BY NANCY A. RUHLING
Banana Island, which is Nigeria’s answer to Paris’s Seventh Arrondissement, San Diego’s La Jolla, New York City’s Tribeca and Tokyo’s Shibuya and Roppongi, is a small man-made island in the Ikoyi neighborhood of Lagos.
Completed in 2000, it’s a billionaires’ paradise populated by the country’s richest and most well-known families, who savor its quiet, peaceful atmosphere far from the clamor and crowds of Lagos, the country’s largest city and financial center.
Its name comes from its distinct shape.
The 1.63-million-square-meter sand-filled island in Lagos Lagoon is a little more than 5 miles east of Tafawa Balewa Square, the commercial and ceremonial heart of Lagos. A dedicated road connects it to a network of roads near Parkview Estate. First Avenue in the north and Second Avenue in the sound merge and run around its perimeter.
As in the rest of the country, real estate prices on Banana Island are based on the value of the land, which according to Roberta Nouboue, managing director of Madingwa Real Estate, is NGN400,000 (US$1,101 per square meter).
Ms. Nouboue said prices for detached houses, which rarely come on the market because there are not many on the island, start at NGN1 billion (US$2.75 million). The most expensive listing now on the market, NGN5 billion, is for a six-bedroom detached house on 2,600 square meters of land, she said.
She added that four-bedroom, single-family terrace/townhouses that are on average 400 square meters and are on 1,000 square meters of land generally range from NGN350 million to NGN500 million.
One current listing, she said, is for NGN750 million. That’s the price for each of the twin townhouses on 600 square meters of land.
The island also has three prominent condo developments: Ocean Parade Towers, Bella Vista Towers and Lakepoint Apartments.
“There are more apartments and terrace houses than detached single-family homes because land is so scarce and land prices are so high,” Ms. Nouboue said. “Most of them are owned by individuals and rented out to tenants who pay NGN25 million to NGN30 million annually.”
She said it’s possible to buy a unit for about NGN363 million “because value has dropped significantly in the last three years with the devaluation of the naira. It’s illegal to market real estate in anything but naira.”
Of the three condo developments, Ocean Parade is considered the most top-notch, she said, because of its many amenities, which include tennis courts, an Olympic-size pool, two gyms and children’s areas.
As originally planned, Banana Island was to be an uber-exclusive enclave of single-family detached estates divided into 535 property plots that ranged from 1,000 to 4,000 square meters. House heights were to be capped at three stories.
The first homes were built on the south side of the island, but as land prices skyrocketed through the years, high-rise condo developments were built on the north side, which also houses the area’s commercial corridor. There are three mixed-use high-rises—the Adunola, the oldest, and Lakepoint Towers and Desiderata, which were built in the last two years.
“The first houses that were built are in British and Dubai traditional styles,” Ms. Nouboue said. “They are very ostentatious and have nice gardens. The newer ones are more modern, with straight angles, and they are less elongated because they are on less land.”
Buyers have a choice of two- to four-bedroom en-suite flats, maisonettes, and terrace houses, added Charles Onyenze, an associate at Knight Frank. “Typically, a very large percentage of homes are customized, while a few are large estates accommodating a number of prototype houses,” he said.
Swimming pools, Ms. Nouboue said, are quite popular. And nearly every house has a gym, she added.
Apartment buildings, Mr. Onyenze said, come fully stocked with amenities that include fitted kitchens, walk-in-wardrobes, intercom systems, security surveillance systems and standby generators.
What Makes It Unique
“Banana Island is a piece of heaven in the middle of noisy Lagos,” said Ms. Nouboue, adding that the island has two parks. “It offers security, tranquility and privacy. To get to the island, you have to pass through a security gate. It’s by invitation only.”
She added that because there is not much car traffic, “you can jog in peace.”
Mr. Onyenze said the island’s security network, good roads, 24/7 street lighting and proximity to the waters of Lagos Lagoon make it special.
It also offers status. “Having a presence in Banana Island is an indication of your societal class,” he said.
Although Banana Island’s main street offers little more than a café, a barbershop and a large supermarket, chic shopping areas and restaurants on Victoria Island are only a 12-minute car ride away.
“Victoria Island is like Manhattan,” Ms. Nouboue said.
Her favorite restaurants include NOK by Alara, which serves new African cuisine; Z Kitchen, which offers succulent steaks; and R.S.V.P., which specializes in international dishes.
“R.S.V.P. is a great place to go on Friday nights,” she said. “It’s elegant, and they invite the biggest DJs in the world. They serve cocktails, and there’s a pool.”
For art, residents head to Ikoyi, which is five minutes away by car. It is home to Arthouse Contemporary, a local auction house; the Wheatbaker hotel, which holds art exhibits and art-related events; and the Nigerian National Museum, which features the best in Nigerian art.
