Youth Entrepreneurship in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects
Who is a youth?
A youth is any person between the ages of 15 and 35 years according to the African Youth Charter.
Entrepreneurship is setting out to serve humanity using the factors of production—land, labour, and capital. Entrepreneurship is also the addition of value to the lives of people. It is also an attempt to make life easier, more pleasurable, and dignifying for humanity.
Money is society’s response to the good you do to/for them. Their willingness to pay for their service is an exchange of value. They quantify the relief, joy, peace, dignity, and comfort you add to their lives in monetary terms. Their degree of appreciation and value, relative to your inputs, determines your profits.
An entrepreneur does the following:
He/She brings the needs of people to them at affordable prices for which they are ready to part with their money. There is another aspect of sales—value exchange. This involves getting a product where it is cheaper, taking it to where people can buy it at a relatively higher price. The difference between the two prices is the value the people are ready to pay for the services you render to them. Wal-Mart creates value for people by opening shops close to the people and selling at relatively lower prices; that’s why they have high patronage. Pick n Pay, in South Africa, does the same thing. A lot of people from Lebanon, Syria, India, Pakistan, etc. opened small shops in America close to residential areas to save the people the hassles of going to buy things from major markets. A lot of these stores have subsequently transformed into large stores with several branches. They did not need large sums to start small businesses like that.
2. Rendering services
An entrepreneur helps people do what they find difficult to do, are not willing to do, or are too busy to do. An entrepreneur relieves people of the stress of doing things. A young man willing to take and return pupils to school, on behalf of their parents, using his father’s air-conditioned car has started a business. If he carries 20 children, with each paying N25,000 a term, he will generate an income of N500,000. A simple Sienna Space Wagon can carry those children twice. In 3 terms, which make a session, he generates an income of N1,500,000. This will not take him more than 4 hours in a day; in between that period, he has other profitable things he can do. From there, he can start his own transport service, taking a commission for each child, while others do the work.
3. Providing Specialized Services
It is not enough to go for skill acquisition programs; it is necessary to become a specialist. Recently, I changed the engine in one of my school buses and it needed a rewiring of the electrical system. None of the electricians around the city where I stay could affect the change. We had to bring in one from Benin City. He charged N60,000 to do that. He did it in less than 8 hours. The next time I called him, he was in another city to do another one. In a month, he does up to 5 of such specialist jobs. Because he is the only one, around, who knows how to do it, he determines his prices. I interviewed him on how he came about his skills; he said he was concerned about the challenges customers where having with that particular brand of vehicle. This prompted him to go to Lagos and he bought a complete set of the wiring system of that vehicle, took it apart, and reassembled it with another brainbox and ignition system to make it simpler. Today, our youths, who have studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering, are walking around, while somebody is having a turnover of close to about N300,000, a month, besides other petty jobs. A lot of our youths need retraining to acquire specialized skills.
4. Closely following specialized skills is providing solutions for people. Meeting the basic needs of people and solving the problems of people is big business. Transport, haulage, food companies, etc., are all built to sort out people’s problems. Part of entrepreneurship, can be rightly defined as solving people’s problems. The more complex the problem is, the more you are paid. The problem with the Church is that Christians wish and pray problems away. Entrepreneurs find solutions to problems; that’s how they become rich. Ford solved the problem of availability of cars; Bill Gates solved the problem of very large computers by building personal computers. Mike Adenuga solved the problem of telecommunication in Nigeria. The sale of generators in Nigeria, especially the I-pass-my-neighbour type is to solve the problem of darkness in Nigeria.
5. It also means giving out specialized knowledge. Nigerian youths can convert their knowledge to wealth. The agricultural science graduates can teach people feed formulation and become an agricultural consultant. The English Language graduate can edit books and get paid heavily; I know of one.
Every entrepreneur must learn to save and live a simple lifestyle, particularly when you are young; it is better to bear the burden when you are young. A friend of mine, who is currently very rich, Mr. Cyril Ogude, while he was working in London, decided to punish himself and save, overwhelmingly, a great percentage of his income to the extent that his landlord told him that he was wicked to himself. Today, he is enjoying the pleasure of his pains.
