Nigeria: Africa’s first “smart city”

Construction of the controversial, high profile Eko Atlantic, built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean, officially begins.  

Design concept art of proposed Marina at West Point - circular road (Picture: Eko Atlantic)

Design concept art of Eko Atlantic (Picture: Eko Atlantic)

President Goodluck Jonathan, former US President Bill Clinton, the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, former governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu captains of industries, foreign investors and members of the diplomatic community all attended the dedication of the new 10-square kilometre Eko Atlantic City in Nigeria’s economic nerve centre of Lagos on February 21st. The ceremony marked the halfway point of land reclamation.

The city, situated close to the popular Lagos Bar Beach, will be the first modern smart city in Africa to be built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. The first phase of the project will be completed in 2016, the Pan-African news agency, PANA, reported.

The city is one of several major building projects being carried out in Africa, with Ghana last week announcing plans to launch Hope City, a $10bn technology hub in Accra.

Promoters hope that the Eko Altantic will ultimately be a showcase to the world, give a positive image of Nigeria and draw in international investment.  However, the Dubai-like project is not without controversy not least because it will be privately administered throughout, including providing its own security, steady electricity supply and clean water – services which are largely unavailable to ordinary Nigerians.

Developers say the city, expected to be home to some 250,000 people, will restore the coastline to where it was before it eroded and will stop further erosion.  The developers are South Energyx Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of the Nigeria-based Chagoury Group, an industrial and financial empire run by a family of Lebanese origin and with major influence in Nigeria and beyond.  South Energyx Nigeria Limited was specifically set up for the Eko Atlantic project.  Company head David Frame said plans called for Eko Atlantic to be privately administered since it needs to be constructed according to international standards to attract global investment.
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While describing the project as an ingenious piece of engineering, Bill Clinton commended the efforts of the promoters and all involved in the development of the project.

“You have said, ‘Let’s protect ourselves and build something beautiful, something that will last, something that will create opportunity and employment and advance aspirations, and … brand this nation as a nation of the 21st century,” Clinton said at the event. “I want to thank the Chagourys for their spirit of commitment to the project. It will help boost the economy in Nigeria and provide a lot of opportunities. In the next few years, people will be here to see the great city wall that will be build around the city.”

The Clinton Foundation’s online records show that Gilbert Chagoury has contributed between $1m and $5m to the Foundation.

Chagoury was the self-styled chief financial advisor to the late military leader, General Sani Abacha, whose record of corruption and human rights abuses plumbed new lows for the Nigerian governance said Africa Confidential.  Chagoury’s financial history includes a conviction for money laundering in 2002 in Geneva and of aiding a criminal organization and an agreement to return $66m illegally transferred from Nigeria in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Now, however, Gilbert Chagoury and his brother Jack Chagoury. are back and welcomed as legitimate investors.

Land reclamation at the site began in 2008 and some five square kilometres of rebuilt land now stretches out like a moonscape.

Sand has been dredged from the ocean and transported to the site, protected by a giant sea wall – dubbed the Great Wall of Lagos – partly made of five-tonne interlocking blocks and designed to guard against erosion and flooding.

It will include a mix of residential and office buildings. It will not be a gated community, but will be policed by private security with the help of strategically placed cameras. In addition to the planned 250,000 residents, the city is also intended to serve as a workplace for another 150,000 people.

The multi-billion dollar project in some ways resembles those carried out in places like Dubai, where islands have been constructed from reclaimed land and developed.

Construction begins on Eko Atlantic (Picture: Boellstiftung/Flickr)

Construction begins on Eko Atlantic (Picture: Boellstiftung/Flickr)

Contradictions

While it has been promoted as a signature project for the country and for Lagos, a city of some 15m people, activists have questioned whether it will stand as another symbol of the gap between a corrupt elite and the masses of poor in Nigeria.

Most in the country of 160m people continue to live on less than $2 per day and eke out a living where they can. Some expressed hope that the project would lead to other forms of development to benefit average Nigerians.

“The government must play a key role in certain areas — security, infrastructure,” said Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Transparency International’s local partner “We cannot hand over the development of Nigeria to individuals and to private agents.”

Speaking when he laid the foundation stone, President Jonathan said the project, when completed, “will promote tourism and investments, and transform land lost to erosion.” He described it as the biggest civil engineering job in Africa and indeed the world, stressing that the administration was proud of it, as it will help in the transformation agenda of the government in creating jobs.

The project has, however, been criticised by residents living nearby, who say that ongoing construction works have actually caused coastal erosion and ocean surges. Access roads have periodically been flooded, electricity poles taken down and residents forced to relocate. The Lagos State Government has also been criticised for failing to involve the people in the project.

An August 2012 ocean surge which swept 16 people out to sea was blamed by some on a failure of the contractors handling sand-filling activities to put safety and environmental protection measures in place. Influential Nigerian newspaper This Day has provided an analysis of the main environmental concerns.


Outsourced Future or Prime Real Estate?

In part the ambitious project is designed to help establish Nigeria as Africa’s biggest economy, but, if the plan represents Nigeria’s future, it is one that will be outsourced, said AFP. Nearly every aspect of it will be privately run, from electricity supply to security.

Economists expect Nigeria, already the continent’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, to overtake South Africa in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) over the next several years, technically making it Africa’s biggest economy. But, as Bismarck Rewane, a respected economist and head of Lagos-based Financial Derivatives pointed out Nigeria’s population is 165m while South Africa’s is only 52m. “GDP has to be four times more … than that of South Africa for you to have (roughly) the same income per capita,” he said.

The project dubs itself a piece of “prime real estate” and This Day concurred that “the multi-billion dollar investment has already brought on board local and international banks, like First Bank, FCMB and GT Bank in Nigeria, BNP Paribas Fortis, and KBC bank. This is in addition to a growing list of private investors and exciting prime investment property opportunities.” This Day called it  a “landmark project” likely “to enhance the status of Lagos and create a new and stronger financial hub for West Africa.”  However the paper warned against the dangers of Eko Atlantic creating problems of its own.

The Eko Atlantic new city project illustrates the contradictions in a country crippled by corruption and unable to provide basic services, but with vast potential that might one day come to fruition.

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