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Rising From The Ocean Floor, Developers Create New City In Nigeria


Far from the fighting in the North, Nigeria's financial hub in the South is booming. Lagos is set to double in size by the year 2050. To accommodate that growth, reporter Nick Schifrin says, developers are essentially constructing a new city - one that rises from the ocean floor.

NICK SCHIFRIN, BYLINE: The Atlantic Ocean hits the southern edge of the world's fastest-growing mega-city.


SCHIFRIN: But these waves aren't washing onto a natural beach in Lagos. They are slamming into a giant, man-made rock wall.

DAVID FRAME: It's been coined the Great Wall of Lagos, which is - it's not a bad title.

SCHIFRIN: David Frame is the managing director of Eko Atlantic City. It is surrounded by four and a half miles of rocks that rise 30 feet above the seabed.

FRAME: Whatever the ocean can throw at us, this wall will protect Eko Atlantic.

SCHIFRIN: Eko Atlantic needs the protection because it is sitting on what used to be the ocean. Developers are pouring 140 million tons of sand onto a rectangle in the water the size of midtown Manhattan. The landfill will become a modern city jutting off the coast of Lagos.

In 10 years, what is all this going to be?

FRAME: All the water that you see from here to the shore will be reclaimed and sand-filled. So this will be part of Eko Atlantic.

SCHIFRIN: The lead developers are the epitome of Nigeria's well-heeled and well-connected. They convinced the government to give them the right to build for free. In exchange, Eko Atlantic City protects Lagos from erosion that threatened the city's southern edge.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In the heart of this iconic city rises the new financial hub of Lagos.

SCHIFRIN: Eko Atlantic's slick promotional videos envision a city of the future. It will offer what most of Lagos and much of Nigeria does not - a sewage system, high-speed Internet, clean water. Some apartments will cost millions of dollars. The developers say most of the plots have already been sold - homes for a quarter-million people, office space for a 150,000. This is building for the rich on the world's poorest continent. In the next 10 years, the number of ultra-rich in Nigeria is expected to double.

FRAME: Eko Atlantic could be that catalyst to establish Lagos as that financial hub for the entire continent of Africa.

SCHIFRIN: Lagos dubs itself the city of excellence. It is ranked as one of the world's hardest cities to live in. At least 20 million residents - nobody knows the real number - clog a city notorious for traffic. And the population is growing fast. In that sense, Eko Atlantic is a welcome antidote to overcrowding. But critics say it exacerbates an already massive wealth gap. In 1980, Nigeria's poverty rate was 27 percent. By 2010, it was 69 percent. You don't have to go far to see the contrast.

Just a few miles away is Mokoko. It's a slum. And I'm actually on a canoe right now. The slum is built on the water. As you traverse through the water streets, you look down and you see the water, which is absolutely filthy. It's black. There's trash everywhere. And you can smell, well, sewage. None of the 200-plus thousand people who live here have running water or have toilets. And people who live here and advocates who speak for them say that they have been completely neglected by the government.

Felix Morka is a community organizer and human rights campaigner. He accuses the government of rallying around the rich and penalizing the poor.

FELIX MORKA: While the few in Eko Atlantic City are thriving and living there, then those who are in Mokoko, who are working hard every day, who are struggling, who are also citizens of this country have just a right to expect their government to also make their own well-being and their own welfare a priority.

SCHIFRIN: Morka says the local government once tried to destroy Mokoko and give the land to wealthy developers. Before Eko Atlantic could be built, the same government forcibly evicted hundreds of residents.

MORKA: You must ensure that whatever policy that drives Eko Atlantic City drives even farther for the millions of people who are left behind.

SCHIFRIN: In 35 years, there will be more Nigerians than Americans. Morka argues unless Nigeria's development policy changes, the vast majority of people here will be left behind. For NPR News, I'm Nick Schifrin in Lagos. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.