You must see yourself as a professional; in any business you do, take yourself seriously. The problem with many young entrepreneurs is that they lack this professional touch. Anything done casually will make you a casualty, someday.
There are 3 types of entrepreneurs:
The necessity entrepreneur—this is where most of our youths fall into. They go into business just because they have nothing to do. They also go into entrepreneurship just for survival—just like a subsistence farmer. Such businesses do not last long. They constitute the 95% of small- and medium-scale enterprises that fail within the first 5 years of establishment.
The next type of entrepreneur is an opportunity entrepreneur. This is an individual who sees a need or a niche and sets out to provide it or fill it. Ughelli, for example, is midway between several cities like Port-Harcourt, Benin, Lagos, Abuja, Asaba, etc. Therefore, some opportunity entrepreneurs have set up restaurants and eateries along the expressway over the years. An opportunity entrepreneur is like a commercial farmer.
The visionary entrepreneur, however, will, for instance, turn his restaurant in Ughelli into an eatery, with a brand, and subsequently turn it into a restaurant chain and a franchise. Juvenik Restaurant chain in Nigeria, started as a small business in the GRA in Port Harcourt. It has spread to other cities like Aba, Lagos, and Abuja. Crunches Fried Chicken, started by Mr. Anazodo, a Pharmacist, has spread to several cities within Nigeria.
The danger in just being an opportunity entrepreneur is that if a threat or challenge confronts that business at a particular time, the business can be squeezed out of existence. The Juvenik Restaurant, mentioned earlier on, had a challenge at Aba, during the kidnapping crisis. However, the ones located elsewhere were thriving. Today, the center at Aba is picking up because the others located in other cities were able to sustain the vision.
The visionary entrepreneur can set out small but has a bigger vision. Mudi Africa, a clothing line, started small, but it has grown beyond Nigeria. As far as your eyes can see is not a distance; it is a future picture that you are willing to pursue and attain.
What opportunities exist for a young entrepreneur in Nigeria?
1. We have a very large population.
The reason young entrepreneurs from the United States, China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia, which have large populations, do well is that there is a large domestic demand for their products.
2. The young entrepreneur in Nigeria should apply C. K. Prahalad’s Base of the Pyramid theorem. C. K. Prahalad stated that society is arranged in a pyramidal form. The very rich occupy the apex of the pyramid. However, the base of the pyramid is occupied by those who earn less than $2.5 daily. Whoever can provide whatever these individuals at the base of the pyramid, which estimates about 4.5 billion people, can buy, use, or demand on a daily basis and in small units, will become rich and attract relevance. The truth of the matter is that it is the money of the poor that make the rich wealthy. That is why multinationals in Nigeria produce milk, beverages, toothpastes, detergents, and whatever the common man will need on a daily basis in small sachets. If you can get 400 people to buy something for N25 each, you’ll get an income of N10,000, N300,000 a month, 3.6 Million Naira in a year, and 36 Million Naira in 10 years from just one product. If you have ten of such products, you’ll make 360 Million turnover in 10 years and it is possible. I call it The Philosophy of the Ant in my book. The Nigerian youth, therefore, should target the base of the pyramid, wherein there is great wealth.
3. Nigeria, like every developing nation, has a lot of problems and problems, as said earlier on, are just a step away from being a source of wealth, once a solution can be provided for them.
4. The information era
Nigeria has one of the fastest growing IT populations in the world. This is an area the average Nigerian youth can plug into. Many of our villages, including our farmlands, have telecommunication networks. This makes it possible to reach the world, wherever you are, from Nigeria. Our youths need to maximize this opportunity.
5. Another area is the need to improve on the very bad services rendered by illiterates, semi-illiterates, and people who are lousy and not diligent. The average Nigerian youth can improve on this from transport, to the food sector, clothing, etc.
6. Nigeria is waiting, desperately, for change in several sectors of the economy. Any smart-thinking youth that can provide this change will make wealth. It must not be assumed that our youths are all poor; there are several of them from very rich families, like the children of Pascal Dozie, who established a café that has gone global.
7. Nigerians have a big appetite and great purchasing power. They are willing to buy anything that is of good quality. An example is in the comedy industry, where people can pay up to N500,000 just to attend a show.
