Beaches for the rich: From solving chronic erosion to privatising beaches
Beaches and waterfronts in Lagos are beginning to wear a new look and getting attention that are typical of modern natural destinations, often relished by tourists. Access is however becoming an exclusive right for a privileged few compared to what is obtainable in many coastal cities. Cut-throat gate fees and extraneous user-charges are becoming the norm that fence off Lagos residents, especially average income-earners, from a feel of nature. GBENGA SALAU reports.
Lagos is a peculiar city surrounded by water. About 65 per cent of the state is aquatic, which leaves it with only 35 per cent of land mass. Interestingly, it is the most populated city in West Africa, with over 20 million people. But between the unique natural endowment and the demography is the challenge of living life to its optimum. This is especially with beaches changing from social service for the residents, to money-making ventures.
For many, who like the coastal setting, or dreaming of a time, day, or weekend in a very serene environment where they can reconnect with nature, Lagos provides such an atmosphere, with its several beaches, and waterfront spots dotting different parts of the city.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Lagos residents traditionally retreat to the beaches to catch fun and relax during festive periods and public holidays.
Apart from the Yuletide and festive periods, fun-seekers also see these places, as destination of choice for the celebration of their birthdays and wedding anniversaries, while churches, organisations, and social clubs find time to gather their members and staff at the beach for one form of hangout, merrymaking or the other.
This is in addition to the fact that residents and visitors go to beaches when they need to stay away from the hustle and bustle that have come to characterise life in the city centre.
However, for many who grew up in Lagos years back, one of the most visited places in the city, especially for fun-seekers was the Bar Beach, along the Ahmadu Bello Way. It was a place picnickers throng during public holidays, while birthday celebrations for some were incomplete without a visit to the Bar Beach. So, it was the go-to place for them, and others to wine and unwind.
Generally speaking, the Bar Beach used to be the most attractive fun spot during festive periods because apart from the waterfront, which was the major attraction to many, there were other side attractions that kept the picnickers busy during the visit.
The famous Bar Breach is gone!
And unlike these days when swimming pools are sprouting up in many homes and public places, the Bar Beach provided fun seekers the opportunity to immerse themselves in water in a fun atmosphere hence the consistently crowded ambience that characterised it.
For non-residents of Lagos, especially every first-time visitor, a trip to Lagos without a visit to the Bar Beach was usually seen as an incomplete journey. It was not only fun-seekers to the erstwhile Bar Beach that had a time of their lives. Hordes of business owners, including food and drink vendors, entertainers, game providers as well as photographers also smiled to the banks from beach visitors who patronised them.
It was the only beach that rings a bell in the ear of many then, whether residents or non-residents of the state. Bar Beach, probably the only public beach, is no more as cluttered on the long stretch of the beachfront that used to be called Bar Beach, as the public space has since given way to a new city being called Eko Atlantic City after following the reclamation project.
Many people still miss Bar Beach’s legendary scream and howl, which at the time echoed endlessly kilometers away like that of a jubilant pack of wolves or a band of gorillas having fun in the forest. Now, those distinctive roars are restrained. They are also gone. The beach’s relentless splashes, which time and space previously could not contain, have also been emptied out, never to be seen again, with many people’s memories of them fading if not being completely erased.
For now, all that is history. The latest picture of the erstwhile Lagos Bar Beach is that of a fast evolving town called Eko Atlantic City, designed exclusively for the rich.
But now there are many beaches, though mostly privately owned. Many of them share boundaries and are only demarcated by makeshift planks and boulders.
In some of the beaches, the picnickers can walk across beaches to catch fun without any hindrances or obstructions.
When Bar Beach was active, it was free entry and many who visited said that it was fun filled with many looking up to every festive period to visit the place again. Then, when residents say they were going to the beach, it was simply given and implied that it was Bar Beach they meant, that is the extent of its popularity.
Residents may rue the loss of Bar Beach, after it was reclaimed for Eko Atlantic City, the state now boasts of several branded beaches, though now privately operated, especially on the Lekki-Epe corridor.
Going to beach at a cost
Some of the now recognised beaches are Atican Beach, Elegushi Beach, Eleko Beach, Landmark Beach, La Campagne Tropicana, Barracuda Beach, and Oniru Beach to mention a few.
