Youth Entrepreneurship: The Nigerian Experience

By Okeke Chibueze

The harsh economic reality in Nigeria has succeeded in pushing a lot of young persons into various forms of entrepreneurial endeavours. Many of our youths are learning to depend less on parents and guardians or even the government of the day. This is very commendable as we are gradually building for ourselves a future of business owners, manufacturers, distributors and marketers; men who will drive the economic future of this country in the right direction

There is, however, a very pathetic reality in all of this. The common entrepreneur in Nigeria has no hope of any form of encouragement from the government of the day. A good number of us have heard or read the stories of men like Bill Gate, Donald Trump, Aliko Dangote, etc., how these men started with little and are today world economic leaders in various areas. A well-known truth, however, is that these men got to where they are today because of the support they got at the early stage of their businesses. For example, Donald Trump got a grant of One Million Dollars to start up his business while Aliko Dangote got Five Hundred Thousand Naira to start up his. While these men can boast of being great motivations to the succeeding generations, these generations are still yearning for a replication of the experience they had as regards support especially financial. Truth be told, there are thousands and millions of ideas in the minds of the average Nigerian youth but most times these ideas die with the youths as a result of the many factors militating against these youths and their ideas. Some of these challenges are outlines below:

  1. Finance
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This, all youth entrepreneurs will agree with me, is the most important setback that every idea suffers, especially in Nigeria. I have met a lot of young persons with very wonderful business ideas, ideas you would hear and ask yourself, “Why has none of these men who have the money to execute these things not thought of them all along?”; ideas that are so unique that you could see through the many solutions it will proffer to the needs of the society alongside the many jobs these ideas would create if executed. However, due to lack of finance, these youngsters retreat to their shells, hoping that one day they will meet that one person who will make their dreams of creating a better society in their own ways come true. Consequently, we continue to suffer from the pains and agony fostered on us by the problems these ideas could have solved; we continue to blame the government of the day or worst still, we blame some innocent elders in the village for our woes without knowing that solutions we seek abide with us. Sooner than later, these young persons grow old and complacent, resort to “getting married and settling down with a ‘well-paying’ job”, family responsibilities set in and this becomes enough distraction from whatever dreams and aspirations s/he may have nursed. Thus, at old age he looks back and regrets not having the opportunity to live his dreams, and only hope that the generation after him may experience something better than he did.

I have also heard from some “established” business owners who make bold to claim that finance is not the problem. They come with so many motivational quotes to make you believe that you can start up your business without money and I wonder how.

How do you tell a young man without a source of income to continue to push on?

How do you tell a man with great dreams and ideas to keep working on them with an empty stomach?

How do you preach the sermon of perseverance to a man who has not eaten in the past 24hours and is still not sure of when the next meal will be?

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At times I see this as wickedness by those who are too stingy to help those below them on the ladder. While some of them preach this sermon to you, you see them spend millions dolling out gifts in cash and material things to their sycophants as they prepare to seek election or re-election into various political offices. Some of them do not look back when they spend on those of the opposite sex who satisfy their sexual urges but will remind you how they suffered from nothing, and so you should also suffer to get to where they are. They would rather have you coming for the crumbs from their tables than set you up on the ladder of success. Thus, year in year out you keep depending on them, and this gives them the satisfaction that like Abraham, they fees over 180 servants everyday.

Dwelling on the topic of finance for young entrepreneurs get me emotional as I have had really bad experiences both personal and non-personal.

The government of the day has not been helpful either. Workers in various government establishments continue to display the act of nepotism and selfishness in discharging their duties and no one puts them to check. The acclaimed centres for SMEs, instead of being a pillar of support for the entrepreneurs end up frustrating them with demands they cannot meet.

Else, how do you demand a landed property from a young university graduate who is trying to find his feet in one entrepreneurial endeavour or the other as collateral for accessing loans provided by the government? What happens to mentorship and strict follow up, even if he has to submit his financial report on quarterly basis so he will be well-guided on making his business grow? How about establishing a partnership deal with these entrepreneurs so you have a share and a say in the business and so be able to directly influence decisions such that he is not left to run down the new business as a result of inexperience?

Where is a young entrepreneur who wants to go into event planning expected to get a car as collateral for seeking loans for his business?

I am of the opinion that some of these protocols are outdated and needs serious review if we must have a strong economy in the nearest future.

Banks and financial institutions are another pain in the ass. Besides demanding unrealistic collaterals, they request for interest rates that make it obvious that you are working indirectly for them. However, these same banks will willingly give established businessmen and women loans at very low interest rates, thereby making the rich richer while the poor boy who wants to establish a catering business is left to continue struggling with two pots and one cooler. Another funny demand from banks is this, “Go and run your business for one year, after that, we check the progress of your business and decide whether or not you deserve a loan from us.” Wow! Really! Run my business for a year? How? With which money? If I had he money to even start the business would I have approached you in the first place? How longer do we want to hold on to these outdated policies before er begin to consider a radical change of them?