8. Labour is cheap, taxes are low, and Nigerians are very appreciative people for good services.
9. Another advantage a Nigerian youth has is the extended family system that can provide a buffer from accommodation, to soft loans, equipment, and even labour.
What are the challenges facing a young entrepreneur?
- Lack of entrepreneurial training in our school curriculum.
- Lack of mentoring opportunities from successful businessmen and even family members. The only exception we have is from among the Ibos from Southeastern Nigeria that have the apprenticeship scheme. No wonder we have the Ibos excelling in small and medium businesses throughout Nigeria.
- Another problem we have with our youths is the job mentality. Western education, that the average Nigerian youth has received is tailored towards working for someone. Even if they are engaged in a small business, they are always on the lookout for a juicy job.
- The get-quick mindset creates impatience in the average Nigerian youth. It is very obvious from the way we drive, even from the way we eat—that’s why we swallow food whole, without chewing it. The church has not helped matters. The church has created a mindset of a sudden and massive financial breakthrough after sowing seeds or going for night vigils. Young people, therefore, are not ready to wait for the long and painful process it takes for a business to grow. Aliko Dangote is said to have been prayed for by Archbishop Idahosa and that is why he became rich. However, nobody tells you that it has taken him more than 30 years of very tedious work to reach that level.
- Lack of integrity is another challenge amongst our youths. Integrity, performance, and reputation form the tripod on which successful businesses grow. The average Nigerian youth, even from his exams, likes to cut corners. They don’t believe in principles, processes, procedures, before expecting proceeds. That’s why a lot of them are ready to kill and even eat human excrement to get rich quick.
- Lack of startup capital can also be challenging.
- The Church mentality: The average Nigerian youth can spend 40 days doing night vigils, hoping that will bring a breakthrough. Towards the end of the year, Nigerians spend so much time doing programs—Crossover to takeover—while their colleagues, who will dominate the economy are doing “thinkover” to takeover.
- At the beginning of the year, some churches encourage their members to bring their first salaries as first fruits, after a lot of extravagant expenses during the Christmas holidays. The resultant effect is that the average Nigerian youth, including their parents, if involved, get into the new year with very little investment capacity and a lot of debts, ranging from house rents to tuition fees. The first fruit teaching, besides being an Old Testament, was based on an agricultural setting. The prolonged fasting and night vigils will grossly affect any individual’s thinking capacity, particularly at the beginning of the year.
- The average Nigerian youth has an entitlement mentality—believing that God or the government will do everything or provide all he needs to take-off in life. For some of us the best things our parents and government gave to us is the opportunity to have a good education and nothing else. We took off from there. Today, you see 30 year-old adult males still living with their parents, all in the name of unemployment, while 35 year-old Isaac Mwaura has defied all odds to become a senator in Kenya. I opened my first practice at the age of 29; my father was a security guard in a hotel at Warri, then. I was taking care of my aged parents and an elder brother, who was mentally retarded. I had a wife and a son during Youth Service to also take care of. Since the age of 29, I have never worked for any person. I set out on my own to do petty trading alongside my work between 26 and 27 years old to raise capital to start my practice. It wasn’t easy, but I was looking forward to the gains behind the pains.
- Another problem with the Nigerian youth is simulation, instead of dissimulation. If you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, learn to live as a poor man but have the mindset of a rich man. The average young Ibo entrepreneur, who earns his money legitimately, is very frugal. Same with Indians, Lebanese, and Syrians. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were in a picture with simple clothing, no Rolex wristwatches, and no gold chains. Recently, I was trekking back home with my son, who is an entrepreneur. We were greeted by a young pastor, who had an armed mobile policeman standing guard over him in a business premises. I had no guard; not even a Boys’ Brigade or Girl Guides personnel. The owner of the business, whose son is a multi-millionaire like his father, does not move around with armed guards. That is the problem of simulation and over-packaging. The average Nigerian youth packages emptiness. Money that should have been used to grow their businesses is diverted to live a life of impression.
- Finally, the interest rates in Nigeria are too high and there are no startup capitals. Also lack of social infrastructure like electricity, good roads, etc. could be a challenge.
However, despite all these odds, a lot of young Nigerian entrepreneurs have done very well.