By Lanre Alfred

Like everything owned by the rich, they flaunt their abodes to the envy of an awestruck world. But what do you make of the filthy-rich who acquires an expensive property at the most prohibitive price, only to abandon it in a state of filth?

Since the 1970s to the 90s, the average size of newly-built Nigerian billionaire’s home has steadily grown larger. Back then, it was a status symbol for many a billionaire and millionaire to construct magnificent castles or mansions for their dwellings. Hence it wasn’t such a rare sight to see a wealthy man with a nuclear family of four or five erect an abode that could easily pass as a five-star hotel or presidential villa.

From Lagos, to Ogun, Oyo, Edo, Imo, Anambra, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Niger, Kano, Kaduna, to the country’s north eastern states of Borno, Adamawa, Nigeria’s super-rich have persistently sought to glamourise their wealth and distinguish themselves from their peers and arch rivals, by building stately and expensive homes for themselves.

A greater number of Nigeria’s filthy-rich copiously emulate the personal tastes, guilty pleasures and living standards of Europe, Asia and America’s super-rich. Although the latter suffered declining fortunes thus forcing them to reconsider their expenditure on luxury homes and other acquisitions during the recession, the decline was short-lived.

After peaking at 2,521 square feet in 2007, the average home size hit a low of 2,392 square feet in 2010, but bounced right back to a record 2,598 square feet in 2013. That is about 56.5 per cent greater than the typical home built in 1973, and more than twice the size of the standard 1,100-square-foot home of the 1940s.

As the middle class concept of home has expanded, so too have the abodes of the wealthy abroad and back here in Nigeria. In late 2014, billionaire real estate investor, Jeff Greene, completed his 53,000-square-foot dream home, ‘Palazzo di Amore,’ and put it on the market with a whopping $195 million price tag.

With many of overseas nouveau riche and super-rich following in Greene’s footsteps, plenty of other mega-mansions are on the market right now, many being offered for considerably less. The folks at Trulia, a San Francisco, California-based real estate listing site, found the 15 biggest single-family homes currently publicly listed on the market.

Each features at least 24,000 square feet of living space and boasts over-the-top amenities and specialty rooms that most private residences would never include. Many of the mansions are customised dream homes.

And even though several acquirers of similar properties eventually find them too unwieldy and expensive to manage, Nigeria’s filthy rich fail to learn from the mistakes and experiences of their foreign counterparts; they do not care to understand for instance, why many mansions on exclusive north London street in United Kingdom (UK) are left in state of disrepair.

Some now have water running down the walls and ferns growing on the stairs. Many of them are empty buildings and these include a row of 10, worth £73m, thought to be owned by a Saudi royal family.
Inside the derelict houses on the so-called Billionaires’ Row, identified as UK’s second most expensive street and located in The Bishops Avenue, north London, abandoned ballrooms and plants grow on staircases in the street where some mansions have stood empty for 25 years.

Time was, when the vicinity was the second most expensive street in Britain, with some of the most sought-after properties in the country. But behind the doors of many of the mansions, there is little in the way of opulence and luxury. It is estimated that a third of the homes, worth an estimated £350 million, are in terrible state of disrepair after lying vacant for a quarter of a century.

As it is in the Billionaires’ Row, so it is in Nigeria. Although Nigeria does not currently boast of such billionaires’ enclave in the doldrums of similar rot and disrepair, our findings revealed pockets of houses in prestigious Victoria Island, Lekki, and Ikeja, Lagos neighbourhoods, in states of disrepair. And there is no gainsaying such derelict mansions exist in exclusive neighbourhoods across the geopolitical zones of the country.

From Declining Dynasties to Derelict Mansions
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?; asks Alfred Tennyson in The Holy Grail and Other Poems. Years after he made his assertion, Tennyson’s words rankle ominously and quite truthfully, in the lives of Nigeria’s foremost families. The triumphs and descent of the latter however, depict what Tennyson left out of his timeless rhetoric despite its depth.

Great dynasties have been seen to collapse after the death of their founders and when they collapse, other aspects of the proprietors’ wealth, particularly their homes and material acquisitions have been seen to sink into rapid deterioration until they are desperately sold off by the owners to raise money to keep up appearances or finance a more modest lifestyle.

In the case of those who grew too attached to their property and refused to sell, their mansions and other costly but deteriorating assets in their estate are piteously pawned or auctioned off at give-away prices compared to the actual value of the acquisitions at the time of their purchase or construction.

In the face of such abject reality, many super-rich patriarchs today, struggle to reinvent measures by which their fortune would not be squandered by prodigal family members soon after they depart the world of the living. Today, the desire of most super-rich patriarchs is to raise children and grandkids that would work hard to improve upon and sustain their family wealth.

As much as it would be advisable for some patriarchs to take extreme measures such as willing off all of their fortune to charity or leaving an errant heir with lots of conditions attached to their inheritance, the dread of having their family engage in interminable disputes maliciously garlanded with expensive lawsuits, instills fear into the heart of many family heads.

