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Nigeria: business is the answer

Nigeria: business is the answer

16 October 2018

Fyodor Ovchinnikov

Dodo Pizza CEO

Fyodor Ovchinnikov

It was a completely new experience. I’d been in many countries and cities, but what I saw and felt in Nigeria has changed my view of the world entirely. We spent four days in Lagos, Africa’s largest city. Our team came to Nigeria at the invitation of prospective partners to experience everything first-hand, study the growing Nigerian market, and make a decision on the possibility of bringing the Dodo Pizza brand to this country. So what have I learned in Nigeria?

I saw what an unsafe environment looks like. I’ve been to different places, but nothing like that before. I had a pretty happy childhood in Russia in the 90s (though nowadays some people think that the 90s were a pretty scary period in Russia’s history). From the first grade, I walked to school alone. I’ve never seen people with assault rifles in the streets.  

What does downtown Lagos look like? All of the offices, shops, restaurants, and houses are encircled by high fences with barbed wire. Our hotel looked like a fortress. Every time we came, security had to perform a full check-up of our car.  Being a security officer is probably the most popular occupation in Nigeria. They are everywhere. If you are white, you shouldn’t walk around the city alone—there is always a chance of kidnapping.

Nigeria is one of the largest oil exporters, so there is money. And what strikes me in Lagos is this combination of poverty and wealth. You can see a Maserati and an old battered bus without doors with so many people crammed inside—both stuck in the same traffic jam. There are those who have everything and those who have nothing to lose. At the same time, the government is weak and can’t provide security.   

There are many wealthy people in Nigeria and so few places where they can spend money. The most popular mall in Lagos looks like a mediocre trade center in a distant Russian city. Though it may be very risky, business in Nigeria offers huge opportunities. Nigeria will be growing. It’s already changed a lot. Ten years ago, there were dead bodies lying on the sidewalks. Today, there are many young people who want to change the country and build a better, safer future for themselves.

Domino’s is the only international pizza chain in Nigeria now. They came seven years ago and managed to open 50 units. Some of them are among the most profitable pizzerias globally. Pizza Hut is opening its first location soon. Will Dodo come to Nigeria? It depends on the decision of our team and our partners in Lagos.

Maybe somebody will look at my photos from Lagos and say something like, “How can they live like that in the 21st century? Maybe they simply can’t change?” But it took centuries for Europe to build a safe and comfortable world. Africa has had only 50 years. And the wealth of the western world was built on resources extracted from Africa, slavery included.

We live in a world of prosperity. We all have access to clean water, education, hospitals. In Africa, even in “rich” Nigeria, millions of people live on the streets and don’t even know how to read. You can’t even imagine what kind of a life it is. I couldn’t—before I visited Nigeria. There is no documentary that can have the same impact on your mind as even a short, four-day trip to the country that gives you first-hand experience.

How can things be changed? Business is the answer. There is oil. Oil creates wealth. Wealthy people need to spend their money somehow. So, businesses should serve them; open restaurants and shops, and create jobs. New jobs create new people with money to spend and so on… You can’t turn things around in one day. Progress takes time. You have to be patient and persistent, but it’s business that can bring real change to this country.

I feel deep respect for our prospective partners who believe in their country and invest in Nigeria despite all the risks. If we do launch this project, it won’t be just a business opportunity for us, it will be a chance for us to make this world a better place.

By the way, people in Nigeria are very positive and open. They want to grow and build. They sell books to the drivers stuck in traffic jams. Do you know what these books are about? Business.

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