Defying the odds: northern Nigerian female entrepreneurs and their challenges


Lack of proper business environment in Nigeria has been a major issue for entrepreneurship in the nation most especially lack of necessary infrastructures and insecurity challenges (mostly in the northern Nigeria. Despite all the challenges, some northern female entrepreneurs continue to defy these challenges and continue to succeed in their businesses. Additionally, cultural and religion sentiment affect female entrepreneurship in the region. This paper focuses on what lessons can be learnt from these female entrepreneurs, and can be cascaded across other female entrepreneurs not just in Nigeria but across West Africa. This paper adopted qualitative research approach using content analysis and desk review method.


Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, largest economy, and leading oil producer. It plays a major political and economic role in Africa and wields significant influence in regional bodies such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The country’s commercial center, Lagos, is among the world’s largest cities, with an annual economic output surpassing that of many African countries. By 2050, Nigeria is poised to overtake the United States as the world’s third most populous country, with a population projected to exceed 400 million. 1 (At 216 million inhabitants as of mid-2020, Nigeria is currently the world’s sixth most populous.) Few countries in Africa have the potential to make a larger global impact (Jelena). Mostly Muslim populates Northern Nigeria, and Kano state is the Mecca of Islamic Nigeria. Sharia law (Islamic law based on the teachings of the Qur’an) is enforced there, and it is often described as a conservative community with a mixture of cultures, traditions, and religions.

Business environment is the combination of all environmental conditions and influences that are capable of affecting or influencing business activities. Business environment entails social political, cultural and economic factors or conditions that are capable of affecting the life, growth and development of business outfit or venture. These conditions range from customer’s choice to changes to government policies. Business environment is marked by different dynamic features such as global competition, information technology, quality service revolution and corporate social responsibilities which are compelling managers to rethink and reshape their approach to their various operation responsibilities (Obasan).The business environment is globally perceived to influence the performance of enterprises.  The  external  business environment consists of extraneous factors  that are  beyond the  control  and  cannot  be  manipulated  by  the  business enterprise management. The business enterprise is obliged to be cognizant with its operating environment in order to heighten its performance. Furthermore, the environment and business enterprises are in a mutually interdependent interaction. This is because an enterprise exists in the world of threats, resources, limits, and opportunities. Concerning Small and medium enterprises in Nigeria, several factors influence their performance and tend to make their operating environment unsafe for investment and unfriendly. Thus, there is need for knowledge to be shared on these factors and how they influence a business enterprise performance. 

Entrepreneurship is the willingness and ability of an individual to seek for investment opportunities, to establish and to run an enterprise successfully (Suleiman). Entrepreneurship contributes to the development of skilled and semi-skilled labor for national development as well as self- employment and poverty alleviation (Adebayo et al).


  1. CONFLICTING ROLES OF WOMEN: Being tornbetween work and home has been a major issue to women entrepreneurs. Whether you work or not your role at home will not be changed and this leave a heavy burden on the woman and sometimes the women are put in a position to choose between their work or and caring for their home.

These are challenges that almost all small business entrepreneurs in Nigeria regardless of their gender experience. This includes;

  • Lack of capital.
  • Difficulties in getting loans.
  • Poor state of infrastructure.
  • Unstable Nigerian economy and politics.
  • Inconsistent government policies.
  • Poor knowledge on how to run a business.
  • Marketing strategy challenge.
  • Lack of patience. (Odimayo)
  1. CULTURAL AND RELIGION CHALLENGE:  Women are limited in marketing their businessdue to the fact that northern Nigeria is predominately populated by Muslim and Hausa dweller and their culture do not allow women to be frequently going out. In addition, in religion aspect, women are not encouraged to be talking to a man that is her non-muharamm (chaperone). These two strong rules affect many women entrepreneurs in the northern Nigeria and makes their business more challenging.
  1. INSECURITY: Security is the course of action allied with the eradication of any sort of threat to man and his values (Adegoke). The deficiency in adequate and proficient security brings about the notion of insecurity. (Nwagbosa) asserts that insecurity signifies different meanings such as, anxiety, fear, instability, uncertainty; danger; hazard; absence of safety; and lack of protection. With the insurgency in the northern Nigerian from book haram (northeast), kidnapping and banditry (North West and north central) have left many women to abandon their business due to fear and lack of protection from the government.


This paper adopted qualitative research approach using content analysis and desk review method. A qualitative interview was conducted (key informant interview) with 2 successful northern female entrepreneurs in Kano state (because Kano is the largest city in the northern Nigeria and second in Nigeria, and also Kano is the center of commerce). One entrepreneur is from urban and have formal education and the other one is from the rural community with no formal education.

Respondent were interviewed by being asked few question regarding their social demographics and factors that make their business successful. Among the questions asked in the demographic section are Age, Ethnicity, Marital status, Level of education and Monthly income.    

Questions asked during the interviews were:

  • What motivates you to start business entrepreneurships?
  • What are the things that help you to succeed in your business?
  • What are the challenges you faces in your business?
  • How do you overcome those challenges?

RESULT: responses analyzed revealed that the major things that makes these northern women entrepreneurs successful are:

 1. Awareness of both religion and cultural inclusion of women to do business. More so many religious females’ scholars were business entrepreneurs of that era.

 2. Family support especially husband for the married women and father for the unmarried ones.

 3. Knowledge of the business is the most important.

 4. Type of business and target audience; as a woman who is still the northern Nigeria, society frowns on mingling with other men so, it is important to choose business that doesn’t required you to frequently go out or mingle with other men.

5. Regardless of your level of education, you can succeed once you have confidence in what you are doing.


 This paper has shown that regardless of all challenges northern women are facing, some still defy those odd and succeeds in the most simple and easiest way and some of this ways can even be cascaded in other regions or West Africa at large.


  • Government should provide adequate infrastructure for conducive business development in the area.
  • Religious and traditional leaders need to be included in all aspect of the business development to help in awareness creation of female business inclusion.
  • Training and awareness regarding entrepreneurship should be frequent so women entrepreneurs will have good knowledge and understanding of the business to choose. 


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Asmau Sani Kankia is a 30 years Nigerian female born in the northern part Nigeria, she is a qualitative and quantitative expert with huge experience working with local and international nongovernmental organization, Also a current social mobilization officer in a nonprofit organization called Centre for communication and social impact which the organization focuses on social and behavioral change.

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