June 15, 2024

All is now quiet… And dark at the Beachfront, by Muyiwa Adetiba

All is now quiet… And dark at the Beachfront, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

A few days before the President’s recent visit to Lagos, which was to, among other things, flag off the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway, bulldozers paid another visit to the Oniru Beach. Parts of this beach, for those who have been unaware of the several reports in the media, especially the social media, are said to be along the coastal route meant for the famed Highway. This is the beach where the now famous Landmark and some other popular beach resorts are situated.

There had been a controversy over how much land the resorts would have to cede and therefore how much business they would have to lose. The Minister of Works said structures would not be affected but ‘shanties’ built on Federal Government land would have to go – these so called ‘shanties’ house the fun spots; they allow a touching distance to the ocean and are therefore very good for the business of leisure. Minister Umahi reiterated that concessions would be made to minimize the extent of damage to existing structures. In fairness, contrary to the media hype at the time, life came back to the resorts a few days after the said demolition and business started booming again.

You can tell business is booming when bright, white lights illuminate the grounds, the buildings and the skies; when loud, pulsating music reverberates along the beach and into neighbouring homes drowning almost everything else; when cars of all shapes fill the resorts and spill over to the streets; when traffic builds up and impatient drivers play with their horns forgetting that it is past midnight and people reside in the area who will have to get up in the morning in search of daily bread.

You can tell business is booming when real shanties which had sprouted along the street as a result of the resorts are thickly populated with buyers and sellers of snacks, drinks in sachets and God knows what else; when skimpily dressed ladies of the night parade themselves at unholy hours. Other side businesses include security guards at the petrol station nearby who allow willing drivers cross over from Corporation Drive to the adjacent street (Prince Abiodun Oniru Street) at a nominal fee; Police Officers who have mounted a ‘check point’ at a dark, quiet end of Corporation Drive (by an unfinished building near Queens Park Events Center) to collect their own toll.

All of these have stopped with this last visit of the bulldozers. All is now quiet and dark, very dark, at the beachfronts. Traffic has also gone. The once bustling street has resumed the typical serenity and eerie silence of midnight hours in a residential area.
Residents around the area can again sleep without the pulsating noise and the glaring
lights which seemed to penetrate glass windows, doors and even walls – many residents have had to double- glaze their glass doors and windows for the noise and thicken their drapery
for the light. Many, who felt the noise was getting to them left for quieter areas. After all, it wasn’t what they signed for when they chose to invest in what they hoped would be an exclusive piece of real estate ‘with a view’. Besides all these, was the likelihood of an increase in crime.

This said, one can’t but pity those who have lost their means of livelihood or income especially during these dire times when jobs are scarce, money is hard to come by and goods are expensive. One can’t but feel for those who have lost their investments and possibly their dreams. It is natural at this point to feel sentimental and emotional. It is natural to heap all blames on the system. But it is equally so important for them to be introspective at this time and ask themselves some simple questions.

How much due diligence did they do before investing in the area? How much of the information they received during their search did they sieve and crosscheck before utilizing? What approvals did they seek – and obtain – before they commenced work? Were they misled? And by whom? Or was it the usual Nigerian recklessness at play believing that everything is negotiable and that nothing would happen at the end of the day once structures had been erected? These questions arise because many people, including but not limited to land owners and speculators, had long been aware of the Coastal Highway and where it was likely to pass.

Just as lawyers are also aware

that the ownership of coastal lands within a range, is vested in Government and not ‘omo onile’.

The rapid success of those resorts within such a short time shows the viability of entertainment and leisure as a business in the country. The transformation, if perhaps unrestrained, of the beaches shows that the fascination with water and beaches is common to all, rich or poor, black or white. And that young people would seek their fun wherever they can. Unfortunately, what has happened where people have lost their investments and properties shows the imperative of proper planning laws by the authorities and the importance of discipline in complying with those laws by entrepreneurs. And the necessity of due diligence by both.

It is said that one can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs and I want to see the Coastal Highway in that light. It is hoped that many more people would benefit from it than those who have been dispossessed by it. Although it sounds slightly irrational at this point since I don’t have any proof, yet, I can’t help thinking that the mad rush to execute the gigantic project – they are working day and night – without a transparent, competitive tender, a proper Environmental Impact Assessment report and a clearly defined route as certain flip-flops in Ministerial directives suggest, is to satisfy the business agenda of a few powerful people in and out of the corridors of power.

I hope the race is not just about acquiring and securing valuable real estate. I also hope a new beach, wherever it resurfaces, will be available for everybody, rich and poor, and not the exclusive preserve of the rich. As it is, beaches for the common man are disappearing everyday in Lagos and many first time visitors, especially children, to this City of aquatic splendor, are denied the simple pleasure of dipping their legs into the Atlantic Ocean. It is an experience that stays with you for years.

Like many, I am aware of the enormous benefits of the coastal highway – though many worry about the likely influx of unskilled youths into Lagos. I would have wished though, that we made haste slowly to avoid having fingers burnt at the end of the day.