A retrospective on Naija (that’s Nigeria for you and me).
“I no go lie, I love this country”
– Pidgin English quote seen scrawled on a building wall in Lagos, Nigeria.
This blog post has been simmering in my head for close to two months since I first visited Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with an estimated population of 160 million. That’s 4 times the population of Kenya. Everything about Nigeria, or “Naija” as Nigerians often refer to their country in Pidgin English is big. It’s a big country. Nigerians have big egos. Nigerians believe big in their country. Nigeria has big challenges, but also, big potential.
There is no doubt that Nigeria is Africa’s biggest sleeping giant when it comes to countries. This is a country that generates an estimated US$ 60+ Billion per year from oil revenues. However, Nigeria has a big challenge with electricity as evidenced by the constant drone of back-up generators all over Lagos. Indeed, it’s a big paradox that generators are the default rather than the back-up source of electricity from a country that generates most of its revenue from oil exports.
On arriving in Lagos as I did recently, the first thing that hit me was the heat. Having been brought up in the coastal city of Mombasa in Kenya, I thought I knew the meaning of tropical heat. However, Lagos takes heat to a whole new level. Its like you swim in the heat and humidity – it actually feels like the heat is roasting you. The Lagos folks reassured me that it was not even the hottest time of the year – I was shocked to learn it was actually considered to be “OK” by Lagos standards – imagine that!
Other things that caught my attention in Lagos was the large number of expensive and high-end cars that you normally would not see in East Africa. These included American luxury brands. Nigerians like their cars big. It’s what I would call the “Oga” culture. Oga means “boss” in Pidgin English, which is widely spoken in Lagos and Nigeria in general. In Lagos, as I imagine is the case in the rest of Nigeria, your car says a lot about you. Nigerians take their cars very seriously as a status symbol.
Lagos traffic jams are legendary – you can be in traffic for 4 hours at a time. For this very reason, you need to start your travels early if you have any hope of making meetings on time. It helps if you have an office in the suburbs like Ikeja but live or stay around areas like Ikoyi or Victoria Island. This way, you go against the traffic in the mornings and vice versa in the evenings after work. However, property prices in areas such as Ikoyi and Victoria Island, as well as outlying areas are notoriously expensive and out of the reach of most Lagos residents – either to buy or rent.
The food in Nigeria is also hot and spicy. Not, not the way you think. It’s really really hot and spicy! I tried some local favorites like jolof rice and spicy chicken – trust me, I worked up a sweat eating that food although it does taste really fantastic. Which reminds me, Nigerians definitely have the hustle all about them. They are hardworking people and in a city like Lagos that has over 8 million inhabitants, you definitely get the feeling that its “do or die” in terms of how hard people work, or hustle. The attitude shows – it’s the reason that the Nigerian economy is growing in the way it is. Many Nigerians are rebuilding their country through their sweat and not through the many scams that have plagued them for years.
One of the most interesting and unexpected aspects of Lagos for me was the development known as Eko Atlantic. This is a development that is being built in the Eko area of Victoria Island to reclaim land from the ocean in much the same way as has been done in Dubai. It’s truly ambitious and already they are selling large tracts of land for residential and commercial investments at Eko Atlantic. This was totally unexpected and I was quite impressed since it goes to show the kind of ambitious things that Nigeria is able to do with the resources it has. You can find out more about Eko Atlantic here.
In terms of the technology scene, Nigeria is without a doubt one of the epicenters of Africa. Nigeria has a mobile subscriber base of approximately 120 million. In addition, active Internet users stand at around 50 million based on recent estimates. These numbers point to the fact that Nigeria is considered to be one of the most promising markets for technology products and services going forward – the numbers are simply staggering.
As in Kenya, the Internet market is still very nascent in terms of e-commerce and digital content but this fast changing as many established technology brands, start-ups and business incubators set-up shop in Nigeria. Dealfish is also operational in Nigeria. Mobile money has not grown (yet) in the way it has in Kenya yet but the potential is enormous. Indeed, Nigeria’s economy was recently predicted to overtake South Africa’s within the next 15 years. This is happening as a result of Nigeria’s revenue sources diversifying and expanding on an unprecedented scale.
Africa’s sleeping giant is on a roll, waking up after many years of political instability, widespread corruption and general mismanagement of massive resources. That’s the new Naija for you. As a friend of mine who travels regularly to do business in Nigeria once told me, “a business is not a big business in Africa unless its big in Nigeria”. I second that – I no go lie.