Saturday, June 7, 2008

Nigeria: Home to Businesspeople that dare


Nigeria has a bad press, no doubt about it.
Nigerians are involved in corrupt business practices, so are others.
Nigerian cities are unsafe but so are other cities; infact, it is in the character of cities, it depends on the reporting.
Nigeria is a poor country and half its nationals live below a dollar or two a day, well in the words of one of the former presidents, they still have their two square meals and should they choose reverse migration may have three.

These are some of the negative perceptions that have scared away the chicken hearted from Nigeria…a country that is so unregulated that tax evasion is commonplace even among well known multinational companies and money laundering is largely unchecked. Where else in the World can you walk in and the next day, you are on the phone to a Senator.

Welcome to Nigeria, the home of the daring, where a thousand percent return on investment is guaranteed, and thanks to economic liberalization policy of the Government, a foreign investor with 100% ownership of business earns 100% benefit.

Daring people from all walks of life (many without their families) are coming to Nigeria in droves to contribute to its socio-economic development. The irony is that same planes that bring in the expatriates take Nigerians out of the country to distant lands.

Despite various travels around the country, visits to offices and recreational facilities patronized by the expats, yours sincerely was not aware of their number until the Small World event (the small world is a charity event organized by the expatriate community to raise money for Nigerian charities). It gladdened my heart to see many expats mill around the British International School, defied the rain, and paid the otherwise expensive ticket to be part of the annual event.
There is no gainsaying that these expats are engaged in various professions, contributing in various ways in the development of the country and making lots of money in the process. However, one would have expected these developments to translate into good tidings for the country. Nigeria is still off-limits to many businesspeople and in some countries, Nigeria is treated as a pariah nation and its citizens subjected to inhuman treatment. Project Nigeria and efforts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency and similar agencies have not convinced other nations especially in the West of the seriousness of the country in combating sharp business practices.
Little wonder therefore, daring nations such as China and its Asian Tigers coalition moved swiftly into the country knowing full well the opportunities that are associated with high risk bearing.
Well, if you think only the Asians are reaping bountifully, wait a minute. At the 60th independence anniversary dance by Israelis living and working in Lagos, I had a discussion with one of the celebrants, a Real Estate Developer, who told me in confidence that, his returns on real estate investment has been wonderful. His company is presently seeking land in upscale Ikoyi and Victoria Island for new development. Properties in Lagos and other major cities in Nigeria are quickly snapped before completion by Mortgage bankers and speculators who in turn make super normal profit, thanks to the burgeoning middle class and thriving business environment.

In the health care sector, there is a surge in the number of foreign owned clinics that have positioned to take advantage of the influx of expats that in turn demand high class Medicare, the Nigerian nouveau rich and sophisticated middle class (those that would potentially afford Medicare overseas).

Business opportunities are so many that expats hired to work in the country are resigning to open their own businesses. Companies opened in turn create employment and with regulated tax regime contribute to the economic development of the country. We have had cases of companies that prior to locating in Nigeria had problems with raising finance but now declare profits in billions of Naira. A retail outlet from Southern Africa discarded its flawed business plan when it realized that it broke even in three months and not three years as contained in the plan.

Success stories abound on business turnarounds experienced by companies operating in Nigeria. However, these turnarounds and opportunities are only available to those that dare. While the chicken hearted read the bad news and abide by travel advice handed down by their Foreign Ministries, the daring takes a plunge, ignoring the risks and pitfalls.

The daring understands that Nigeria with its strong 150 million people, an educated middle class, abundant natural resources, undeveloped infrastructure and gateway to the West African sub region is one of the few remaining countries with unlimited opportunities. To make big bucks in Nigeria, you have to dare. If in doubt, ask MTN Telecoms.

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