Entrepreneurship in Nigeria: From the horses’ mouth!

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It is only when the horse speaks that we hear from the horse’s mouth.  Sometimes in 2015,  I was moved by ‘the spirit’  to investigate what Nigerian entrepreneurs thought about entrepreneurship environment, practices and challenges. I designed an interview-based research, programming it to last for 6 months. It is one of the vagaries of research in Nigeria that what I planned to last for 6 months ended up taking 3 whole years. Probably I had underestimated the busyness of our entrepreneurs or overestimated their accessibility and willingness to participate. The entrepreneurs were expected to respond- based on their experiences- to a series of questions in writing, after  which we would then discuss and clarify their responses. However, only 15% of the sample responded as expected and tracking them down for an interview, which then became  more extensive than expected, became a nightmare. But that is by the way. At the end of the day, I had a comprehensive interview with 20 practicing entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds. Some are young and some are not so young; some are educated and some are not so educated; some are doing very well and materially comfortable while some are struggling like the rest of us as well as varying ages and size of the businesses, location, area on interest,  entrepreneurial motivation, the routes to entrepreneurship and differing perspectives of key entrepreneurial issues. The sample had  660 years cumulative entrepreneurial experience in the areas of commerce (electronic, medicals, chemicals, food), manufacturing (cosmetics, drinks, vehicles), agriculture (farming and poultry), property, alternative energy( solar, generators), social entrepreneurship (education and  community medicine) logistics (courier services) optical services, professional services (architecture, building, legal) and, oil and gas. They are located in Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Rivers, Anambra, Plateau and Enugu states but with tentacles across Nigeria. So, the horses spoke to me (and it is only somebody ‘in the spirit’ that would understand the language of the horses) and I will share with you what these horses said about their experiences, the challenges and their advice to upcoming entrepreneurs.

My encounter with the entrepreneur-horses evidenced the diversity of entrepreneurship. This diversity is shown in the varying ages of the entrepreneurs the sizes, locations and areas of interest, level of education, entrepreneurial motivation, the routes to entrepreneurship and differing perspectives of key entrepreneurial issues. For instance they had widely divergent views on  the largely Igbo practice of apprenticeship (igba-boyi). This is a mutually beneficial arrangement  in which a ‘boyi’ serves his master for a given number of years while the master in return settles him in cash and/or kind to start his own business. At times, the masters enter into partnerships with the graduate-boyis. The practice has been abused at times by the masters but mostly by the apprentices, especially given the current level of moral degeneration and greed. The level of fraud in the system is high and relation-apprentices are more difficult to deal with. Some view it as one of the most innovative and fruitful entrepreneurial practices that should be retained and even upgraded, others held that it has outlived its fruitfulness and should be scrapped while yet another group suggested that it should be modified!

Most of them started out as juvenile-entrepreneurs, with eyes for money-making opportunities and actually got involved in businesses at early stages of their lives. Almost all of them were assisted by other people in their entrepreneurial journey (money, advice, relevant information and useful connections) but people (as apprentices, partners, relations or employees) were also sources of problems for them and they advised that entrepreneurs should relate with people, learn from them, seek assistance from them, but they must be careful! Similarly, they opined that in this interdependent, interconnected and global business ecosystem, trust is imperative for business success. But people must trust carefully and take necessary precautions, so as to avoid getting their fingers burnt.

Government policies have affected entrepreneurs, mostly, negatively. Policy inconsistency and infidelity, multiple taxation, and failure to carry through potentially beneficial policies have been the key experiences of the entrepreneurs. However, there are instances of favourable government policies, and the oil and gas entrepreneur was particular about the benefits of the local content policy. Paucity of fund is a serious challenge and the banks are not helping matters with their stringent conditions and shylock-level interest rates and charges. But most of the entrepreneurs believe that it is difficult to do without banks’ assistance and that with integrity, one can survive without cash, especially through trade credit, which they deem a better option than commercial loans.

Diversifying into real estate is a common trend and it helped a lot of them; as security for bank facilities, or as a back-up when things go awry. In any case, some diversified and did well; some  stuck to one line of business and also did well.  They also shared the dangers of  diversifying when one had not stabilized or  handing over one arm of the business wholly to someone else, in effect, delegating to the point of dereliction. Many did not conduct  feasibility/viability studies and do not engage business consultants, except lawyers and accountants, which they do reluctantly. Partnerships have not worked very well due to greed, trust-issues and personal differences. 80% of them had no concrete succession plans, 90% had no wills while many took conscious efforts to overcome their challenges (like one who started out after elementary six and is now completing his PhD programme in ). They also believed that one should at times take a plunge,  leave the comfort zone, try uncharted seas but that one should  be strategic about it

Other matters: This weird world!

I have usually introduced myself as somebody who mind other peoples’ businesses . Surely, I am not a busybody but I note everything and comment on everything, the serious, the funny, the strange and the unthinkable. Last week, I commented-on the ‘sideline’ of my article, about our  increasing  love for death through suicide or murder. This week, I wish to comment on the oddities that dot this our  interesting  world and I wish to start from Brazil where forty prisoners were recently strangulated to death in an inter-gang war in their prison! People who were sent to prison to be reformed, instead went there, formed gangs, had gang leaders and declared a war against themselves all in the presence of the strict prison warders. On the other side, the Nigeria Prison Service, which spends around N500 feeding a human  prisoner daily, has just informed the whole world that it spent N30,000 feeding a strange suspect, a vulture, for 6 days ( N5000 daily) in Adamawa state! I don’t know what the law says about crimes and criminals but I doubt if the dictionary can  name a vulture as an example of criminals! And why was the vulture arrested? It causes panic because each time a vulture appeared, the community was invaded by insurgents! Meanwhile, police investigation continues. In Kogi state, masquerades (who do not have PVCs) have endorsed the gubernatorial candidacy of Yahaya Bello while in Kaduna state, a Fulani family in Kaban village in Igabi LGA has  called on the State Governor and the State Commissioner of Police to help recover 31 cows and 3 sheep that got missing while in police custody. Those who went  to enquire about  the cows  were detained and bailed with N580,000 (but bail is free!) and so far the family has spent almost N2m to recover those animals, which had been ‘taken to Abuja’.  I recommend that a combined team of ICPC, EFCC, Miyeti Allah and Veterinary Services should be empaneled to investigate this matter…fast!

 

Ik MUO

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