Abiku is a Yoruba word which means predestined to die. The word describes children who die shortly after birth. The death could occur anywhere between a few hours after birth to a year on. Families plagued with the spell of abiku or spirit-child often go through successive episodes of burying their babies before they have a child who finally stays. Indeed, surviving children are christened with names such as Durojaiye or Durotimi, which denote staying alive. The advent of medical science has however revealed that genetic and congenital factors, not some cosmic mysteries, are responsible for infant mortality. Parents are now aware of infant-exterminators like genotype incompatibility, malaria and other immunizable diseases; hence the fading of abiku from the Yoruba vocabulary. But, I need to resurrect the word.
I am not using the word in the post-natal sense, though. Instead, I want to introduce you to Abiku businesses; businesses predestined to die. Thankfully, corporate law has laid out the ‘personality’ of business entities, so I can safely use the word ‘die’. It is commonly said that 4 out of 5 Nigerian startups will cease to exist after the fifth year, but that is not my headache; we can chalk that to Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’. My pain is what becomes of the one surviving business. You see, after years of dreaming about a business, after hours of toiling to set it up, after navigating the treacherous economic terrain of this country and after surviving beyond the proverbial fifth-year of demise, shouldn't these businesses have come into their own?
Ask yourself, “How many of the businesses you saw on your way to school still exist today?” And of those that exist, aren't they worse off than back then? Where is the woman’s shop where you used to buy sobo and puff-puff? The pharmacy where mum used to buy anti-malarial when you had fever, where is it today? The biscuit you used to eat at lunch-break and toothpaste you brushed with as a child, are they the ones your children use? Do you service your car where your parents did or employ the same plumbing business as they did? All around me, I see a burial-ground of my childhood-day businesses. The rest are in the ICU, about to join the ranks of the forgotten abiku.
Organizations in Nigeria don’t attain Silver Jubilees or Golden Jubilees, except they are government establishments, religious places of worship, or listed companies. No, scratch that! Many unlisted businesses run by foreigners do too! What we like to call Korah businesses (unlisted companies run by Indians, Lebanese and Chinese etc.) which have been in existence before I was born are still standing and doing very well. These brilliant folks who supposedly don’t know the terrain, language or the connections that we citizens do, come here and beat us to the game. When coming here it is neither with truckloads of money nor post-graduates from the UK or USA – the excuses we often advance for not going into business. But a few years later, they are showing Nigerians, with both money and college degrees, how to run things.
Please, let me be clear here that I am not against non-Nigerians owning or running businesses in the country nor am I canvassing for the crazy indigenization policies of the Shagari-era. Far from it! I am not xenophobic, the syndrome I’m suffering from is called failure-phobia. I would rather they keep sustaining our unlisted-company sector than leave it to us, which in turn will lead to a loss of livelihood for hundreds of thousand Nigerians. Half a loaf, even it is baked by non-Nigerians, is heaven than none. What I am tired of is my folks not borrowing a leaf from those who have found a cure to the abiku business. Their staying businesses exist in the same environment buffeted by insecurity, erratic electricity, crater-ridden roads, corrupt bureaucracy and anaesthetized judiciary as indigenous businesses. Yet, their performance is stellar where ours remain as forgettable as the last blink.
First, let’s acknowledge that they know some things in building staying business which we need to learn, then set out to find out what they are. Read my post next Saturday, as I dig into some of these secrets.