On her twice-yearly visits to London from Nigeria, Victoria Appiah stocks up on everything she needs for the next six months. “I basically only do food shopping back home,” she says, standing outside Marks & Spencer’s flagship store in Marble Arch, central London. “It’s not that you can’t get these things in Lagos, but everything here is much more reasonably priced.”If you want cheap products, Chinese-made have taken over in Nigeria, and you can’t always vouch for quality.”
Thousands of Nigerians agree. Visitors from the west African nation are the UK’s fourth biggest foreign spenders, ringing up an average £500 in each shop where they make purchases – four times what the average UK shopper spends.
Holidaying or visiting relatives abroad is increasingly open to millions of middle class Nigerians, with the number of visitors to the UK increasing by more than 50% to 142,000 a year in the decade ending 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics. In a country projected to become Africa’s biggest economy next year, and the world’s fifth most populous by 2050, businesses at home and abroad are cashing in. In Debenhams’ Oxford Street branch, signs in Hausa, one of the official Nigerian languages in the country’s largely impoverished north, direct shoppers to items on sale. This year, the shop said that Nigerian customers were its biggest overseas spenders.
Daily flights plying the lucrative route between Nigeria and the UK have ballooned in the last decade. British Airways permits almost double the normal baggage allowance for the six-hour haul.
In some cases, Nigerians are literally using their deeper pockets on sprees. Shola Obadeyu wore a heavy duffel coat while queueing in Heathrow for a flight back to her sweltering home city of Abuja. “I can save [airline] baggage space by putting small things like vest tops and underwear in the pockets,” she said as she queued with other passengers, almost all struggling with bulging suitcases. Back in Abuja, Obadeyu sells wares bought in London “at prices that don’t kill you”.
Others are tapping the market. A mushrooming middle class snapped up 10m microwaves last year. Big name brands from Apple to Zara have sprung up to feed those aspirations.
The African-based discount supermarket giant Shoprite is pouring $205m into its current three outlets in Nigeria, while the US hypermarket Walmart sees scope for 50 outlets in the country.
On a recent trip back from Europe, Marie Claire Lienou lugged 50kg of frozen meat in a freezer bag back to Nigeria. “You can’t compare [Shoprite’s] prices here with their prices in Europe. For 10 steaks there I can buy two here. You just pay what you have to for the convenience and guarantees,” she said, pushing a trolley laden with relative luxuries such as bagged salads.
“Nigeria is very crowded, traffic is terrible, fakes [wares] are everywhere. The only thing I’ll buy from the market is fresh bulk vegetables, because there are no fake tomatoes,” she added.
Being middle class in Nigeria isn’t cheap. In a brightly lit KFC across the shopping centre, Taiwo Edun, an engineer, treated his girlfriend to crispy chicken and chips, a luxury beyond the reach of many at $20 (£13) a pop.
“I don’t consider myself in the super-rich class, I’m not chartering flights for my friends to go on holiday like some Nigerians can. But I can come here maybe once a month,” he said.
The widespread corruption and infrastructure woes that plague Nigeria – including daily power blackouts that are smoothed over by millions of generators – push up the costs of running businesses here, keeping most dependent on informal, market-style retail.
Abrupt plans to introduce a new 5,000 naira (£20) note worth five times the current highest bill have caused an outcry, with market sellers saying it would drive up prices.
On the back of one of the notes will be Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, mother of the Afrobeat singer Fela Kuti. Ransome-Kuti made her name as an activist with a mass protest against policies that increased prices for market women.
Meanwhile, those who can afford it continue to see a better deal abroad. The country’s central bank throws billions of dollars into propping up the naira at artificially high rates, hurting millions of local exporters and encouraging Nigeria’s shopping exodus.
Indicating her clutch of M&S carrier bags, Appiah said it was her five-year-old grandson’s favourite shop.
“As long as the weather is not too cold, Nigerians will be shopping in London,” she said.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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