Commerce in Nigeria here illustrated with production of Oh Mpa, a SABMiller Plc brand
The beer, popularly called Oh Mpa in Igbo language is produced by SABMiller Plc., This brand, which sought to give the local feel, pushes lower-costs products to beat bigger brands. Photo: SABMiller Plc. via Bloomberg

Commerce is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as the activities involved in buying and selling things. These activities, according to the, apart from occurring on a large scale, usually involves transportation from place to place, and the “things” transacted may also include services.

Commerce after Slave Trade

Money-making activities in the areas now included in Nigeria were purposely stimulated after the annexation of Lagos to replace slave trade and former illegal traders did well in adapting to the new “innocent” commerce. From the mid-nineteenth century, a complimentary group of businesspeople had begun to emerge from Lagos, Abeokuta, and Ibadan. Operating in the colonial context, persons like Taiwo Olowo, JPL Davies, both of Lagos, and Salami Agbaje, and Adebisi Giwa both from Ibadan took advantage of the openings in the colonial economy, where European or Eastern Mediterranean presence was marginal, to build their enterprise. They were also quick in utilizing the infrastructure of the colonial political economy.

Taiwo Olowo took advantage of changes in land tenure as part of the new order promoted by British colonialism, to create a business enterprise based on trade, land acquisition, investment in real estate, and money lending. W.A. Dawodu, coming from a notable business family started the sales and repairs of bicycles in 1905. As the colonial government embarked on the construction of roads he foresaw the potentials of the motor transport, therefore ventured into motorcar import business which will in 1920 be reported, as stated by Ayodeji Olukoju to be overwhelmed by demand. Inspired by Davies, who was his father’s friend, S.H. Pearse achieved commercial success with his company which he started in 1888 by combining an export business in palm produce, ivory and rubber with an import trade in various staple items. Salami Agbaje, disliked by many, refused to bow himself to the claims of tradition which limited the others. Agbaje invested in the education of his children, and devised a clear succession plan, unlike his many contemporaries and predecessors who failed due to the vicissitudes of the economic realities of their times. Of those who were alive during the depression of the early 1920s, and the Great Depression late in the decade, most did not triumph.

Bane of African Entrepreneurship

Kingsway building, Ibadan

The concentration on commerce without commensurate investment in manufacturing, Olukoju commented, was the bane of African entrepreneurship. Economic development was driven by the exportation of cash crops and minerals, with the importation of finished goods from Europe. The growth of agriculture nose-dived in post-independence times, first by low commodity prices and then the oil boom in the 1970s which lured labour away from the rural sector to urban centres. The average annual cocoa output, in a United Nations Environmental Program report fell continuously. Nigerian trade policy after independence served to protect domestic industries, and was blamed for the macroeconomic crises of the early 1980s.

The reformation of the Import-Substitution-Industrialization policy that began in 1957 under the Structural Adjustment Program eroded the feeble gains made in the regulation era. Economy was opened up with the new liberalized trade policy for finished consumable goods which flooded the market, outcompeting local goods. The state has since brought itself back in the business of trade, and as mentioned by Cooksey Nigeria has placed a number of domestically produced food crops on the Import Prohibition List. The Nigerian retail market, most recently have evolved from open-air markets to modern malls and online shops. “Nigeria’s e-commerce spac,’s executive reports, is the fastest growing in Africa contributing a monthly spend of $1.3bn to the Nigerian retail sector.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer