The sun is at its highest point, beating down with an intense ferocity that was merciless and unyielding. The tarred roads here absorb the heat and throw it back up so that it feels like both land and the sky are in war and earthlings are caught in their crossfires.
Someone had said to me once that it is the same sun that beats people in Lekki that also beat people at Agege. “There is no customised air anywhere for anybody. We all breathe the same air,” he said. I remember this quip as I journeyed through this land that stands on the mouth of the Atlantic, crossed over by the Lagos Lagoon and bordered by other islands: Ikoyi and Victoria Island.
Lekki, a naturally formed peninsula with sprawling urban developments, is a paradox of sorts; in the sense that parts of it was once a slum community, Makoko, where over 300,000 persons lived. It was demolished by the administration of former military governor Raji Rasaki and thus began Lekki’s journey to being the new home of the New Rich of Lagos.
Despite its many shortcomings, Lekki has lived up to expectation as home for the wealthy and an aspirational place where some people, who long to “belong” in Lagos’ stratified society move to and identify with the ”new money”.
Across the island, there are pockets of lands, like Ikoyi, where the moneyed live too. The clear difference between Lekki and Ikoyi is that while Ikoyi is home to the old money of Lagos whose roots run deep and family name is gold; Lekki, on the other hand, is for the emerging voices and recognisable family name, while being a huge advantage, doesn’t really matter. It is this place where you can come and reinvent yourself as a new rich.
To put it simply in Nigerian patois: Lekki is the place for people that have ‘blown.” But there are other reasons why people move to this Lekki Island that is perpetually under construction. Planning, closeness to work, better infrastructure.
Lekki plays an integral and very important role in the economy of Lagos as several businesses exists within it. Thus, the area employs millions of people from across Lagos and beyond.
“The Island is better organised than the Mainland, whether we like it or not,” says Seyi Olofin. He quickly adds in an apologetic tone that he isn’t condescending but merely stating the fact. “The private sector developed this area. So you go to your estate, and you have good roads – in most cases. And as much as most buildings on the island are congested, it doesn’t look as messy like on the Mainland. Sorry to say.”
Further down, away from the uppity Lekki Phase 1, you’d find other residential areas – which are still under Lekki. Naturally, as Lekki Phase 1 filled up, activities spilled over into places like Ajah and Ibeju-Lekki, spreading further inward towards Epe and beyond. Ultimately birthing a rapidly growing area that some now refer to as the New Lagos.
In early 2003, while she was still in secondary school, Jemina, a recent graduate from the University of Port Harcourt, recalls that this farther area of Lekki was mostly bushy. But, over the years, development quickly picked up as the once sleeping area fed off the energy and human activities coming from Lekki Phase 1.
“So many necessities are here,” Jemina, who lives at a new estate at Sangotedo, Ajah, notes. Around these new estates coming up, infrastructures and amenities necessary and attractive to middle-class families are springing up. A shopping mall, with an expansive car park and a Domino’s pizza place by its side, is a walk away from her, amongst several other amenities.
The road, which used to be a single lane, has been dualised, easing up traffic and connecting this otherwise distant part of Lagos to other central places in the city. Plus, there are no shortage of homes here as new estates are emerging and snatched up by eager tenants.
“This is not a scanty place. A lot of people are moving into it,” Jemina says.
Seyi Olofin works in Lekki Phase 1, hence it was a no-brainer for him to live in the same area. Because the Phase 1 area is much more expensive, he settled at the Sangotedo area of Ajah, from where he commutes to work every day.
“That’s basically the only space left for people to move to in Lagos,” Seyi says of the Ajah-Epe axis of Lekki. Seyi provides consultancy services for real estate companies across Lagos and he spoke extensively on the development of Lekki with passion.
Seyi points out that there might be over 100 estates in this downtown part of Lekki. He noted that new estates “help to decongest the town not cause more congestion. What I think can be done is to decentralise the economic hub from the hot spots where it is right now.”
This area of Ajah, Lekki, has a lot of potential and will probably become the next economic spot in Lagos – but then Lagos has no single focused economic centre and each area of Lagos has a unique identity. What identity will this place hold? Already, due to the presence of leisure and recreational facilities and parks around here, this area attracts people from across Lagos just for tourism.
Once, Seyi argues, Admiralty Way on Lekki Phase 1 used to be strictly residential but now it has become a business area like Akin Adesola in Victoria Island. Proving that nothing remains as it was in the beginning and that Ajah through Ibeju-Lekki and Epe axis could change from mostly residential to an economic centre.
“Same way some of the economic activities in Lagos have moved to Lekki, it is the same way that it will move again to another place,” he says
Although the roads are neatly tarred, to get to the Sangotedo part of Ajah is a hassle of sorts – especially if you’re taking a public transport. And it is almost easy to conclude that this area is cut off from other parts of Lagos due to its distance. But Jemina and Seyi disagree.
“I don’t think it is too far,” Seyi says. He notes that there are people who live further down in Epe, and commute to Lekki and other parts of Lagos daily. “It’s a pretty good area. That’s why people are coming. If I hear that there’s over a hundred estates here, I won’t debate that figure.”
If there is any issue that affects the island so much, it is a flooding – an almost yearly occurrence that halts economic and human activities, water submerging houses and, sometime, causing death. But new Lekki residents and developers are avoiding the mistakes made by those in Lekki Phase 1.
“These areas weren’t affected by the flooding,” says Jemina, “People here were so keen on that drainage and all of that. If you walk towards the end of the road, around Monastery road, by your left, is the Atlantic Ocean and the lagoon is also close by. But it was surprising that the estate did not get flooded during that Lekki flooding. I think it’s their drainage. There’s something like a mini-river if you go further down. I think their engineering worked properly.”
“Flooding affects these estates too,” says Seyi, who, based on his work experiences as a real estate consultant offers more insight. “Estates that are not well planned will have issues. The government needs to plan the drainage of the area. One thing you notice about Lagos is that everybody will tell you ‘oh Lagos is so developed bla bla bla.’ But the reality is that it is the private sector that is developing Lagos. No one else. If you look at some of the inner areas, pass through some places – Chevening view estate used to be always flooded, 24/7. But now they’ve done the road and the drainage. Now, those guys have locked up their estates and nobody can go through.”
Seyi notes that when people visit these estates they erroneously assume that the good roads there were built by the government. Instead, he claims, that the roads were built by private individuals and residents of the estates.
“People just come, take their land and plan for that land alone. So, what they do is to take care of the drainage in their estate,” he says. The drainage from these private estates are then dumped at the nearest water collection point, without regards, causing further environmental problems.
“Government should look at the plan holistically instead of allowing developers to take the area segment by segment. I think that’s the best way to tackle flooding and also follow through with building levels and other regulations.”
Read the previous instalment in this series: