Historical background / evolution of entrepreneurship with reference to Nigerian context

Early stage

The origin of entrepreneurship started with traders and merchants. The first known instance of humans trading comes from New Guinea around 1700 B.C. by which locals exchanged a black volcanic glass used to make hunting arrowheads for other goods.

According to Ani (1999) Entrepreneurship started when people produce more products than they needed, as such they had to exchange those surpluses. For instance, if a blacksmith produced more than what he needed, he had to exchanged the surplus with what he had not, may be some yams or goat etc. by this way, producers came to realise that they can concentrate in their production to produce more and then exchange with what they needed.

Through this exchange of produce, entrepreneurship started. An entrepreneur is someone who is independent, sees an opportunity, utilizes it and bear the risk of uncertainty with the mind set to succeed. Nigerians in the ancient days were engaged in entrepreneurship. The early entrepreneurship is characterized with production or manufacturing, in most cases often started with a small capital which most of it comes from their personal savings.

In other words, we can say the early entrepreneurship started with trade by barter before the advent of any form of money. And again, the history of entrepreneurial can be looked at in different ways. The economic history in one way, we can relate the historical evolution of entrepreneurship starting from expansion through innovation and inventions. How it all began and its impacts on society. This era lunched us into a system where entrepreneurs are alert enough to perceive opportunity and exploit any new innovations. Many inventions, subsequent commercialization and acceptance by society have dramatically changed our way of life over the years. Like automobile and combustion engine, touch light (use of batter) and touch light (use of electricity), microchips, computers and mobile phones, all in different ways changed society.

The modern stage

Modern entrepreneurship in Nigeria  started with the coming of the colonial masters, who brought in their wears and  made Nigerians their middle men. In this way, modern entrepreneurship was  conceived. Most of the modern entrepreneurs were engaged in retail trade or  sole proprietorship. One of the major factors that have in many ways discouraged this flow of  entrepreneurship development in Nigeria is the value system brought about by  formal education. For many decades, formal education has been the preserve of  the privilege. With formal education people had the opportunity of being  employed in the civil service, because in those days the economy was large  enough to absorb into the prestigious occupation all Nigerians their goods. As  such, the system made Nigerians to be dependent on the colonial masters.

Again the contrast between Nigerian and foreign entrepreneurs during the  colonial era was very detrimental and the competitive business strategy of the  foreign entrepreneurs was ruinous and against moral standards established by  society. They did not adhere to the theory of “live and let’s live”. For  instance, the United African Company (UAC) that was responsible for a  substantial percentage of the import and export trade of Nigeria, had the policy  of dealing directly with producers and refused to make use of the services of  Nigerian entrepreneurs. The refusal of the expatriates to utilize the services  of local businessmen inhibited their expansion and acquisition of necessary  skills and attitude. Because of this, many eventually folded up. Those that  folded up built up resentment against business which became very demoralizing to  other prospective entrepreneurs. As a result, the flow of entrepreneurship in  the country was slowed down. But, with more people being educated and the fact  that government could no longer employ most school leavers, economic programs to  encourage individuals to go into private  business and be self reliant were initiated.

Such economic policy programs that are geared towards self reliance for  individuals are programs as Open Apprenticeship Scheme, Graduate Employment  Programs etc. and other policies that encourage or make it easy for entrepreneurs to acquire the needed funds e.g.; Peoples  Bank of Nigeria, Funds for Small-Scale Industries(FUSSI), co-operative societies  etc. were established to assist entrepreneurs in Nigeria

These changes resulted to the entrepreneur taking this new innovation as an opportunity to break new grounds. The invention of air travel led to air freight, travel agencies, terminal (air) services, inter-state, inter-region and international business.

Market and machines: the start of industrial revolution led to the development of innovatory technology and standard of living we have today. The concept of mass production and economics of scarce came into existence. For example, telegram and telephone connected humanity around the world, with electricity; we lit up the night, digital watches, computer and mobile phones led to the opportunity in software development.

The progression of our social existence was as a result of the invention of new technologies and ways of doing things. We can say that, innovation is a period and regional. That is, the environment which an entrepreneur exploits opportunities is rather greater than people with brilliance in isolation. Therefore, the time and space of an entrepreneur is important. The concept of entrepreneurship have been refined from being a personal perspective to a kind of behaviour of an entrepreneur in his/her ability to initiate ideas, perceive opportunity, turning the available resources to exploit the opportunity profitably and the acceptance of bearing the risk in times of uncertainty. In the Nigerian economy, one great entrepreneur of the person of Alhaji Dangote can be compare or referred to as an entrepreneur that have revolution the Nigeria economy system. Starting from a small business and became large in business enterprise. Breaking new grounds, taking the risk and exploring the opportunities available to him. He is not only a wealth creator but also an employer of labour in the country as whole.

In conclusion, taking a look at the historical, evolution and background of entrepreneurship from its early stage, the modern era, market mechanism etc the entrepreneurship have played important role in the economic development of Nigeria’s economy. The ability to create job, provide competition cannot be overemphasized.


Adam S. (1999). Competences and other factors affecting the small enterprise sector in Ibadan, Nigeria. In K. King & S. McGrath (Eds.), Enterprise in Africa: Between poverty and growth (pp. 179-190). London: Intermediate Technology.

Bar, A. (1999). Do SMEs network for growth? In K. King & S. McGrath (Eds.), Enterprise in Africa. (pp. 121-131). London: Intermediate Technology.

Benedict B. (1979). Family firms and firm families: A comparison of Indian, Chinese, and Creole firms in Seychelles. In S.M. Greenfield, A. Strickon, & Aubey, R.T. (Eds.), Entrepreneurs in cultural context. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Berger, B. (Ed.). (1991). The culture of entrepreneurship. San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies (ICS) Press.

Buame, S. K. (1996). Entrepreneurship: A contextual perspective. Lund, Sweden: Lund University Press.

Campbell, J.P. Dunnette, M.D., Lawler, E.E. & Weick K.E. (1970). Managerial behavior, performance, and effectiveness. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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