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Sweltering Lagos Has 25 Million People and Zero Free Public Beaches - BLOOMBERG

APRIL 16, 2024

Nigeria’s commercial capital boasts miles of white sand along the Atlantic Ocean that once teemed with locals looking to beat the heat. So what happened?

Before the rains come this month, living in Lagos can feel like walking around in intense heat while wrapped in a blanket.

And for a city on the Atlantic Ocean with a vast coastline of white sand, it’s the sort of weather that calls for a swim to endure the tropical savanna climate.

But in Nigeria’s commercial capital, there are no free public beaches.

Lagos’s capitalist bent and decisions by city officials mean that many of its 25 million residents can’t afford the simple joy of dipping in the ocean on its many hot days. It’s not that the beaches disappeared — although at least one did. It’s that the ones that are available are no longer free.

Private resorts and developers charge entry fees ranging from 3,500 naira ($2.70) to 60,000 for a single-day pass to access the waterfront, which is unaffordable in a country where millions of poor people are grappling with a cost-of-living crisis or living on less than $1 a day.

These businesses have walled off 76 kilometers (47 miles) of coastline from Lagos toward Epe in the east. While indigenous fishermen in the area can still find a way through, others have to pay a fee.

“Lagos is probably the only city on the West Africa coast where residents can’t go to a public beach without paying,” said Loveth Ifeoma Okafor, a tour agent who organizes budget trips across West Africa, comparing the region’s biggest metropolis to other cities in the Gulf of Guinea such as Takoradi in Ghana, Cotonou in Benin, and Abidjan in Ivory Coast — all of which are known for beautiful, free public beaches.

Nigeria has a poor track record in managing public infrastructure, and a scarcity of funds means that recreation ranks far down the list of spending priorities.

In many cases, the government’s response is to privatize what it struggles to manage, letting private investors take the lead in providing schools, hospitals — and access to the beach.

City officials say private beaches are cleaner, more secure and better managed than they were under government management.

“We have had several engagements with those in charge of the beaches in Lagos to see how we are not just giving unnecessary cost when it comes to accessing the beaches,” said Idris Aregbe, senior aide on tourism to the Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. “But what we currently have in the state compares with international standards, which wasn’t so in the past.”

He pointed out that free public beaches remain on the western front toward Benin Republic in the Badagry area, which is some 70 kilometers (43 miles) from central Lagos.

Temperatures that exceeded 34 Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit) across Nigeria in February prompted warnings from authorities about a heat wave. While that in itself was nothing new, a stifling humidity above 83% in places like Lagos increased the heat index — which measures temperature and humidity — to more than 50 Celsius.

The privatization of beaches is in many ways a reflection of Lagos’s hustle culture, with the commercialization of public services excluding the poor.

During colonial rule, the British built three breakwater piers known as moles to ease the passage of ships into Lagos Harbour. This had a devastating effect on the city’s coastline, with what was once its most popular shoreside venue — Bar Beach — suffering severe erosion over time and forcing an end to open access for Lagos’s last free-entry strand.

“The beach was right there when I first came to Lagos 12 years ago,” said Rachael Osim, a staffer at a Best Western Hotel in upmarket Victoria Island, where Bar was located. The hotel served the throng of visitors that frequented Bar, and guests could walk barefoot right off the hotel lobby, across the road, and onto its six-kilometer stretch of sand.

“Now, we even climb to the fifth floor and we can’t even see the water,” said Osim.

Bar Beach had been a cornerstone of Lagosian life for decades: It was once a rendezvous for public executions during military rule in the 1970s and 1980s, and in other phases attracted violent gangs, overnight parties and fervent religious practitioners who deified its salty, frothy waters.

City officials said the beach posed a threat to buildings and infrastructure close to the coastline. In 2007, investors led by controversial billionaire Gilbert Chagoury began reclaiming nine square kilometers of land in the area for a sprawling new city that would — on completion — house about 250,000 people and accommodate another 150,000 jobs.

In place of the beach stand columns of skyscrapers, dredgers and other machinery as investors develop the Eko Atlantic City, an enclosure for the ultra-rich that has been dubbed Africa’s Dubai.

Tenants at the enclosure have a concrete boulevard on the edge of the ocean which is separated by a jut of rocks, known as the Great Wall of Lagos, to keep the Atlantic in its place.

— With assistance from Jody Megson and Karolina Sekula


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