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BBC spotlights Nigeria’s Returning Entrepreneurs

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bbc africa business reportIt is a story that seems to be fascinating the international media, the tale of ‘returnees’ to Africa. CNN did a feature on young Nigerians returning to work in the country a few months ago and now BBC explores the story behind Nigerians who have moved back to start businesses.
The feature was on this weekend’s episode of BBC Africa Business Report. Watched it and found it quite insightful and inspiring. We can tell you firsthand that doing business in Nigeria is really challenging but ultimately very rewarding. Reports like this send a great message. It shows a different side of Nigeria to the world, one of progress and positive initiatives. It also lets people know that indeed they can make a difference and drive their business ideas to fruition.
See the report below.
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By Caroline Duffield
Africa Business Report, BBC World News, Nigeria

Kabir Audu

Kabir Audu has returned to Nigeria after working on Wall Street

Kabir Audu is a very successful Nigerian. He’s 30. And he has an idea.

“It was Ben Gurion in the late 1940s,” he says.

“He called on Israelis around the world to come home. To build an Israel greater than their wildest imagination.”

He pauses.

“We see Nigeria every day – tremendous talent, this tremendous potential. Imagine if it’s wielded toward one vision.”

Kabir and his friend Tunji Abdul are living proof of Nigeria’s mass migration homeward.

Both were making a fortune on Wall Street. Both were bored.

‘New life’

“Every deal felt just an extension of a previous project,” says Tunji.

Model of skyscraper

Kabir and Tunji are planning Lagos’s first sustainable skyscraper

“I came back to Nigeria after 10 years. I realised this place was calling for young entrepreneurs – to breathe new life into the system.

“That’s why I came back.”

They’re real estate developers, building modern homes – and the first sustainable skyscraper in Lagos.

It will harvest its own rainwater and be powered by solar energy.

“We want our architecture to shape the way people feel about their space, their community,” says Tunji.

“Great buildings, inspirational buildings, don’t just have to be in the UK or the US.”

Renaissance

Tunji and Kabir are two among hundreds of thousands.

Bode Pedro is another.

He’s 26 and runs a computer manufacturing start-up business employing 75 people.

“It’s a renaissance,” he says. “We’re talking about art, science, technology, entertainment, media and business.

Recruitment agency

Recruitment agencies specialise in bringing talented Nigerians home

“People are coming home because they want to be part of it.”

All of them were educated in the US, but their rich American accents are barely noticed in the nightclubs in Lagos.

Here, vowels from New York and Oxford blend into West African pidgin English.

Another giveaway – Lagos is sprouting recruitment agencies with a difference.

They specialise in bringing talented Nigerians back home.

“In 2003, we thought around 5,000 people a month were coming in,” says Funto Akinkugbe from Find A Job In Africa.

“That’s multiplied by three now. We’re looking at the best part of 15,000 people on a monthly basis.”

Seeking shelter

The influx is startling. Nigerians have a word for them – “re-pat”.

And, it appears that there are two types.

Entrepreneurs like Kabir and Tunji have spotted a market and are starting businesses.

Some 140 million people living here makes Nigeria quite a business opportunity.

You have to make sure you’re one step ahead. Get up earlier and leave the office later
Tunji Abdul, entrepreneur

Meanwhile, thousands of others are seeking shelter from the global financial crisis.

Job losses in the financial sector – and the financial crisis itself – make going home suddenly seem very attractive.

And these refugees are attractive employment for the entrepreneurs tapping into Nigeria’s potential.

With a huge market and a huge labour force combined, Nigeria ought to stand alongside Brazil or Russia.

So why doesn’t it?

‘One step ahead’

The answer is that Nigeria has not enjoyed the same economic growth.

Here, a businessman’s lot is not always a happy one.

Chronic electricity failures, traffic jams that last for hours, the delays, the half truths and shadows of corruption. All of that makes doing business here very difficult.

