The Family Business Culture In Nigeria

By Martins Odeh, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

By most accounts, the dawdling growth of the Nigerian economy could be partly attributed to the dying family business culture in the society.

Some economic experts note that most of the family companies, which acted as a catalyst for the development of the national economy, have been forced to close down.

With a sense of nostalgia, some of the experts recall that some defunct family business empires once made considerable impact on the country’s economy.

In the media industry, for instance, they cite media organisations such as Concord Newspapers, Muri Television and Desmin Television as some examples of defunct family businesses.

In the road transportation sub-sector, there are some solid family companies which have now gone into extinction.

Such transport firms include P.N Emera Transport Service, Osondu Motors, More Days, More Hope Transport, Chief D.E and Sons Motors, Chief Obande Obeya Transport Ltd as well as Let them Say Transport Service.

At a point in time, the aviation sector also prided itself with airlines such as Okada, Chanchangi, Slok, as well as Haka airlines

Some of the renowned family businesses that are now defunct include outfits like Okin Biscuits, Tilley Igado Construction Nig. Ltd, Gadi and Sons Nig. Ltd., among others.

The list of family businesses which are now extinct appears inexhaustible but observers insist that family businesses, nonetheless, represent a channel for family members to pool resources and start a business.

A question, however, remains: Why did the family businesses hit the rocks because of extraneous factors such as death of their proprietors?

Answers to the question will definitely throw up some food for thought, particularly because of the success story of family businesses in other parts of the world.

Analysts tend to wonder why family businesses are sustainable and enduring in some countries, citing the Jewish experience as an illustration.

“All over the world, the success of family-owned businesses within the Jewish communities is highly fascinating; in fact, the Israelis control many economies across the world,’’ says Dr Kunle Abiodun, an agricultural economist.

He says that the apprenticeship traditions of the Jews have somewhat fostered the fulfilment of their family businesses.

Besides, Abiodun notes that the economies of several Asian countries, particularly China and Japan, experienced a remarkable growth because of the due recognition of the pivotal roles played by family businesses.

What then is responsible for the abysmal performance of many family businesses in Nigeria?

Chief Chris Okafor, the Chief Executive Officer of Mayo Mayo Nig. Ltd., insists that family businesses in Nigeria can bolster the country’s economy if tangible efforts are made to recognise and support them.

He underscores the need to appreciate the fact that the structured growth of family businesses can stimulate the revival of the country’s economy, particularly during the difficult economic times.

Okafor, nonetheless, blames the inability of most family businesses to sustain their founders’ vision on the greed and reluctance of their managers to reposition the companies for effective service delivery.

Prof. C.O Obinna of the Department of Mass Communication, Benue State University, Makurdi, says that Nigeria could adopt the “Asian Tiger economic template’’ to develop its economy.

He, however, concedes that the complex business environment in the country remains a major challenge, as “most small businesses are just like briefcases.

“But I tell you, the success story of the Asian Tiger economies, which forms the fulcrum of most economic conferences across the world, could guide efforts to restructure Nigeria’s economy.

“Nigeria can better address the burden of lack and poverty in families by deliberately stirring the concept of family business but some factors like astronomical rents, high lending rates must be tackled,’’ he adds.

Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Sidney Inegbedion, the President of Nigeria Entrepreneurs Forum, insists that the practice of state capitalism, as an economic modus operandi in the country, is largely retrogressive.

“In Nigeria, because of the level of private sector development, we have been christened to be a state capitalist society.

“By that, I mean that the government has a large share in terms of determining the level of economic activity.

“Anybody who wants to make economic decisions ends up working with the public sector, either to secure contract or do whatever they want to do.

“The civil servant has a lot of influence over such economic activity in Nigeria,’’ he says

All the same, Mr Chima Ikechkwu, a business consultant, says that the concept of family business in the country is as old as human existence.

“Families have always been in business, from farming to petty trading and to handicrafts but the problem is that these creative powers have not been developed to a competitive level.

“In other climes, the creative abilities of individuals and families are properly harnessed to engender a progressive chain of growth in the larger economy.

“Families’ entrepreneurial risks led to the invention or creation of global brands and automobiles like Honda, Yamaha, Jinjeng, Toyota, Ford and so on.

“We can replicate the same kind of development in Nigeria if family businesses are supported,’’ Ikechkwu says.

According to the Family Business Review Magazine, family businesses play a pivotal and influential factor in the growth of the U.S. economy.

The August 2013 edition of the publication says that over 80 per cent of business enterprises in North America are family businesses.

The magazine cites a report which indicates that family businesses account for 60 per cent of total U.S. employment and 78 per cent of all new jobs.

It says that the impact includes 65 per cent of the wages paid, while 34 per cent of the family businesses are currently listed on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Analysts contend that in spite of any seeming challenge, family businesses, which form a sizeable percentage of the businesses in the organised private sector, still remain a pivotal factor in Nigeria’s economy.

It is, perhaps, the recognition of the fundamental role which family businesses play in the economy that compelled the Benue State Government to assist efforts to set up small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the state.

Gov. Gabriel Suswam, who says that the government aided efforts to establish 200 SMEs in 2013, recalls that the people were encouraged to organise themselves into clusters of family cooperatives in order to access credit facilities for business start-up capital.

Observers laud the government’s initiative but they underscore the need to nurture small scale enterprises in Nigeria and ensure their survival.

Dr Pierce Utor, an economist, insists that businesses could only thrive in a sustainable way if they are nurtured, preserved and transferred to the next generation.

He says that most family businesses in Nigeria failed because of perceptible deficiencies which include the lack of financial discipline and the non-application of best practices in their management.

All in all, experts stress the need to harness the potential of family businesses, as part of pragmatic efforts to strengthen the country’s economy.

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