Nigeria – a nation of business people

Nigeria is considered by many as one of Africa’s most promising investment destinations. The west African state boasts of a high GDP growth rate, ongoing economic reforms and a 167 million population. But what is it really like to do business in Nigeria? How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi speaks to Nigerian entrepreneurs about the opportunities, challenges and potential in the country.

Ladi Delano

Nigeria has numerous investment opportunities. Jacob Ajayi, co-founder of Flying Antlers, a digital technology company, reckons that Nigeria’s technology sector for instance, is evolving very fast with a few innovations that have become success stories and are being consumed globally.

Seyi Taylor, founder of online and mobile advertising service Bloovue, concurs. “There has certainly been quite a bit of excitement around here, especially in the past two to three years. I am very impressed with the level of enthusiasm in the technology sector,” says Taylor.

Although Nigeria is increasingly on the radar of foreign investors, the local population is also highly entrepreneurial and keen to invest in their own country.

“There is no shortage of entrepreneurial spirit among the Nigerian population. We are a nation of businessmen,” notes Ladi Delano, CEO of Bakrie Delano Africa, a partnership between the British-Nigerian entrepreneur and Indonesia’s Bakrie Group with the intention of investing US$1 billion in Nigeria over the next five years.

However, despite the opportunities, Nigeria poses many challenges that can hinder the efforts of investors.

Delano explains that there is a perception among foreign investors that the Nigerian market has political and security risks. However, he says infrastructure is the country’s biggest challenge.

“Investors could be hampered by infrastructure not keeping pace with economic growth. That challenge, however, is a function of success and a growing pain, which has been an issue for all rapidly growing and industrialising nations over many decades,” says Delano.

Jacob Ajayi laments that for small businesses, securing financing is easier on paper than in practice.

“Nobody wants to trade business with someone who is just starting up. Bigger companies are not giving smaller ones the opportunity to grow. Real government support for budding entrepreneurs is not yet there,” he says.

Seyi Taylor narrows down Nigeria’s limitations to: power, payments and people.

“I find that the challenges in getting (and retaining) great human resources are extremely damaging. I suspect this is not just a Nigerian problem, it is pan-African. My fear is that unless we prepare another generation for the challenges of the knowledge economy, Africa could find itself not living up to its potential,” warns Taylor.

Though these challenges could limit the growth of business, they have also provided opportunities and fuelled entrepreneurship amongst young Nigerians who are facing massive unemployment.

“We keep complaining that the government is not helping, no infrastructure, no capital and so on. The irony is that the smart ones are turning the negative complaints into solutions. They provide what the government doesn’t and we pay to enjoy it,” says Jacob Ajayi.

These entrepreneurs remain optimistic about Nigeria’s future.

“Apart from the security challenges we have been facing, I’m bullish on Nigeria. The commodities boom has been good for the macro-economy but we definitely need more reforms for the effects to trickle down and allow Nigeria to achieve its full potential,” notes Seyi Taylor.

Jacob Ajayi expects the economy to become more robust in terms of consumption and investment. The next step, he says, is for Nigeria to transform from a predominantly consuming nation to a manufacturer of goods.

“Foreign investors are taking more interest in the country and local companies are also working on operating on a larger scale. We just don’t want to be the consuming market. We also want to create a production market – take care of the needs of our people and also export finished products,” says Ajayi.