Nigeria's elite make country toast of champagne sellers

The party was just getting started at a plush club in this teeming Nigerian city, hip-hop blaring, the bar bathed in blue light -- and champagne bottles on ice already adorning tables.

"Too much oil money," said a 40-year-old man at Rhapsody's in the high-end Victoria Island district of Lagos, when asked about Nigerian spending on champagne.

Two bottles of Laurent-Perrier chilled in ice buckets on the table in front of him. His company was picking up the tab, like others here, he said, declining to give his name or say what he did for a living.

Recent data puts Nigeria among the fastest-growing countries in the world for champagne consumption, spending an estimated $59 million in 2012 on bubbly, according to Euromonitor International research firm.

That number is up from $49 million in 2011, and the firm forecasts that the country will spend some $105 million on fizz in 2017.

Analysts say oil wealth, hip-hop, movie stars and an elite obsessed with status symbols have driven demand.

One Euromonitor analysis using data from about a year and a half ago forecast Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, as having the world's second-highest growth in new champagne consumption from 2011-2016, trailing only France.

The study showed 849,000 litres in new consumption during that timeframe in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with a huge gap between its rich and poor.

Euromonitor senior analyst Spiros Malandrakis said the figures have since come down somewhat, with projections around 500,000 litres in new consumption from 2012-2017, which would still keep Nigeria in the upper tier.

"It's among the top markets for the future of champagne," Malandrakis told AFP.

Malandrakis said one aspect of Nigeria's market seemed to set it apart from countries such as China, where champagne producers have banked on an emerging middle class to drive growth.

"In the case of Nigeria as far as I understand, we have a very divided society with big sections of the population in the working class," he said, while the elite "have the money to spend on really extravagant consumption."

Oil barons and Nigeria's movie industry, known as Nollywood, have especially helped drive growth, he said, while hip-hop has also played a role.

US hip-hop stars with global appeal have long promoted their love of bubbly -- and Nigeria's homegrown music scene has toasted it as well.

A hit song from a couple years back -- seemingly ubiquitous in Nigeria's clubs and on the radio -- featured the memorable hook: "Pop-pop-pop-pop ... pop champagne."

Prices at clubs can vary widely here, with a standard bottle of Moet & Chandon running around $120, while bottles of Cristal can come in at $900 or more. Store prices tend to be much lower.

Nigeria has long been considered one of the world's most corrupt nations, with billions in oil revenue pocketed and misused over the years, while basic development has been neglected.

Such spending on champagne is particularly striking when considered against World Bank calculations from 2009-2010 showing some 63 percent of Nigerians live on less than $1 dollar per day.

Data from the same years, the latest available, shows 46 percent of the country's population living in poverty, a slight decrease from 48 percent in 2003-2004.

However, the decrease is less than population growth, meaning more people live in poverty in Nigeria today than a decade ago.

The gap between the rich and poor has also been growing, with a scale measuring inequality moving from 0.39 in 2003-2004 to 0.42 in 2009-2010. Zero represents complete equality on the scale, while one is absolute inequality.

"By international comparisons, that's fairly high, but not out of the range of other countries," said John Litwack, the World Bank's lead economist for Nigeria.

Some members of Nigeria's class of super-rich would likely have not have participated in the survey, possibly distorting the figures to a certain degree, he said.

Those with money clearly have lots of it to spend. Martin Kapsdorfer, who runs the Cafe Vanessa lounge down the street from Rhapsody's, said a recent group there ordered 80 bottles of champagne.

Back at Rhapsody's, where the car park is full of BMWs and Land Rovers, a man at one table with a bottle of Moet was drinking a Guinness instead. He said the person buying the champagne was in the oil industry.

"It's like a prestige kind of thing," he said of champagne buying. "Personally, I hate it."

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