“What do you need to survive? Passion!” laughs Tunji Abdul.

“You have to make sure you’re one step ahead.

“Get up earlier and leave the office later. Move around when traffic is a bit less.

Bode Pedro says Nigeria is changing fast

Bode Pedro says Nigeria is changing fast

“It’s your business to find a solution.”

And if you can make it work the rewards are worth it.

“Nigeria is phenomenal,” says Kabir.

“People keep saying, ‘Oh, you gave up a lot of money on Wall Street, to come back here…..’.

He pulls a face and smiles. “Actually, it’s not the case. In terms of rate of return, it is significantly higher than where we’re coming from.”

Being part of change

Bode Pedro agrees.

“Nigeria is so fresh. Right now, we have 5% computer usage here.

“It’s changing fast – and you’re either part of it, or not.”

For all of them, the bottom line is very good – but the personal kick that thrills them is the impact they’re having.

“You coming here is being part of a renaissance,” says Bode softly.

“In five years, you’ll be part of something new. You’ll be part of something different.

“You’ll be part of the growth of a superpower called Nigeria.”

He is deadly serious.

Africa Business Report is a monthly programme on BBC World News.

32 Comments

  1. alex

    November 25, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    bbc is getting better than cnn by the day, their own is now too much

  2. Nma

    November 25, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Wow!
    I feel the passion and desire in these young men! Makes me wanna go home too.

  3. chuks

    November 25, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Time to head home…

    I’m just trying to bring Nollywood to the masses.

    http://www.afrika.am

  4. kelly

    November 25, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    I live in the US, and I certainly can’t wait to be back home. Life abroad is hard, no matter how much education you have. With an advanced degree in an in-demand field, you might make just enough money to survive, and pay your mortgage or rent. However, the sense of reward and satisfaction is very minute. Life abroad very competitive. You work for many years in the 9-5 rut, and may have nothing to show for it due to heavy taxes and expenses of daily living. Sometimes your work goes unappreciated by your superiors, and promotions may be a mirage. Especially in a place like NYC where I lived for 5 years, is an ocean of brains and talent. You have to be the best of the best, creme de la creme to get to the top. I believe Nigeria needs my talent and expertise. There is enough brain in USA to go around. People need to invest time, energy, and resources in their home countries. There is no place like home. Nigeria here I come!

  5. bukky

    November 25, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    lol…not everyone has the hard life in yankee…depends

  6. Theresa

    November 26, 2009 at 2:23 am

    In my own humble opinion, I think you need to have saved quite a substantial amount of money before going home to invest, because the banks are a bit scared of giving loans especially with Sanusi Fever very much prevalent.

  7. omo urhobo

    November 26, 2009 at 3:33 am

    Im very happy and encouraged by the fact that more young Nigerians are refusing to sit back and watch a nation full of first class brains go to oblivion! Nigeria can be seen in two views depending on your level of foresight! Some see it as a ruined and failed state but others which I am a part of see it as a fresh piece of land waiting to be put to use! I am in the medical field here in Europe and each time I get asked by my collegues what I want to do when Im through specializing and I say go back home, people get very shocked but the way I see it, what use is it sitting in my “comfort zone” complaining about the state of the medical sector and doing nothing to help? I believe I owe it to me and my children to come back home and do my bit! I am very proud of these young people returning to do big things! I am also very proud of Nigerians who even though dont come back home, do their bit in projecting a positive image of the country to the world! God bless Naija! Naija O ni baje o!

  8. duchess419

    November 26, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Nothing is better than home ,take what the west has given you and bring it back to Africa about damn time too.. we have done the 360.

  9. Bolanle

    November 28, 2009 at 1:08 am

    Yes there is no place like home and many opportunities to tap into…Am always proud to hear Nigerians talk this way..Go for it and may God guide you thru.

