Lagos: Insider view

What is the business culture of Lagos like?

Odia Babby, ACMA, CGMA, a marketing manager at Zenith Bank, says:

Lagos, Nigeria’s business and finance centre, means different things to different people and is the one place where you can find all the ethnic groups in Nigeria living together.

Lagos offers a big market with a population of about 15 million people. Most big businesses in Nigeria operate from or have an office in Lagos.

The people of Lagos generally communicate in English, it being the official language in Nigeria, although there are numerous other dialects depending on the ethnic group.

The people are mostly friendly, very hard working, and resilient. Everyone in Lagos is looking for an opportunity to earn money, and there is a general preference for a very quick profit or short payback period.

The use of technology is growing at a very fast pace in Lagos, with a tech-savvy youth. The city of Lagos has good internet service providers that are reliable.

A lot of transactions are done by exchange of cash. Currently there is a major government initiative to de-emphasise cash and create a cashless society. The financial/banking system is quite sophisticated, with most of the banks’ head offices and numerous branches located in Lagos.

In any business dealings, it’s important to be wary of imposters, fraudsters, and scammers. Background checks are necessary to avoid becoming a victim. The legal/justice system can be very slow at times. The infrastructure in Lagos is better than that found in most other cities in Nigeria but is still mostly inadequate. The power supply is very unreliable, so an alternative means of power is essential.

The major roads in Lagos are fairly passable compared to other cities in Nigeria. However, road networks are quite inadequate for the number of commuters in the city, and there are no functional rail lines. Despite this inadequacy, Lagos is a city always in a hurry and mostly in a traffic jam. So most commuters rise as early as 4am to depart for work that starts at 8am. The good news is that traffic gridlock is a major focus of the current government regime in Lagos, so we expect some improvement in this regard.

Lagos is also the hub of shipping business activities in Nigeria, as it has the major ports. It is the point where imports get distributed to other parts of Nigeria and where local products are co-ordinated for export. Lagos is easily accessible to other parts of the country, so there seems to be a perpetual and insatiable demand for goods and services, while supply of labour is in excess due to an influx of youths from rural areas. It is a place of aspiration and a gold mine for the brave. 

What tips are there for successfully doing business in Lagos?

Abiodun Olorunnisola, ACMA, CGMA, head of risk management, Stanbic IBTC Pension Managers, says:

There is need for doggedness and persistence as the environment sometimes could be very challenging.

A company like [Canadian telecom giant] Globalcom was famously not granted a mobile telephone licence at the first attempt but subsequently got it through persistence. Many successful businesses are also running lean – for instance, some of the big multinationals and oil majors do not own their offices. Businesses that support infrastructure development, most importantly in finance, will succeed in Nigeria because of the huge infrastructure deficit. Banks will struggle to finance projects because of huge capital requirements of recent banking regulations worldwide.

Earning the trust of people leads to good business, while an expert will always be recognised. Foreign affiliations add credibility to your business because it helps tick the boxes of expertise, experience, and trust, especially if you have a good brand behind you. 

What is it like to live there?

Abiodun Olorunnisola says:

Living in Lagos is very challenging. In my area of Lagos you are effectively like your own “local” government, where you provide your water, security, and drainage by yourself, thus driving up the cost of living. Traffic in Lagos is a nightmare, and it is the number-one killer of productivity. It makes people really irritable because of the stress. Everyone is in a hurry.

However, Lagos is also a great place for relaxation, as many houses of worship abound, beaches dot the city from Lekki/Epe to Badagry, and the National Conservation Foundation is another attraction. There are also many good restaurants, clubs, and amusement parks within and around Lagos.

For foreigners, neighbourhoods like Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Ikeja, and Lekki are very good. Living close to your office is the trick, but you need to go around Lagos to know the real Lagos. 

How to get ahead in Lagos

Odia Babby, ACMA, CGMA, a marketing manager at Zenith Bank, gives his top tips for successful business in Nigeria's capital:

  • Do your feasibility study very well.
  • Build strong leadership skills for communicating a clear direction.
  • Set the tone and the standard for the business (set your dos and don’ts and enforce them).
  • Choose location depending on your target market.
  • Get the right hires or partners (ownership concept is key).
  • Control procedures with a robust resource management system and accounting system.
  • Start small, build or break out rapidly.
  • Hold regular meetings, review plans always.
  • Insist on documented (written down) plans through emails or other means, as well as for the follow-up actions or responses.