Last May, I wrote a blog post where I posited some reasons as to why Northern Nigeria has fewer entrepreneurs, compared to the South. Chief among those reasons were a lack of individualism, considering the fact that the North being conservative forces people to conform strictly, rather than explore themselves; and a lack of meritocratic systems, due to the fact that the common mind-set in the North is that one gets ahead by virtue of family influence and connections rather than by hard work. I also touched a bit on the separation of classes, but without going in-depth.
However, I was not satisfied with my theory. There was or were missing link(s) in the theory, but which I could not really find. It was not until I came across this blog post which was quite controversial and hotly debated among the Northern Nigerian online community. Specifically, the blog post was about the presence of signs in the Hausa language in Debenhams stores in the UK. The writer felt, and rightly so, that despite the fact that Northern Nigeria, specifically the North-East and North-West where Hausa is most spoken have the highest poverty rates in Nigeria, yet they had enough people spending so much money in Debenhams stores in the UK so as to even motivate the store chain to place signs in Hausa language, alongside signs in Mandarin and Arabic, whose speakers were also among the highest-spending foreigners, was very absurd.
I chose to see it beyond just signs and poverty. What the blogger did for me was to help connect the missing dots in my theory of why the North has fewer entrepreneurs. She gave me the missing link: Materialism. This is one more reason that the North has fewer entrepreneurs. We have a very materialistic culture, more present in some ethnic groups than others, but generally present nonetheless. A behaviour where a child is always showered lavishly with money and the things that it can buy has gone on to build up a mind-set among young Northerners that everything in life could be measured in naira and kobo. Worse, they rarely see the point of bringing out ideas and implementing them to create enterprises or build legacies since the money they could possibly make from those ventures, their parents already had them in bank vaults. Kids are not brought up to aspire for fulfilment, the type which money cannot buy.
Let us take a look around the North; it is very common to see young children in their teens driving the flashiest cars, and changing it as often as possible. In the mid-90s, a university lecturer from the South was said to have visited the University of Maiduguri and at the sight of so many cars, he then remarked that his Northern colleagues had better conditions of service and higher pay. To his shock and amazement, he was then told that 4 out of every 5 cars, and always the better ones were owned by students. Also, a few years ago when illegal car races were common in the nation’s capital, Abuja, a friend observed that all of the car owners involved in the car races were from the North. It was then the height of ostentatiousness, where car owners would race and crash their cars into each other and the kerbs. I still recall watching the video of one of the races where as a car crashed, the driver then made a brief call on his phone and pronto! Another car was brought to him to continue racing.
I am not by any means saying that one should not enjoy the fruits of his labour, live a little, have some vanity in him. But when a child grows up having all the vanity in him being satisfied, he rarely ever grows up to learn to live for more than just spending. He does not desire to want to achieve more with his life; to fulfill an inner hunger to do something more than just be known for having the latest cars or biggest houses. He becomes like Arthur in the 2011 movie, Arthur, about a child/man who was so similarly spoiled.
I have always maintained that there are more than enough middle-class income earners in the North to have a vibrant entrepreneurial society. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of rich folks, even if I will concede the fact that the money may or may not have been earned legally. However, in almost every Northern town or city, the medium to big businesses are rarely owned by Northerners. From the cybercafés to computer institutes to the boutiques, you name them. We have gold under our feet, yet we keep walking looking at the sky waiting for manna.
This is also a reason why there is increasing resentment towards the haves from the have-nots. They daily see wealth being flaunted in their face while their own condition only keeps worsening. If only a fraction of the money being spent on vanities were to be used to set up businesses in the region, it will turn things around. While they keep waiting and hoping on God and government to be the saving grace, the haves are cocooned in their world of security and extreme comfort, mindless of the fact that they could be the tools by which God could use to change the story of the have-nots.
There are immense opportunities for investment in the North, challenges notwithstanding. Be it from agriculture to tourism to manufacturing, economic opportunities exist waiting to be tapped into. However, the bigger challenge is that Northerners should be able to use their finances to create enterprises and implement ideas that will impact on others, and also increase our own wealth. Let us take the wealth available as a springboard to reach higher.