What they don’t teach at Lagos Business School

Business Tips from the Streets of Lagos, by Tolu Ogunlesi

1. THE LAW OF 5/20/60

Get in Early! Get out even Earlier!

Ikoyi to Victoria Island is a journey of five minutes. In principle. On a weekday morning, it is a twenty-minute journey, if you set off at 6:45 a.m. It is also a one-hour journey – if you set off at 7:10 a.m.

It always happens like this: A visionary entrepreneur brings a new concept to the market (say, ‘Business Lunch Delivery Service’), and immediately start to “smile to the bank” with the proceeds of originality / innovation. Then the “Crowd” – having seen, from a distance, the Promised Land of Potential Profit – rush in. Alas, by this time, it is too late. What they meet is the bust. [It happened with cyber-cafes – if you remember what those are/were].


That you didn’t see it last night doesn’t mean it won’t be there this morning

It is night. You are speeding along Ikorodu Road. You have passed Ikorodu road every single night on your way home from work, for the last five years, so you know all the contours and “gallopings” and mysteries of the road. But tonight’s gonna be a bad bad night. Out of the blues, out of nothing, a concrete divider emerges. In front of you. In the middle of the road. A smashed bumper, smashed headlights, and a crushed radiator follow. You can only curse, and nurse your wounds.

Business in Nigeria is like that. VAT and/or the price of petrol/diesel will double overnight, and double again a few nights later. Government policies (taxes, import duties, rebates, etc) will change faster than you can say “macroeconomic.” A sudden reshuffling of a government cabinet reshuffles will set you back to square one. Multiple taxation will be your portion.

Simply, be prepared – for ANYTHING. Never give in to despair. Never take your eyes off the road. Mitigate uncertainty by the liberal use of your powers of anticipation.


Everyman for himself, LASTMA take the last man!

You may not know what the rules are. Or who makes them. Or why. Stop moaning. Accept that the Law around here is often lawless – and greedy.

Let’s use LASTMA as our example. LASTMA sets the rules of engagement for road-users in Lagos. Unfortunately, in many cases only LASTMA seems to know what those rules are. Or the correct corresponding fines.

The business field is often like that; a mined jungle. Prepare for such times when you will break rules that do not exist except in the imaginations of certain (often uniformed/un-informed) persons. What to do? Regularly set aside a percentage of your profits to cover such expenses/extortions/’taxations’ that come with business in Nigeria. Call it The “LastMa(n)” Fund.


Catch your competitor unawares!

You are on Falomo Bridge, on a Monday morning, approaching Akin Adesola Street. But you are trapped on the lane(s) curving off into Ozumba Mbadiwe. You need to cross (at least) two lanes to get into the Akin Adesola-bound track.

The last thing any ‘proper’ Lagos Driver would do is “trafficate” an intention to change lanes. Lagos being what it is, no one will sit back and watch you displace him/her. The Lagos Driver has therefore come to learn, and master, the art of surreptitious insertion i.e. a sudden yet gentle yet determined swing of bumper, into the space desired. Then a pause, to give the ‘chanced’ driver time to realize his helplessness, and then curse.

Lagos Driver then swings the entire car in.

What does this say about business? You alert your competitor of your plans / strategies at your own risk. Unleash your innovation and hit ‘em hard and square before they can guess what hit ‘em. You are only as good as your ability to surprise competitor and market.

WikiLeak-proof your business. Now.

Comments (19)

  1. Please, I want to start up a pop corn business and I have been searching to know what I could need and how much they could cost. Pls I hope u could reply thru my mail, [email protected] or text or call 08074702171. I will be grateful to hear frm u or anyone that can help

  2. Seye or Y admin,

    Just wondering if you know what they don't teach at Lagos business school, what about what they teach?

  3. Although this is a sad tale of the Nigerian economic reality,it is still a beautiful and humorous rendition on the sad and dysfunctional socio-economic terrain of that place called NIGERIA. Brilliant!

  4. Gosh! Tolu, if i weren't already taken i'd marry you! You are absolutely brilliant and this piece is sooo true and sooooooooo funny, especially "Then a pause, to give the ‘chanced’ driver time to realize his helplessness, and then curse." ROTFL!!! Well done!

  5. This article is witty and on point, on a more serious note, it is a true reflection of the uncertain Nigerian business environment.

  6. THE LAW OF 5/20/60 is applicable to "popcorn" aka "guguru ati ekpa" kiosks. A real business with solid strategy would make it very unattractive to new entrants.

    "THE LAW OF INVISIBILITY" applies to all businesses globally, that's why businesses are supposed to hedge and budget and not run once again a "popcorn" aka "guguru ati ekpa" kiosks.

    "THE LAW OF THE LASTMA(N)" This in conventional business is called "discretionary clauses" in terms of services in businesses, and is not Nigerian centric.

    "THE LAW OF THE ‘TRAFFICATOR’" If your strategies cannot differentiate you from your competitors and make your competitors struggle to catch on, then its not a competitive strategy.

    Nigerians are lucky they are not doing business in an environment where

    1. There is availability of capital, whereby just about anybody can roll a business and take risks

    2. No foreign investments, where aggressive marketing strategies would be in play.

    3. That the rich are super greedy, hence they would not set-up businesses that would be a market changer.

    I think most of your assertions are nothing to learn from, but more of a generalized assumption on how businesses are run or rather should be run in your context, based on layman's assumptions and inexperience.

  7. Tolu this is good. I will want to use this to teach. Do you mind? Great job man.

  8. This article is about the reality of business; what our lecturers have left to the streets to teach us in the name of experience.
    Good job!

  9. Witty, Intelligent and Refreshing …. Tolu Ogunlesi!

  10. Wow! The things ‎​U̶̲̥̅̊ need to know!
    Still laffin at d lastman n d need to keep a certain portion of our allowances for him!.

  11. I was like who is this? This guy is good! And then I scroll up and see is none other than my egbon the 'uber talented witty Tolu Ogunlesi'. Always, keeping it real and giving us the laffs. Ride on!!!

  12. Funny yet undeniably direct and practical. Thumbs up, guy!

  13. Interesting article.

    But how does he know they don't teach this in Lagos Business School? *rme*


    Interesting insights overall.

  14. Surreptitious what?….now that's a phrase to recall.Brillant

  15. As in Kay… the guy is too much abeg…chai.. I can't get over it!!

  16. This dude is brilliant abeg!

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