  10. eclub

    November 28, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Hello Pips,
    Am I the only one seeing a pattern here. The Kabir Audu has loads of stash his father ‘moved’ from Kogi State coffers, Pedro (we know where he’s coming from), Tunde Abdul too…c’mmon dudes, this is no rocket science, the ones coming home are the ones with money to spare…

  11. by

    November 30, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Nigeria is definitely a land of opportunities,having lived in lagos all my life with a good understanding of the business enviroment and then moving abroad 2 years ago, i have come to realise that for me personally it has been a complete waste of my time owning to the fact that i have two masters degrees including an MBA from a prestigious business school.People should realise that nothing good comes easy, it might not be that easy at first but as time goes on things will definitely get better and no matter how well off you are abroad you will always still be a second class citizen in another man’s country. i know a number of people that just got tired of it all and decided to move back home and they are all doing well in their different fields now.

  12. ngum

    December 2, 2009 at 12:34 am

    WOW! this is inspirational.

  13. Bola

    December 7, 2009 at 11:56 am

    How can you be showing films for free? Did you buy the rights from the producers?

  14. WALE ADENIJI

    December 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    As you make that move,God will go with you. Whatever you lay your hands upon will surely prosper in Jesus name. You will never regret ever doing that. I am impressed by comments of people here and i pray am able to get enough money for me to return home and make my own contribution too.We can’t continue to leave the administration of the country in the hands of thieves and corrupt politicians.

  15. Tope

    December 10, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I live in england, blessed with a good IT job, msc degree et al. but still feel unappreciated with my unparalleled efforts at work (ridiculous!). I absolutely hate it here! Also, it rains all the time and income taxes, tv licence, road tax, compulsory car insurance are extremely high. The food is also bad. (its majorly vegies).I go back home every year without wanting to return to england! I get back on the plane after each holiday and feel like a 12yr old going to some tough boarding house. I know naija might seem hard, but if u look deeper, u’ll see progress, increasing success, and i sure wanna be a part of it. Am really planning to go back, either to start my own thing by partnering with a top vendor in europe or just get a good job in lagos or abuja where i know my performance will earn me the bonuses and promotion i deserve. i hate it here so much it sucks!…and again, it never stops raining!

  16. luvlife

    December 10, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Endure honey, focus on your goals, bid your time and ALWAYS be on the look out for opportunities so that you can seize them when they come. I’m sure you’ll be fine.

  17. Derrick

    December 14, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Wow ! Nice to see my fellow comrades waking up to the realities of life. But be careful..that eureka moment when you feel the scales have fallen off your eyes can be very tricky. Make sure you have a safety net.
    I lived in the UK for 7 years. Long enough to know that the English don’t want us there..we’ll still be 2nd class citizens no matter how long you stay there and how much you’ve ‘naturalised’. To be fair on them..it’s a pretty small country and it does feel a little crowded, so naturallly people get defensive when they feel threatened.
    I returned back to Naij..equipped with two degrees from quite good schools, I am looking to start turning my visions for Nigeria into a reality.
    This has not come without its difficulties, the greatest challenge we face as a nation lies in the heart of out greatest resource – the people.
    Our vision for Nigeria has to be aligned, and we should all be able to see Nigeria as that eagle that has lived all its life as a chicken – BUT NOW READY TO SPREAD ITS WINGS AND FLY. We can do it people!