History is littered with foremost families’ sob stories, particularly the descent of dynasties that disappeared with the death of their founders. Many notable Nigerian families have been seen to experience such a decline in fortune no sooner than their patriarchs died.

Some of them include the Abiola family. Few years after Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (M.K.O) Abiola died, the family of the late businessman, philanthropist and politician engaged in protracted dispute over the illegitimate sale of some of the property he left behind.

M.K.O’s flourishing business empire eventually suffered an awful decline soon after his death. Examples of his failed business concerns include the Concord Group of newspapers, Abiola Farms, Concord Airlines, Abiola Bookshops, Wonderloaf, and Radio Communications Limited to mention a few.

Then, there were the Odutolas. The Odutola Business Empire was the fruit of the dreams and industry of two blood brothers; Alhaji Jimoh Odutola and Timothy Adeola Odutola. Although the brothers allegedly laid the foundation for modern commerce and industry in Nigeria, their legacy failed to survive because none of their children was interested in reviving their businesses, which started to decline, even before their demise.
Other failed dynasties include that of Sir Joe Nwankwo, industrialist and politician whose beverage factory, which produced GINA soft drink, perished alongside his other businesses soon after his death.

A good number of reasons have been adduced for this malaise afflicting many superrich households particularly deceased patriarchs’ inability to evolve reliable succession plans capable of serving generations of their lineages, long after their demise.

Others are Sir Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Lawrence Omole, Igwe Mathais Ugochukwu and J. K. Ladipo. In the late 1960s, the name Chief Israel Adebajo was synonymous with Stationery Stores Football Club. Alhaji Haruna Kassim, Alhaji Baballe Ila, Alhaji Mamman Goda, Alhaji Adamu Muri and Alhaji Sule Garo.

Borno State has the likes of Alhaji Mai Deribe, Alhaji Umar Ali, Alhaji Inuwa Usman and Alhaji Ali Koloko, while Jos, Plateau State also boasts of names like Danboyi Zang, Alhaji Ali Illya, Alhaji Bakari and Alhaji Namata. Chief G.A.D. Tabansi, founder of the Tabansi Group.

Analysts have blamed poor succession plans of many business owners in Nigeria on this recurrent anomaly. Rasheed Gbajabiamila, CEO, Strategic Business Networks, an Ogun State-based business consultancy, said businesses had to be institutionalised before the CEOs die in order to avoid the sad fate that has befallen many of Nigeria’s notable family dynasties.

According to him, succession planning should not just be an after-thought to the corporate strategy. Business continuity management system should influence all aspects of the company’s strategy, programmes, projects and operations.
When these dynasties collapse, their exotic cars decline, and their stately mansions collapse or fall into irredeemable disrepair.

Nigerian Billionaires Refuse to Learn…
Despite the sad fate of their predecessors, Nigeria’s current billionaires and fast-rising nouveau riche have failed to learn from their mistakes. As you read, contemporary Nigerian billionaires and nouveau riche are engaged in a cutthroat rivalry with each billionaire fighting tooth and nail to elbow his peer off the track in his desperate race to acquire luxury homes at insane prices and thus establish himself as the richest and most influential billionaire on the block.

Honestly, the starry-eyed and ambitious would kill for an opportunity to own a quarter of a plot – if that were ever possible – in Lagos’ highbrow and most expensive neighbourhood, Banana Island. But like they say, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
Banana Island has been recently rated at par with major global residential paradises like the La Jolla in San Diego, California and Seventh Arrondissement in Paris. This exclusive playground of Nigeria’s very rich is built on reclaimed land in Ikoyi, Lagos.

The man-made island is located in the Lagos Lagoon and attached to the North-eastern Ikoyi Island by a dedicated road strip, which is linked to the existing road network. The land was filled in to create a banana-shaped island.

The banana-shaped Island is approximately 1,630,000 square metres in size and it’s divided into 536 plots mainly arranged along cul-de-sacs, so designed to enhance the historically residential nature of Ikoyi. Residents are provided world class utilities including 24-hour electricity supply, underground electrical systems – a departure from the overhead electrification system common throughout Lagos – an underground water supply network, a central sewage system and treatment plant, and street lighting and satellite telecommunications networks. More importantly, residents on the Island enjoy the exclusive company of prestigious neighbours.

Home purchase and other forms of property transaction on the Island are done in foreign currency, the American dollars to be precise. Property acquisition remains the preserve of certified moneybags. According to reports, the average cost of buying a three-bedroom apartment on the island is $2 million; a rented three-bedroom apartment goes for $150,000 per annum or more and it could only be acquired if the prospective tenant agrees to pay for a minimum of two years in advance and a service charge of $17,000 per annum.

A plot of land, on the other hand, sells between $4 million and $6 million, and the cheapest building on the island costs upward of $8 million. Only the superrich can afford to put up their homes on the expensive Island hence, the influx of expatriate employees, government officials, and wealthy businessmen. Exclusive homelands for the rich and famous like the Banana Island have of recent become the next best fetish for the super-rich.

But like the famed castles of the billionaires of the past, these fantastic edifices will someday, fall into disrepair; it’s like the scientific law of gravity: “What goes up must certainly come down.”