Home African CEOs How Nigerian Migrant Entrepreneurs are Building Multi-Million Dollar Businesses in South Africa
African CEOs - April 8, 2022

How Nigerian Migrant Entrepreneurs are Building Multi-Million Dollar Businesses in South Africa

Nigerian entrepreneurs are arguably the most resilient and dogged worldwide, primarily because of the country’s harsh living climate, which makes it almost impossible to thrive. But the few who do are better for it. This is perhaps why many Nigerians are successful abroad.

Since 2010, the unemployment rate in Nigeria has risen over 500 per cent, from 6.4 per cent to 35 per cent in 2021, leaving many young people stranded and at the mercy of menial labour.

Rising unemployment and economic downturn, which were compounded by the covid-19 pandemic and Nigeria’s booming demographics, have pressured Nigerian entrepreneurs and youths to seek greener pasture abroad. 

According to the World Bank, less than one per cent of Nigerians are international migrants, much lower than their peer countries. But that declaration has been disputed by officials of the Nigerian government who as of 2017 put the figure at 17 million.

The Federal Commissioner, National Commission for Refugees, migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI), Sadiya Umar Farouq defended that many migrants who cross international borders resort to irregular means of migrating through dangerous routes like trekking through deserts and crossing seas. 

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The upside to this is that Nigeria attracts high diaspora remittance, which came to over $34 billion as of last year. That is more than 7.5 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP and almost as much as the 2021 budget – $35.66billion

The downside, however, is brain drain. Nigeria continues to lose some of her best minds to other countries.

One of the countries that have benefited from the exodus is South Africa. Report says no less than 30,000 Nigerians now live in the former apartheid enclave.

These Nigerians have achieved remarkable success in their various professional sphere, including academics, medicine, IT etc. 

Some of them are owners of thriving businesses worth several multi-million Rand with tens of employees on their payroll. 

Here are some of the Nigerian entrepreneurs making a significant impact in South Africa.  

Kenn Ayere

Kenn Ayere. Photo Credit: Forbes.

Kenn Ayere owns one of the classiest restaurants in South Africa. Homebaze African Cuisine, which daily attracts high-end customers, is situated in Johannesburg’s Sandton City, one of the largest retail complexes in Africa. 

Located in the Legacy Corner section of the Complex, Hombaze African Cuisine, which was established in 2003, has been at the forefront of promoting traditional African meals in South Africa.

Ayere first came to South Africa in 1996 as News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Southern African Bureau Chief. After four years, he resigned and started exploring opportunities in business. 

Ayere disclosed that his restaurant had played host to tourists from different parts of the globe, including Italians, Chinese, Portuguese, Greeks etc. 

Homebaze also attracts patronage from top government functionaries, royalties, and celebrities worldwide.  

Aside from Homebaze Restaurant, the Nigerian entrepreneur also has business interests in hotels and high-end car rental services for which he employs over 100 people.

Lukman Alade

Lukman Alade is another Nigerian that is making a big impact in South Africa. His story and journey to success bellies the resilience and innovativeness of the average Nigerian and how much they love to take risks.

The Nigerian entrepreneur was tired of doing business in Nigeria due to the unfriendly environment; hence he relocated to South Africa.

Back home, he was a frustrated auto electrical engineer because of the slow pace of his career growth. As an electrical mechanic in Lagos, he could barely make ends meet. 

At some point, he closed down his car repair shop in Egbeda and started selling cars, which also didn’t bring him joy; then, he decided to travel to South Africa.

He relocated to South Africa even though he knew nobody there. But he was confident his skills would make way for him in a strange land. 

“I knew that with my skill in electrical mechanical, I will excel wherever I went,” Lukman said.

On his second day of arrival, with the help of a homeless Nigerian, he located a car repair shop owned by another Nigeria, and he introduced himself as a mechanic.

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“As I was speaking to the owner of the shop, a car arrived for repairs. He asked me can you do this I said yes.” Lukman said. Within minutes he got the car working. That was his first breakthrough.

Before long, his fame spread around South Africa as everybody wanted him to fix their cars.

“People trusted me to the extent that they wanted me to handle everything about their cars, even none electrical problems like body works are brought to me because of the reputation I earned,” he added.

Lukman now owns L&K Auto Panelbeaters Limited, one of the biggest car repair shops in South Africa, with no less than 29 employees working for him from different parts of Africa. 

For his expertise, Lukman earns about R250,000 (N7.5m) monthly. That is a sharp contrast to his reality in Nigeria. 

Deji Adeyemo

Deji has a multi-million-dollar investment in South Africa, cutting across various segments. 

His chain of businesses includes a High-end restaurant, supermarket, bottle manufacturing company, lounge/bar and an engineering consulting firm.

But when Deji first arrived in South Africa, he had nothing. He survived by hawking pieces of jewellery on the street, and that was how he made enough money to pursue a Master’s Degree at a South African University.

Deji worked at MTN for a few years and then left to set up his engineering firm. Years later, he got the idea to start a restaurant after visiting London. 

“I observed that street food is so cool in London. When I got back I registered the company, and we started,” he said.

Though he started from his house, Ayoka Restaurant has become a popular hangout for Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa. 

It is not just the food at Ayoka that is African; the ambience has a unique African design with artworks that depict the continent’s history and culture.

Deji who has 50 people on his payroll attributes his success to what he called the Nigerian spirit. 

He stressed that the average Nigerian is resilient and creative, adding that his story is very common among the Nigerian community in South Africa.

Tonye Irims

Tonye Irims. Photo Credit: Contents101.

WiSolar, one of the fast-growing solar companies in South Africa, is owned by a Nigerian entrepreneur, Tonye Irims, a marketing graduate at the University of Port.

Irims relocated to South Africa at 23 and settled for menial jobs for survival, but he now runs a multi-million dollar solar company.

In 2016, he set up WiSolar to provide solar energy solutions to the South African market. His expectation of fast growth was dashed after he could only achieve three installations in the first year of operation. 

“We imported a few inverters but it was a very rough start. Many people did not see the value and then, they did not even have the means to purchase it”, he explained.

Frustrated, Irims came close to selling off the company. He attempted to sell, but no one wanted to pay R120,000 for it.

But in 2018, he experienced a change in fortune after a $4000 seed capital boosted his liquidity. 

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This also coincided with a period of intense energy crisis in South Africa due to the coal crisis, spurring demand for an alternative energy source like Solar.

In 2021, WiSolar began to leverage the Solar financing option to drive demand. He partnered with Ooba Homes Loans to provide solar electricity for homes purchased from Ooba.

The company also has a partnership with electronic giant LG for high efficiency black photovoltaic panels in a bid to make the electronics giant a provider of solar panels for LG and WiSolar’s customers.

Riding on the company’s success, Irims says he plans to create over 1000 jobs for solar engineers in South Africa. He is also planning to expand into the Nigerian market soon.

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