The story of Banana Island, a sprawling highbrow property at the Lagoon side of Ikoyi, is a tale of gradeur, extravagance and pure opulence. Aptly described by Forbes as “Nigeria’s most extravagant and expensive residential neighbourhood” which is at par with global haven like La Jolla in San Diego, California, the Seventh Arrondissement in Paris, and Tokyo’s Shibuya or Roppongi neighborhoods.
Sitting on 1.6 million square meters, Banana Island is built on a reclaimed land of 192 hectares. Perhaps it could be said that the sumptuous island originally got his name judging from the banana shape one gets to see from an aerial view of the property.
This is one heck of an Island that is notably inhabited by the elites, crème de la crème in the society, top celebs, executives of multinational companies, oil mogul, corrupt government officials and their mistresses as well as wealthy entrepreneurs. If we have to go the way of names dropping, Kola Abiola, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Mike Adenuga and, not forgetting my lady, ace blogger – Linda Ikeji – whose new acquisition is still the talk of the town.
Jakande’s Coming As Housing Minister
Away from the glitz and the razzmatazz, I had the privilege of running an extensive interview with Chief Tunde Fanimoku, one of the brains behind the emergence of Banana Island, at his private residence in Victoria Island, Lagos.
For the record, Fanimokun is the Agba Akin of Iru Land and current President of The Eko Club (POTEC). Often christened the right-hand man of Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the first executive governor of Lagos State, in whose administration he was a permanent secretary, Fanimokun is also the brain behind the glamorous Oniru Estate.
Our discussion ranged from Jakande’s impact as ‘Action Governor,’ his travails to why Jakande took up General Sani Abacha, Nigeria former military head of states’s offer and how his proposed vision of 13 Islands including the newly sandfilled Banana Island modelled after modern-Dubai was scuttled by Abacha.
What I find intriguing in all was the subtle manner the late dictator allegedly played and dumped Jakande whom many has aptly described as ‘Father of Modern Lagos’ the moment a goldmine like Banana Island was unveiled.
Enjoy the full account of Fanimokun’s interview…
My Reunion With Jakande At Ministry of Works
I was already engaged with Folawiyo and Oniru Royal Family Estates when Abacha announced Jakande as his Minister of Works and Housing. Not wanting to risk putting me in trouble, Jakande approached Chief Folawiyo with the prospect of engaging my service once again. The latter was puzzled and asked jokingly if the action governor was attempting to tear me into three piece, given the fact that Oniru has also just engaged me to run his property. That notwithstanding, he agreed to tell me to see Jakande in his ministry where the latter should break the news himself. That was how Folawiyo tricked me to the ministry to discuss an unknown project. He refused to intimate me on whether it was a mosque or social event projects.
After exchanging pleasantries and congratulating his federal appointment, Jakande smiled and sent for his secretary. When she arrived, he asked me to follow her so she can show me my office.
I was at a loss as to what was happening.
That was how I was hurried into an office on the first floor with “Tunde Fanimokun, Special Assistant (1) To The Honourable Minister of Works” boldly written on both the door and my supposed desk. I turned to look at her again and retorted, “What is the meaning of this?”
I did not believe it.
When I descended the stairs again, Jakande was already waiting for me and ushered me into his Toyota saying “Tunde, work has started in earnest.”
Jakande’s Condition For Accepting Abacha’s Political Appointment
A very detailed man, ‘Baba Kekere’ explained how he received an unusual call from Abacha to help the federal government revamp the ministry of works and housing. When he insisted that he did not intend to stay long on the job, Abacha begged him to stay behind for at least 18 months to complete the task. He confessed that he did not know how tasking the job would be until he went through the books. That was when he concluded that it was too much for him to handle hence the need to invite me subtly knowing that I might not accept if he came up openly. Among other things, Jakande said that he planned to leave the housing scheme for me to handle adding that I should use the model I employed to run Lagos successfully when he was still the governor. Such housing scheme would equally be replicated all over Nigeria.
The Banana Island debacle
That was how we started working on what we later called the National Housing Programme which was launched with the full support of Abacha. The plan was to build 123,000 houses, but ended up with only 38,000. We have Abacha’s sudden cabinet reshufflement announcement 14 months into Jakande’s appointment to thank for that.
But here is what we believe led to Jakande’s controversial exit. As part of his national housing programme, Alhaji came up with plan to reclaim 13 islands which are to be modelled after modern-day Dubai. To test-run the idea, Jakande implored us to start with the reclamation of Banana Island. However owing to the Abacha’s regime penchant for screaming ‘No Money,’ the former Lagos State governor sought to look else to raise the fund needed for the project.
Jakande was to visit Abacha again to notify him that he had successfully generated enough revenue from developing the Island. The property itself was expected to generate N6 billion based on the face value and he had just sold 55 out of the 400 units in the area already. He urged the dictator to allow him convert the remaining units for the housing scheme as arranged. Abacha grudgingly thanked him and reassured him that he would find time to come down officially to inspect and kick-start the housing scheme. Apparently he was disappointed in Jakande’s idea of converting the N6 billion property for housing scheme instead of sharing it. Abacha left with a promise of come and inspect the remaining land for the scheme.
He came back feeling elated that Abacha liked the concept of a housing scheme in Banana Island. In fact, Jakande went a step further in his preparation by constructing a helipad in Banana Island with a pseudo belief that the late dictator may think of picking a helicopter from Alausa.
