THE BLOG

Enterprise Is The Only Commodity Nigeria Really Needs

The future of Nigeria isn’t in big business, it’s small business. Not in the power of companies, but in the power of people.

08/02/2017 04:56 SAST
Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters
A woman sells fish at a street market in Lagos June 4, 2011.

When I walk through the markets of Lagos, I love to stop and listen to the grating sounds of knife grinders or the clatter of coffee cups at cafes on the corner. Together the noise and commotion sounds a little like an orchestra, each person playing their part and bringing together an idea, a community, a purpose. Fiercely independent, fiercely competitive but devotedly and unwaveringly together. This is my Nigeria, strengthened by diversity, willed on by community.

It's a side of Nigeria that many do not see. We are a country that has been daunted and distracted by scale. The wealth and the profits that have come from multi-billion dollar deals in our monolithic oil and gas sector have overwhelmed us. We have been too successful too quickly and too many people have been left behind. We are the richest country in Africa, but doing business here is famously challenging. We are home to a great many indigenous companies from the back of our strength in commodities, and we have an increasingly educated population. So why has our tradition of big business not been converted into a culture of entrepreneurialism?

The oil trade was once the backbone of our economy, but now it's closer to a wishbone. Price fluctuations, interference from militants in the north and the behaviour of our OPEC co-members have all played a part in undoing the reliability of the sector, the assurance of jobs and profits within it. Those of us involved in oil and gas hope the sector recovers. But in truth, I believe that the future of Nigeria isn't in big business, it's small business. Not in the power of companies, but in the power of people.

We have a perfect opportunity, and a growing need, to invest in enterprise. By allowing people to start something for themselves rather than relying on the fluctuating virtues of foreign investment or the hopeful growth plans of successive governments, we encourage people to take control in their lives.

One of the most encouraging signs is the growth of financial inclusion offerings in Nigeria. Roughly 80 million adults in Nigeria are either unbanked or under-banked. Access to finance is seen as the third biggest problem when it comes to doing business in Nigeria, according to the World Economic Forum. But microfinance offerings like micro-loans, bank accounts and mobile technology platforms are not just enfranchising people within the banking sector, they're providing a real start for entrepreneurs that otherwise might not exist.

Creating a new wave of entrepreneurship in Nigeria could see the country overtake old powers like France and the United Kingdom and take a place in the top 10 global economies. But this will only happen if we can diversify our economy away from our dependence on the oil trade. To be competitive on the world stage means being competitive at home, and this means giving ordinary people the chance to take a stake in their future.

We need to ensure that no child leaves primary education illiterate or innumerate. Ultimately though, we must instil in children not the value of money, but the value of enterprise, creativity, innovation and friendly competition.

The Government has promised extensive investment in infrastructure over the coming years. As well as roads and railways to carry goods, it is vital that they also invest in the developing the kinds of entrepreneurs who will create these goods. We must be clear here: the issue is more about education than it is about regulation of labour. There are few other countries where it is easier to hire people. Our tax system also increases labour market efficiency by incentivising work, compared to almost every other country in the world.

At its most ambitious, the government and businesses should ensure that commercial acumen is instilled in our children. We need to ensure that no child leaves primary education illiterate or innumerate. Ultimately though, we must instil in children not the value of money, but the value of enterprise, creativity, innovation and friendly competition.

The green shoots are there. Even with Nigeria slipping into a stubborn recession in 2016, our non-oil sector grew by 3.7 percent. Our service industries and IT capabilities make up an increasing share of GDP and our booming middle class keeps appetite for new products and services high enough to support new market entrants. Even with the oil and gas sector, there are opportunities to build our economy by exploring new lines of work downstream. Developing fertilisers, petrochemicals, methanol and refining capabilities offers new products to industrial and consumer customers as well as reducing our reliance on imports. Diversity will be our strength, competition will be our passion and cooperation will be our pathway to growth.

I think we could learn a lot from our markets, from passion, competitiveness and the community of our street vendors in Lagos. I believe in financial and economic inclusion for all people and the marketplaces are where Nigeria is making it a reality. Creating an environment for opportunity is a change from which all Nigerian business could benefit. Indeed all Africa.