But unlike Bar Beach, gaining access to these new beaches comes at a fee, which varies across the different spots. Ironically, the gate fee at many of these beaches is just to have access to nature as other support services and facilities that include swimming pool, bar, table tennis/games court, private beach with tents, playground, sleep-in guest rooms, jet skiing, and boat riding are paid for while at the beach. On many of the beaches, cars are also not parked for free, it comes with a fee, usually between N500 and N2000.
At the different beaches, horseback riding is a common activity. Spicing the atmosphere is the loud music being dished out by a disc jockey, which is a constant feature, especially on weekends and festive periods. Bars, restaurants and lounges are also in huge supply.
At Atican Beach, for instance, the entry fee for a day is N2000 per adult, while the rates for children are a bit lower. However, if any visitor needs to use the beach benches, tent, mat, or swimming pool, the picnickers would be charged for the service.
The entry fee at Oniru Beach is also N2000 per person. After paying the entry fee, nothing comes free within the beach, except the oceanic water and sand. One of the values added by the Oniru Beach managers to what nature provided is the Moist beach club.
The Moist Beach club is a fun place to visit, but it cannot be accessed except through reservations or buying a bottle of wine that is about 100 per cent higher than the average cost at the open market. Horse riding within Oniru Beach is for a fee of N500 while Jet Ski is for N3000 per person for a five-minute ride.
On some of the beaches, visitors cannot come in with food and drinks, as only the drinks and food sold by vendors within the beaches are allowed. It was also learnt that in some of the beaches, especially those not within the city centre, during holiday seasons like Christmas, community boys usually set up roadblocks leading to the beaches, demanding for community development levy from visitors, who rode in cars and buses to the beach.
Many Lagos residents who needed to visit and experience the beach are forced to patronise the now-branded private beaches, because there is none that could be categorised as public beaches where visitors could go without anyone demanding an access fee. Even beaches that are yet to be colonised or branded as private, touts are usually on ground to extort visitors.
‘New nature’, for an arm and a leg
A resident, Damilare Ogundele, has a family of five. He was at Atican Beach in December on Boxing Day after much persuasion from his wife, but the entry fee alone cost him N9000 for himself, his wife and three children. He also paid N500 to park his car and another N1000 as community development levy to boys who mounted toll points.
According to him, with the beach, if not that his family went with a mat, they would have paid for a seat but they still had to rent a big umbrella because of the sun.
He added that luckily the beach managers allowed us to take in our food and drinks. “But additional things we needed to buy were at exorbitant rates. What we got for N2000 was just access to the beach; nothing extra.
“So, when one of my sons raised the idea of going to the beach this Easter season, I tactically waved it aside. The more than N10, 000 paid to access the beach, with a little addition, is enough to have some good time at other fun spots.”
Joan Rosanwo, who grew up on Lagos Island, and very familiar with the Bar Beach and its neighbourhood said: “My childhood memories were made of family hangouts, fun activities, and a constant visit to the Bar Beach. It was the go-to spot for us as kids. I still have pictures of my second birthday with my dad at the beach.
“We used to make mats, bring drinks and food to the bar beach, and there we had the best fun of our lives, building sandcastles and playing catch-me-if-you-can there. Thanks to photographs, the memories would always linger. It is all gone now and a deep part of me feels hurt and sad because all we would ever have are just memories. It is now a city, it is now a long-gone history,” Rosanwo said.
Speaking further on a visit to one of the new beaches springing up in Lagos after Bar Beach, Rosanwo said she felt privileged, and lucky to have accessed one of the best and safest beaches in Lagos with an entry ticket about N3,000, which to her is fair-priced.
“Landmark Beach is indeed beautiful. The last time I had visited any beach at all was about two years back, so it was a thrilling experience, and I loved every bit of it.
“As I made my way to the beach, the first thing that caught my attention was the impeccable staff, and the organisation within. The security checks and the ticketing appeared seamless. The beach was teeming with mini-rides and attractions, and it took a leisurely stroll for me to realise that there were numerous stores within the beach area, including food stalls, beverage bars, privately-owned beach shacks, and shops selling a range of beach-related items.
“What’s not to love about Landmark Beach? The beach area itself was beautifully kept and aesthetically pleasing. Unlike some other beaches I have visited, there were no unsavory characters lurking about, and the security measures were top-notch. However, I did feel a tad uneasy with the dress code, as while I understand it is a beach, some adults chose to dress inappropriately, forgetting that it was also a family-friendly setting.
