Nick, Reggie and Teddy go to the Bar Beach, Lagos Island, every day of the week, after they close from their respective offices. Sometimes, when circumstances permit, they are joined by some of their mutual friends; and their conversations, as expected in such informal gatherings, range from just youthful banter to news making the headlines and sports.
“Chilling here is fine for me and we all look forward to our evenings at the beach,” Nick, a cook at a three-star hotel says, cross-legged. On the double table laid out for them this evening seats bottles of Coca-Cola and McDowell’s mixed up in cocktail fashion. “On some days, some of us who live around the Island chill out with our colleagues who have to go all the way to the mainland, until the traffic subsides.”
This group of friends in their late twenties is keeping with a long-standing tradition of beach going dating back to pre-Independence years. Not just that: the beaches across Lagos have been one of the preferred attractions for the discerning foreign resident in the city. Nowadays, with a larger (and growing) population, the trend has become even more entrenched, a development that has brought about the opening of privately-run beaches.
Having to face the stress of daily living in an emerging mega-city, a growing number of Lagosians now seek more avenues to reduce the burden by turning to the calming effects of the Atlantic Ocean (and the breeze that blows across it) for either leisure or social purposes. Across the length of the sandy coastline, a long line of makeshift bars cater to the demands of a thirsty and often hungry clientele, who could be the average fun seeker, a visitor to the city or even celebrants marking their birthdays or graduations.
“There is no better place to go than the beach. I love the atmosphere always,” says Teddy, also a hotel cook. “There is no day in the week that I don’t come here. When I leave for home at about 9pm, I get that treasurable feeling of satisfaction and restfulness. I am able to sleep better when I get to my place and feel strengthened to face a new day.”
Teddy lives with his twin brother's family. He is uneasy with the feeling of having to get home early from work and disturbing the privacy he believes his hosts need. So to strike a balance, he would rather hang out with his friends late into the evening. “Besides, I live near the Bonny Camp, and the relentless surge of the sea in the area scares me a lot. I feel a lot safer here at the beach.”
The weekend and public holidays are when the beaches of Lagos are at their most crowded and their most stretched. Understandably, it is the only time many Lagosians, who shuttle daily to nine-to-five jobs and businesses, have for friends and family. While the adults sit under the countless beach umbrellas and around bottles of drinks (usually alcohol) and servings of suya, fish barbecue and pepper-soups, the younger generations of revelers go horse riding or settle to a game of beach football.
With all these goings-on, there are the ever-present artisans and itinerant craftspeople who sell handy souvenirs like beads, wood carvings and baskets. It is social networking at his utmost level.
“Believe it or not, I think more professionally here,” says Stephanie, an interior decorator, who is seated with her male partner, plates of snacks in-between them. “Though weekends are for relaxing, I find myself solving knotty issues in my mind. And it is also a good opportunity to spend that cherished quality time with my friend, who I would say is even busier than I am most times.”
The entire southern boundary of Lagos sits on 800 kilometres of coastline, courtesy of the Atlantic Ocean, and there are patches of lagoon waters further inland in places like Lekki, Ikorodu and Badagry, which all offer scenic views and meeting-friendly settings. For these reasons, Lagos can be said to be a den of beaches.
But then the beaches, especially the public types, are not as clean as they should be. They are littered with all sorts of dirt, not to mention that they sometimes reek of the most off-putting odour.
“The truth is that we clear them daily,” says one of the bar owners, who rent out their patch of beachfront to visitors. “We divide the work among ourselves, but the debris wash ashore on a constant basis, which is why you see the beach like this.”
Dirty or not, the beaches remain must-visit attractions for most Lagosians. But many users would rather have more variety in terms of what to see and what to do, instead of just the regular drinking that is commonplace.
“Sure, we are not maximizing the beaches enough,” says Nick, casting a quick look at his friend to his right. “But we can’t keep harping on that all the time. I think the best thing is for all complainants to make a move and come here, create more interesting diversions however possible. It is by acting that we can change the reality to what it ought to be.”
Awofeso is the author of Nigerian Festivals: The Famous and Not So Famous and a winner of the CNN/ Multichoice African Journalist Awards (Tourism category).