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There are massive opportunities in the Nigerian Diaspora market and these two entrepreneurs are making it big

The World Bank estimates that Nigerians in diaspora remitted $21 billion in 2015, $35 billion in 2016, and $38 billion in 2017.

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  • The World Bank estimates that Nigerians in diaspora remitted $21 billion in 2015, $35 billion in 2016, and $38 billion in 2017.
  • Two entrepreneurs are enjoying the opportunities this market brings.
  • While Nigeria moved up 24 spots in the Ease of Doing Business Index, it is rarely reflective of the experiences of entrepreneurs on ground who operate in the export sector.

The Nigerian diaspora market or the vast business opportunities it represents is something that is surprisingly, rarely talked about. At least, in some serious exploratory sense.

It is not clear as to what the total worth of this market is, but the Nigerian diaspora are a demographic that has consistently shown a relentless capacity for spending. To put the deep pockets of this demographic into perspective, the World Bank estimates that Nigerians in diaspora (who are numbered at 15 million) remitted $21 billion in 2015, $35 billion in 2016, and $38 billion in 2017.

In the context of this, entrepreneurs who are able to identify market offerings that entice and target this demographic are looking at immense possibilities.

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I have followed the entrepreneurial journey of two CEOs, Chelsma Ezulike of Chelsma fish produced by Samsara Agro Ltd and Emeka Onuorah of Asilarex Properties LTD, whose products target Nigerians in the diaspora.

Both entrepreneurs offer products that aligns perfectly with some of the most important needs of the Nigerian diaspora. This demographic, amongst a host of other things, are very concerned about their culinary experience while they are away from home, and their social status while they return home. Ezulike exports Chelsma® Fish, a carcinogen-free smoked fish, while Onuorah helps Nigerians who are based abroad to build houses back home while saving them the hassle of having of being physically present.

Food is important for Nigerians, in that it does not matter where they are, they rarely ever compromise on their culinary choices. But while beef and chicken are protein sources that are readily available overseas, fish is not. Certainly not the smoked variety Nigerians can rarely do without while making soups.

In short, a study conducted in the UK in 2000 showed that West African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast) imported 500 tonnes of smoked fish per annum into the UK, with a retail value of £5.8 to £9.35 million. And of this quantity, Nigeria exported about 60 tonnes per annum via airfreight.

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However, the fish export sector has had its fair share of challenges, particularly relating to inefficient (primitive) smoking techniques, which leave a residue called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) on smoked fish. PAHs are carcinogens banned in America and the EU.

Smoke from wood and charcoal fuel, which is the major method of processing fish in Nigeria, are the largest sources of PAHs and it is nearly impossible not to get some into the fish. This has created justifiable grounds for some of these exports to be destroyed at overseas ports for not cutting the international safety threshold. Many of such products from Nigeria haven’t been able to find their way into the US as they fell short of the standards required by 2012 Bioterrorism Act of the US.

Chelsma® Fish CEO, Ezulike tells me that he is revolutionising fish export by using more efficient smoking methods and techniques to try to solve this problem. “Our smoking kilns (machines) are designed in such a way that they don't let smoke get anywhere near the fish during smoking, thereby producing a near 98% smoke-free experience”, he stressed.

As an SME in the agricultural sector in Nigeria, other obvious challenges subsists. While Nigeria moved up 24 spots in the Ease of Doing Business Index published by the World Bank in 2017; it is rarely reflective of the experiences of entrepreneurs on ground who operate in the export sector. The regulations and bureaucracy on which the export machinery is built is too cluttered to be efficient and prevent prolonged delays of products at the port.

In South East Nigeria, Emeka Onuorah, CEO of Asilarex Properties Ltd., has found a way to remodel the real estate business by creating a market offering that exclusively targets the Igbo (the ethnic population of Nigeria’s South East) people who love in the diaspora. It is a market with an interesting demographic characteristic.

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First, most middle-class Igbo people find owning a house in their hometown highly important. Not just for the necessity of shelter (as they are mostly there only during the Christmas or Easter festivities), but as a matter of pride and status. In other words, the owners don’t intend to own it for the purpose of making profit off them, but to fulfill a psycho-social need -- a psychological need in the sense that ownership confers a feeling of achievement and fulfills a desire to leap into a higher social strata.

In other words, the market appears to be one that cannot be undercut by forces of demand and supply in the local economy seeing as the target market inhabit a different clime and are totally insulated from any changes in the economic tides back home.

Before businesses like Asilarex Properties came on board, Nigerians in the diaspora from the South East often sent remittances for the purpose of building a house to their siblings or family members. But more often than not, these family members tended to misuse the funds or execute shoddy work since they had little experience in building houses.

Yet, while Onuorah speaks about his business bringing a vital and professional solution to such challenges, issues of trust and integrity remain begging. “We never felt that it would be easy for people to trust us to build for them when they haven’t interacted with us face-to-face. So there is always an initial uneasiness of how to entrust huge sums to a strange company”, Mr. Onuorah tells me.

Predictably such initial trust-deficit was not altogether strange when the prospective house owners were far away in Europe, Asia or America. “Integrity has been our watchword,” Onuorah continues, “because we knew that referrals would be our greatest asset. People we’ve executed projects for have been able to inform their friends abroad about us, and others have been able to trust us.”

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With an annual remittance value that is consistently increasing, and a growing diaspora population, Nigerian entrepreneurs back home who are able to target the diaspora population will find in it huge and immeasurable potentials.

Obinwanne Okeke is the chairman and CEO of Invictus Group of Companies, a conglomerate involved in agriculture, construction, oil and gas, real estate, renewable energy, and telecoms.

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