Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I was at this same venue about 6 weeks ago, celebrating the birthday of a professional marketing publication. I recall that during question time, Azuh Arinze had, out of the blue, pointedly asked me the secret to successful entrepreneurship . Whereas Pat Utomi was the guest speaker at the event with my friend, Sir Steve Omojafor as Chairman, I could not understand why Azuh had to direct his question at me as I was just a guest at the event. Thankfully, Azuh has the opportunity today to be lectured on the secret of successful entrepreneurship by experts on the subject.
I read Segun Adeniyi. I am sure most of us here do. Not only do I enjoy his style of writing, Segun is one journalist who gives you facts and figures, and details. From the days when he was at This Day newspapers till now that he is enjoying his status as an unsoiled ex-presidential spokesperson, I still enjoy Segun Adeniyi’s writing. Just as I did last Thursday, when he wrote about Aliko Dangote’s whirlwind trip to Ethiopia, where he went to commission his new Dangote Cement factory. Segun also made an allusion to the workaholic nature of another successful Nigerian entrepreneur, the indefatigable Mike Adenuga, Jr.
I should know, having had the ‘privilege’ of being a service provider to Mike at a point in my working life. At the time, no work hours were sacrosanct, as there was no ‘day of rest’ as we know Sundays in Mike’s diary. Both men work themselves hard. And they have plenty to show for it, the first as Africa’s wealthiest man and the second, close on his heels in ranking. More importantly, they both employ thousands of men and women across the African continent. Just imagine what the world would have lost if both men were employees in some government or corporate institution!
Contrary to the assumption by most people that the motivation for entrepreneurship is money, I know from experience, that the thread that binds most successful entrepreneurs is the desire to make a difference. Rather the desire to be different. To do things like no one else has done before. To produce a product or service like nobody has done before. Whether it is a Ted Turner (CNN), Richard Branson (Virgin), late Steve Jobs (Apple), Aliko Dangote (Cement and other commodities), Mike Adenuga (telecom and oil and gas), Azuh Arinze (Celebrity Magazine), the thread is to do something differently, and hopefully, create wealth in the process.
In the case of Nigeria, it is crucially important that hundreds of thousands of our people become entrepreneurs. Why? Because government cannot be the employer of first choice. Here we are with a population of 180 million people, 40% of whom fall between the age of 18 and 35. In other words, 72 million of our people are young. They are vibrant, energetic and willing to work. Sadly, 6% of our population are unemployed, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. No thanks to successive governments that have proved incapable of creating the enabling environment for employment to thrive.
In a situation where the nation generates less than 4000 mega watts of electricity, when we require a minimum of 15000 MW, where the manufacturing and industrial sector of our economy lie prostrate because of unavailability of electricity, it stands to reason that we are in a situation of ‘everyone for himself, God for us all!’ As if to exacerbate our situation, I understand that 23 of our 36 states are unable to pay those who chose government as their employer, owing them between 1 month and 11 months in salary arrears! By owing these people, the economy of those states are being grounded to a halt as it is these employees who invariably oil of the economy of their states!
With the current international decline in oil prices, everyone is saying we should diversify our economy, looking at agriculture and solid minerals as rescue. Let no one kid himself, experts say agriculture and solid minerals have very limited impact on job creation. So which way forward? We must embrace entrepreneurship – small and medium scale entrepreneurs. It is the safest route to go. I am glad that we have the experience of Azuh Arinze to inspire us. Just like Nduka Obaigbena and his This Day, John Momoh and Channels TV, Seye Kehinde and City People, Orji Kalu and The Sun, Bayo Onanuga and The News, Sam Amuka Pemu and The Vanguard, late Olu Aboderin and The Punch, late Alex Ibru and The Guardian, Nosa Igiebor and TELL Magazine, Oba Otudeko and Honeywell Group, Lolu Akinwunmi and the Prima Garnet Group, and, with all modesty, yours sincerely and the Troyka Group, which today employs 18,000 people, the list is endless; they have all proven to be examples we can aspire to. Imagine if these entrepreneurs had not established those businesses that we now applaud!
You will find that I have deliberately excluded the big boys and girls in the oil and gas industry. That is a terrain I do not understand, and feel safe not to comment on. It explains why I am yet to understand the arithmetic of subsidy – a process where you get paid huge sums for not supplying anything! I think it explains why you need special skills to understand how it plays or how to survive in it.
When Steve Jobs and his partners, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, started Apple Computers in 1976, little did they know that 39 years down the line, it would employ 98,000 people, have a valuation of S118bn, a turnover of S700bn and be the most valuable brand in 2014. The good news is, there is someone here today who will share his experience on why it is probably safer and better to take one’s fortunes in one’s hands. Thankfully, he operates in an environment where I also used to until some 11 years ago – Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi, the Group CEO of Prima Garnet Africa, and immediate past Chairman of APCON.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake about this, entrepreneurship is not for the lily-livered. It requires that you throw in all you’ve got: knowledge, skills, passion, energy and resources. In our environment, where financial institutions stand aloof when you most need them, the task can be most daunting.
The good news is, there can always be light at the end of the tunnel, if you put your mind to it and put up a good fight as well.
Let me end this Chairman’s address by congratulating and thanking my younger brother and junior colleague, Azuh Arinze, for inviting us this afternoon to celebrate four years of hard work, of nurturing and building a brand that Nigerians have come to love and admire – YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine. As Azuh himself will admit, it has been a tough, a damn good fight, a fight for his life; but it has been worth every minute of it.
I thank you all.
19th June 2015