Women Entrepreneurs in Nigeria Encourage Government to Develop Support System


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LAGOS, NIGERIA – When the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project conducted a 22-nation survey last spring, Nigeria was the only nation in which more than half of respondents, 54 percent, said women should not have equal rights with men.


“Many things are working against us in Nigeria,” says Fatima Aliko Mohammed, one of three representatives of Nigeria at the April 2010 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship called for by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C.


Mohammed is the editor-in-chief of Draftbill Magazine, which she created out of frustration that many Nigerians didn’t know who represented them in the National Assembly or which bills were debated.


“Traditionally we don’t own properties, and women are relegated to the home,” she says.


In order to curb poverty in Nigeria, reverse its effect and increase economic success in the country, it is imperative to empower and engage those at the bottom of the pyramid, especially women, she says.


Mama Joy, a restaurateur in Lagos, a port city in Nigeria considered to be its economic and financial capital, says she is proud to be a woman entrepreneur in Nigeria. She owns a small-scale restaurant and catering company in one of the busy motor parks in the Lagos metropolis.


Like most major motor parks in Lagos, the Ogba motor park is situated in a central location where commuters can access public transportation to other parts of the city. It is boisterous and busy. There are banks, schools, a police station and a large retail market in the diverse community. Mama Joy’s restaurant is just a stone’s throw away from the Area G Police Station, so security is no challenge for her and her staff.


She started her business more than two decades ago and has maintained a level of consistency that has made hers a trusted spot in the neighborhood.


Before moving into her new restaurant, which can hold just 20 customers, Mama Joy sold her food in a makeshift store at the bus stop near the motor park, where artisans, traders and drivers were frequent customers.


“Whoever bought food always came back the following day and also told others about my food,” she says of her word-of-mouth reputation.


Since moving on from her food stand at the bus stop, Mama Joy, a widow, has been able to raise and educate her six children on her own through her catering business and restaurant.


“I have been able to [send] six of my children to graduate level in the university through this business,” she says. “As I am now, I own my own building in Lagos and in my hometown.”

Mama Joy was born in Edo, a state to the east of Lagos.


Her success has come from faith, determination and hard work – as well as some help from Nigeria’s microfinance industry.


“Everything belongs to God,” she says. “Before I came here, I was at the bus stop.”


Like Mama Joy, many women in Nigeria venture into small-scale businesses, like selling petty items by the roadside. When they save enough money, they branch out to rent a shop and expand their trade. Microfinance banks and initiatives by nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, targeting women are slowly gaining more popularity to complement government-orchestrated projects. The Nigerian government pledged earlier this week to back the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to create a Microfinance Development Fund, but some women say they wish the government would do more to specifically help businesswomen.


Earlier this month, the governor of the CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, told the Fifth Annual Microfinance Conference and Entrepreneurship Awards in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that because of a lack of bank access, 46.3 percent of Nigerians are financially excluded, according to Microfinance Africa. The addition of 816 microfinance banks, which provide financial services such as loans to low-income Nigerians based on the idea that they can lift themselves out of poverty if given access to financial resources, is a start, but greater financial inclusion will boost Nigeria’s economic growth, he said.


Sanusi says 70 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. The 2010 Global Monitoring Report of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization revealed that 92 percent of Nigerians live on less than $2 USD per day while about 71 percent survive on less than $1 USD.


Finance Minister Olusegun Aganga announced in June that Nigeria’s unemployment rate was 19.7 percent, according to Reuters. Almost half of Nigerians ages 15 to 25 in urban areas are unemployed, he said. In 2009, the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Youth and Social Development announced that 40 million youths were unemployed – and 23 million of those were unemployable because of a lack of schooling or skills.


Reflecting on the high rate of unemployment in the country, Mama Joy says she urges young women to be more entrepreneurial. 


“Mothers need to teach their daughters to be more industrious,” she says.


With no white-collar job experience and no intention of getting any, Mama Joy ventured into the food business as a young girl, learning the ropes from her mother.


“It is the business my mother did,” she says.


Finding start-up capital is not easy for most women. But it’s not impossible. To get her start-up capital, Mama Joy says she “patched up,” or bought the supplies she needed to cook her food on credit then paid it off as she made sales.


She realized early on that it would take time before she earned a profit from her business.


“Some weeks you will make profit, other weeks you will record great loss in the business,” she says. “So it takes patience to run a business.”


Especially in the food industry.


“Food business has no real peak and off-peak period,” she says. “Disruption occurs mostly during [the] raining season, as most customers stay indoor[s] to cook their own food.”


