Lagos — Status is everything in Nigeria. That's how many youth see it, anyway. And if their attitudes about consumption, fashion and entertainment are any indication, the country's widespread poverty and unemployment aren't keeping them from living the good life. On the contrary, young Lagosians are busy keeping up with the Joneses.
Designer clothes, SUVs, private jets: Nigerians sure seem to know how to enjoy themselves. In Banana Island, the country's priciest residential area, a three-bedroom flat goes for over 315 million naira (over 2 million US dollars). So is it Paradise? Someone from the slums of Ajegunle who finds himself walking these streets would be forgiven for thinking so.
But don't be deceived. Only a minuscule few can relish in the glitz. Stupendous wealth lies side by side with abject poverty. In Lagos, the country's largest city, it's normal to find shanties just around the corner from the world's most expensive real estate. For instance, a few kilometres from the tony Lekki Phase 1 is Ikota Estate, a slum inhabited by low-income earners.
In fact, two in three Lagosians are believed to be slum dwellers. Minimum wage-earning Nigerians earn about 19,400 naira (123 US dollars) per month. What's worse, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, over 60 percent of Nigerians live in absolute poverty. The National Directorate of Employment reports that 67 million Nigerian youth are unemployed - worrisome considering over 70 percent of the total population is between 15 and 24 years old.
That said, many youth here are taking their country's harsh economics head-on to create, at least, a veneer of living the good life. They are trying to keep up with the proverbial the Joneses.
Nigeria takes top rank among Africa's champagne consumers, guzzling 593,000 bottles in 2010, according to Paris-based magazine Jeune Afrique. International luxury brands are flooding the market with their products. Last year Porsche opened a dealership in Lagos. Blackberries, iPhones and high-end Android devices are popular among young Nigerians.
So, how and why do Nigerians keep up with the demands of a society that puts high premium on status? Here's what Lagosians had to say about one of the most conspicuous signs of consumption: their dressing.
"University of Lagos is the fashion hub in Nigeria. Before you see it anywhere, you must first see at Unilag. I like traditional attire more than Western dresses. I also like to create my own style."
Fashion inspiration: Actress Omotola Jalade Ekeinde
Time spent dressing up: 1 hour
Roseline Ezike, 22, banking and finance student, University of Lagos
"I like to look different when I dress. I love Rita Dominic [actress]. Her casual and her traditional style is cool. She inspires me...I feel good and confident in myself when I'm properly dressed. My boyfriend likes the way I dress and asks for fashion advice and tips from me. I spend 10 percent of my monthly allowance on dress."
Time spent dressing up: 45 minutes
Amount of monthly allowance spent on clothing: 10 percent
Solomon Ayedogbon, 29, human kinetics and health ed student, University of Lagos
"I shop at Mandillas on the Marina and Yaba. The most expensive piece of clothing I ever bought is a blazer that cost 14,000 naira. I bought it just to attend a social event my department is throwing."
Fashion inspirations: Fela Kuti, Sunny Adé
Monthly costs on clothing and accessories: N10,000 [about US $63]
Kenny Aromasodu, businesswoman
"I travel a lot. The fashion trends I see when I travel also inspire my choice of fashion. The UK is the trendiest place I have been so far...I think about how I look before I leave the house. Looking good is good business. I once got a decoration job because the way I dressed."
Time spent dressing to go out: "Close to an hour"
Most expensive item ever bought: Polo Ralph Lauren wet sandals for £200 [about N48,500 or US $308]
Paulinus Eze, 40, driver
"Looking good depends on the kind of wife you have. My wife checks me out in the morning before I leave the house...There are many drivers here, but I'm the most smartly dressed. Whenever you dress well, people respect you. My boss likes people to look nice and clean...Yesterday a boss at my office commended my dress sense."
Advice: "Dress too sharp, you offend your colleagues. Sometimes you have to go easy on your dressing so as not to breed envy."
Akinola Onaolapo, 24, electrician
"I like to dress like 2Face Idibia. 2Face inspires me because his dress he dresses smartly. [Since] today is Friday, I want dress in a traditional attire."
Monthly earning: N35,000 [about US $222]
Monthly clothing budget: N7,500 [about US $48 US]
Precious Alizor, 18, mass communications student, University of Lagos
"My mom is a fashionista. She inspires me a lot...Some of my friends are geeks, while some are fashionistas. I get the money I spend from my parents. Sometimes I inflate the prices of a textbook so as to get a little extra to spend on clothing. Unilag is really cool when it comes to the fashion. I like to look trendy."
Advice: "What people think about you doesn't make you who you are."
Victor Ajani, 24, trader, Computer Village
"I like pink...I once went to an event [where] someone took a shot of me and I found myself in a magazine. Amongst my friends, I'm the best dressed. They say they like my dress sense. I make 35,000 naira [about 222 US dollars] in a good week. I once sold a Citizen wrist watch for 45,000 naira [about 285 US dollars]."
Fashion inspiration: Rapper Neato C
Favourite brand: Hugo Boss