Youth Embrace Entrepreneurship to Tackle Unemployment in Nigeria
Fashogbon Abiodun David, 34, is the CEO of Fashi Fizzie, a fashion boutique, and Fizzie Republic, a marketing company, in Ibadan, a small city in southwestern Nigeria.
David says he started his business a decade ago with less than $20 USD.
“Yeah!” he says. “I started with 2,650 naira [NGN ($16.65 USD)]. I ventured into business to conquer poverty.”
David started out in 2001 selling suya, a shish kebab with thinly sliced meat and seasoning, at the University of Ibadan. As his business evolved, he decided to venture into cosmetics, while selling suya on the side, before embracing the fashion and marketing sector fully in 2008.
But he says the transition was not easy. One of the challenges he faced was intimidation from established companies, which he calls “sharks” and says almost forced him to fold.
“The sharks are the big existing businesses that frowns at competition,” he says.
Although society has developed since David launched his company, he says the challenges entrepreneurs currently face are similar, including business intimidation, intelligence theft, funding and electricity.
To overcome these challenges, he says he’s careful about where he discusses his ideas and bought a generator to provide electricity for his company. But he says physical abuse from business rivals is out of his control.
“I was beaten up by a fellow businessman because he was afraid I will take up the business,” he says of a 2009 incident. “The trauma was so much I wanted to close my doors.”
But he says he pressed forward and didn’t even report his assailants because he was more concerned about the future and moving forward.
“I was slapped four times, punched in the chest the first time and a repeated attack the next day,” he says. “I was slapped six times again without raising a finger because of where we are going in the future.”
Since 2001, this Nigerian entrepreneur has expanded his enterprise. David now has four employees.
He says he hopes the government will start to provide more assistance to entrepreneurs so that he can continue to grow his business without fear of violence.
“Government can protect small businesses by establishing good judicial system to punish business intimidation,” he says.
He says that the media should also keep the public informed if opportunities for government funding arise.
Like most young entrepreneurs, he believes the way forward to tackling poverty in Nigeria is through entrepreneurship.
“The strength of a nation is the power of individual character,” he says. “America is what it is because of world-class entrepreneurs that are there: Bill Gate[s] of Microsoft, Steve Jobs of Apple and Larry Ellison of Oracle, Diddy of Sean John.”
Entrepreneurs say that starting businesses, while challenging, holds the key to Nigeria’s economic future. Some have even started nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, to promote entrepreneurship and business education as solutions to youth unemployment. The government has been developing several initiatives to develop youth, including the launch of a youth entrepreneurial competition this month.
The national labor participation rate for Nigerians 15 and older is less than 60 percent, according to the World Bank’s most recent statistics. More than half of Nigerians live at the national poverty line.
Young Nigerians ages 20 to 40 make up almost half of the nation’s population, according to 2011 statistics by the National Population Commission and the World Bank. Many say this pins Nigeria’s hopes for a strong economic future on its youth.
David is not alone in his belief in entrepreneurship as the key to Nigeria’s economic future.
Jacob Ajayi, 26, a digital marketing strategist, is a pioneering partner of Flying Antlers, a digital marketing firm based in Lagos. He is also the chief operating officer of a new product the firm launched just last month, ADPlacers.com, a platform created to address the challenges of online marketing in Nigeria and Africa.
Ajayi traces his venture into entrepreneurship back to before his college years.
“I started even before I gained admission into school,” he says.
He started small.
“I got a loan from my dad, about 40,000 [naira NGN ($250 USD)].”
He used this to set up a public game center in the Lagos mainland metropolis. But he says the business failed. He says he couldn’t repay the loan to his father, who had warned him that entrepreneurship was risky.
“Unfortunately, I was only able to return 3,000 [naira NGN ($20 USD)].”
Undeterred, Ajayi set up a small computer center to provide email services to students at the University of Lagos, where his friends were in school.
“I had a couple friends that I visited,” he says. “Anytime I came around, I got mails opened.”
For a fee, he helped the students seeking employment to create email accounts, upload their CVs online, send emails and perform other Internet tasks. This was in 2001, when Internet services were not popular in Nigeria.
“I needed to find something to do,” he says. “I started by helping people upload their CV online at a fee.”
He says starting a business is all about providing solutions to what others need.
“If you are in any place, make sure you identify a particular problem people have and solve them,” Ajayi says.
Flying Antlers, the marketing company he started with his friend in 2010, now has between eight to 10 people on the payroll working full time or on a freelance basis.
Continuing to expand his reach, Ajayi is also currently a postgraduate student studying business education at the University of Lagos.
“In a way, it opens my mind to different vocational options and how to encourage people to get something started,” he says.
Another entrepreneur, Damilola Osilaja, in her mid-20s, launched her own business initiative six months ago. The initiative, called OneGoal, is a corporate social responsibility consulting firm.
But she still keeps her day job as a project officer in an NGO based in Lagos while her firm is still in its nascent stages.
“One of the reasons is funding because for me to be able to fund my own company, I will first need to work for a while,” she says. “I need the experience as much as I need the funding.”
She admits that keeping two jobs is difficult, but she says that her business venture doesn’t detract from her full-time job.
“This consulting job is part-time,” she says. “It does not interfere with main job.”
But she says it’s also important not to let full-time jobs drain aspiring entrepreneurs of their visions.
“Being an entrepreneur is difficult, especially in a country like Nigeria,” she says. “If you have a vision you want to do, it is best you keep that vision to yourself. Don’t lose the vision.”
Osilaja says that the main challenge in entrepreneurship is starting up.
