Running Nigeria - sand and nairas

2015-04-19 11:30

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If the oga (big guy) of your dreams has a net worth of somewhere in the high dollar millions, Banana Island is where you’ll find him.

This place is to Nigerian real estate what Krug is to French Champagne: the priciest money can buy.

But I didn’t know that. I was ignorant of the fact that the human-made island off Lagos’ Ikoyi, the island of old money, had big duplexes for 45?million naira (R2.7?million) – per year – complete with “boys’ quarters”, helipads and hanging swimming pools. Flats for sale start at $1?million (R12?million).

On the night of the day before Nigeria’s elections, I was on the prowl in Ikoyi’s Southern Sun Hotel, where I tried to score free bar snacks for dinner and some stories for the 1?200 naira I paid for the 250 naira Guinness Import, the 7.5% alcoholic tonic brewed locally in Lagos.

After eavesdropping on some ogas behind me talking about the elections, I moved in to ask for advice on safe running spots.

One of the ogas, who has an oil company on his business card, asked: “Why don’t you go to Banana Island? It’s quiet there.”

Later, I located it on a map and regretted my incredulity at the name.

Two days after the elections, election posters were still up in Lagos, as if a million faces of Goodluck Jonathan would influence the count.

I found my way to Banana Island, guarded by a gate that looked like a small border post, where a queue of traffic, pedestrian and vehicular, was waiting to pass.

A uniformed security dude stopped me, demanding my running permit. My mouth said “what?”, my eyes “what the f**k?”

I told him I was a tourist and in Lagos for a few days during the elections.

“Where do I get a permit?” I asked him. He pointed me to an office where a woman behind a computer demanded 30?000 naira – for an annual permit. Workers, by the way, pay 500 naira a month for access. I muttered something about having no money on me, and left.

The security dude took pity in a “welcome to Nigeria” moment – there were many moments like these in Lagos – so he let me in for free.

Now if your idea of luxury is a 24-hour electricity supply, underground water and drainage networks, and quiet, paved roads where golf buggies shuttle you around, Banana Island is for you. The presidential residence also comes with these perks, but not everyone makes it there.

On Banana Island, you can rub shoulders with children of the rich and A-list politicians.

On the streets of Banana Estate, where there was a marked absence of election posters, there were three other women out training on the day and an expatriate-looking man walking his dog. It felt like a cross between the well-off part of the Cape Flats for the sand, and Miami for the heat. I failed to find a beach, even after wandering off the beaten track in between mansions and half-built homes on the shoreline. There were, however, some docks for private speedboats.

I ran out of steam before exploring the more glamorous and more established part of the island. My entire running shirt was soaked, but I daren’t return to the woman in the office. She might have asked me to produce a permit for a sip of water.

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