Nigeria is amongst the top ten largest countries by population, and more than half of the world’s 7.2 billion population is under 35 years old. About twenty-four per cent of nearly 170 million Nigerians are today either under-employed or unemployed. Of this percentage, the youth sector is the worst hit. Youths (ages 15-35) account for nearly sixty per cent of the Nigerian population, which represents thirty per cent of the Nigerian workforce – yet, thirty-eight per cent of them remain unemployed. One obvious implication of this is that most Nigerian youths who are either underemployed or unemployed have little or no chance of competing globally. A more worrying implication is that by 2020 and beyond, most Nigerian youths will become parents themselves with little or no means of sustenance – therefore, it is doubtful how they would contribute to achieving the Vision 2020 goal.
When individuals lack the economic means to sustain their wellbeing or that of their families, two things become inevitable – they either go hungry or they break the law. This situation presents a very serious challenge for Nigeria. Entrepreneurship development could mitigate this challenge.
Although the actual size of entrepreneurship activity in Nigeria may never be accurately estimated, entrepreneurial activity in Nigeria is not only triggered by a desperate need for an individual to obtain means of subsistence for his or her family, evidence suggests that entrepreneurship activity have been recreated and expanded under diverse economic circumstances. In particular, entrepreneurial activity in Nigeria has evolved from agriculture, manufacturing to embrace entertainment, retailing and more recently the provision of repair and maintenance services in mobile telecommunications sector. Religion also plays a significant role in the expansion of entrepreneurial activity in Nigeria. Through the growing influence of “prosperity gospel”, a significant swathe of the Nigerian unemployed has resorted to evangelism as a means of achieving economic prosperity. To better understand the dominant form of entrepreneurial activity in Nigeria, I divide entrepreneurship into two types – opportunity-based entrepreneurship and necessity-based entrepreneurship.
With opportunity-based entrepreneurship, an individual seeks out opportunities and chooses to pursue them in order to improve his or her wellbeing and the community. Necessity-based entrepreneurship is a situation in which one is left with no other viable option to earn a living, not as a choice, but out of compulsion seeks out any means of survival in order to avoid starvation and criminality. The distinguishing characters of these two entrepreneurship forms are the disposition or orientation of the individual at a particular moment in time as a result of specific trigger to act vs a deep-rooted desire for greater self-satisfaction and autonomy. Sadly, the dominant feature of entrepreneurship in Nigeria today gravitates towards necessity based entrepreneurship. The challenge is therefore to encourage an opportunity-based entrepreneurship to take a firm root in Nigeria.
As an idea, entrepreneurship is synonymous with personal and behavioural attributes namely, creativity, innovation, experimentation and risk- taking behaviours. These attributes are manifest through the individual because of a desire to achieve self-satisfaction and autonomy. Autonomy as a dimension of entrepreneurship is a state of independence that influences an individual to follow through a conceived idea. Creativity and innovativeness explain the individual’s propensity to orchestrate a novel or uniquely demanding achievements. Experimentation and risk-taking connotes the individual’s willingness to seek and seize opportunities even in the face of uncertainty. A tolerance for uncertainty is part of entrepreneurship and is manifest through willingness to do something and the commitment to see it through without a guaranteed outcome.
Sadly, the situation that emerges in Nigeria suggests that the individual as an “entrepreneur” has yet to exhibit the above attributes. This is not to say there are no examples in the Nigerian society where these attributes have been manifest. Indeed, there are. The likes of Aliko Dangotes, the Wale Adenugas and the Pascal Dozies are only few examples. These examples are a testament that given the right conditions, Nigerians possess and can exhibit the much-needed opportunity-based entrepreneurial mind-set. The key question, of course, is whether we are a society of individuals willing to seek out opportunities in order to enhance our wellbeing and that of our communities without relying on the State.
Responding to this call will force us to think about the host of other pertinent but problematic challenges in the relationship between the Nigerian individual and the State. The issue of a perennially lack of the investment climate and the poor infrastructure remain a moral conundrum for the Nigerian State and a dilemma for the Nigerian entrepreneur. In this, perhaps, the enduring words of former American President – John F. Kennedy offer a hint for a reflection: “Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty”, he went on: “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. To these I add – what will make Nigeria great is not so much as what it can give to the individual, rather, as an individual what we are willing to sacrifice and give for the good of Nigeria.