News and Views
The Rich Nigerians have arrived
The Nigerians have arrived… and London is paying attention. By David Jenkins
Richard Vedelago is 29 years old and worth more millions than he's prepared to tell. 'Money talks, but wealth whispers,' he says with a smile, sitting back in the bar at Claridge's – his idea – and lazily sipping an elderflower juice. That whispering is not, the oil, gas, property, telecoms and menswear tycoon goes on, typical of a Nigerian mindset: 'Very loud, quite brash, larger than life -even if you're just having a family meal, everything's over the top all the time. So it's quite fun.' Real fun, he should have said. Nigerians all say they work hard and party hard, believe that they're better at anything than anyone else, collect PhDs like confetti and are intensely entrepreneurial. 'When mankind finally gets to Mars,' chortles Ateh Jewel, who has both a film production company and a beauty business, 'they'll finda Nigerian already there, cutting a deal.'
You don't have to go to Mars, or Lagos, to see the fruits of that in action. Misan Harriman – whose father, Chief Hope Harriman, was one of the founding fathers of modern Nigeria – 'practically lives on Mount Street', eating in Scott's, going to George all the time and making his way down to 5 Hertford Street with his business partner, Boris Becker ('I'm like the other woman in his marriage'). You'll find 44-year-old Kola Karim, the boss of Shoreline Energy International, playing polo with the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry at Lord Lloyd-Webber's private estate; see old Wykehamist Anthony Adebo, who sprinted and fenced for England, having breakfast at Colbert and late nights at Boujis; hear Kessiana ('Kessie') Edewor-Thorley roaring with laughter over drinks at Bluebird as she mockingly says that for moneyed young Nigerians in London, it's Cirque du Soir on a Monday, 'that awful place Dukebox' on a Tuesday and Loulou's on a Thursday. Meanwhile, Florence ('Cuppy') Otedola, the 20-year-old ex-King's School Canterbury daughter of Femi Otedola, one of Nigeria's richest men, studies business and French at King's College London, while DJing at Privé, Jalouse, District, Funky Buddha and D'Den, a truly Nigerian club in Finchley Road.
Meantime, Kessie, her twin sister Eku Edewor (Nigerians pop out more twins than anyone else) and their old chum Adora Mba recall the golden days of Kabaret, 10 years back, when they were still naughty teenagers at large in London. The scene's moved on, but £10,000 nights are spoken of, though not admitted to, by all the beautifully spoken and exquisitely mannered people I speak to. And one young man, the budding oil and property mogul Rotimi Alakija – whose mother, Folorunsho Alakija, is the richest black woman in the world (oil) and dropped £100m on four flats in One Hyde Park ('She didn't mess around,' says Vedelago, who helped sell them to her) – tells me a Nigerian champagne war in an American club ended with the winner spending £1.1m, though Rotimi certainly wasn't there: 'That's just silly. It's not part of who I am.' Mind you, on one night at Cirque du Soir, the hard-toiling Rotimi and his friends sent a pal at another table a bottle of champagne, and 'he sent back 20!' But then, 'we're a very celebratory culture,' says Kessie (ex-Benenden, international sales manager for Lazul resort wear and a freelance stylist), 'so every day's a champagne day. It's not, "It's your birthday!" It's "You got back from work day! Let's party!"'
Nigerians are this country's sixth-highest foreign spenders, racking up an average £628 in each shop, four times what the average British shopper coughs up. Selfridges is a favourite, as is Harrods, which has been looking for Yoruba-speaking staff – the research unit at the shopping company Premier Tax Free reports that, for Knightsbridge, 'Nigerian spend so far this year has increased by 52 per cent'. Premier Tax Free also says that Nigerians account for 46.3 per cent of total African sales in London, and that the fastest-growing region for international sales in the UK this year has been Africa, whose spend has risen by 45 per cent year on year. No wonder the managing director of Harrods and the chief executive of Gieves & Hawkes inveigh against the government's proposed policy of demanding a £3,000 cash bond for a visa from visitors from Nigeria, Ghana and four Asian countries. More than 140,000 Nigerians come here annually – why make Paris a more welcoming option? Meanwhile, according to Vedelago, Nigerians are investing £250m in British property every year and, says one African expert, 'they're buying up swathes of north-west London' to add to the earlier generations' happy hunting grounds in Belgravia, St John's Wood and Chelsea. (Vedelago also says they're buying up student accommodation in Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds.) And Nigerians spend £300m annually at British universities and schools – King's School Canterbury, Wycombe Abbey, Cheltenham Ladies' College, Eton, Harrow and Bradfield among them. It's the African century, and here in London the Nigerians are the standard-bearers, jostling the Arabs and the Russians out of the picture. Not that Nigerian old money is entirely happy with what it sees as gross ostentation: it is, says another founding father's daughter, 'vulgar'. But, for Nigerians, home is a pressure cooker and London is where they relax. And shop.