To keep the ocean at bay forever, a wall – The Great Wall of Lagos – is rising. From the Bar Beach Waterfront of Lagos’s Victoria Island it looks like a grey snake nestled in the water. Once completed, the seven-kilometre-long mass of rocks, topped by five-ton concrete blocks, will rise nine metres above sea level. The developers, South Energyx, say it will withstand the worst storms that the ocean can muster for the next two centuries.
Actually, they are banking on this, that the wall will protect Eko Atlantic City, their massive new $6 billion infrastructure and real estate development being built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic ocean.
In the Trenches
Eko Atlantic City is off-limits to wanderers and the curious, and signs to this effect are boldly printed on the main gate to the development, on Victoria Island’s Ahmadu Bello Way. The only other entrance is from the far end, via Bar Beach, which is itself policed by enterprising young men who have made a business of collecting an entrance fee from anyone wanting to walk along the water. I begin here, making my way past revellers and shoeless prayer-warriors, headed in the direction of the new development.
I soon come to a stretch of giant, rusty steel tubing, part of the machinery of the city-in-progress. In the distance is a cluster of workers’ cabins, painted green. I spot a lone man, cooking out of a makeshift kitchen – a ramshackle wooden shed topped with aluminium sheets – next to the wall of a warehouse in which Eko Atlantic’s giant concrete pipes are molded. His name is Lawrence Inyang and he’s 57 years old. He is one of the hundreds of men working to make the Eko Atlantic City a reality. He drives a Volvo “motor-grader” – an imposing piece of machinery that resembles a caterpillar. “My job is to do all the roads in here,” he says, something he’s been doing for close on two years. There are no feeding arrangements in the living quarters, he tells me, which is why he’s here, making his food. “We’re up to 12 in one room. All we do is sleep there and then go to work,” he says. On weekends he goes home to his family in Ikorodu, one of Lagos’s fastest-growing urban corridors, far away on the mainland.
The life he lives now has nothing in common with the kind of life he is helping to create for those who will inhabit Eko Atlantic City when it’s up and running by the end of the decade. “Unless I get a job here I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enter the city,” he says.
“This place is for big men.” He’s heard that one square metre of land costs 700,000 naira – about $4,000. (South Energyx Limited says prices actually start from $850 per square meter, with plot dimensions starting from a minimum of 2,000 square meters).
On his current income, Inyang would have to work for one year to earn 700,000 naira. To prove it he rummages through his nearby grader and returns with a sheet of paper on which is scribbled his name, a Guarantee Trust Bank account number, and “N18,000.” That money, he says, was for two weeks’ worth of work. The wage for workers like him ranges from N1,500 ($10) to N2,000 ($18) per day. I ask him if he would take a plot of land here if it were offered to him. “I won’t take it,” he says.
“Even if I take it I’ll sell. Maybe after 20 or 30 years the wall will break. I can’t stay here. I’m scared, I have to be honest with you. One day this place might sink or be overrun by water. We see it on TV all the time, [footage from other countries], where floods come and cover entire houses.”
Why Lagos Needs Eko Atlantic City
Lagos, which sits in the south-western region of western Nigeria, is a city perpetually on the brink of flooding. Bounded in the South by the Atlantic Ocean, the city is situated on the mainland, home to 70 percent of the city’s population with series of islands and a peninsula that holds the remaining 30 percent. At the heart of the city lies the expansive Lagos Lagoon. Today, if it were a country, Lagos would be Africa’s fifth largest economy – as is, Lagos is Africa’s second largest city. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the world – from a population of 300,000 in 1950 it has grown to some 15 million people. The United Nations predicts that by 2015 it will have a population of over 25 million.
Between 1908 and 1912, British colonial authorities constructed three “moles” or “breakwaters” around Bar Beach, to ease the movement of ships into the Lagos Harbour. These moles disrupted the natural flow of the ocean and set up tidal action that would, over the next century, erode more than one kilometre of Bar Beach coastline. Since the late 1950s there have been several unsuccessful attempts to keep the ocean at bay, by sand-filling. By the turn of the 21st century, the Atlantic had crept dangerously close to the heart of Victoria Island, eventually washing away half of the Ahmadu Bello coastal road.
In December 2005, the government launched the Shoreline Protection Project, which involved the construction of a kilometrelong wall of interlocking concrete blocks and stone. The project was commissioned in 2008 and trumpeted as a decisive victory of man over nature. This same year, Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola launched an even more daring project – Eko Atlantic City, envisioned as a land reclamation project to restore the Lagos coastline. His predecessor, Bola Tinubu, had in July 2006 granted the concession for the reclamation and development project, including a 78-year lease for the developed land to South Energyx.
A Belgian dredging vessel, the bizarrely named, Congo River, is doing most of the heavy lifting. By the time its work is done, 140 million tonnes of sand would have been dredged from the floor of the Atlantic to create the new city. Three million square kilometres of land have already been reclaimed. When the reclamation is complete in 2015, nine million square kilometres of land will sit where, a decade earlier, the ocean sat, terrafirma for a city one-and-half times the size of adjoining Victoria Island. The dredging and land reclamation is being carried out by Belgian firm Dredging International (DI), while Dutch firm Royal Haskoning designed and is building the Great Wall. Providing architectural services are MZ Architects (with offices in the Middle East and North Africa) and ARH Architects.