“I know a lot of Nigerians who are smart and have ideas, but they don’t know where to start from,” she says.
Osilaja says funding is crucial.
“There are some people their parents or guidance can assist with capital,” she says.
For those whose parents can’t give them money, she suggests finding another way to earn capital.
“But do not start something without income,” she says. “You should be doing things that will bring in income.”
She says that people should also use their visions to help one another.
“I am passionate about positive growth,” she says. “At OneGoal, we help people help others. Helping others is key to national development. In this country, like most countries, people are very selfish. If we can remove that selfishness, a country like Nigeria will grow.”
Oluwatosin Agboola, 26, is doing just that. Agboola started Campus Attention, an NGO that is committed to the development of Nigerian youth on university campuses, in 2008. The project is one of many youth-driven NGOs that have been springing up to tackle the issue of youth unemployment in Nigeria.
“Projections indicate that the population of our subregion will cap 430 million inhabitants by 2020, with an ever-increasing number of young people seeking employment, accompanied by the ever-stronger pressure, which is being brought to bear on land and urban agglomerations,” he says.
He says that Campus Attention promotes entrepreneurship among youth.
“We are committed to raising the standard of economic activities of our continent,” Agboola says. “We encourage youths to start business in their areas of passion, as this will help combat unemployment.”
Agboola says that entrepreneurship is an economic solution to unemployment.
“For any serious-minded youth, I will [advise] them to take up to entrepreneurship,” he says. “We must think outside the white-collar job and look inside.”
He says that agriculture is one sector that is rich with opportunities for entrepreneurs.
“Agriculture is one large sector that can help curb the unemployment monster if our government can lend a little hand and let us produce our food ourselves,” he says.
Agboola says his own passion for entrepreneurship is what drives him to nurture other aspiring entrepreneurs. While studying in university, he says he used entrepreneurship to sustain himself.
“I can still remember when I started my first venture, a campus magazine then at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife,” he says.
He says it was not without its challenges.
“I was beaten up by a printer for my inability to balance him 1,000 [naira NGN ($6.20 USD)],” says Agboola, whose sister eventually paid the printer for him. “I cried to my elder sister, who bailed me.”
Agboola blames the increase in the unemployment rate on the lack of business education among Nigerian youth.
“Our schools are not making us useful to ourselves but only teaching us how to be a good laborer and not a master,” he says.
He advocates for a revamp of the Nigerian education curriculum.
“Let’s draw up a modern university curriculum to reflect our present-day challenges and solution, so that we can produce employers of labor and not jobless generation of youths.”
In addition to organizing different campus outreach initiatives at the grassroots level, his organization is currently working on establishing what he says will be Nigeria’s first student enterprise fund.
“This is a pool of fund specifically for student entrepreneurs or those intending to become an entrepreneur,” he says.
The fund will aim to contribute to the promotion of youth entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
“Since our government, banks and other financial institutions are not ready to help us, we have decided to help ourselves at the grassroots level,” Agboola says.
Ajayi says he is unaware of any government support for entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
“I don’t know any government support,” he says. “They need to come down to the level of the youth. We still see government as people that are up there and not accessible.”
He says that social media has helped bridge the gap.
“Thank God for social media,” he says. “If not for Twitter and Facebook, the only time we see the government is when we buy newspapers or watch TV. One thing they need to do is to come down to our level through local or regional meetings where youths can access the leaders. Our youths are innovative, [but] we need someone to carry us along.”
“It will be good if the government support entrepreneurs by organizing seminars, workshop, etc.,” Osilaja says. “The government should train youths more on how to start their own businesses.”
The government has developed various strategies to tackle youth unemployment.
This month, President Goodluck Jonathan launched the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria, a business plan competition. The competition aims to create jobs by encouraging and supporting entrepreneurial youth to develop and execute business ideas.
Last month, Alhaji Bolaji Abdullahi, the newly appointed minister for youth development, organized a youth forum for selected youth leaders in Nigeria. The interactive session aimed to share information about the federal government’s plan to engage Nigerian youths in decision-making processes as well as other facets of Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda, a youth development strategy.
Abdullahi said that his administration would leverage off the passion and energy of Nigerian youth to address the different challenges they face. He urged the youth to embrace the ministry as their own by sharing ideas and not leaving the responsibilities of addressing these challenges to the government alone.
“I cannot understand issues of young people better than young people,” he said.
Najmuddeen Imam Abubakar, the director of Youth Enterprises Development and Promotion under the Ministry of Youth, said at the forum that the new administration would collaborate with other ministries and youth-focused organizations to address youth unemployment.
“These issues of entrepreneurship and skill acquisition are not one man’s business,” he said. “It is very important. The collaboration will take effect immediately.”
In 2010, the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, an agency set up by the government to look into the challenges of Nigerian education, developed a new senior secondary school curriculum that aims to ensure that every graduate is well-prepared for higher education and has acquired relevant functional trade and entrepreneurship skills needed for poverty eradication, job creation and wealth generation.
But Ajayi warns relying too heavily on the government, insisting on the responsibility of the citizens themselves.
“Everybody is blaming the government,” he says. “We should stop doing that. We are all responsible for the current situation.”
Ajayi emphasizes passion and innovation.
“Create something out of your passion, and start pushing it forward,” he says. “Our forefathers were not educated, but they were able to survive because they never relied on education or the government to provide everything for them. This made them innovative.”
Ajayi encourages youths to be creative.
“To tackle the unemployment rate, it is about going back to the basics,” Ajayi says. “Youth need to be innovative, think outside the box. Diversification is key so that at the end of the day, you can count different means of income.”