Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Saturday, 21 November 2009

Nigeria's returning entrepreneurs

By Caroline Duffield
Africa Business Report, BBC World News, Nigeria

Kabir Audu
Kabir Audu has returned to Nigeria after working on Wall Street

Kabir Audu is a very successful Nigerian. He's 30. And he has an idea.

"It was Ben Gurion in the late 1940s," he says.

"He called on Israelis around the world to come home. To build an Israel greater than their wildest imagination."

He pauses.

"We see Nigeria every day - tremendous talent, this tremendous potential. Imagine if it's wielded toward one vision."

Kabir and his friend Tunji Abdul are living proof of Nigeria's mass migration homeward.

Both were making a fortune on Wall Street. Both were bored.

'New life'

"Every deal felt just an extension of a previous project," says Tunji.

Model of skyscraper
Kabir and Tunji are planning Lagos's first sustainable skyscraper

"I came back to Nigeria after 10 years. I realised this place was calling for young entrepreneurs - to breathe new life into the system.

"That's why I came back."

They're real estate developers, building modern homes - and the first sustainable skyscraper in Lagos.

It will harvest its own rainwater and be powered by solar energy.

"We want our architecture to shape the way people feel about their space, their community," says Tunji.

"Great buildings, inspirational buildings, don't just have to be in the UK or the US."

Renaissance

Tunji and Kabir are two among hundreds of thousands.

Bode Pedro is another.

He's 26 and runs a computer manufacturing start-up business employing 75 people.

"It's a renaissance," he says. "We're talking about art, science, technology, entertainment, media and business.

Recruitment agency
Recruitment agencies specialise in bringing talented Nigerians home

"People are coming home because they want to be part of it."

All of them were educated in the US, but their rich American accents are barely noticed in the nightclubs in Lagos.

Here, vowels from New York and Oxford blend into West African pidgin English.

Another giveaway - Lagos is sprouting recruitment agencies with a difference.

They specialise in bringing talented Nigerians back home.

"In 2003, we thought around 5,000 people a month were coming in," says Funto Akinkugbe from Find A Job In Africa.

"That's multiplied by three now. We're looking at the best part of 15,000 people on a monthly basis."

Seeking shelter

The influx is startling. Nigerians have a word for them - "re-pat".

And, it appears that there are two types.

Entrepreneurs like Kabir and Tunji have spotted a market and are starting businesses.

Some 140 million people living here makes Nigeria quite a business opportunity.

You have to make sure you're one step ahead. Get up earlier and leave the office later
Tunji Abdul, entrepreneur

Meanwhile, thousands of others are seeking shelter from the global financial crisis.

Job losses in the financial sector - and the financial crisis itself - make going home suddenly seem very attractive.

And these refugees are attractive employment for the entrepreneurs tapping into Nigeria's potential.

With a huge market and a huge labour force combined, Nigeria ought to stand alongside Brazil or Russia.

So why doesn't it?

'One step ahead'

The answer is that Nigeria has not enjoyed the same economic growth.

Here, a businessman's lot is not always a happy one.

Chronic electricity failures, traffic jams that last for hours, the delays, the half truths and shadows of corruption. All of that makes doing business here very difficult.

"What do you need to survive? Passion!" laughs Tunji Abdul.

Bode Pedro
Bode Pedro says Nigeria is changing fast

"You have to make sure you're one step ahead.

"Get up earlier and leave the office later. Move around when traffic is a bit less.

"It's your business to find a solution."

And if you can make it work the rewards are worth it.

"Nigeria is phenomenal," says Kabir.

"People keep saying, 'Oh, you gave up a lot of money on Wall Street, to come back here…..'.

He pulls a face and smiles. "Actually, it's not the case. In terms of rate of return, it is significantly higher than where we're coming from."

Being part of change

Bode Pedro agrees.

"Nigeria is so fresh. Right now, we have 5% computer usage here.

"It's changing fast - and you're either part of it, or not."

For all of them, the bottom line is very good - but the personal kick that thrills them is the impact they're having.

"You coming here is being part of a renaissance," says Bode softly.

"In five years, you'll be part of something new. You'll be part of something different.

"You'll be part of the growth of a superpower called Nigeria."

He is deadly serious.

Africa Business Report is a monthly programme on BBC World News. The next programme will be on Saturday, 21 November at 0130 GMT and 2230 GMT, and on Sunday, 22 November at 1330 GMT and 2130 GMT.



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