I recently met with a young Nigerian living in the diaspora, who was seriously thinking of permanently moving back home. She was back in the country for a short holiday and wanted to use the opportunity to build contacts and generally lay down the markers for when she would eventually return. From the look in her eyes, by the time I was done, I was sure I had done an incredible job of discouraging her; which wasn’t my intention but in my usual mode of ‘brutal honesty’ I did more damage than good.
So, I thought to pen down my thoughts in a friendlier manner. If you’re looking to return to Nigeria to run a business or attempting to ‘revolutionize how things are done in Nigeria’ then this is for you.
Unlearn All You’ve Learned About Doing Business
Principles are universal, as they say, but the applications are local. Nigeria is really a unique setting that the laws of networking, follow up, collaborations, etc are all with a small tweak. While in the diaspora, everybody is on first name basis, you can lose a major opportunity in Nigeria just because you called the other party by their first name.
We are Really Not 190 Million People
I am not even talking about how many we are, I am talking about the available market most business plans quote as an indicator for possible success. The truth is that over 60% of Nigerians are very poor and if you’re not selling sachet items, then note that your market is closer to 20 million spread over the 36 states of the federation. These are the people who can afford to use payment solutions or can view videos off the internet, etc. Now this 20 million are spread over all demographics, which even narrows your market even more.
Everybody is Bulls#!+ting
I know this is an over generalization, but to an extent, everybody is trying to finesse what they are actually doing. Some even conceptualize it from the angle of having faith (calling those things that be not as though they were). Others are just straight up painting pictures that aren’t true. My advice? Take everything with a pinch of salt.
Image is Everything
In Nigeria, what you know isn’t really as important as what you have or your status in the society. So while you may be able to take the train to meetings abroad, in Nigeria, the type of car you drive is a major contributor to how smoothly some deals go. Your Instagram page carries more weight than your intellectual ability in many spheres; and generally, how you show up is the real measure of your worth. I often struggle with explaining this, as it portrays us as a shallow people but this isn’t an article of what we should be.
Who You Know is Far More Important Than What You Know
Nigeria leaves you scratching your head on a lot of things. The most qualified isn’t assured the job, as the person that’s a 2nd cousin to the main decision maker …and this happens a lot more than we realize.
Understand that Nigerians Do Not Like Change
On common thing I hear with people trying to return here to do business is “I want to revolutionize the way Nigerians” Blah blah blah…
This for me, is the fastest way to frustration and depression, because while Nigerians love to mouth change, they are uncomfortable with changing how they do stuff. It may not be efficient, “But this is how we’ve always done things”
Prepare for Any-How-Ness
I first saw the word (anyhowness) off the Twitter, and while it seems odd, it’s probably one of the best ways to capture the general feel of Nigeria. From the wide scope of police profiling to the way we drive in Nigeria, everything is just anyhow.
The headlines puzzle you on how we could even thing like we do but the fact remains, it’s who we are as a people. Coming from a society with structure on most things, this will probably be your rudest shock. It will offend you constantly and may affect your ability to work because you’re trying to point out that “things shouldn’t be so” but the earlier you realize that your dealing with a mindset cultivated over decades, the quicker you will be to finding your peace within the chaos.
The point is not to discourage you, but to open your eyes to the reality of things. I know that we have made entrepreneurship sexy and romanticized the thought of coming back to make a difference, but while you’re at it, understand that Nigeria is trying to keep you out to remain as it is.
So, do your homework and get prepared because it’s a jungle out here.