13/07/2018 05:06 BST | Updated 13/07/2018 05:06 BST

The Thumping Pulse Of Entrepreneurship Is Palpable In Lagos

'Lagos is open for business – are you?'

Akintunde Akinleye/ Reuters
A billboard across the Lagos-Ibadan expressway at Ojodu district in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos – July 1 2017.

During my gap year in 2006, I worked at a video rental shop called Joe's Collection. It was also during this time when Nigerian movies were very big on the scene, but Joe refused to stock them. Characters like Mr Ibu, Aki and Pawpaw and Mama Azuka were household names, and all the way in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe people were using the terms "Chineke" and adding exaggerated "o's" to every statement. I was curious about this country, the people and if they really spoke like that!

When I went to university I met some real-life Nigerians. I was immediately drawn to their confidence, charisma, fashion sense, resilience, faith, work ethic and how they know how to have a good time! As I got to learn about their economy, negative perceptions and challenges which they overcome to establish themselves in the diaspora, I set my sights on visiting the country and the famed city of Lagos that has shaped their attitude.

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Traffic and street market in Ikorodu district.

The day before I was scheduled to leave, a friend asked me: "What are you going to offer the Lagos market?" and I rattled on about the legal services Lawgistics Legal Consultants currently provide and how we are looking to expand into the West African market. I had done some desktop research about what we could offer in view of the different legal systems between South Africa and Nigeria, but I thought issues of corporate governance and commercial law principles are relatively similar.

When I landed in Lagos, my peculiar accent landed me a lot of attention, with most people becoming willing to help me — and a few trying to find ways to get one up on me. I was fortunate to find two kind gentlemen who helped me navigate the woes of Immigration! As this was my first time visiting West Africa, I did not know that I needed a yellow fever vaccine and that I had to wait 10 days before I could leave South Africa. I got my shot the day before the flight, so I was paranoid and praying for the entire journey!

The next day over "suya" — roasted, spicy meat cut up in thin strips — I asked my new friend where Nigerian people get their confidence and boldness from. He told me that "there are over 9-million people in Lagos, a city with limited resources, and everyone is trying to get to the front — so if you are slow, they will push you out of the way".

He also warned me that "Nigerians can sense weakness, so you always have to be more confident and assertive than the next person." What I gathered was that Nigerians see an opportunity and they take it — the systems are in such disarray that they don't ask for or wait for permission. As conservative and even compliant southern Africans, this kind of attitude seems like an affront or pompous. I grew up between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, so don't @ me!

The State Of Entrepreneurship

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters
A man selling fruits in a wheelbarrow attends to a customer in front of a bank along a road in Ikoyi district in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

I primarily went to Nigeria to market our legal services and see if there is room for Lawgistics Legal Consultants, but what I found was even better than that. I got a front-row view into the state of entrepreneurship in Lagos.

It was very fortuitous that I was in Lagos at the same time as French president Emmanuel Macron and attended an interactive session with him hosted by the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which works with African entrepreneurs. The next day I attended the Flourish Africa conference, which is the brainchild of Mrs Folorunsho Alakija who, according to Forbes, is the 2nd richest woman in Africa and one of the richest black women in the world.

I also visited the largest market in West Africa, known as Balogun Market, which gave me the opportunity to climb onto an Okada (a motorcycle) with no helmet and zoom through the crowded streets of the city. I also hosted an entrepreneurship brunch in partnership with Southern Sun Ikoyi — which is owned by Tsogo Sun. I basically spent a lot of time around entrepreneurs, and I can confirm the thumping pulse of the entrepreneurship in Lagos.

I was also interviewed on Nigerian Info FM by Tunji Andrews, after we had a far-reaching discussion the day before, and I told him about my Uber driver who is also a qualified accountant — he had just come from an interview — and made shoes on the side. Let that sink in! In response, Tunji showed me his business card which says " Economic Analyst/Fitness Buff/Business Show Host/SME Coach". This is different to the messaging we hear in South Africa — which is "pick one thing". As a multipreneur myself, the Nigeria model makes my heart smile!

My Big 5 Takeaways

1. Skills

Similarly to Zimbabwe, a majority of the working-age population have a bachelors degree. They may not have formal working experience, but that can be remedied by creating more opportunities.

2. Connectivity

Everyone in Lagos is online! The working class and even those not formally employed are actively using Facebook and Instagram to elevate their hustles. This is different from South Africa, where a lot of us are more spectators and consumers than creators. The price of data is also so cheap — I loaded 3000 nairas (~R110) airtime for one week. I used it to call, text, go online — and I had almost half of it left over. Hey MTN, what's good?

Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters
Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

3. Lack Of Infrastructure

This is an opportunity to come in and provide either physical infrastructure of roads, clean drinking water, stable electricity, etc., or frameworks/best practices to build up the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

4. The Same But Different

We hear so many negative reviews in the news about Nigeria and Nigerians specifically. In my experience, the people were kind, warm, curious, good-humoured and polite. I also have never witnessed traffic like I did in Lagos, especially on a Saturday night! What was most bizarre was that in all that traffic and questionable driving, I did not see a single accident. I will admit the food was a little out of my comfort zone and my stomach didn't quite adjust to it, but that was a small price to pay for the overall experience.

PS: The Southern Sun Ikoyi breakfast buffet has the best pancakes and egg sauce I had on the trip! The cool drinks were also a very cool 600ml, which was a mind-trip for me, who is used to the 440ml bottle. We are more alike than we are different, and as much as we fear Nigeria, Nigerians also fear South Africans — from the xenophobic stories and crime reports.

5: Nothing To Fear

When I travel across Africa, I like to pay attention to the number of white people on the flights or road. I was recently at a meeting for junior miners, and almost all the junior mining companies and funders were making investments in Zimbabwe. While in Nigeria, I saw Chinese and white people in meetings and enjoying the World Cup in lounges.

I often wonder, who does the negative rhetoric of Africa serve? If people who are not indigenous to this continent can travel, find and create opportunities — then shouldn't we all do the same? This continent is filled with people who look like you and me, who want the exact same things we want — a home for your family, growth for your business and peace of mind. I invite black Africans to explore, connect and find ways to contribute to the betterment of our continent.

Lagos is open for business — are you?