Mama Joy credits her success to the microfinance bank, New Life Microfinance Bank, where she received a microloan. With the loan, she has been able to expand her business and grow her staff from one to 16 employees.


Joseph Oluwadare, one of the officers at New Life Microfinance Bank, says that microfinance loans were established to grant financial services to the poor and economically disadvantaged.


“We also provide free services,” he says. “We tell them what they can do to improve their business. It is not just limited to money, we give other management services.”

Mama Joy hopes her success motivates more women to start their own businesses.


“Start-up capital for new business offered by microfinance bank[s] is very helpful,” she says. 


Felicia Adeduwon, 51, has a shop in Zaria, a city in northern Nigeria, where she sells phone cards, food and beverages. She started the business with about 11,000 naira ($70 USD), most of which she got from her husband and her personal savings.


“I am managing the shop to support my husband,” she says.


Adeduwon advises women who are considering becoming entrepreneurs to not be held back by fear that they lack adequate funds. No start is too small, she says.


“When I started, I used to buy 2,000 nairas ($13 USD) worth of phone cards to sell at retail,” she says. “But now I sell over 25,000 nairas ($160 USD).”


Like Mama Joy, a microloan also helped Adeduwon take her business to the next level. In the market where she runs her business, a group of other traders form a daily contribution group where they each save at least 200 nairas ($1 USD) daily. This allows them the opportunity to support one another when the need for a loan arises. Adeduwon says she has been loaned 6,000 nairas ($40 USD) from her community savings group.


Her long-term goal is to expand her business to the point where she can sell items wholesale, mentioning the drivers who frequently ask to buy crates of mineral water from her.


While Adeduwon and Mama Joy laud the microfinance system, it is not without its flaws.


After reviewing 820 microfinance banks from February to June, CBN revoked the licenses of nearly 200 banks in September, according to The Nation newspaper. The banks were deficient in their understanding of the concept of microfinance and delivery of services to their clients, according to Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, CBN deputy governor. Many lost their focus on the financially insecure population they were supposed to be helping, he said, citing a high level of non-performing loans and poor corporate governance.

In Nigeria, microfinance banks are not alone in the push to build women entrepreneurs. NGOs are also working to empower aspiring businesswomen.


Adeduwon says she participated in a small-scale business management training program organized by Growing Business Foundation, GBF, a non-profit NGO that promotes private sector investments in microfinance projects to support underserved communities, and especially women.


Different initiatives have been implemented to effectively create access to and opportunities for women at the grassroots level, says Wande Pearse, GBF program director of Projects and Business Development.


“In recent years, there has been [an] increased campaign for women to be more involved in business,” he says. “The microcredit movement, for instance, is one way women have become more enterprising. GBF since inception in 1999 has supported more women (90 percent of beneficiaries are women) through its enterprising development programs across Nigeria.”


Another nonprofit, Women in Management and Business, WIMBIZ, demonstrates another model of supporting businesswomen by sponsoring lunches, lecture series, conferences and mentor programs. WIMBIZ has recently completed a phase of its mentoring program, which paired 72 aspiring businesswomen with mentors for four months.


But as some women are able to participate, others say they are stifled by the patriarchal culture and the lack of opportunities available to women. There is still much work to be done, says Mama Joy, who believes the existence of a well-structured support system from the government would have better equipped her entrepreneurial venture.


Adeduwon advocates for more support for businesswomen from the government, too.


“[The] government should loan funds [under] favorable condition[s],” she says.


Her prayers may be answered.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan pledged this month to back the CBN to establish a Microfinance Development Fund, according to allAfrica.com. The fund aims to reduce the country’s poverty rate and improve its GDP by financially including all of the economically active poor. According to Oluwadare of New Life Microfinance Bank, the government already supports microfinance through banks and various NGOs.


The federal government is also trying to engage the country’s youth. The Federal Ministry of Youth Development established in 2008, for the first time ever, the Nigerian Youth Employment Action Plan for 2009 to 2011 to counteract high youth unemployment rates.


At the state level, the state of Niger has spent more than 1.5 billion nairas ($9.9 million USD) to help establish microfinance banks in all local government areas, according to Microfinance Nigeria. Chioma Ohakim, the first lady of the state of Imo, in southern Nigeria, announced in November a partnership with women in the business sector in order to improve the state’s economy, according to allAfrica.com.


But Mama Joy and Adeduwon say more resources need to be directed specifically toward women.


“Women should be seen contributing in every home and not depend solely on the men,” Pearse says.