These statements have pushed so many young and vibrant minds into depression and frustration. Some who can, hold on as long as possible while those who cannot resort to various forms of vices as a result of pressure from various quarters. Some just dump their ideas and succumb to the pressure of getting a regular job just to stay alive while others become suicidal as they cannot imagine living without their dreams.

This and many more ways we have continued to bury great dreams and ideas alive in this country.

  1. Lack of Necessary Skills

Last week I write on A VOICE FOR CHILD LABOUR where I spoke on the need to begin to allow children learn some basic business skills at a very tender age. This way, as they grow older, they imbibe some basic managerial skills, entrepreneurial skills, marketing skills and all. Most young entrepreneurs have this as a challenge because over the years, all they know have been academics and spirituality. There was never a time when they prepared themselves for the harsh reality that they will have to decide their own fate after college or the university. Thus, at the age where they should be handling bigger responsibilities, they are still making some basic mistakes which will end up costing them more than it would have had they made them many years before.

We should learn to provide a wide platform for our youngsters to explore the environment in which they have found themselves. The urge to protect them from making mistakes has continued to limit them in many ways. Some times, we are not even careful about their mistakes, rather we are more concerned about the “good name” we have build for ourselves and how we do not want them to destroy it by making mistakes and “dragging our names to the mud”. Our desire for a perfect public image limits is from the benefits of raising children who can handle what we will be leaving behind in years to come. In the end, these children grow up to face the harsh reality of making those mistakes at an older age.

  1. Environmental Factors

This has a way of limiting the innovative and creative minds of the young persons. For instance, young entrepreneurs grow up to see those of the older generation getting involved in a particular form of business, and they follow suit. Most times with little or no modifications. Some just continue with the trend due to fear of starting something new which may not thrive. Using the Nsukka metropolis of Enugu State as an example, one will not fail to notice the proliferation of hotels, bars and resorts around the Nsukka Campus of the University of Nigeria. There is rarely any neighbourhood you get to without seeing about five to ten bars side by side, all selling the same brands of drinks, nkwobi, isi ewu, chicken and all, and of course with loud music blaring from their speakers all competing for attention. You will even find it difficult to decipher between what you hear from one speaker from what you hear from the other. All you get is a cocktail of noise and air pollution from the kitchens and tobacco puffs competing with the stench from the drainage around these bars. As for the hotels, between Onuiyi Junction and Odenigbo Round About, you have almost ten hotels and more are still springing up, all competing for patronage from students, staff and guests of the university community. The only difference between one hotel or the other may be a swimming pool or the availability of a night club in one as against it’s unavailability in the other. Yet every year this same university and its host community churn out graduates who are pushed into the labour market with little or no consideration for what exactly they wish to go into. Yet around this same university community lie thousands of business ideas that can be exported to every part of the world but no one considers them because their proponents are young persons who have no money to execute them, and those who have the money would rather spend them on already existing and competition ridden business ideas.

It is important that the rich ones among us begin to think outside the box. We will not all own hotels and relaxation spots; we will not all sell cars and car parts, there are untapped business ideas which we can decide to go into and thus break up the fallow grounds there. We can become trail blazers in many ways and many sectors and yet do well therein. We must not wait until someone starts it before we all queue in to start competing for attention. Someone started sealing ice water into sachets and that is why we have the popular pure water today. Someone thought of the loss in the production and breakage of bottles and decided to make cans and plastic containers for drinks, thus we have almost every brand of drinks in cans and plastic containers today. Someone came up with the idea of manufacturing solar power generators locally instead of depending on importation, and today solar has become very cheap and available to many.

It is an insult to creativity to continue to repeat what many are doing already, thereby causing saturation in the market and still wondering why we do not rise above convention in our endeavours. According to a friend of mine, Pastor Felix, we must always strive to “Be the First or Be the Best”.

  1. Discouragement from Family and Friends

Another major setback young entrepreneurs face when they want to get into one entrepreneurial endeavours or the other is serious discouragement from family and friends. There are those who, out of sincere concerns for our safety, prefer to see us remain within that comfort zones they have created for themselves and for others that they would not want to see you take the quantum leap. I call them naysayers. Once it rocks their comfort zones, it is a dangerous adventure, and so not worth the risk. They will feed you with hundreds, nay thousands of examples of those who have tried it before you and failed woefully, and according to them, you’re no better than they. These naysayers do not and will never see or talk about the few who have succeeded because, according to them, those ones were just lucky or they knew someone who knew someone who made it work for them.