  18. Ruby

    December 18, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    I have a friend called C.C from some where in East Africa who fled country with her parents as a toddler during the Idi Amin persecutions. She lived in England through out her childhood and hardly went back home because of the negative press being propagated by the West about her country. Secondary school, University and a Masters in the UK she got a plum job in one of the Nation’s foremost broadcasting stations settled down to work. She found there was a certain glass ceiling that refused to shift no matter how hard she worked. She also found she was training young, upcoming Oyinbos and they ended up being her bosses at the end of the day! One day she decided to take a trip to her so-called country that was ‘aids-infested, famine and poverty-stricken’ and discovered to her great delight a virgin eldorado land waiting to be conquered. She said in the period she was there she was able to handle jobs that she could only dream about if she was in the UK (upon all her qualifications!) and made enough money to pay of the mortgage on her flat, car etc in just three months of being in ‘backward Africa’. Back in her country she was feated, treated as an expatriate and was able to live in choice plum area and even have a maid, something that would have been near impossible had she been in the UK. Nobody told her to resign her job and move back fully to her country. She now has a thriving business and is one of the authorities in her field in that country. Also her bosses she couldnt even see back then while she was in the UK now confer readily with her because she is an authourity in her field in her country and they know they trained her so they will get their jobs at the quality they are used to. She couldnt be happier! Need I say more…but before you take that plunge its best to plan. Come, on a fact finding mission, make the right contacts and then do it.

  19. joy

    December 18, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I applaud these youth for their faith and determination. There is truth in this article that Nigeria is indeed progressing but is it fast enough? Although I admire these ideals of a superpower unified nation and I could only wish to have similar goals, however, experience tells me we must not neglect the harsh realities of this beloved nation. I do believe, in order to proceed with our future, we must first embrace our weaknesses, in order to overcome them. Nigeria is largely in debt with over $28 billions due to compound interest from foreign creditors in year 2000. Sadly, this is common phenomenon in many developing countries where growing debt is typical for generations. Unicef estimates that over 500000 children under age of 5 die each year as a result of debt crisis. Given the current global economic downturn, and Nigeria being one of Africa’s biggest n most populated countries, can you imagine the outcome? How long will it take for Nigeria to reach global standards? I agree that Nigeria has vast opportunities for the young entrepreneurs, but these comes with conditions of private investments and self funding. How about the majority of lesser means? Are we to become another capitalist nation where the rich grow richer and the poor go poorer? I noticed, these businessmen that have been mentioned above, produce products that cater to those who have money to spend, yet the vast majority has none. People, the solution is in our very own soil. As you all know, this country’s asset is the untapped natural resources. Why are they misused and not exploited to it’s fullest potential, bewilders me. Malaysia has handsomely profited from our palm that we have given them, now they are the 2nd largest producer in the world and the largest exporter. We certainly can learn a thing or two from them. Not to mention Dantata making fortunes from nuts alone. In conclusion, earnings from a sustainable source is wiser for the nation as a whole, as opposed to individual benefits.

  20. ONE

    December 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    I totally agree with eclub. Most of the ones you see coming home are those whose parents or extended family have enough money for them to engage in entrepreneural activities – afterall, if it fails, they either return to where they are coming from or engage in another activity.

    In the first place, a lot those who are abroad or have gone abroad and are very eager to return are the children of those who are or have been in government at one time or the other. They only return because they know that their ‘landing pad’ back home will be softened.

  21. Kwykwy

    December 21, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    What is wrong with having money to spare? So what, if they do? The fact is they are coming to make a change that will provide jobs for a huge number of people. Please see progress and stop being petty!

  22. Living on $1 a week

    December 24, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    If you haven’t lived in Lagos all your life or have a rich family here. I suggest you stay where you are. Lagos life, Nigerian life is not for the faint-hearted. This is a biased, complex, competitive, nepotic, class-driven society. You need a lot of money, friends, favour and luck to start and sustain a successful business out here. Once you are successful be careful your ‘friends’ don’t try to sabotage you. Make sure you set aside a ton of your profits to hand out as ‘PR’ and don’t ever expect to get what you paid for, that would be pushing it. But if you feel you must come here to make your dreams come true I suggest you start with a nightmare. At least that way you won’t be too upset if things don’t work out.

  23. Ayodeji Adewunmi

    December 24, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    The truth is access to finance is important but we all have to realise that it will not take one across the finish line. I think these entrepreneurs and others should be encouraged…it’s a bold step coming home to create wealth and make a difference.

