Nigeria’s new city: Eko Atlantic construction fuels criticism and praise

     Nigeria is building a city along the Lagos shoreline with hopes of it becoming the financial hub of West Africa. The local government and private investors have made progress on the multibillion-dollar project along the popular Bar Beach, with over 17 miles of roadways already completed in the upcoming Eko Atlantic, which was pitched as an eco-friendly, world-class city and Africa’s Hong Kong.

The residential and business development, which will be home to a quarter of a million people and employ another 150,000, also has received its fair share of criticism. Promotional videos, images and virtual tours show a gleaming city of modern high-rises with a centre boulevard supplied with sustainable electricity, water, sewage, security and mass transit.

  But the impoverished residents of Makoko who live just a few miles down from the project site in an aquatic slum will not benefit from Eko Atlantic’s pricey apartments and clean energy. Neither will the millions of other Nigerians who live on less than one dollar per day.

A report by New World Wealth suggests Africa’s wealthy elite is rapidly expanding, though huge parts of the continent remain trapped in severe poverty. The number of high net worth individuals in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, has more than quadrupled to 15,400, a 305 percent increase, since 2000, the report said.

Still, two-thirds of the population lives in poverty and lacks access to grid electricity. While some see Eko Atlantic as Nigeria’s answer to climate change, critics says the government has long neglected rural infrastructure.

However, Gbenga Oduntan, a senior lecturer in international commercial law at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, said the city represents a “golden opportunity” for Nigeria, if only executed properly.

“There is no shortage of doubters and critics of the initiative, which is seen as an exercise in runaway neoliberalism by a country that cannot even ensure 30 days of continuous power supply to its citizens. The truth, however, is that Lagos deserves its dream Eldorado and the economic case for Eko Atlantic is sound,” Oduntan wrote last month in the Conversation, a collaboration between journalists and academics offering news analysis and commentary. “The only problem is that the plans are in fact not radical enough.”

Oduntan said the project was “under-imagined” and its sanitary, health, energy supplies, environment and other regulatory rules should match those in London, New York, Paris, Dubai and Shanghai. Eko Atlantic also must be run under its own high standards of transparency and good governance, free of stifling national laws, in order to succeed and return money to Lagos’ coffers, as oil-rich Nigeria grapples with corruption, he said.

“Rather than just becoming a financial venture, the Eko Atlantic experiment can be carried further at no extra cost to become the hub to transform good governance in Nigeria and West Africa,” Oduntan wrote. “If Eko Atlantic city is competently handled by world experts in the legal, economic and industrial fields, returns to Lagos’ economy can easily double.”


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