“Fortunately, the premises had a dedicated kids’ zone where the young ones could enjoy the beach safely, with plenty of space to play, swim, and climb. I recall that during my last visit, a Lego store was in the process of opening, and I thought this was a well-thought-out move, as kids adore Lego!
“All in all, I would say that Landmark Beach is an exceptional beach, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I look forward to the opportunity to visit again,” Rosanwo stated.
Adebisi John, who also grew up in Lagos State, narrated her first visit to the Bar Beach thus: “My first experience at the Lagos Bar Beach was when I was about 11 years old. My church had taken a number of us for water baptism there and it ended up being a beautiful experience as the place looked heavenly as I anticipated.
“However, I got the chance to tour the place when I was about 15 years old when two of my friends from high school celebrated their birthdays together at the beach. That was an experience I wouldn’t give back for anything in the world,” she stated.
“Another experience I had was during my secondary school graduation party in 2002. The bar beach was more than a riverbank. The atmosphere then gave the feeling you never get anywhere else. This was what made a lot of people longed to have special moments and celebrations there. The feeling of serenity and peace, the unadulterated breeze, the view of the tides, ships and flying boats from a distance, all added to the spectacle we all longed to savour from time-to-time. Watching the water move towards the shore and then beat a retreat was such an exhilarating experience,” she said.
Another resident, Samuel Ajayi, said that as a child, he had free access to the Bar Beach, without paying any entry fee.
But commenting on the new trend of charging a fee to access the beach because they have been dubbed private, Ajayi said that the managers of the beaches are just trying to exploit nature rather than add value to it.
“They give you nothing aside from what nature provides in the environment. In those days, the gift of nature like the beach was fully enjoyed because there was no barrier. It was accessible to all and your decision to buy anything is simply a choice you make on top of what nature has provided. I wish it remained so. But now, you have to pay to see nature, I find this ridiculous!”
Ajayi believed that the gate fees have a way of discouraging poor families from visiting beaches. “It should not be a challenge for families who can afford it ordinarily. Sadly, the arrangement for collection is crude and arbitrary such that in some instances you will be forced to negotiate. I believe the beach is a free gift of nature and should be enjoyed by all regardless of individual social class, race and other categorisations.
“And if anything must be charged, it should clearly be on the extra services humans have introduced by themselves to spice up fun at the beach, which should be left to those who want it.”
He maintained that accessing the beach itself should not be taxed or levied. “We can argue about the cost of cleaning and taking care of the environment, my view is that those expenses should be charged to other income-generating facilities at the beach and the services must be seen to be provided and not what we have at the moment where ‘omo onile’ are busy generating money for themselves without any tangible service.”
Commenting on twitter, Dr Ayo Sogunro said that Lagos is the only African city he has visited where one can’t access a beach freely. “An example of what we mean when we say development in Lagos has been at the expense of equal opportunity for all. ‘Progress’ in Lagos is really wine for a few instead of clean water for all.”
For Jesse Alordiah, the way the whole beach experience in Lagos has been monetised is so annoying. “You will first pay N5000 to enter, pay for seats, can’t bring your own drinks, so that you pay N3000 for Heineken, pay to climb a horse, and pay to play volleyball.”
On her part, Arinola Ogunlesi said that while schooling at Benin Republic, she didn’t pay to enter any beach till she left the country.
“If there was anything I paid for then, it has to be my transport fare to the beach and drinks. During my university days in Benin Republic, I visited the beach countless times and it was fun.
“We don’t pay gate fee/entrance fee whatsoever, all you just do is go to the beach. There are bars and shops around the beach that one could get something to eat or drink, that is the only thing you pay for and it is at affordable price
“There are some beaches there that you can just go to meditate. There are no shops at the beach, just you and your creator,” Ogunlesi said.
But for Dapo Adesuyi, anywhere in the world where there is a piece of highly sought after private property, it is pricey! “If you get value for money then suck it up. Government may need to administer one or two of those beaches and make them available at a subsidized rate. Private ones will never come cheap,” he maintained.
The Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Wunmi Seriki, was contacted on what the state government is doing to check the commercialisation of waterfront and beaches in the state by persons who bought property close to waterfront, as well as what the state government is doing to ensure residents of the state have access to public beaches. She has yet to get back as at press time.
When she was contacted on phone, after being briefed about the issues, she asked that the questions be sent to her, which was complied with. When she was called Thursday morning she claimed the questions had been sent to the appropriate officers for response but The Guardian awaits the feedback.