"I can't remember when I first visited this beach but I know it was about fifteen years ago. This place, to me is like home and it is where I earn my livelihood. Unfortunately, things are going wrong here. Even though I can't say what the problem is, I know it's serious because people don't come here as much as the used to, businesses aren't so good anymore...infact, aunty, wahala dey o!"
That was Malam Mohammed, a Meat seller, lamenting the ever deteriorating state of Lekki Beach. He added that the poor state of affairs at the beach has forced so many traders out of business, with some of them moving to other beaches to try their luck.
It was a bright, sunny day as we set out on the much anticipated visit to Lekki. Having spent DayOne of the Eco Journalism workshop indoors, Lekki was a welcome relieve, especially as it was a first time visit for many.
After weathering the Lagos hold-ups (and you should know what i mean if you've been to Lagos), we arrived at the Nigerian Conservation Centre; Lekki Conservation. The centre is a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) dedicated to nature conservation in Nigeria.
Established in 1980, the Foundation was registered in 1982 as a charitable Trust under the Land (perpetual Succession) Act of 1961 - a policy that was replaced by the Company and Allied Matters Act of 1990. Founded by late Chief S. L. Edu, NCF has its patron as the President and Commander- In-Chief of the Armed Force of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It has Chevron as a major sponsor.
The conservation, even in the shimmering sunlight was a picture of perfect calm and peace. As we were welcomed by Mr Desmond Majekodunmi, and taken through the routine lecture on what to do and what not to do on the trail, I couldn't take my mind off the thought that this wasn't a zoo, it was a conservation where animals had rights and roamed freely. The thought should have made me shiver but I only felt the tingles of excitement (how weird is that?)
Soon we were on the trail, twenty-something of us...surrounded by a cacophony of bird sounds on both sides. As we got farther into the woods, I thought of the scary things I've seen on National Geographic channel. I used to wonder why researchers were comfortable in the woods and at that moment I got my answer. Branches of trees and climbing plants entwined overhead to give the much needed shade and it was peaceful....yes, I loved every bit of it and so did the others!
Then there were the Monkeys! They were right in our path, entertaining and regarding us with curiosity...they were "monkeying" around! And while had seen monkeys before, this was different; no cages, they lived in their world and i could almost here them accusing us of trespass.
There was no teasing them with bananas or asking them to earn one by dancing, reason being that the forest provided enough food for them. Even at that, they were entertainment at its best.
Next, we came upon a large monitor lizard close to the crocodile pond which we were too scared to explore. there was a squirrel high up in the tree; I just love its tail!
There were species of the cat family and other interesting animals that were too shy to say hello to us...we were told that they prefer to make their appearances at night. I'm so tempted to visit the trail at 1am...who knows, I may just see something that looks a bit like me...for sure, the monkey didn't.
Childhoods were relived when we came upon a playground complete with swings and other stuff that will make children giddy. We gave in to the temptation with Jemila and I sharing a swing. Grace took over from us even though she didn't exactly swing.
The tree house
The high point of the visit was the Tree House...yeah, a tree house in the heart of the forest...oh, you should have been there...it was as tall as the tallest three there. Azeenarh took the lead ( yeah, we girls are awesome...the guys were green with envy) followed by Japhet who couldn't get enough photos (and yeah, he took his ipad up there, he carries it everywhere). Soenke went next and yours truly followed.
It awesome up there seeing how far we were from the ground. I felt as tall as the trees as the gentle breeze caressed our faces. I felt like sleeping there but surely, I would be dead by this time...thanks to Japhet's iPad and Soenke's iPhone, we took turns to pose for photos.
Did I mention that Michael got stuck halfway? Oh, how he tried! But you know, he just couldn't and I had to catch him when he came falling lol. So, it was no surprise when he kept calling on us to come down; he was so jealous and couldn't hide it. But it wasn't over, Quirin didn't like being left out and he quickly made his way up. We had to beg him to get down.
While this visit was pure fun, there is a lesson in it for everyone, especially how important it is to preserve wildlife....imagine waking up one day to a Nigeria without animals...no, it's unimaginable!
Lekki beach and the ship wreck
The day wasn't over for us...next stop was the Lekki Beach which is quite close to the conservation. As we drove through the gate, I had the sudden urge to get out of the car and run the remaining meters. It was a matter of minutes before I did; as I stepped out of the bus that had conveyed us, I hurriedly took off my sandals and began to run. The sand was warm but neat, and it felt so good even though I kept slipping. I may have slipped about 5 times lol. Then I saw it!
Blue and clear in the sun,the ocean was picturesque an restless. The coconut trees on the shore was perfect even as it swayed and bowed to the gentle sea breeze. Leaving the trees behind, we made for the water. The waves were massive and rolled unendingly before us.
But just as we exclaimed excitedly, we saw it; the famous ship wreck. It was like an ugly witch seated on a beautiful throne, in a beautiful palace. We had seen presentations on the wreck but it was nothing compared to the actual sight and a messy sight it was! It made us wonder if this ugly sight borders the government of the day, especially with it's acclaimed commitment to tourism.
Nevertheless, I couldn't not feel the water on my skin so I took time to roll my jeans up (skinny jeans aren't that easy to roll).
Once again, Zeenarh beat us all to it but quickly, about five of us joined in; the water was delightful and Zeenarh and I tried to outrun the waves. Then it was time for a horse ride...I had never been on one and no matter how much Zeenarh tried to reassure me, the horse looked intimidating but I felt better when I took the reins...it was a beautiful first bonding with a horse...
The pleasant aroma of barbecue hung heavily in the air and I followed it to Malam Mohammed's stand. I ate the suya off the skewer, barefoot and I felt great...I guess it was the beach spirit working in me.
Before the visit to the beach, and from my early years, I had heard stories of Lekki Beach; tales of fun, laughter, beach life, etc. I've always wanted to be part of this fun and excitement but unfortunately, it seems that I took too ling getting there. True, I did have fun, but its nothing compared to the tales I've heard. When I told Mohammed it was my first time there and it's beautiful, he said: "Aunty e no even fine again. Before this place big and people dey plenty. Now, business no good at all".
True, the beach was a ghost of itself, from the photos and videos I've seen in the past. There were approximately 10 fun seekers on the beach, unlike the crowds that were witnessed in the past. The ship wreck sitting close to the shore has caused immeasurable damage to the shore; most of the shore line has been swallowed up and erosion is doing even more damage.
Ibrahim, who taught me to ride a horse had was crestfallen when I asked him what he thought of the beach. He told me in clear terms that the situation has worsened over the years. Nothing that he practically grew up on the beach, Ibrahim lamented the fast fading social activities and business that were usually brisk on the beach.
According to him, horse riding used to be a booming business in the past. He added that his colleagues have moved on to other beaches or parks as they couldn't make ends meet. Though he Vowed to remain n the beach, I wonder if that is his decision to make, with the shore lines disappearing so fast.
Save Lekki Beach!
Nigeria is viewed by many as lawless, and rightly so, else, why are the ship wrecks still there? With the new ultimatum issued by the Lagos State government, it remains to be seen whether or not the federal government will lend support and save this once delightful beach that has become a shadow of itself.
Now is the time for government to take a stand....give us the old Lekki beach; the fun, the carefree laughter and above all, let their businesses experience boom once more!