ADEKUNLE GAFAR: Three Reasons Enterprises Don’t Thrive in Nigeria

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Adekunle  Gafar  is  the  Chief  Operating  Officer  of  Toonwalk  Ltd,  a  multimedia  consulting  firm  that  specialising  in  3D  design,  animation,  photography,  video production,  and  content  development.  He  is  an  alumnus  of  The Wharton  School  of  the  University  of  Pennsylvania.  Gafar’s focus is on entrepreneurship. In this interview with Bamidele Famoofo, he shares his rich entrepreneurial experience in Nigeria, highlighting the gains and challenges. Excerpts:

 

What’s Toonwalk all about?

Toonwalk is a multimedia consulting company. We are out to create visibility for small businesses at a very affordable cost. As a company, we realized that there is nothing like putting yourself out there. There is nothing like advertising your business. Though you are doing great things as a business or an entrepreneur, if you don’t blow your trumpet, nobody will help you do it.

Since advertising your business using traditional media is quite expensive, we create a platform for small businesses that cannot afford to advertise their products to use the multimedia platform, and there is why Toonwalk comes in as a business. Because we are also a growing business, we work mostly with growing businesses to help them position their business for profitability in terms of promotion, visibility, using digital marketing and other means of advertisement. Basically, we are a content development company. We produce TV commercials, video production, films, documentary, animation, architectural designs among other things.

As the Chief Operating Officer/CEO of Toonwalk Ltd and has been in business for 15 years in Nigeria, can you describe your experience as an entrepreneur?

I have been in business in the last fifteen years as an entrepreneur and the experience has been rewarding. Operating as a business owner in Nigeria, however, is not without its challenges. What l mean by challenges is that we are in an environment where entrepreneurs are not being supported in terms of infrastructure, funding and other facilities. But for me, over the years, l have had to do some bootstrapping (gathering resources from different sources) to sustain the business.

We are still doing that because if you say you want to approach any financial institution for money, you would discover that the demands from them make the loan out of reach of entrepreneurs.

Well, we learnt that the processes are getting better to source for a loan, but in actual sense, we have not seen it happen. Meanwhile, our operations have been rewarding in terms of impact and the relationship we have built over the years. What I’m saying in the real sense is that it has been rewarding for me operating as an entrepreneur in Nigeria in the last 15 years.

Is it safe to conclude that small businesses are the bedrock of the Nigerian economy as it is in some climes?

The truth remains that entrepreneurs are the highest employers of labour in Nigeria. Let’s consider it from a welder in the street and consider the number of apprentices attached to that one man. Across the board, you will realize that the owners of these small businesses engage a very large number of employees in their business. But unfortunately, we are not getting the kind of support that we should get compared to what our counterparts in other countries get from their government. Let me give you a typical example of a client of mine from war-torn Syria. This fellow came to Nigeria with a loan at zero percent interest with a moratorium of nine years to do business.

Tell me how that man won’t succeed in doing business in Nigeria. That is what has been happening; you see loads of foreigners in Nigeria coming to do business leveraging the support they got from financial institutions in their countries, where the system makes it easy to access loan facilities at cheap rates with which they compete with us doing business here. We don’t have such privileges here.

So, how do you expect us to survive while operating in the same business space with them in this country?

This is a reason why l am campaigning that entrepreneurs in Nigeria should come together to form a voice that would be heard by the government. It is only by so doing that we get the government’s attention and also have the opportunity to make input in policies that affect all of us. But we continue to complain without making the necessary moves. We won’t be able to build capacity or grow at the pace we are expected.

But contrary to your claim that funding is a challenge for entrepreneurs, the Central Bank of Nigeria says it is making funds available through its various interventions at a single-digit rate. Are you saying the claims are not genuine?

I know quite a few banks that are giving out the loans. But it’s quite a small sum of money and again, the procedures (to go through before accessing the loan) are cumbersome. Personally, l have applied to some banks for a loan to grow my business. But l discovered that what should ordinarily take about one week to process as they advertise could eventually take about a month. Just recently, one of the banks from which l hope to borrow money, told me that its platform for the facility had been closed for the year.

Also, some time ago, my bank called me telling me that they received a request from me for a loan facility. They told me that my account officer will be in touch with me, but that would be the last l heard from them.

