A guy walks into a bar…..
And in that bar in Nigeria he discusses corruption with lawyer Chijioke Okoli, shares a Star beer with Olympic gold medalist Enee Udo-Obong, learns about Sepp Blatter’s warm regard for himself from renowned UK sports journalist Kevin Roberts, hears about the issues of his country from Zimbabwean Robert Mutsauki (who flew here through Addis Ababa), chats with Nigerian Football Federation vice president Seyi Akinwunmi (who happens to own the bar), and eats spicy snails and chicken wings with SportsPro CEO Nkechi Obi. All this while watching Barcelona’s Messi and Suarez defeat Seville in a tight and well-played UEFA Supercup game 5-4 (a match played in Tbilisi, Georgia). My night in the town in Lagos.
I came to Nigeria at the invitation of Enee and Nkechi, with the goal of helping them spark a Cambrian explosion in sports and sports entrepreneurship in Nigeria. New ventures. Startups. Moneyed angels investing in them. Large companies recognizing the opportunities that sports offers. Experienced entrepreneurs acting as role models and mentors. More people doing more sports more often. Government creating a level playing field for sports entrepreneurs. Transparency in financing, regulation and the law. Nigerian athletes more often on the world stage.
Giving the keynote address earlier in the day at Lagos Business School I aspirationally titled my talk, “Nigeria, the Silicon Valley of Sports in Africa”. Will it remain only an aspiration? Do the people and the enablers necessary to turn that dream into reality exist? From the passion, perseverance and ingenuity of the people I met, I have high hopes.
This was my first visit to Nigeria. As soon as I left the airport I was reminded of the quote attributed to Kofi Annan, “Africa is a rich continent with a lot of poor people”, and there was evidence of both during my stay.
In Nigeria in particular, that richness has also been somewhat of a curse. Today oil still provides 80% of the government’s revenues, and attracts the vast majority of the foreign direct investment, thus robbing other sectors of attention and investment. Have you ever bought an expensive chocolate labelled “with the finest cocoa from Nigeria”? No, and yet it is the world’s 7th largest producer, and Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest source of quality cocoa, is just around the corner. When planning a safari holiday, does Nigeria come up on your list of possible destinations just after South Africa, Botswana and Namibia? Unlikely (and it isn’t just because of Boko Haram), as tourism investments aren’t a priority. Nor, it seems are exports a priority (other than oil), given the government’s decision on export expansion grants.
And there is a risk that this lack of attention and investment will inhibit the sports sector as well. This is where Nkechi, Enee, Chijioke, Seyi, Prof. James Tsaaior and their colleagues at SportsPro come into play. Their goal is nothing more than the revitalization of sports and the business of sports in Nigeria, a sector that is woefully weak for a country with 170 million people, many of them young, and Africa’s largest economy.
But if you listened to 88.9 Brila FM you wouldn’t know this. If you want to know what’s going on in Nigerian sports, or in Nigeria for that matter, tune in! The station’s founder, the Honourable Dr. Larry Izamoje, Larry and his amazing team and listeners interviewed me, Kevin Roberts and Robert Mutsauki for 60 minutes, and it was a rollicking good time. Electric! Fun! Their support of SportsPro Nigeria was palpable.
On my last day in Lagos CEO Oscar Onyema gave me the privilege of sounding the ringing gong (not bell!) at the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and addressing the trading floor. My overall message was that they had a role to play in this revitalization, and that Nigeria has a severe need to diversify its investment portfolio. Oil is a wonderful gift for the nation, but when it starves other sectors rather than nourishing them, it becomes a curse. Mr. Onyema, a Harvard-trained finance executive and avid skier, runner and swimmer, understands this. He left a career on Wall Street to come back to Nigeria to run the stock exchange and participate in the opportunities that a fast-growing economy offers.
Was I glad that I accepted the invitation? Yes. At a certain point, for me it was on the first evening, you realize in Africa that you are not in control, because things are moving and changing fast. You don’t have much information and you don’t understand the bits you do possess. That first evening I realized that I had to “go with the flow”, as I was told several times, accepting that you are in Africa, where anything can happen. For an entrepreneur, this is an exciting, almost giddy, feeling. Go with the flow, knowing that your wits and reflexes, together with the ingenuity and warmth of your Nigerian colleagues, will get you through. That realization, in and of itself, made this a worthwhile journey for me.
But back to the program and SportsPro: Nigeria, the Silicon Valley of Sports in Africa? In 5 years I suspect we may look back and find that that this wasn’t such a far-fetched aspiration.
Being the presentation of keynote Speaker, Dr. Jim Pulcrano at the Inaugural workshop of SPORTSPRO NIGERIA 2015 at the Lagos Business School titled “Nigeria, the Silicon valley of Sports in Africa” sharing his experience in Nigeria.