“I no come Lagos com count bridge!”
An ode to Lagos’s numerous bridges, this pidgin expression basically says – “I am here to make money and not to waste time” – epitomises the ‘hustle’ in every Nigerian.
Every visit to Nigeria is fascinating and telling of peoples’ sheer drive and energy to do more to uplift themselves. Yet, Nigeria is very misunderstood. Take the infamous 419 scam. Commonly in the form of emails masquerading as potential windfall gains from helping a deposed ‘prince’, this scam is often first associated to Nigeria and Nigerians but really has its origins outside the country, the US to be exact – a fact that the public at large are oblivious and care to be oblivious about.
If one has a genuine interest in diversity and how people shape their lives, so many insights can unfold during a normal working day, that shed light on even the most misunderstood of places – and a chat with a taxi driver between meetings did just that. Breaching our security protocol and opting not to use the company car, I struck a deal with a local cab driver, Samuel to get me to the mainland following my meeting in Victoria Island.
Sam, who works for a hail-taxi multinational, rents his ride from the head of international trade of a leading financial services institution in Nigeria and he is a wealth of information. A software engineer by education and profession, he was part of the bank’s IT team. They had let him go as part of the bank’s recent retrenchment drive. Even specialised roles like Sam’s are at risk in a market like Nigeria – talk about competitive. Even for the less biased, finding out software engineers are in high supply in Nigeria is a surprise.
Telling me this wasn’t an attempt to elicit sympathy, I was nosy and had prodded him for more information, to which he gave in and decided to shut me up for the long ride.
Sam seemed to have taken his misfortune in his stride, partly because his full-time job was a ‘part-time job’, or rather just one of a few part-time jobs.
Take a gander at the number of business pies our friendly driver had his fingers in:
1. Acting as a facilitator for applications and permits processing for prospectors looking to work within the fabled Nigerian oil and gas industry
2. He and his software buddies are building a loyalty platform/engine and already have some interested clients (in his own words – ‘a loyalty platform similar to the Starwoods Preferred Guest programme’)
3. Along with a friend, he also runs a crude-oil pipeline-unblocking outfit. His friend, a sub-sea engineer with an oil and gas company, saw an opportunity in the millions that his employer spent flying engineers into Nigeria when oil pipelines got blocked. Having invested in US$20,000 pumps, they now reach out to oil and gas majors as an alternative to flying down specialist services from countries like Norway.
I cannot help but leave Sam a sizable tip. Who wouldn’t? Part of my conventional conditioning could not help but wonder how much of the story was true. Either way it was worth writing about.
Since these stories are more than commonplace in Nigeria – what can prospective investors potentially infer or learn from this?
Perhaps that there is local talent, aspiration and ambition in abundance in this market. Perhaps that conventional recruitment might not be the way to go and it is time to rethink local talent-sourcing and engagement strategies.
A key consideration factor should be that there is no safety-net for most people, only a keen sense of survival and determination that would be a worthy addition to any business looking to grow on the continent.
Santosh Kurian is the sub-Saharan Africa head at Ipsos Business Consulting. This article was originally published on LinkedIn.