Notwithstanding my experience with the banks, l have heard one or two entrepreneurs saying they were about to secure some loan in the range of N1 million to N2 million from some banks. But l must tell you that is too low for some small businesses to grow. For some businesses that’s what they need.

But for some other businesses, they need more than that, especially when they need to expand their operations. But l know that the Bank of Industry is doing quite well in terms of facility provision for small businesses. However, the challenge remains the processes that lead to getting the facility. The processes needed to be fine-tuned to make it easily accessible for businesses.

There is a need for banks to work on their delivery time because there are platforms emerging now that require less cumbersome processes and the delivery time as short as two hours though small money on offer. Banks should retool their processes for them to make the desired impact on the economy.

Still considering support for entrepreneurs, there are a couple of non-profit making organizations in Nigeria, like the Tony Elumelu Foundation trying to raise and support entrepreneurs. You are a beneficiary of at least two of them. What’s your experience?

I must confess that some of these organizations are making a phenomenal impact in the entrepreneurial space in Nigeria. My personal experience at the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) has been quite massive. Before now, getting grants to float a business has been non-existent in the Nigerian space. So, when l came across TEF online, I thought it was one of those scams. But l tried and l was shortlisted.

Eventually, l got the grant. What struck me was that the foundation made sure that every business that was shortlisted got a grant. We were about 1,000. When you submit your business plan, which was being assessed by Accenture, a world-class consulting firm, they help you retool even a proposal considered not perfect. They make sure that they work together with you to come up with a more viable proposal. And at the end of the day, you get the grant.

For me, it was a fantastic phenomenon, having helped move my business from point A to B. For the old Diamond Bank, which came up with ‘Building Entrepreneurs Today’ initiative of which l was also a beneficiary, getting a scholarship to be trained at the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of the Pan- Atlantic University. Going to that school was an eye-opener for me because the knowledge about business development which l have today may not have been possible. If we have more of these initiatives, it will help a lot of entrepreneurs who have access to funding and the requisite training to excel in business. It will help raise giants in the business space of Nigeria.

The truth is that nobody will come to Africa to invest in Africa to make it good if we, Africans, are not willing to invest in our continent. We can only attract funding from the outside only when we are ready to invest in Africa. I will encourage more people to join the likes of TEF and Diamond Bank of old to create opportunities for Africans.

What did you learn at EDC that has helped you to grow your business?

Each time l hear the name EDC, laughter fills my mouth. There is no way you attend that school as an entrepreneur that your business will not move to the next level. They have helped me move from point A to B. There they teach you how to develop structures for your business and the network is fantastic that you develop from there. They do it deliberately, knowing that business is about the network. The kind of people you move around will determine the level of business you can do.

So, in terms of business knowledge, it has really helped my business to grow. It has sharpened the structure of my business. They pride themselves in making business succeed. I will encourage every entrepreneur to attend that school to be able to experience what l experienced and enjoy what also I’m enjoying as a result of being there.

Where do you expect to see Toonwalk in the next five years?

We are set out to become the biggest animation company in Nigeria. We have started the process by planning to set up an animation hall. This is because we realized that we have not taken the full advantage that the animation industry offers us in this part of the world. This is because there is a lack of collaboration and funding. You must realize that embarking on the animation project is quite expensive. But based on our association over the years, we realized that funding is not even the main issue, but collaboration. We have put a mechanism in place to put together the right team to deliver top-notch animation projects that will compete globally.

May l also let you know that Toonwalk has a CSR arm that deals basically in multimedia training and also create platforms for creative artists to exhibit their creations. Our intention is to make their jobs profitable for them by placing them side by side with art collectors who will buy their works. In the next five years, we hope to intensify efforts in these directions to empower the Nigerian youths and creating platforms for artists to make money from their creativity.

What other challenges are there for entrepreneurs to grapple apart from funding and what do you expect the government to do in this direction?

Basically, there are three areas l think we need to look at. Apart from funding, l have discovered that there is a dearth of human resources. Most of our young people lack work ethics to excel in the business world. I think there is a need to address that. The second critical issue is infrastructure. Here l refer basically to power. Then, incessant taxation. If we can do something about these three things l have highlighted here, enterprises will thrive in Nigeria.