Why Northern Nigeria Has Fewer Entrepreneurs

I read an article on Fast Company about The Rules of The Creative Class, and combined with a discussion I had had with a friend the day before about young people creating change in Nigeria, a series of thoughts was triggered in my mind.

According to Fast Company, one of the rules of the creative class is individualism. They view themselves as distinct, different and unique. They do not try to conform wholly to the rules of their societies, neither are they deviants. They are confident in the knowledge of who they are. In other words, they know which rules are worth breaking.

Secondly, the creative class believe in a meritocratic system. They are mostly from the truly wealthy class, and even though they want to make money, they are not driven solely by the lure of money. They are more driven by the vision of something great, of fulfilling their passions.

This simply means that creative people – from those working on film and music projects to social and business entrepreneurs – emerge from families that are at the least, mid-middle class; which though not rich, are comfortable, and therefore have their needs such as food, education, etc, taken care of. But beyond that, they emerge from families where they are given the environments to explore their inner selves, either by design or accident. That is what makes them truly individualistic. Even families that do not fall into the economic class of mid-middle class but provide that kind of environment, which in this case, is mostly by accident of negligence, encourages these kids to find themselves and be truly individualistic, though at the great risk of battling the ills of growing up without parental supervision and not being blown away by peer pressures and what-not.

I have defined entrepreneurship as more than just starting and running a commercial venture. For me, it means having an idea and working to implement it. That idea may be a poem, a music project, a social cause or a business idea. As long as it involves creating a new idea, not copying, and implementing the idea to bring it to reality, voila, you have an entrepreneur.

An analysis of most of the new enterprises founded by young Nigerians will reveal them to be from this economic and personality class. They might come from the class of comfortable to wealthy families, yet they will describe themselves as just ordinary people working on their creative projects. To them, the money just affords them a higher platform. Matter of fact, most of their projects are not funded directly from family wealth, but from their own pockets.

Now, making a comparison between the number of creative projects in Southern Nigeria against those in the North will reveal a wide gulf. This is despite the fact that the North also has a large enough number of middle-income families to support the start of creative projects by its young family members. The answer, in my opinion, goes to the lack of individualism by these young people.

For starters, the North is by far more culturally conservative than the South and Middle Belt parts. This forces kids growing in these parts to conform to the societal expectations of them, enforced by the family. As the process of discovering one’s individuality comes with great resistance even within one’s self, a conducive family environment can be a great help. Kids are then encouraged to try and fail without fear, because in the end, it is a great learning aid. But in situations where that environment is lacking, kids conform and their inner creativity is stifled. In the end, these kids play safe and do the usual things expected of them: go to school, study a ‘good’ course and get a good job. Never take risks.

Even though a generally increasing sense of liberalism is sweeping young people across the world, it is yet to take roots in Northern Nigeria. Young people in the North are likely to be more of themselves when away from home: they interact, dress and talk at their personal will, but are still reluctant to do this where they feel it might invite rebuke or criticism, such as at home or in their religious societies.

A second factor is that of rewarding meritocracy. In situations where young people that have been bred to believe in the power of money and connections without ever appreciating of hard work and delayed gratification, young people that start businesses rely more on family influence and connections to get ahead, rather than on their ability to do a good job, and almost never on their passions. It is all about the money. Hence, they are more likely to be in businesses that require the securing of government contracts, thereby involving themselves in the circle of corruption and waste that is prevalent in this field.

The reason why I have written this treatise is because I have struggled to understand the laidbackness of young Northerners (meaning Northern-bred, not by blood) to the issues in our society; why we rarely or never see them taking on social causes or even starting businesses whose success is not tied down to government. This is just but one reason. Others might include separation of classes, leading to the masses believing that power and wealth is to whom God gives it to, and the elites holding unto the power for generations, without using it for any social gains.

One of the greatest maxims I have believed in life is: Talent is Everywhere. Opportunity is Not. Northern Nigeria is no exception to that rule. We need to explore ways in which the individualism of young men and women is discovered and they are able to add value to the society by doing what they love doing, also leaving them fulfilled. Admittedly, I do not have all the answers. This is something that should be done more at the family level, by creating the right kind of environment for these kids. However, I believe putting this out here will motivate my readers to be able to take action in their own little way.

5 Comments on this post

  1. Thought provoking. Northerners over the years have shown themselves to be more ‘herd’driven than the average individualistic Southerner. History also shows that Northerners are more responsive to authority figures; hence the success of British-imposed indirect rule. Well done, Mark, you have given me food for thought.

    Will / Reply
  2. Very revealing thoughts for the emergence of youth into entreprenual positons in the north.

    moxybee / Reply
  3. Well, I have a lot to say on this topic. We’re overlooking culture here? You run businesses in the north that will suit their habits and lifestyle. If infact more creative outlets were to be run, I do believe they won’t be as successful as their more urban southern counterparts whose cultural climate naturally encourage such business endeavors. Perhaps the article should have suggested that northern entrepreneurial interests aren’t as diverse, but there are a many an entrepreneur from your cited demographic.

    jaenius / Reply
  4. For long I ve continue to why creative ideas hardly work in the north. It baffles me more when all the taras, felas, alders, toyosis etc are from the south. Why is it that it is only southerners that start banks. Most northern private institutions as you said ve govt influence in one way or the other. That is why if pple like zaki adze wants to be famous they move to lagos. I look forward to see our own tayo and fola that ll start a northern guarantee. Mark, I’m committed to this and we must collectively make it happen. I want to see northern NGOs and civil societies pioneered by young pple. Our education must go beyond civil service. Is the same reason why we have only few senior advocates of nigeria in the north. Yet it religion that we are bothered about. An average northerner is religiously conscious and can easily kill bcos of religious even if he is not a killer. Our mind must yield it creative power for the good of all. Mark, lets flood the south wt northern entrepreneurs just like the south ve dominated the north.

    Zanau / Reply
  5. […] May, I wrote a blog post where I posited some reasons as to why Northern Nigeria has fewer entrepreneurs, compared to the […]

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