Sokoto shows the way forward for Nigerian business

The election season in Nigeria has inevitably focused attention on the importance of creating jobs and supporting businesses. But if Africa’s largest economy is genuinely to thrive, and to provide a sustainable base for Nigeria’s emergence as a global power in the twenty-first century, the country’s politicians need to understand that promises and posturing about the economy should not be a vote-seeking indulgence. 

Nigeria’s politicians should not be singled out here; politicians the world over are guilty of promising the world in election campaigns. But few countries are more in need of business development and support than Nigeria, with its stubbornly high rates of poverty, systemic unemployment, emigration of high-skilled entrepreneurs and young, digitally savvy population. 

There needs to be a sea-change in the way business is viewed in Nigeria. It cannot any longer be considered the servant of politics. Instead, politicians need to serve business: not favour any one individual business over another, nor prioritise sectors, but create and nurture the conditions in which all businesses can grow, adding jobs and generating wealth. 

I’m part of a project based in Sokoto that aims to create a world-class leather industry. We’re aiming to take the artisanal craft skills built up over generations, and to add it to the best environmental, marketing and production practices to develop an integrated leather cluster that can show to the world Nigeria at its best. 

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My involvement in Nigeria has grown over many years and many visits. It’s a society in flux, but one thing has always struck me: the huge possibilities of the country, and the untapped reservoir of talent in its greatest resource – its people. 

That’s why my company, Pan African Enterprises, has joined Governor Tambuwal and his team at the Sokoto Investment Company Ltd (SICL) to build a partnership to achieve this ambitious goal. In doing so, we not only want to place Sokoto on the global manufacturing map, but we also want to provide inspiration to other businesses in Nigeria, and to shape a model for successful public-private cooperation. 

SICL’s leadership understands the importance of maximising its economic potential. As a relatively dry, frontier state, its position as a crossroads for intra-regional trade has been essential to its history. And while the state’s low rainfall limits the possibility of growing cash crops, the livestock sector has traditionally been strong, hence Sokoto’s centuries of experience in the leather trade.

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It’s this comparative advantage that SICL’s chairman, Tukur Umar, and its managing director Muhammadu Buhari Dasuki, want to build on. I’m not alone in seeing the tremendous opportunity in Nigeria. The World Bank is enthusiastic about our vision, and we’re in discussions about long-term support. We have brought on board some world-class experts in all aspects of the leather production chain, from livestock through to sales of finished products.

In particular, given our focus on developing Sokoto as a focal point in Africa for high-quality footwear, we have engaged leading shoe design experts to conceive innovative new products. What enthuses me most is that our partners and Sokoto share a vision of a socially and environmentally responsible project: one that creates jobs but pays good wages, and that gives the community a genuine stake in the success of the business.

We are pushing for the most stringent environmental standards to ensure that the industry competes on quality with other global leather hubs. Nigeria’s business community is progressively moving towards a more inclusive, responsible model, and through our project in Sokoto we hope to accelerate that process. 

I’m proud to be active in business in Nigeria – a resilient, enterprising country full of committed, innovative individuals. I’m grateful for the strong political support we have received from Governor Tambuwal and his dedicated colleagues.

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Nigeria’s economic future surely lies in a closer relationship between politics and business, but one in which the public sector acts as a facilitator and partner for businesses of all shapes and sizes.  

This is the depth of support we have received in Sokoto. Let our project be the start of something big: not only to create a centre of excellence in leather, but to show the way towards sustainable, inclusive business across Nigeria.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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