Nigeria’s super-rich learn to enjoy life in the fast lane

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Nigeria’s super-rich are no strangers to conspicuous consumption, and there’s  no better way to flaunt your wealth than by buying a brand new European sports  car.

German carmaker Porsche officially opened a new car dealership on Friday in  the heart of Lagos’s wealthiest district, Victoria Island, a place with one of  the world’s highest concentrations of millionaires.

There are already dealerships specializing in Aston Martins and Lamborghinis,  but Porsche hopes to capitalize on a promise of providing sturdier vehicles that  can cope with Nigeria’s rough roads. Its presence is being seen as a vote of  confidence in the west African nation’s fast-growing economy.

Porsche also plans to set up an operation in the capital, Abuja, where roads  are newly built and where politicians are among the world’s most highly  paid.

High-end goods producers are increasingly targeting sub-Saharan Africa, as  its economic growth starts to dwarf other continents and rich Western countries  face a slowdown.

Nigeria, Africa’s second-biggest economy, grew 7.68 per cent in the last  quarter of 2011, one of the fastest in the world.

“We’re quite confident the numbers will be strong,” Porsche’s Middle East and  Africa head George Wills told Reuters in front of the new 911 sports car, after  a Porsche official revved its engine for flashing cameras.

Porsche Nigeria general manager Julian Hardy estimates 200 Nigerians own  Porsches – the dealership had been running prior to the official launch since  July and sold an undisclosed number, and rich Nigerians have been importing them  for decades.

“You can drive around Lagos … then take your car to the race track and  become a beast and go wild,” said Emmanuel Ngala, an IT consultant who owns a  Cayenne 4×4 and is buying a 911.

The firm’s sales target for 2012 is 100 cars, and it hopes to hit a stable  sales rate of around 300 a year, compared with 800 in South Africa. Average  prices range between 21 million naira ($133,000) to 30 million naira  ($190,000).

Lagos embraces some of Africa’s most expensive real estate, alongside some of  its most crowded slums. On one street, a Hummer drives past a tramp sifting  through a garbage bin.

“It’s a nice car,” said employee Mohammed Ibrahim, as he hosed down a  chrome-coloured Cayenne and shined it to a sparkle with a cloth. On his 20,000  naira a month salary it would take him 125 years to afford one if he didn’t buy  anything else.

“God might give me a car like this one day. He can do that, if he wants to.  He can do anything,” he said, grinning.

Sandwiched between the lagoon that led Portuguese sailors to name this city  “Lagos” and the Atlantic, Victoria Island is a place of fund managers in fine  woollen suits and oil oligarchs.

The faces of glamorous women smile from billboards advertising mobile phones.  Luxury 4x4s are everywhere.

But it has scant electricity, most roads are sandy, potholed and patrolled by  beggars in rags. Poor drainage means they flood – in the rainy season, fishermen  sometimes traverse them by canoe, raising doubts about the practicality of  sports cars like a 911.

Other luxury brands, however, have made it big in Nigeria. It is a  significant African market for LVMH. Most bars can get you Moët & Chandon  champagne or Hennessy brandy, which women sip next to their Louis Vuitton  handbags.

The “Auto Lounge” in Victoria Island lets you enjoy an expensive drink  overlooking a garage of Aston Martins.

Paris-based magazine Jeune Afrique last year placed Nigeria at the top of  Africa’s champagne consumers, guzzling 593,000 bottles in 2010, 50 per cent more  than richer rival South Africa.

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