There was an announcement by Whitey Bassinet, the chief executive of ShopRite Holdings in October 2005, that they would be opening their first store in Nigeria.
Shoprite already had stores in 14 African countries and Indian Ocean islands and had been encouraged enough by the growth of the Nigerian economy and democratic process to invest in what promised to be a burgeoning economic wave spurred by Pro-Business policies by the President Olusegun Obasanjo that would hopefully lift Nigeria and all of West Africa with it.
Fast forward to 2021 and some things are different. The president of Nigeria is Muhammadu Buhari, the Chief Executive of ShopRite Holdings is Pieter Engelbrecht and the announcement being made by ShopRite is one that declares its pleasure at the incoming conclusion of the sale of its Nigerian operations and almost total withdrawal from the Nigerian Market.
ShopRite had gone from having one store in Lagos to having 26 outlets across the nation and employing over 2000 Nigerians. Their positive impact was also seen in how they helped provide a template for successful mall setup, supermarket models, and human resource development in the retail sector.
Large-scale adoption of barcodes in the Nigerian FMCG scene was also traceable to ShopRite as brands aligned because of the need to be integrated into the supply chain of the supermarket chain.
But all that is now under threat as the Supermarket has had to deal with the impact of the economic policies put in place by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
International Supermarket chains divesting from the Nigerian market space due to the negative impact of Buhari’s economic policies aren’t a new thing. Kingsway Stores was the first supermarket chain to establish a presence in the Nigerian market and have to leave because of Buhari’s peculiarly lethal economic touch.
Kingsway started in Nigeria in 1948 and Buhari’s impact in the 1980s brought about coups, economic downturns, and price and currency regulations that made them close up shop.
Nigeria had to wait for 30 years until the reintroduction of democracy and Pro-Business policies under Olusegun Obasanjo provided a platform that made it feasible for international supermarket chains to get brave enough to reenter the country.
Some Nigerians then absurdly felt that the same Buhari who had triggered a collapse of sociopolitical and economic progress in the 80s was the person who could bring progress 30 years later.
All social and economic indices would suggest that they were quite off the mark. Nigeria is now the Poverty Capital of the World, intensely divided, unsafe, and one of the worse destinations for capital on the planet.
International chains like Mr. Price and Woolworths have already given up and left.
ShopRite’s workers, under the aegis of the National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees (NUSDE), have been going on strikes and pushing for a settlement of sorts from the exiting investors. They have insisted that they do not want to be handed over to the new Nigerian-owned buyers without negotiating.
This is obviously related to a fear of low salaries and poor working conditions that are likely to emerge under Nigerian owners and while one understands the apprehension, it’s absurd to demand a settlement from the party making an exit because of unfavorable business conditions.
ShopRite was more than just a Supermarket. It was symbolic of the growth and development of Nigeria and people would troop to the stores just to have a feel of what a decent grocery-shopping experience was like. The hope was that the growth of chains like ShopRite would boost the development of the food supply chain and mechanisation and optimisation of the agricultural process in addition to providing employment, healthy food retail conditions, formalisation of the market system which would help with growing the tax net.
This dream is now the one Nigerians are painfully waking up from because they decided to ignore history and all useful ways of judging political candidates and make a suicidal presidential voting choice for no good reason.
We went to the ballots in 2015 and shopped wrongly and the outcome is a loss of ShopRite. We failed woefully and should do better going forward.