Some will give you an unsolicited analysis of yourself, your weaknesses and your errors just to prove to you that you are too inadequate to venture into that business. These are the kind of persons to who me your eyes and ears must be closed if you must move ahead. Truthfully, some of their concerns may be sincere and real, and it is necessary you consider the best way to overcome such weaknesses or challenges, but it is never an option to quit your ideas and dreams for fear of losing. As Falz would put it, “If we don’t try we will never get to know”. You never know what you are capable of until you have tried. You never know your limits until you have stretched yourself.

Another aspect of this discouragement is where we find it more difficult convincing our family and friends to patronize us when we have finally started up the business. Some of the reasons for this will be outlined under the subtopic CRAZE FOR CLASS. But just for a hint, most times we are seen as people who are just experimenting, and so no one wants to give us a try. Those who want to do so begin to request that we give them whatever product or service we offer for free, after all, it is a new idea and no one knows whether or not it would work.

Thus, the entrepreneur is left to build his business without funds, and at the same time, supply it for free, thus having no option but to go bankrupt over time because no one is willing to support financially of otherwise. In all of these, no one asks how he feeds, pays his bills, takes care of his daily needs or those of his family, if any. This is why those who struggle through this thorn-infested route to greatness end up becoming extremely capitalist in nature, and then you see the same society which never supported them asking for benefits from him like he owes them.

It is an insult to creativity to continue to repeat what many are doing already, thereby causing saturation in the market and still wondering why we do not rise above convention in our endeavours. According to a friend of mine, Pastor Felix, we must always strive to “Be the First or Be the Best”

  1. Craze for Class

Our society has so decayed to the point where class has become more important than any other thing. Social media has not helped matters in any way as everyone comes online to compete for things that in real life they can only dream of having. The desire to show off has kept many of us away from supporting or patronizing our local products and services not because they are not of quality but because they have no name.

A young person would rather spend thousands of naira on designer shoes, bag, perfumes and clothes than patronize a friend or former college mate of his who makes this things in Aba, Onitsha or Nsukka. His reasons, it will surprise you, may be far from quality. It is most likely because he cannot stand in the midst of his friends who wear Gucci, Dolce and Gabanna, etc. to showcase an “Aba Made” show or bag. They will call him a local boy. We would rather import Venza, Ferrari and all from wherever than buy an Innoson Vehicle because it is made in Nigeria, after all, what are we good at?

Examples abound on how we strangulate our local contents and budding entrepreneurs just because we want to belong to the class of people who use designer products. We forget that these designer products are local to some persons and they built and supported them over time before they became a brand to be coveted. We can heap the blames for our suffering economy on the government of the day but if we must tell ourselves the truth, we have more roles to play in ensuring that these new and small businesses thrive and grow into multinationals, thus saving us a future that is uncertain and bleak

  1. Lack of Protection for Intellectual Property

To put it fairly, there are laws on ground to help protect intellectual properties in Nigeria but it is obvious we have many laws which know no implementation in the country, and this, unfortunately, happens to be one of them. The few efforts young entrepreneurs make at protecting their creativity are met with steep resistance either from bottlenecks and protocols that are very frustrating or from very expensive demands from the body meant to facilitate these things. For instance, I remember when I called a staff of Corporate Affairs Commission to inquire about registration of business name for my company “GoldLeaf78” and he told me it would cost N20,000.00. For the reason that I had urgent need of the business name, I went through it. Few months later I called the same staff to enquire about Trade Marks and he said it would cost me N70,000.00 to trademark a product of my company. I did not bother searching further as I know I may get it cheaper.

It is quite painful when you hear some persons complain of how their ideas were stolen by some moneybags after they pitched same to a panel who told them off only to go into executing these ideas. Of course they have no money for litigation and so the best would be to resign to fate, hoping that they one day they make enough money still execute their ideas somehow or just hope that the intellectual thief meets karma some day some how.

In conclusion, encouraging youth entrepreneurship is a task for everyone who hopes, dreams or wishes for a better economic future for this country. There are a whole lot of works to be done and except all hands are on deck to see this come to pass, we will remain stagnant or rather, continue to retrogress into poverty and recession over the next years. It is not wisdom to leave everything to the government, especially one which is not sure of which direction to take the country. It is important we contributor our quota individually and collectively to ensure those young chaps trying to build something around us thrive, maybe not for their own good but for ours. By encouraging and motivating them, by supporting them in one way or the other, we are establishing for our children platforms for job creation and further empowerment tomorrow.

The earlier we begin to encourage this, the better for us because whether we like it or not, the current multinationals will phase out one day and if we don’t build these ones today, there will be none to replace them when they are gone.

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