As Mr. Jonathan visits the G8 meeting in Muskoka Canada with his needless and unwarranted 140 accompanying delegates this week- He'll be meeting and dining with top leaders from around the world. Amongst his top agenda will be to tickle the fancy of business leaders to consider Nigeria as their preferred investment destination. Mr. Jonathan will possibly intimate investors about his country's need to generate thousands of megawatts of electricity to meet its developmental needs. He'll talk about our hunger for development and the need for investors to fill current infrastructural gaps.
What Mr Jonathan will not talk about is the catastrophic state of the Nigerian business environment. One marked by hapless limitations, characterised by harsh inadequacies and crammed with austere operational quandary. Mr. Jonathan will not talk about the daylight kidnappings and midnight robbery in Niger Delta as well as his ill-attempts to find long lasting solutions. He will not talk about the complexity of setting up business in Nigeria including the red tapes and unnecessary bureaucratic processes that prospective investors will have to go through. No, he won't talk about his government's lack of control over interest rates, inflationary trends and fluctuating naira.
To set up a business in Nigeria, you have to go through undue pain, stress and lengthened processes. To incorporate a business name, you need weeks if not months to jump from one office to another. Besides, you need about N50 thousand or above to incorporate your preferred business name. In the UK and several other European countries, it only takes minutes to incorporate your business name and Bang! You start trading. In many of these European countries, it costs less than the equivalent of N4, 000 or less to incorporate a new business name. In Nigeria, after your battle for a legal name, getting a suitable operational base in the name of an office or a shop is yet another exasperating process.
Apart from these limitations, doing business in Nigeria is characterised with an endless stream of flaws which encompasses the fact that there are seldom honest managers with requisite skills and abilities that can propel the founder's entrepreneurial establishment to another level. Where there are, he soon gets corrupt and shady in his management dealings along the line and thus becomes a threat to the survival of the business venture. In short, the business environment in Nigeria can be described as out of order, unsound and dispiriting.
For a market of 150 million with neighbouring countries numbering up to 50 million and above, there is no doubt that Nigeria is a big basket of enterprise opportunities. One with tremendous prospect to spin out many millionaires and lay claim as the business headquarter of the African continent. But it isn't just happening; budding entrepreneurs are not growing their businesses pass 2-3 years after which they are plunged into heavy debts and big crisis. The banks are not lending perhaps, because the big boys have borrowed all the funds.
In spite of the fact that Nigerians are very enterprising, positive and strong-willed, the number one business considered by most in recent times is to visit China and Dubai to import Chinese made goods from jewelleries to bags, and home wares. Fine, but what has happened to all other business areas where there are phenomenal gaps and profits to be made? What has happened to management and consultancy services for the very keen and smart business graduates? Commodity trading, waste management, project management, training and development including food packaging and so on, some of this business areas do not only spawn out profits but also contribute to economic growth. Typically, when Nigerians embark on their China or Dubai voyage, their first and second trip is always smooth but ask them to go the third time and they'll tell you that business isn't moving well.
The fact is, all the cost of hotels and transportation to and from China can be used to start something viable and reasonable back home.
Before now, the popular practice was to travel to Germany and other European countries to buy used cars including spare parts and sell them in high prices in Nigeria, but now, the law isn't just clement on that kind of business anymore. And another popular one yet is third party logistics which is achieved by leasing trucks to big businesses. In this business case, an entrepreneur buys a truck or a trailer and leases it out to oil and gas companies or Dangote and the rest. This is no doubt a good business stance, but very soon, their usual stampede will make that industry fall out of grace again.
From the look of things, I'm having the inkling that Nigerians and their once flamboyant entrepreneurial brevity is dwindling fast. Not because Nigerians are indolent or they do not want to move forward in their professional enterprise quest, but simply because they've had oppressive regimes which has suppressed the once promising and industrious nature of our trail blazing citizens. Before now, who dare match the industrious courage of our Igbo brothers from the East? Then, the Igbo's had no rival with their enduring spirit of creativity and entrepreneurialism. The Igbo people I use to know were brimming with talents, one's used to making products such as ornaments, shoes, bags and many more. Talk about transportation, the Igbo's' were on top of the game. In Agriculture, they pulled formidable rival with the South and in trading who does not know about the Igbo man's excellent salesmanship and business inclination? For the Yoruba's, entrepreneurship was simply at their core. The great Ife Kingdom presently in Osun state where all Yoruba's have originated was known to have been the trading centre of West Africa before the 1100's ever before our colonial invasion by Portugal and Great Britain.
From Ife, trading took the Yoruba's to Oyo including Sierra Leone and many places outside Nigeria; it was this spirit that stood at the very heart of the Yoruba race till the 19th and now the 21st century where they trade in Cocoa, Cashew, Cola nuts and so on at the international level.
When you talk about trading in timbers, logs, granites and so on, the Yoruba's were known as the very master of the game. But where are those once promising businesses on whose survival Yoruba fathers built houses and castles and sent dozens of their children to schools.
Underestimate the Hausa's and you're simply on your own. Where are the once energetic Mallam's who reared and produced the thousands of Cattles and Meats on whose dependance Nigeria survived. The Hausa's and the Fulani's are a different breed of people because the very core of their entrepreneurial existence was devoid of greed and fraud which now rules our business world. Today, there is no doubt that the Hausa's and Fulani's are still trading at their very best, but the fact is, they have misplaced all the honesty and trust which people had in them. For the Hausa's, where are the giant gingers and Soya beans with their very best tubers of Yams. Before now, where the Hausa Yam stands, hardly would you give a second thought to a Yam produced from the Yoruba or the Igbo land. But today, where are those Yams' and the big crops that were shipped from Kano to the South and the East. Today, the Hausa's are more famous with operating Black market Bureau De change all across the business districts of Lagos and Ibadan. In short, talk about Black markets in our money and financial world, and I'll show you the new Inclination of the Hausa Mallam. For the Igbo's, the modern trend is 419, blood money and all manners of dirty deals. ABA and Onitsha which were the very best sources of enterprise in Igbo land have now turned to places of thievery and fraudulent activities.
For some of our contemporary Yoruba folks, it is Yahoo Yahoo and dirty politics. Nowadays, a typical Yoruba chap does not have the patience of growing a legitimate business from scratch. His bearing is to make quick money and buy Ankara for the marriage of his 'Brother's wife sister'. Or, if not some shady and dirty business deals, the Yoruba man is a politician, most often an irresponsible one at that. If not an irresponsible (Jegudu jera) councillor with 20 children and 5 wives. He'll be a Jobless area boy on his street living on rents from hardworking people.
Talk about our once very vibrant Bini people who had the very good and nurtured spirit of enterprise, a night trip to the street of Milano in Italy will show you their new business acumen. Although, this is not to say that all Bini's and other tribes like the Hausa's and so on are doing the same. But this describes what is obtainable out there in our Nigeria of today.
In present Nigeria, all our races are losing their sanity because nobody wants to talk about genuine businesses anymore save for a simple and fast way of making money. For the notable few, business planning is poor, management shoddy, service delivery disastrous and customer service zero. More to the point, most contemporary Nigerian businesses are not effective, they don't value time and honesty seems to be their biggest foe.
Who are we to blame for all this misfortunes and bad nurtured culture of shoddiness in the Nigerian business world- Nigerians or the government?
See Part 2 for continuation...