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Yesterday, I was having a discussion with a friend and he asked what I think is the reason why a lot of successful manufacturing companies in Nigeria are owned by Indians. Think La Casera. Chivita. And many other silently doing well companies in Nigeria.

image: thelacaseracompany.com

I have met a lot of Indians in Nigeria and almost started a company with one. When they talk about Nigeria it's as if it's a different Nigeria than the one I live in. They talk of opportunities, a growing consumer market and all those things that make Nigeria look like heaven to an entrepreneur. The one who wanted us to start a company together was a mentor to me and kept telling me about how Nigeria is at the stage India was when the now big global Indian companies started. And that positioning is everything.

Growing up we were used to instant gratification. We loved to have results now. If we studied hard we wanted to see the result this term and not in the next term. We didn't like having to experience a bad situation before getting to our goal. At church and in our dreams, we wanted bad-experience free success. We loved to see the fruit of our sweat/labour immediately. And it's very normal. The trouble is that we didn't outgrow that mindset. Most of us can't imagine starting a business that won't turn a profit for the first five years. We would rather write a dozen certification exams and job prospect enhancing post-graduate degrees to get the immediate big pay we want than take a loss-prone route. We only position ourselves for instant gain. 

Most of our entrepreneurs are in the import-export business, buying and selling. Then when they make a lot of money, they go into the real estate and hotel business. Very few go into manufacturing anything on a big scale. They find the predictable returns of the real estate business more preferable. They love the instant profit of the buying and selling business. They leave the resource intensive and long term profitable manufacturing business to foreigners. We would rather sell our oil blocks to Shell and get instant profit than extract the oil ourselves and refine it and make petrochemicals because that is not instant enough. We don't believe in R&D. Most of our manufacturing companies that were flourishing in the 1980s are now dead. Because of no R&D they became dumber than their environment. And fell prey to everything from NEPA at home to better technology in China. They positioned themselves more as a buying and selling company than a manufacturing company. They bought raw materials and put the minimum value possible on top and then sell at a profit. They didn't innovate or even try to make a loss now improving their system of production and be more globally competitive with an eye on tomorrow. They positioned wrongly.

If we all keep positioning ourselves as consumers, as certifications freak, as instant profit makers and as un-innovative in the entrepreneurial world, then our successful companies will always be owned by foreigners. 


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