Former United States President Bill Clinton with President Goodluck Jonathan and Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) at the event
• Heads for THISDAY Awards in Abeokuta, Tuesday
By Gboyega Akinsanmi
Former United States President Bill Clinton Thursday joined President Goodluck Jonathan and Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), among others, to unveil the Eko Atlantic City, about five million square metres of land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean.
Clinton, who spoke at the dedication ceremony of the Eko Atlantic City project in Lagos, will on Tuesday also make his third appearance as the Special Guest at the 18th THISDAY Awards ceremony, which would hold for the first time in the ancient city of Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State, some 55 kilometres from Lagos.
The former US president said the city would attract people worldwide in the next five years and would improve the domestic economy of Nigeria and bring enormous opportunities to the world.
He commended the developer, South Energyx Nigeria Limited, for keeping faith with the project, explaining, “It will work to improve the economy of Nigeria. All over the world, it will bring enormous opportunities. I am convinced that within five years, people will be coming from all over the world to see this wall.”
He urged people worldwide “to come together and do something specific and exhibit commitment to do something specific. No one in the world is powerful enough. No one in the world is wealthy enough to solve the world’s problem.
“But we can all do something to solve them and when people make a commitment, we expect them to keep it.”
Continuing, he said: “I spent more than two years at the UN after the horrible tsunami. I saw what happened in America when Hurricane Katharina went wild in the city where I spent my childhood with buildings buried in water because they were not prepared.
“Most recently, my state in New York was hit by (Hurricane) Sandy in which thousands of people lost their homes and many lives lost.
“These people will come to Nigeria to see the Great Wall of Lagos. We have spent billions of dollars to protect the low-lying areas from rising sea levels. I have spent part of my life now trying to do a lot of work on climate change to help people deal with the consequences that are already underway, you have experienced it here in the recent past.”
At the dedication ceremony, Jonathan announced the Federal Government’s plan to build the Centenary City in Abuja and another agenda to develop multiple Aerotropolis’ around the country’s international airports, which would start with Lagos and Abuja.
Jonathan said in addition to the Eko Atlantic City, the Federal Government “is also coming with other cities that will be modest. The cities include the Centenary City. The idea is to develop a better city than Abuja where people will not need to provide basic amenities by themselves”.
“In 2013, we intend to make our major airports become major towns/hubs, which we call the Aerotropolis around the airport. It will begin in Lagos and Abuja. And later it will be extended to Kano, Port Harcourt and Kaduna.
“In the next three years, three similar cities will spring up and Nigerians will be able to choose where they wish to live,” he said.
He acknowledged that all over the world, housing and construction “constitute an important component of GDP.
The sector has extensive backward and forward linkages, and thus can drive job creation for the building materials industry, for artisans such as plumbers, carpenters, and masons, and also for those who specialise in the interior and exterior decoration of buildings.”
The president linked the potential in building and construction to the Federal Government’s decision to commence work on establishing the Nigeria Mortgage Refinancing Corporation (NMRC) to help in providing finance for the housing and construction sector.
He explained that the NMRC, which will be private sector driven, “will be established as a PPP arrangement. The partners will include the Federal Government, Nigeria’s local banks and savings & loans institutions, and multilateral donor institutions, especially the World Bank.”
He said the World Bank had agreed “to provide the concessionary credit of $300 million (N47 billion). Subsequently, the NMRC would be able to access the capital markets to raise long-term funds via bond issues.”
The president said the NMRC would provide more liquidity to the housing and construction sectors, and its operations would lead to a reduction of mortgage and construction finance interest rates.
He added that the e-collection platform created by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) for the efficient collection and management of the National Housing Fund (NHF) and the broadening of its products to include provision of credit for informal sector workers “are other complementary efforts to increase accessibility and affordability to mortgage finance.”
Jonathan said the Federal Government was working with state governments to reduce the transaction time and the cost of acquisition of land titles in a bid to ease the challenge in the provision of homes and reduce the national housing deficit.
He said the construction of Eko Atlantic City was benefiting from cutting-edge technology with special attention paid to climatic conditions, including the perennial threat of ocean surges that have posed a serious challenge to human lives and property on the Victoria Island coast.
In his comments, Fashola relived the sad memories of coastal erosion, which had evicted occupants from the property along the state’s shoreline, especially those built on Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island.
He explained that the construction of Apapa port almost one century ago came with costs and benefits, which he linked “to the gradual erosion of the coastland” whose impact forced people out of their homes and offices.
The governor said the calamity that had befallen the state’s shoreline was the rationale behind the Eko Atlantic City.
He said: “While many may see only the civil works and engineering project and the sign of an emerging Eko Atlantic City project, I see much more than that.
“I see the symbol of man’s undying spirit in Lagos to conquer nature. This is because the ability of human civilisation to survive and prosper on this planet has been the story of the constant battle against nature. Many times over, the human spirit has triumphed. The symbols of that triumph are many across our planet.
“The airplane is one of them. The Panama Canal is yet another. The European Tunnel is another. The Pyramids of Egypt remain an intriguing model of global edifice that stands as brand testimony of the indefatigable depth of human capacity for survival.”
He however acknowledged that while there were several engineering feats, they were also regrettable failures elsewhere.
“After the initial human trial, nature fights back with devastating consequences sometimes for humanity,” he said.