Nigerian women talk business


How did you become an entrepreneur?

Laraba Tanko: I am 35. I was born into a peasant family in a remote village called Rafi-Roro. I only went to primary school, but now I have a market stall. I established my business 20 years ago selling grains. I need to be an independent woman so I can set a good example to my three children.

Hajia Saratu Umar: I grew up in Kano, in northern Nigeria. I started selling food 40 years ago because, like Laraba, I wanted independence. It is not good if you have to ask your husband for every little thing. Today I am not feeling very well, but I am still at my stall because I need the money: it is better to experience pain in the body than pain in the mind.

Olakitan Wellington: My first job was with a plastic manufacturing company. I was there for two years and I learnt a lot about running a business. Now I run a financial literacy training business. I wanted to have control over my schedule so I would have enough time for my four children.

Was it easy?

Laraba: It was very difficult for me, being from a poor family. Since I was a child, I’ve had to work hard. The conditions at the market are really bad too. But recently our local government started providing basic facilities, including toilets and drinking water.

Olakitan: A lot of women go into business without any plan or knowledge. I made the same mistake and had a terrible experience – tax men would come and threaten me with ridiculous bills, even bigger than my income! I had to pay and nearly lost all my money.

Why are there so few women in business?

Laraba: I would like to grow my business, but I don’t have the capital. Where do I get a loan? Banks won’t lend to us. Women are held back because we have no finance and it takes years for us to save.

Olakitan: I would add that bureaucracy in banking procedures and high interest rates makes it difficult for us to get funding. We need to understand how to register our business and how to apply for a bank account; all of this is very complicated if you don’t have any education. I also want to know how best to reinvest my earnings so I can make more money.

What are the challenges?

Laraba: Gender inequality is a major challenge for us. We have more difficulty getting capital and our culture doesn’t allow us to do certain things. For example, we are not allowed to run our business late at night. We are also forced into doing menial jobs, such as cleaning and we don’t get paid as much as men.

Olakitan: In Nigeria, a woman is expected to put her family first and she often can’t give her business the time and attention it needs. A man can go on a business trip without a second thought, but the woman has to think of her children and the home. Husbands also don’t like women working because they think it might cause infidelity or expose their wife to sexual harassment.

Has the status of women changed?

Laraba: It is taxing to be a woman here, especially without education. I am always being reminded that it is a man’s world. Only with education and skills can we change the status of women. I think it is slowly improving.

Hajia: I agree with Laraba, but life for women is better than before. Women are now employed – even old women like me are getting trained in things like midwifery. We can make three in one day. If we have a skill, we won’t be penniless and dependant on our husbands.

To find out more about women in business in Nigeria, visit our GEMS3 website here.