Soji Apampa

Abimbola Akosile

The Executive Director of Integrity Organisation, Mr. Soji Apampa has suggested ten practical tips for doing business in Nigeria, both for local and international investors, and other potential economic players.

Apampa proffered the useful tips while delivering a keynote address at the Business Innovation Forum focusing on Conducting Due Diligence in challenging environments organised by Transparency International UK and hosted by Clifford Chance (a multinational law firm headquartered in London), which took place in London, recently.

In his address at the forum, the anti-corruption activist noted that “Nigeria is seen as one of the more difficult business environments where processes of starting, doing and sustaining business face different adversities such as corruption, crippling policies, multiple taxation, and inadequate infrastructure just to mention a few.”

However, according to him, “every adversity contains at the same time a seed of equivalent opportunity and Nigeria’s business environment is not an exception. As daunting as it sounds and for those who try, it is quite feasible to do business in Nigeria without succumbing to its prime form of adversity – corruption.”

Among the 10 practical for doing business in Nigeria corruption-free, Apampa noted that “(1) If you are not in Nigeria, you have not started business with West Africa! This is the attitude that earns Nigerians international ridicule because outsiders think this is all talk since the country has tended to under deliver on the high expectations people have had of it. The cliché of Nigeria as the most populous country in Africa and the largest economy in Africa is these days followed by a “so what?” retort.

“The large population and the fact that about 167 million Nigerians live on less than $2/day is seen as a huge problem but others, the discerning entrepreneurs, see it as an opportunity – One could build a $60m a year business delivering daily value of $0.25 to just 1 million Nigerians and bigger players are actually reaching in excess of 30 million of such customers daily! The country is open to those ready for such adventure!”, he said.

“Secondly: Be strategic, build relationships extensively. People buy from people they trust so it is vital that you find and build good relationships with people who are key stakeholders to your business. Be sure to also find other people who are like-minded and share similar values with you and build collective action with them to overcome shared corruption and other risks that you are vulnerable to. The right relationships will help you see the lay-of-the-land quickly and safely, to avoid the very real pitfalls of doing business in a weak governance zone like Nigeria.

“Thirdly: Establish your Anti-corruption credentials upfront. Ensure you wear your values on your sleeves for all to see. Let all who know you, know upfront that you stand for fair, transparent and accountable business transactions. You may lose some business opportunities but once you are known to deliver good value for money, you will definitely win some opportunities as well (especially from those to whom it matters). The pros of doing business the right way in Nigeria ultimately outweigh the cons”, the Open Government advocate added.

According to him, “Number four is ‘Don’t assume everyone in Nigeria is a fraud! Keep an open mind and outlook to everyone and everything until proven otherwise. The danger of assuming everyone is a fraud is that you put up a certain attitude that would repel good people and ironically attract the bad people you are trying to avoid. Don’t assume everyone is a fraud or you won’t meet good people.

“The fifth tip is that one must trust and verify. If you agree to tip #4 though, don’t be gullible. Ensure you do your corruption and other risk assessments to ascertain that you always make objective and good decisions about everything and everyone at all times. As the Americans would say, trust and verify.

“Number six tip is that ‘when in doubt, use a guide’. When you are unsure or uninformed about how to achieve good practice in a murky environment, don’t try to be a hero, use a suitably skilled resource as your guide. This is where you leverage the trustworthy relationships you have made in Tip #2 above to recommend the resource you need”, he added.

The seventh tip, according to Apampa, who is a transparency advocate, is for the investor to ‘Know the Rule of the Game!’ “Committing to do clean business in Nigeria or even single-handedly operating your business is similar to flying solo. If this is your preference, then you must know the formal and informal rules-of-the-game like the back of your hand, so you can play better than anyone else at avoiding the pitfalls!”

On the eighth tip, he warned potential investors to “Be compliant”. According to him, “Governance may be weak in Nigeria but be compliant, else you will be shocked by the compromises you will be forced to make in a bid to “cover up” your non-compliance. Typically, you find yourself in a position to initiate or accept corruption when all your ducks are not in a row and you have something to hide. Don’t put yourself in that position ever because once you start down that slippery road, there’s no telling where it may land you or your company. Be wise, be compliant.”

Apampa also proffered humour as a vital tip for doing business in Nigeria. As the ninth tip, he said “Arm yourself with a sense of humour. One of the best qualities to possess as a resident or citizen of Nigeria is a good sense of humour; you need to arm yourself with one in business. It can come in handy as the way to respond to and disarm bribe or “facilitation fee” requests. Try it, and you will be amazed at how laughable it would otherwise be to give in to such demands!
For the tenth tip, he canvassed for patience and a long-term view from those willing to do business in Nigeria. “Be patient and have a long-term view. Patience and a long-term view are required if you want to do business successfully in Nigeria. Our current reality may be very discouraging but the long-term is rewarding especially when you look at the untapped markets for goods and services and the unutilised resources across the country.”

He noted that the tips can help investors to structure their business dealings and to showcase that business can be done in Nigeria with integrity, fairness and transparency.