Lessons from Lagos
“I’m in Lagos, Nigeria. Pulsating energy, chaotic beauty…this country will be the best growth story of the next 20 years.” – my tweet from a few weeks ago.
Lagos is hot, dusty, crowded, chaotic, and corrupt. The black market currency rate for the Nigerian Naira fell from 280:1 to 305:1 in the 5 days I was there (the “official” rate is artificially pegged to the US dollar at 200:1). Petroleum export revenues account for over 90% of total exports, so the fall in oil prices has hurt the country badly.
Nigeria reminds me of India 15 years ago, and likely what China was like 25-30 years ago. The new President, a former militant, is focused on two rampant problems: corruption & Boko Haram. By all accounts, he is succeeding on both fronts. The state governments are trying to diversify the country’s economy, particularly through technology and agriculture. In other words, there is no better time to be an entrepreneur or investor in Africa’s largest country.
Here are my lessons learned from Lagos:
- Corruption is complex. A number of billionaires have private planes not just for convenience, but also because it’s a great way to smuggle money in and out of the country. After all, customs officials just check luggage, not planes.
- Overstating imports is common. Nigeria officially imports more toothpicks than all of Europe. It imports incense sticks equivalent to half of India. Why? It’s impossible for government officials to count the actual number of toothpicks or sticks, so they are deliberately overstated to convert “black money” into white, or to exchange Naira into dollars.
- Starting up a company is expensive. Most office spaces require 2 years rent up front. Broadband costs somewhere between 10-50x as much as America, depending on the speed you want.
- President Buhari is incorruptible, but his wife may be his downfall. She likes shiny objects, the high life, and could be his Achilles heel.
- State education is a joke. One of the Andela fellows received a masters in Computer Science from a Lagos university. And yet, she hadn’t written a single line of code on a computer before becoming an Andela fellow.
I can’t wait to go again. Nigeria will become the 5th largest country in the world by 2030 with an exploding young middle class. In chaos, there is often much opportunity.