Is Entrepreneurship new to Nigeria?

Photo cred: http://howng.com/

Photo cred: http://howng.com/

Entrepreneurship has become the growing national trend across Nigeria. Some ascribe this to be the beginning of something good for the surviving middle class. In a country where no grants or government loans are available, youths are still finding their niche in the business world. This crusade of entrepreneurship has attracted international attention and investors due to recent news of the Facebook billionaire visiting Nigeria’s tech hub in Yaba, Lagos and investing in some start-up companies. Nevertheless, is this rise in entrepreneurship in Nigeria, a new phenomenon?

 According to the Nigeria’s Encyclopaedia, The Igbos are one of the most popular tribes in the country and across Africa more broadly. They are the second largest group of people living in Southern Nigeria with an estimated 30 million, excluding the diaspora. The Igbos are prominent in cities like Lagos, where they seem to dominate in the electronics market. There is a saying that if you go to any part of the world and you do not meet an Igbo man, you know there is no business opportunities to explore.

 Personal Experiences

 I grew up in a house with 15 boys and about 7 girls, which doesn’t include my already large family of 10. I have some great memories of preparing for my day after morning prayers. It was always exciting to watch as everyone hurried to be at their various business locations on time. I would always wonder why we had so many people live with us, and where they had come from. I soon realized they were all trying to find their way in business under my father’s leadership.

 My father was grooming business owners. He would always share stories on how he had recruited his staff, a lot of whom are from the rural areas in Nigeria. The new staff would consent to live and work under my father’s tutelage for the next 7 years, while Dad would be responsible for their welfare and guide them on how to run a successful business. He started this in the mid-90s. He would teach them to manage various departments and periodically promote staff as they improved their performance.

But I wondered…what happens when the 7-year period is up?

Combined Business Practices

In the 6th year, the majority of the Igbo business owners set up a contract popularly known as “combined business”. This contract involves business owners setting up a small business for his apprentice. He or she will be in charge of day to day activities in that location for one year. All products and services needed to enable the functionality of that location will be provided. Once the year is up, the owners receive a report of the progress and failures of the business. I have watched my father perform this type of contracts over the years.

Benefits of the Combined Business practices

I have observed several of these combined businesses and their success is always what every business owner strives for. At the end of the contract, checks and balances are cross-checked, profit and loss are recorded. Business owners like my father use this contract to judge whether their apprentices can manage their own business. Those who fail to meet the target success goal may or may not get a second chance. The final decision is made by the business owner.

The Settlement

The 7th year is coined the “year of settlement”. This period is when owners have to legally let their apprentices venture into the business world. But this settlement period is very dependent on the owners. Usually, the apprentices are given a significant amount of money to go start their own enterprise. The amount can range from $6,000 - $15,000 and presents an overwhelming task for some of them. Some have an idea of what they want to do with the money, while others may struggle with what kind of business to start. In certain situations, owners might sell the apprentice products with a low interest payment plan or lend them a location to kick-start the business.

Patience

I wonder in today’s world, is 7 years too long a time to start a business. It is hard to imagine anyone today waiting 7 years to learn how to run a business. Waking up every morning as a little boy, I greatly admired the patience of these men as they rushed out to their places of work. They were ready to fail in order to succeed. I’m sure a lot of business owners still use this method to groom future entrepreneurs today, with a training duration of about 3 – 4 years. Will 3-4 years produce the same results and benefits as the longer term training did? That is the question I pose today.

There are so many young individuals today, I included who want to be their own boss but are we willing to serve patiently and learn by sacrifice? Only time will tell….to be continued. 

Caleb Williams