By Peter Osalor
Emerging out of a turbulent past, Nigeria is in the process of building a prosperous economy through business endeavors aimed at creating new opportunities all over the country.
Much of its focus has been at the college level, where future entrepreneurs are being trained and instructed on the steps to building viable businesses. Great strides are being taken in this direction through local and aided programmes such as the Exxon Mobil and International Finance Corporation partnership that resulted in the Support and Training Entrepreneurship Program (STEP).
Nigerians wishing to build their own businesses would do well to learn from the bottom_ up and equip themselves with the skills necessary to meet the creative challenges of entrepreneurship. The skills necessary to take the local economy into overdrive are simultaneously as simple as stock_taking, marketing, and accounting; and as complex as creating joint ventures that grow to be hugely successful business.
Entrepreneurship education, which has been made mandatory for Nigerian college students of all disciplines, is the key first step to creating and sustaining a valuable business. Due to the countryâ€™s booming informal economy, there is a substantial population that is already conversant in entrepreneurial dynamics by virtue of apprenticeship or involvement in family business.
From a historical perspective, Nigeria is still in its infancy. The return of democracy in 1999 after almost half a century of bitter conflict and political turmoil paved the way for political stability and a revival of national aspirations. The government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo unveiled the nationâ€™s ambitious 2020 campaign to take the country to the top 20 world economies by that year.
An extensive and ongoing reforms programme has helped recover some lost ground, and the country currently ranks 41st in global GDP rankings. More importantly, it achieved a fourfold increase in the size of its economy in a ten_year period from $36 billion in 1997 to $165 billion in 2007, making it the second largest economy in the continent after South Africa.
However, there is a persistent and disturbing underside to these achievements. Nigeriaâ€™s human development indices remain abysmal, with more than half of its 148 million people living on less than $1 per day. More than anything, these facts indicate huge economic imbalances largely attributable to the countryâ€™s prolonged overdependence on oil and gas exports to the detriment of local enterprise and non_industrial sectors. The success of the countryâ€™s renewed economic goals is contingent to a large extent on entrepreneurship development that adequately harnesses its abundant natural and human resources. Promoting business development from the micro_level onwards is the only way for Nigeria to achieve its long_term goals.
The first step towards building a viable business empire is developing an entrepreneurial temper _ through formal training and the acquisition of skills relevant to Nigeriaâ€™s local realities. That the federal government places a premium on entrepreneurship training is evident from the fact that it made it a mandatory part of college education across all disciplines. The opportunity for vocational and practical skills_development training is a prerequisite for emerging entrepreneurs.
The second step is the application of this training to a viable business model. Unemployment is a critical handicap for Nigeria, with more than 40 million of its people jobless according to the World Bankâ€™s latest figures.
The corollary to this has been a proliferation of the informal economy that has traditionally sustained the countryâ€™s urban and rural poor.
Activities in the informal economy cover an extremely wide spectrum of products, services and financial operations _ from machine_shop manufacturing, through utility services to contributory funding _ that account for an estimated 65% of Gross National Product. These traditional activities provide the backdrop against which emerging enterprises can flourish, by drawing from their collective experience and combining them with new business procedures.
The third step is the employment of new business models, primarily with regards to accessing equity participation rather than collateral debt. Enhanced business productivity also requires infrastructure development and removal of trade and administrative constraints. Developing enterprises must work to acquire technical support and capacity building assistance.
Due to the realization that technology is crucial for business development, there has been a surge in Internet providers and cafes across Nigeria as more and more people go online to both start new enterprises and expand existing ones.
The Internet also provides the means for the fourth step, which is collaboration with other ventures or offshore investors to develop businesses in a global perspective and beyond national borders. Such endeavours, by extension, will lead to the creation of not just wealth, but employment opportunities and ancillary enterprises that will drive Nigeriaâ€™s dream of becoming and economic superpower.
The benefits of a successful business often go beyond its apparent achievements, and this holds especially true for Nigeria.
Entrepreneurship provides a productive outlet for Nigerians looking to be self_employed. It also creates beneficial competition and helps the development of innovative business practices. Most importantly, however, Nigeriaâ€™s enterprise development initiatives will help mobilize its immense human resource potential for sustainable and inclusive growth.
Individual enterprise is unfortunately not enough to advance Nigeria on the path to a superior economic standing in the world. There is a significant administrative and policy component determining the success of any emerging business empire. Most of Nigeriaâ€™s reforms process has therefore been skewed towards developing the correct environment to nurture business development. The countryâ€™s policy makers need to concentrate on a few key areas:
â€œÂ Â Â Prioritizing and reinvigoration of the non_oil sector through effective changes in policy and governmental outlook.
â€œÂ Â Â Consolidation of lending institutions to enhance access and availability of finance to the private sector, especially in the MSME segment.
â€œÂ Â Â Developing more effective coordination between various government, donor and private sector agencies.
â€œÂ Â Â Reducing high business costs by correcting inherent deficits by way of infrastructure, policy and implementation.
Building a successful business empire in Nigeria has its share of imponderables, largely owing to the nascent state of its economy and the imbalances that continue to stunt rapid growth. More than anything else, it requires a creative outlook, at both individual and government levels, and an attitude that will foster wholesome prosperity.