A few years ago, the Lagos Bar Beach held great fantasies for tourists coming to Lagos. It was a great landmark that justified Lagos’ old slogan: ‘City of Aquatic Splendour’. But this allure has waned considerably as man and nature battle for space at the peril of ecotourism.This is the dilemma of the once popular Bar Beach. Over the years, the interests of the commercial activities which have sprouted on Ahmadu Bello Way in Victoria Island have become a huge threat to the tourism essence of this natural resort.
A marine scientist, Ike Onyema of the University of Lagos, traces this development to the age-long activities to reclaim that part of the ocean for habitation. “The issue, over the years, has been the large-scale habitat modification resulting from the construction of the moles, which has obstructed the natural sediment regime and flow. Large-scale dredging and sand mining in the Lagos harbor and Bar Beach area have also gone on for years. There is also the case of negative modifying effect of shipwrecks over the years. In addition and more recently is the commencement of the construction of the Eko Atlantic City project. This is a large construction work in a systemic and natural current regulating coastline. All these have affected the dynamics of coastline areas, leading to loss of lives, coastal landmass and infrastructure”.
While a beach should naturally evoke feelings of nature with the presence of trees, Bar Beach has become bare, probably from these activities, save for the masses of huge rocks lined across the water way to hold back the perennial surges. This has made the entire arena very artificial in nature. “Bar Beach is no longer what it used to be.” says a vendor, Toyin Akinola, “I knew when this place was full of businesses. People no longer come here. They prefer the other beaches like Alpha, Lekki, Oniru, Eleko, and even Kuramo. May be they think those ones are more beautiful than our old Bar Beach.”
In the past couple of years, many beaches have emerged in the Lagos area, with structured coordination, making visits to the Bar Beach nightmarish when compared with services elsewhere. Some private investors, who understand what potential lies in the business of managing beaches, have gone into the establishment of private beaches like Oniru and Eleko.
Nnamdi Ugwu, who responded to a social media post about life at the Bar Beach, blamed the dwindling fortunes on lack of proper organization. He comments: “There is no organization at the Bar Beach. You will realise this when you go to the private beaches. Although, you are made to pay money at the private beaches, nobody will rob or molest you. Visitors are charged N200 or more per head depending on the time. And to park their vehicles, they are required to pay between N500 and N1,000. Sometimes musicians come in to perform as well. But there is usually a hike during the festive seasons, such as Christmas. If a musician has been scheduled to perform at the beach, it means that guests have to pay more. But there is high safety there. Nothing will happen; there are even guards to protect people from drowning”.
One of the greatest concerns for people who visit beaches is security, and this seems to be lacking at the Bar Beach as well. The impact of the tight security situation being maintained in Lagos rubs off on the beach where men from the Ahmadu Bello Way Police Station drive past intermittently on routine patrols, but that has not eliminated the fact that the Bar Beach is a den of bad boys. Nnamdi Ugwu, again told the reporter that in spite of the presence of patrol teams, several gangs seem to have made the beach their haven. “It may be difficult to rob here, but that does not mean they do not come around here. When you get to Bar Beach, you will see boys you can hit your chest and say they are up to something. I personally believe that they meet here, because of the free nature of the place. You know that anyone can walk into the place without hindrance. They can come here and meet and conclude their plans”. He also said that people like that usually come in to the beach at night, although the ban on motor bikes imposed by the Lagos State government has drastically reduced the number of such suspicious faces.
However, drug-peddlers and prostitutes according to him have continued to make the place their second home. “One can definitely buy any kind of drugs one desires. But marijuana is most commonly sold here. The boys who sell them are younger and one can identify them from their bags and envelops, which they carry about. People who use such drugs know them when they come around. Sometimes, you could also see these rich men drive in at night to buy Indian hemp. They usually come in their flashy cars, and blare their horn to alert the boys about what they have come to do. And you will see them running to the cars to meet them and transact their business”.
In terms of prostitution, Ugwu said, Bar Beach is also notorious. “It is at night that they come around here for business. But as in other things, the Bar Beach is losing grip to beaches like Alfa and Lekki in this regard. People who want to pick girls prefer to go to those beaches, depending on the class of women. The lack of tents at the Bar Beach has made women of easy virtue opt for the nearby Kuramo.”
However, this reporter found out that the sex trade business which thrives at Bar Beach happens on a take –away basis, where the girls are taken to hotel rooms, unlike at other beaches where such transactions happen inside the tents. One startling revelation which came from Nnamdi Ugwu is that so many of the girls are from the university campuses, which informs why the place is usually alive with activities either during pronged strikes or semester breaks, which incidentally coincide with the religious holidays like Christmas and Easter. “But the girls are doing this to help themselves, because the economy is bad. A lot of them are students who come from the universities. They come around to hustle like their mates. Whenever there is a break or strike, the prices of the girls would go down, because there are more girls. But when school resumes, the few girls available begin to hike their fees too”.
At the early hours of the day, the bar beach, this reporter was told turns to religious ground. For the fact that there is unrestricted access to the arena, spiritualists who cannot gain access to the other beaches opt to come to the Bra Beach to pray with their clients. “The truth is that every time belt has its own class of customers when it comes to the Bar Beach. At afternoons, you will likely see genuine fun-seekers, who want to enjoy the beach. By evening, you will see fun seekers who are either looking for prostitutes, or drugs but in the wee hours of the day until dawn, you will likely see spiritualist, who are have come to pray. They can do whatever they like, because nobody prohibits them, but this does not happen at the private beaches. Of course, those ones will not even allow them to come”.
These religious tourists are usually from the spiritual churches and often make sacrifices at the shorelines for afflictions ranging from barrenness, to poverty to unemployment to spiritual attacks. And often times, the animals used for the sacrifices come back haunting tourists with their foul smell. This has often caused many tourists nausea.
The beautiful thing is that the Lagos State government is not relenting on her efforts to bring back the fun at the Bar Beach, even though it appears like a prick on the major problem. Sometime ago, the beach was closed down by the government with plans to reactivate it. But this intervention may not be enough according to Marine Scientist, Ikechukwu Onyema of the University of Lagos. According to him, the plans of the Environmental Impact Assessment need to be pursued to the letter. “We must enlighten the shoreline masses and develop an environmentally friendly coastal culture. Similar feats have been achieved in Dubai and elsewhere without devastating environmental consequences. And the time to act is now. There is need to realistically and ecologically protect our coastline in Lagos, particularly areas where human activities have caused large-scale deleterious effects.”
How far this would go in bringing back the glory of the good old Bar Beach squarely rests on time.