Eko Atlantic City Project: In whose Interest?

The Eko Atlantic City Project, Lagos, Nigeria attracted huge debate as experts argued on its takes off that it is not a popular idea and exclusively meant for the rich. FRANCIS OGBONNA took all sides as he spoke to the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Hon. Prince Adesegun Oniru, project developer, South Energyx Nig. Ltd. (SENL), and a human rights  advocate, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri.

The Project
Eko Atlantic City, dubbed the “city rising from the sea” is a proposed city which will sit on 1000 hectares of land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. 

When completed, it will be a self-sufficient city with waterfront area, tree-line streets, efficient transport system, helipads, hotels, residents and boulevard. It will be a development with mixed used plots that will combine residential areas, leisure facilities, offices and shops.
It is divided into six (6) phases, the first five (5) of which are available for commercial and residential development, while the sixth will be used as a hub for utility services, such as sewage treatment plants, water supply and solid waste management.

According to its developer, the city will help among other things decongest areas of Lagos, build of the Nigeria’s foremost commercial city’s reputation as a “Land of Aquatic Splendour”, serve as tourist attraction, provide job opportunities as thousands of people will participate in the construction of city and serve as headquatres for oil companies.

It will also serve as resident for 250,000 inhabitants, workplace for 150,000 workforces and see 250,000 persons commune on a daily basis. As a self-sufficient city, it will generate its own power and fulfill its ICT needs because it will have installed extensive fibre optics equipment, all of these underground.

Uniqueness of the project 
It is not entirely a new concept as before now, several cities have been built on reclaimed lands, some out of necessity and others purely out of man’s insatiable desire to conquer nature. Modern reclamation work first began with Hong Kong’s “Praya Reclamation” scheme which added 50 to 60 acres of land in 1890. It was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken during the colonial Hong Kong era.

Since then, Honk Kong Disney Resort, Hong Kong international Airport and its predecessor Kai Tak Airport, have been built on reclaimed lands.

Other modern examples include Helsinki, Finland; Mexico City; Foreshore of Cape Town; Chicago Shoreline; Hassan II mosque, Beirut; Central District, Lebanon and a more elaborate experience is the Dubai story.

In July 2013, Sri Lanka signed a deal to build a $ 1.4 billion port city with Chinese Communication Construction Company which will invest the said sum. In Nigeria, the first ambitious project of similar nature, although not close in magnitude is the Banana Island Project.

Layout and Plan
This proposed city will have the main reclaimed area, being 7.5km long, with width of 2.3km on the western end, tapering to 0.5km on the eastern end. This is about one and half times the size of Victoria Island. Beginning from the shores of Bar beach, the boundaries will terminate just before Goshen estate in Lekki. The outer edge of this city will be protected from the sea by approximately 8km long rock revetment to provide shoreline protection to the new land and to Victoria Island.

According to Prince Oniru “The great city wall of Lagos or sea wall will withstand the worst Atlantic storm that could be expected in over 100 years.”

Project Launch
The reclamation work which began in 2008, by the time of its dedication by the former President of the Federation, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan had a total of 5,000,000 sq. metres or 500 hectares of land reclaimed. To achieve this, the contractors pumped about 400,000 tonnes of sand repossessed from marine shelf mixed with granites gotten from neighbouring city of Abeokuta and ferried by 90 trucks. Almost all the plots meant for allocation have been acquired.

Lagos State Interest
Until the promoters were contacted, the question of actual ownership of the city had been unclear. Information available on different platforms did not tally. To some the project was solely a pet project of a particular political godfather of Yoruba extraction, while to others; believed that it was a Lagos State project and that SENL is only being used as a front.

One of such opponents, Professor Aradeon, an arch-educator in the chair of Build with Earth, an NGO had said the “Eko Atlantic City Project is a private gated city firmly grounded on the exploitation and expropriation and use of our commonwealth for private profit.”

Debunking this claim, however, David Frame, the MD of SENL said it was a strategic partnership with Lagos state government, a78-year concession which gives exclusive authority over development of the city to his organisation.

Frame disclosed that “the funding is through a consortium of local and international banks and also incomes from sales.”

Confirming it, Prince Oniru, said “Eko Atlantic city is owned by SENL. They are the sole-owners of the project; the role the state (Lagos) government is playing is supervisory alone.”
However, he added that this does not mean that the State would not benefit anything from the project. For one, “this project is a life-saver of Victoria Island,” Oniru said.

Other benefits include Lagos government getting 5% of the value from every land allotted and another 5% as consent fees. Add to the tax accruable to the state in the form of Land use tax. “The city falls within the territory of Lagos and like every other part of the state, would not be granted any waiver in terms of tax in keeping with the Land use law of the state,” Oniru concluded.

Opposition and defense
Opponents have raised certain objection about thus project ranging from the promoters defying conventions; insensitivity to possible negative impact on the neighbouring communities to the state pursuing a purely elitist project.

In August 2012, representatives of Heinrich Boll Stiftung, Nigeria; Environmental Law Research Institutes and Community Conservation and Development Initiatives had jointly presented a report and in it alleged that Lagos State government (LASG) had violated the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act 2004 by submitting the new project’s EIA reports three (3) years after the commencement of dredging activities (the EIA act 2004, provides that assessments be carried out before embarking on any development project).

In defense, Mr. Frame said “the action was necessitated by an urgent need to salvage a dire situation. The rapid erosion of the coastline of Lagos is well documented. In particular, the situation was threatening the very existence of low lying Victoria Island with the collapse of the coastal road, Ahmadu Bello way in 2005/2006.

“Emergency action was instigated by LASG to avert a pending disaster. Subsequent violent storms could not have been avoided had the protection not been installed.”

Opponents also claim that prior to commencement of the project, enough public engagement was not done. They insist that the public hearings done were not widely publicized and when held, the demographic of the participants did not reflect the eligible stakeholders.

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Executive Director, Spaces for Change, an NGO in the forefront of the fight for community participation disclosed about one of the hearings she attended, “99% of the participants were government officials, and were hand-picked specifically for that purpose.”

Frame, however discredited this statement saying it was “completely incorrect. In fact the level of public attendance was considerably greater. The event was publicized by direct engagement with identified stakeholders in the press and local radio as instructed by the Federal Ministry of Environment, Abuja.”  

About it being elitist, Frame had been quoted on several forum as saying plots close to the city waterfront will cost $2000 (NGN720,000) per sq. metre going by the recent NGN360/$1 exchange rate, while those in the inner city will go for $1600 (NGN576,000) per sq. metre. By inference, an average plot (pegged by Mr. Frame at between 2500 and 3000 sq. metres) by the waterfront will go for $5,000,000 (NGN1.8 billion) or $6,000,000 (NGN2.16 billion).

Opponents have described this rate as being ridiculously high. In the words of Ms. Ibezim-Ohaeri, “the cost of s plot there is blazingly expensive and 5 times more expensive than plots in highbrow Ikoyi. Your wealth has to be higher than normal for you to be able to afford one (plot).”   

The promoters on the other hand are unapologetic about it saying it was competitive compared to similar areas in Lagos. Frame maintained that “given the enhanced facilities available in the city, these rates represent good value. All countries with thriving economy have a super high density and costly commercial centre. Would you expect to find a low cost housing in the centre of London or New York?”