MBA blog: Living and Working in Nigeria |

MBA blog: Living and Working in Nigeria

By QS Contributor

Updated June 15, 2014 Updated June 15, 2014

Elias Kahla,  a business advisor for USAID MARKETS, talks about the challenges and rewards of living and doing business in Nigeria

In my last posting, I described how interesting it is to work in a vibrant economic environment as it is in Nigeria. Last week, I felt particularly content being here, because Nigeria celebrated its 50 year anniversary as an independent nation. Abuja, the capital, was filled with international delegates and the whole city was dressed in green and white – the colors of Nigeria. However, there were two car bombs which dimmed some of the enjoyment around the independence festivities.

Regardless of the tremendous business potential that the country has, Nigeria is still a poor country where 71% of the population survives on less than US$1 per day and also has a challenging business environment. This year, the World Bank ranked Nigeria 125th in its ease of doing business index. That is five ranks worse than in 2009.

Nigeria is still suffering from extremely poor governance that is a result of nearly four decades of military dictatorship and wide spread corruption. Nigeria’s bad international reputation and gloomy image was fostered in those years. However, the image of Nigeria is much worse than the country deserves and far from reality.

Currently, Nigeria is still recovering from that period of history, but Nigerians themselves are very optimistic of future development and believe Nigeria is finally reaching a new stage. Consequently, only a fool would judge the future of the country because of the nature of events in the past.

For me, the best part of being here is to be in an environment that is both full of great potential and huge challenges. There are great challenges such as abuse of political power, bad leadership, immense population expansion, environmental destruction and deforestation, urbanization, brain drain of high caliber specialists, crime, ethnic rivalry, dramatic poverty, scams and corruption, just to name few.

For me however, some of these challenges exist more in the headlines of the newspapers than in real-life. I don’t claim this because I want to underestimate these challenges, but because they seem to affect me more indirectly, rather than directly.

The challenges working here have been a bit different for me. Local business culture is very different than in Western countries, and can be a bit of a shock at first. Business etiquette is different and more formal in Nigeria than elsewhere I’ve come across. The way of communication is completely different and somehow vaguer that I am used to.

At first I always kept wondering if people really understood me when I was communicating with local people, and in many cases they didn’t. Therefore, I tried to learn tricks in order to ease communication with locals from the very beginning. I try to speak slower, provide examples that are attached to the context, be illustrative, and make sure that the other person engages into discussion. I often formulate questions carefully, so that the other person cannot provide yes or no answers.

Sometimes after a meeting, I also send an email to all members of the meeting, both local and foreign in which I ask feedback of the results of the meeting, aiming to engage people into discussion and making sure that the communication has been effective. I believe that one of the great things about this project is that I have been really exposed to working with local Nigerians that have further fostered my cross-cultural skills and awareness of local business environment.

Perhaps the only clear challenge affecting me and everyone in Nigeria is lack of electricity.

The power sector is in a particularly devastating condition; the national grid is not really functioning at all, and businesses and citizens are relying on other power sources. Most private companies and public institutions are running on generators. While walking in residential areas in Lagos or Abuja, one can’t avoid hearing the constant whir of small generators churning out black smoke in the air.

The lack of sustainable power supply increases the operating costs of businesses significantly. This further decreases the chances of Nigerian companies against foreign competition. Bureaucracy can be sometimes disturbingly great, and will probably slow down every foreign organization operating in Nigeria.

For example, in the public sector it seems that people are used to working according to some patterns and fundamentals which are not questioned at all, although cutting them off would probably make everything work more efficiently.

For me personally, Nigerian concept of time has been a difficult thing to adapt into.

In Europe, time is something that moves forward and exists as an entity. If you don’t use it, you will lose it. In Africa, time is more a component of an event, rather than something that exists separately and constantly flows forward. The activity determines the amount of time that passes, and when an activity stops, it’s as if time stops in Nigeria. In the Western world, the time is still moving forward, regardless of whether there’s activity or not.

Different concepts of time influence how people work and from my point of view, sometimes everything takes place too slowly here. People don’t always meet deadlines, partners can show up hours late to meetings and one can see people sleeping in the office. However, I have started to accept this too, because that's the Nigerian way of working and there’s not much one can do to change it. Besides, sometimes working the Nigerian way can be more stress free than in the West where everyone follows the clock.

Read Elias' first blog post here

About Elias

My name is Elias Kahla. I am a Finnish MBA-volunteer working as a business advisor in USAID MARKETS, an agriculture development project run by Chemonics International. I have a post-graduate degree in international business acquired from Helsinki School of Economics, now known as Aalto University School of Economics. I am positioned in Abuja, but make constant field trips around Nigeria; in particular, the north of Nigeria has become familiar during my stay in the country. I am fascinated by business development in emerging markets and am really enjoying my time here in Nigeria.

Abour CDS

CDC Development Solutions (CDS) recruits, trains, places and supports highly-skilled MBA Volunteers who provide management and technical assistance to SMEs, educational institutions, NGOs, advocacy organizations, local governments, and communities – all of whom benefit from this highly effective form of foreign assistance and citizen diplomacy. Since its inception in 1990, CDS’ MBA Volunteer Programs have fielded over 1,000 volunteer business advisors who have provided  assistance to over 4,000 organizations in 80 countries on five continents.  MBA volunteer advisors support economic development initiatives in the areas of Supply Chain Development, Tourism Development, Access to Finance, and Stability and Economic Recovery.

This article was originally published in July 2013 . It was last updated in June 2014

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