Unfortunately, news filtered in some weeks after their meet that Abacha has dissolved his cabinet. Due to his perceived fondness for Jakande, we thought that the action governor would be exempted from the axe. Thus we continued working like real hustlers to actualize the dream of turning Banana Island into a mega housing hub. When it eventually became clear that Jakande was also affected, we were shocked. Even Baba Kekere himself was stunned, saying that they did not discuss it.
The Coming of Gen. AbdulKareem Adisa
That was how Abacha replaced Jakande with Major Gen. AbdulKareem Adisa, former military governor of Oyo State (who was to be paraded later with other high ranking military generals such as Oladipo Diya for an alleged coup) in the ministry of works and housing. It was Adisa who subsequently revealed Abacha’s game plan to me. He confessed that the dark-goggled head of state instructed him to, “Go and get me that Banana Island for Chagoury and Chagoury. How you are going to execute it, I don’t want to know. That Jakande man no well.”
Even Adisa himself remarked that on getting to Lagos, he got confused about the direction of the exact project Abacha meant and he started asking around, “Which area do they call Banana Island here?” It was then people in the ministry enlightened him that it was an abandoned project Jakande and his right man, Fanimokun were handling before the cabinet was dissolved. Not wanting to incur the wrath of Abacha by involving Jakande again, the new man instead ordered for me to be brought before him. Through the aid of our common friend (names withheld) on Queens Drive in Ikoyi, he reached out to me. Despite the fact that we were still moody over the turn of events, I honoured his call. On meeting me, Adisa tried hard to parley and appease me by saying that he was ready to work with us. He confessed that he has been mandated with the task of finishing and delivering Banana Island. Long story short, I agreed to consider the job.
Meanwhile Adisa’s deputy, a Northerner military man was more interested in raising money for election. He queried why Jakande’s boy was retained by Adisa after his boss had been kicked out. He was a ruthless business-like person who sold off all the building materials we bought at the Island. Adisa, on the other hand, kept pestering me to take up the scheme. I insisted that if I had to undertake the project, it must take the form of the housing scheme Jakande recommended. There were also whispers that every instruction Adisa gave, the Northerner would revert once the former left the scene. Looking at the way things were at that time, I reckoned that I cannot work under such condition and since we could not also agreed on whether to continue with the housing scheme or not, I declined negotiating further.
The next thing we heard was Adisa’s controversial declaration that the Banana Island project was too big for government to handle and should instead be directed to the private sector. He added further that the government would pull out of it to create room for tender from the public. At the end of the day, there was nothing like tender. The game plan was to award today’s most expensive neighbourhood (Jakande’s sweat) to Chagoury & Chagoury Group on a platter of gold. In spite of pressure from several quarters, subsequent governments after Abacha were unwilling to reopen the page of the Banana Island scheme fiasco.
To me, Banana Island was the greatest goldmine to be embarked upon. It was the vision of Jakande that we actualised in six months without collecting a single kobo from government purse. The former governor just deployed all the tactics and tricks he knows in the books to bring it to reality. It was the same set of people we used to sandfill the modern-day Oniru Estate that we deployed to Banana Island. The money raised from interested investors and prospective clients were what we expended on buying materials and paying workers.
Half an acre as at that time was about N10.5 million. Today, you cannot even get it for N400 million. Every influential person in Nigeria from Dangote, Mike Adenuga and even telecommunication companies have started relocating to the serene environment. That spot has now turned out to be a goldmine. That was the vision of one man – Alhaji Lateef Jakande.
Banana Island Originally Part of A Proposed 13 Island Housing Scheme
As I told you earlier, the original dream of Jakande was to sandfill 13 serene and cozy Islands just like Banana Island that would be modelled after the modern-day Dubai. Banana Island was one of such purported projects. In fact, the very man who sold the idea of the Dubai-like scheme into the mind of Jakande was Engineer Bayo Adebayo. He had earlier carried out a survey on the stretch of all the lagoon surrounding Lagos State and told Jakande that they can be sandfilled and converted to independent Islands of their own. When asked to draw a plan depicting what he had in mind, he came up with the one that was subsequently used for the Banana Island model. Unfortunately, he was not allowed to finish it. The military struck, took over power and demanded a stop on the project saying it would sink and endanger lives.
Ten years later, Jakande resuscitated the project. He sent for me and we visited the site together. The Island was still lying there fallow with pigs running across the length and breadth of it. Another sight that I found alarming was the presence of pregnant women in every nook and cranny of the place. The only explanation I got was that since there was no presence of electricity in the area, people were just contented with retiring to bed early and enjoying the company of their spouses (laughs). That was how we reached a decision to enlarge the place. When the Island was abandoned, it was 52 hectares. By the time we finished sandfilling and expanding the coast, it amounted to 192 hectares. What we originally planned doing was 400 hectares though. Due to pressing need for fund to complete the task, we decided to sell off 25 hectares to raise the money. The project itself was guaranteed by Federal Housing Authority (FHA) hence we paid nobody one kobo other than for sandfilling alone. Even at that, the money paid for the activity was equally generated from sale of the said hectares. That was what also impressed Adisa.
Unfortunately that vision was truncated by Abacha government when it sold the asset to Chagoury Group. I also had a land close to the waterfront but had to sell it off to fund my infamous Lagos guber race campaign. I know many people speculated I had money hidden somewhere when I started electioneering. That is, of course, far from the truth. Aside Banana Island, I equally have four plots in Oniru Estate.
One vital lesson I learnt is that Nigeria is not worth dying for. With all Jakande accomplished for this country, no government or political office holder deems it fit to appreciate his selfless contributions. The truth, however, is that whichever we look at it, his legacy will always remain forever.