  24. Banke!

    December 25, 2009 at 1:42 am

    Testament to the fact that we need each other. Sometimes we down the west as though they have nothing to offer when in reality, it’s often because of the education and experience we have attained in the west that we can go back home and become top shots. I’m not saying there havent been people who have made it big in Nigeria cos there are plenty but your friend probably would never have made it had she remained in ‘backward Africa’. Let’s temper our love for our Country with reality.

    Also not to be petty as one poster pointed out but true say, if your parents\extended family are or were not bourgie in the first place, going back is tough! Doable but tough.

  25. yd

    December 25, 2009 at 3:18 am

    That is such an ignorant thing to say, i am presently in college in the US and i do want to go home when i am done here but it has nothing to do with my parents working in government or being wealthy. In fact neither of my parents work for the government, neither would they be considered wealthy. I just love my country and that is home for me and i believe i have a duty to do what i can to make it a better place.

  26. silva

    December 25, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    ONE’s comment made a lot of sense to me…
    funni enof d 1st guy looks like d former governor of Kogi state and they share d same last name…just observing…

  27. Samuel

    December 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    It is interesting to know that Nigeria still holds loads of potential, even with loads of nagativity trailing the movement

  28. ufedo

    December 28, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    i saw this article a while back and having spoken to one of these entrpreneurs one on one, i felt quite proud to be nigerian. even more of us ahve a lot to offer, i think if more and more nigerians begin to come home, the lot of us would begin to agitate for better government representation of our common interest and we would indeed make a change.
    some of us are only lucky to have schooled abroad as our parents are not in government or anything so i think its quite petty that some people are saying only those whose parents have money that want to come back home.
    speak for urself! my parents are not rich, infact am here on a scholarship but i am coming back to nigeria because i feel i shud give to my country and not expect it to give to me all the time!

  29. Loche

    March 28, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    You can never go wrong looking back at the huge potentials as Nigeria emerges into society to recon with in terms of business development . with over 150 million people, opportunities are unlimited. My advice to Nigerians who have gone abroad for studies is to come back and develop the nation. there is obviously no place for them in the western world.

  30. Dimmex1010

    April 27, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Is time for Nigerian professionals in US and Europe to raise..not until
    you raise you will remain at the same spot. For most Nigerian professional with
    masters degree from US and Europe you are better off in Nigeria that in US
    or Europe due to the current economic melt down effecting the US and Europe
    job market. Is time to head on home to Nigeria.

  31. Johnny Begood

    May 14, 2010 at 6:26 am

    I dont want to be a spoil sport but as a Nigerian that lives abroad and frequently visit Nigeria, i would advise returnees to go with caution. The desicion to go back home shouldnt be taken in a hurry if one doesnt want to return in a rush. Living in Nigeria is not a joke and a lot of credit should be given to the people that have survived in the country over the years. The first adaptationhas to do with reasoning and planning if you are limited in this area dont expect anyone to help you to survive. Dont always expect your 2+2 will always be 4 because sometimes it doesnt add up and sometimes over. Dont expect family and friends to accomodate you and give u their cars for ever. Dont expect that because you have a lot of stories about abroad favours will be granted above all don expect to be given things based on merit. Even in the banks people that are known to the cashiers will always be served before you and above all dont expect you will walk in to a job because of your degrees. In Nigeria expect to survive based on ur ability and a good support system. If you arent got none. Think again. You will need SIA certificate to get a security job this days.

  32. chizy

    July 15, 2010 at 2:59 am

    All i can say is, if you really crave to go back, ensure you have enough capital and a well planned strategy. If you haven’t spent most of your life in Nigeria it can be tough, ensure you have friends and relatives to help you out.
    There is nothing wrong with the western countries, but how about quality of life? Life is not just about wealth and acquisition, but should involve enjoying the fruite of your labour.
    As for me, i may only be 20years old but once i graduate from law school next year, i hope to go back once i’ve acquired enough work/ business experience, capital and a number of trustworthy friends in Nigeria before packing my bags.

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