Nigerians wishing to build their own businesses would do well to learn from the bottom up and equip themselves with the skills necessary to meet the creative challenges of entrepreneurship. The skills necessary to take the local economy into overdrive are simultaneously as simple as stock-taking, marketing, and accounting; and as complex as creating joint ventures that grow to be hugely successful business.
Entrepreneurship education, which has been made mandatory for Nigerian college students of all disciplines, is the key first step to creating and sustaining a valuable business. Due to the country’s booming informal economy, there is a substantial population that is already conversant in entrepreneurial dynamics by virtue of apprenticeship or involvement in family business.
From Resurgence to Glory
From a historical perspective, Nigeria is still in its infancy. The return of democracy in 1999 after almost half a century of bitter conflict and political turmoil paved the way for political stability and a revival of national aspirations. The government of former president Olusegun Obasanjo unveiled the nation’s ambitious 2020 campaign to take the country to the top 20 world economies by that year. An extensive and ongoing reforms programme has helped recover some lost ground, and the country currently ranks 41st in global GDP rankings. More importantly, it achieved a fourfold increase in the size of its economy in a ten-year period from $36 billion in 1997 to $165 billion in 20071, making it the second largest economy in the continent after South Africa.
However, there is a persistent and disturbing underside to these achievements. Nigeria’s human development indices remain abysmal, with more than half of its 148 million people living on less than $1 per day2. More than anything, these facts indicate huge economic imbalances largely attributable to the country’s prolonged overdependence on oil and gas exports to the detriment of local enterprise and non-industrial sectors. The success of the country’s renewed economic goals is contingent to a large extent on entrepreneurship development that adequately harnesses its abundant natural and human resources. Promoting business development from the micro-level onwards is the only way for Nigeria to achieve its long-term goals.
The first step towards building a viable business empire is developing an entrepreneurial temper and also inspiring an entrepreneur revolution – through formal training and the acquisition of skills relevant to Nigeria’s local realities. That the federal government places a premium on entrepreneurship training is evident from the fact that it made it a mandatory part of college education across all disciplines. The opportunity for vocational and practical skills-development training is a prerequisite for emerging entrepreneurs.
The second step is the application of this training to a viable business model. Unemployment is a critical handicap for Nigeria, with more than 40 million of its people jobless according to the World Bank’s latest figures. The corollary to this has been a proliferation of the informal economy that has traditionally sustained the country’s urban and rural poor. Activities in the informal economy cover an extremely wide spectrum of products, services and financial operations – from machine-shop manufacturing, through utility services to contributory funding – that account for an estimated 65% of Gross National Product. These traditional activities provide the backdrop against which emerging enterprises can flourish, by drawing from their collective experience and combining them with new business procedures.
The third step is the employment of new business models, primarily with regards to accessing equity participation rather than collateral debt. Enhanced business productivity also requires infrastructure development and removal of trade and administrative constraints. Developing enterprises must work to acquire technical support and capacity building assistance. Due to the realization that technology is crucial for business development, there has been a surge in Internet providers and cafes across Nigeria as more and more people go online to both start new enterprises and expand existing ones.
The Internet also provides the means for the fourth step, which is collaboration with other ventures or offshore investors to develop businesses in a global perspective and beyond national borders. Such endeavours, by extension, will lead to the creation of not just wealth, but employment opportunities and ancillary enterprises that will drive Nigeria’s dream of becoming and economic superpower.
The benefits of a successful business often go beyond its apparent achievements, and this holds especially true for Nigeria. Entrepreneurship provides a productive outlet for Nigerians looking to be self-employed. It also creates beneficial competition and helps the development of innovative business practices. Most importantly, however, Nigeria’s enterprise development initiatives will help mobilise its immense human resource potential for sustainable and inclusive growth.
The Challenges Beyond
Individual enterprise is unfortunately not enough to advance Nigeria on the path to a superior economic standing in the world. There is a significant administrative and policy component determining the success of any emerging business empire. Most of Nigeria’s reforms process has therefore been skewed towards developing the correct environment to nurture business development. The country’s policy makers need to concentrate on a few key areas:
* Prioritising and reinvigoration of the non-oil sector through effective changes in policy and governmental outlook.
* Consolidation of lending institutions to enhance access and availability of finance to the private sector, especially in the MSME segment.
* Developing more effective coordination between various government, donor and private sector agencies.
* Reducing high business costs by correcting inherent deficits by way of infrastructure, policy and implementation.
* Institutionalization of an entrepreneurial revolution movement which would be aided by key and successful entrepreneurs in Nigeria which will even enhance entrepreneurship from the grassroots
Building a successful business empire in Nigeria has its share of imponderables, largely owing to the nascent state of its economy and the imbalances that continue to stunt rapid growth. More than anything else, it requires a creative outlook, at both individual and government levels, and an attitude that will foster wholesome prosperity.