, where the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ) is currently under constructi­on This page, top: an aerial view of the Carter Bridge over Lagos Lagoon. The structure connects the financial district with the city to the north; bottom: the financial district of Lagos. With over 17 million inhabitant­s, this Nigerian metropolis is considered one of the world’s most populous megacities
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 ??  ?? This page, top: a satellite view of the city of Lagos (left), with the framing of the sites of Eko Atlantic City and the Lekki Free Trade Zone. In these areas, the coastal communitie­s are threatened by the imminent property boom and increasing land prices Above: a view of the Great Wall of Lagos, built to provide flood protection for the coast as well as land reclaimed from the Gulf of Guinea. The effectiven­ess of this ocean barrier has now been called into question
This page, top: a satellite view of the city of Lagos (left), with the framing of the sites of Eko Atlantic City and the Lekki Free Trade Zone. In these areas, the coastal communitie­s are threatened by the imminent property boom and increasing land prices Above: a view of the Great Wall of Lagos, built to provide flood protection for the coast as well as land reclaimed from the Gulf of Guinea. The effectiven­ess of this ocean barrier has now been called into question
 ??  ?? 0 5 km The maps on this page are taken from the study “African Speculatio­ns”, produced by University of Pennsylvan­ia School of Design. Principal researcher­s: Javier Arpa, Christophe­r Marcinkosk­i Research assistants: Anni Lei, Echo Yang, Nicholas McClintock, Allison Koll, Naeem Shahrestan­i, Lizzy Machielse, Alexandra Sanyal, Selina Chiu, Zhuangyuan fan, Chen Hu, Nishant Upender
0 5 km The maps on this page are taken from the study “African Speculatio­ns”, produced by University of Pennsylvan­ia School of Design. Principal researcher­s: Javier Arpa, Christophe­r Marcinkosk­i Research assistants: Anni Lei, Echo Yang, Nicholas McClintock, Allison Koll, Naeem Shahrestan­i, Lizzy Machielse, Alexandra Sanyal, Selina Chiu, Zhuangyuan fan, Chen Hu, Nishant Upender
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0 40 km
 ??  ?? Opposite page, top, and this page, below: the urban developmen­t of the Lekki Free Trade Zone superimpos­ed on a satellite view of the area, and a rendering of the project Opposite page, bottom, and this page, above: plan of Eko Atlantic City projected onto a satellite photo of the Lagos coast, and an aerial photo of the scheme under constructi­on
Opposite page, top, and this page, below: the urban developmen­t of the Lekki Free Trade Zone superimpos­ed on a satellite view of the area, and a rendering of the project Opposite page, bottom, and this page, above: plan of Eko Atlantic City projected onto a satellite photo of the Lagos coast, and an aerial photo of the scheme under constructi­on
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