Ikoyi also is a shopping destination. Exclusive shops include the handbag purveyor Zashadu, the high-fashion clothier named for the Nigerian designer Ejiro Amos Tafiri, and the functional/fashionable clothing designs of Grey.
Ms. Nouboue also praised Alara, the Victoria Island shop that celebrates African craft. “It’s a beautiful concept store designed by architect David Adjaye, and it has everything from fashion to furnishings,” she said.
Although Banana Island School, which enrolls boys and girls who are 1 to 5 years old, and Olive Dale Preparatory School, which is a nursery-through-primary school, are the only ones on the island, there are a variety of top-notch schools in Ikoyi.
They include Lagos Preparatory & Secondary School, a co-ed day school for students 18 months old to over 16 years; the British International School, a British curriculum secondary school for students 7 through 13 years old that offers a boarding option; and St. Saviours, a British curriculum school for children up to 6 years of age.
“Most of the schools stop at the primary level because people tend to send their children to boarding schools in the U.K. and the U.S.,” Ms. Nouboue said.
Residents also are attracted to the high-tech infrastructure on the island that’s not available in the rest of the country. Banana Island’s electrical and water systems are underground, there’s a central sewage system and treatment plant as well as street lighting and satellite telecommunications networks.
Who Lives There
In addition to Nigeria’s wealthiest people, Banana Island draws a variety of ex-pats from the United States, Britain, Lebanon, India and France. They work for multinationals as well as the mega mobile-network operator Etisalat Nigeria; Airtel Nigeria, the provider of prepaid, postpaid mobile and 4G services; Ford Foundation Nigeria, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance human welfare; and the law firm of Olaniwun Ajayi & Co., which all have headquarters there.
“A big set of people are tenants in the high-rises,” Ms. Nouboue said. “Most of the owners of single-family homes live here full time, but they also have houses in the U.K. or the U.S..”
The island is ideal for families, she said, adding that the residents are well-established and around 45 years old.
Mike Adenuga, the billionaire owner of Globacom, the country’s second-largest telecom operator and of the oil exploration firm Conoil, lives on the island, according to Ms. Nouboue and published reports.
So, according to published reports, does Iyabo Obasanjo, daughter of the former president Olusegun Obasanjo; Sayyu Dantata, son of Alhassan Dantata, who, when he died in 1955 was one of the wealthiest men in West Africa; Kola Abiola, the son of the businessman/politician MKO Abiola; identical twins Peter and Paul Okoye, aka P-Square, the Nigerian R&B duo; and Nigerian mega-blogger Linda Ikeji.
When Banana Island was built nearly two decades ago, there was no other luxury spot like it in Nigeria, but it now has competition.
Ms. Nouboue said that Eko Atlantic City, a 10-district, 10-square-kilometer luxury high-rise community being constructed on Victoria Island on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean, has created a sea change in the Banana Island market even though only the first buildings have been completed.
“It looks more like Miami, and the ex-pats are starting to like it more,” she said, adding that the project is due to be completed in about 15 years. “As Banana Island did in the beginning, it restricts the types of homes that can be built. Built on a beach, it has water views and roads like those in the U.S. It has not impacted the prices in Banana Island significantly, though the fact that there are more options in the luxury market has definitely reduced the high and fast increase of prices that we could have noticed a decade ago.”
Ms. Nouboue said that the prices at Eko are higher than those at Banana Island, adding that it’s not unusual for a flat to be listed for NGN1billion.
“Banana Island is all about location,” she said. “It offers easier access to the mainland, and it’s closer to the airport. But the habits of people change. Everyone wants smaller homes because their kids leave and more people are selling their mansions to live in three-bedroom flats, where they don’t have to worry about maintenance and using a generator for electricity.”
Mr. Onyenze remains convinced that the “real estate market looks promising in the future, as there are visible signs of massive development in progress.”
He conceded that prices have dropped about 30% but said that “the economy will improve. It will not be slowed down in perpetuity.”
He said Banana Island’s exclusivity always will remain attractive to “the highest echelon of the society.”
Mr. Onyenze conceded that prices have dropped about 30% in the last three-and-a-half years because of a combination of factors, including the devaluation of the naira, decreased prices for crude oil, inflation, high-interest rates, job cuts and divestment by multinational organizations from the Nigerian economy.
But he said that he’s optimistic that “the economy will improve. It will not be slowed down in perpetuity.”
He pointed to recent reports by the National Bureau of Statistics that indicated that the non-oil sector, which includes construction and real estate, grew by 2.05%, and that the Nigerian recession ended in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Given all these factors, he said Banana Island’s exclusivity always will remain attractive to “the highest echelon of the society.”