October 1, 2022 is the 62nd independence anniversary of Nigeria. In this 62 years the country has witnessed the emergence of thousands of businesses. Some of those businesses has gone ahead to become global brands. Talk of companies like Zenith Bank, Flutterwave, FCMB, Globacom, InterSwitch, Dangote, Coscharis, Innoson, MTN Nigeria, Zinox Technologies and many more. These are post independence companies that are employing thousands of people and helping to solve the unemployment problem in Nigeria. In fact, some of these companies are today competing among the best in their industry. For example, Zenith Bank is among the biggest banks in Africa.
But for every one company standing in Nigeria today there are probably up to 4 others that have closed down. And the reason for this is not far fetched. Though Nigeria is a land of opportunity but there are simply many factors that affect the growth of businesses here. For example the ease of doing business rating by World Economic Forum still rates Nigeria as one of the countries with the lowest score of ease of doing business in Africa.
And that is why today as part of my way of marking the Nigerian independence I want to take a look at the oldest companies in Nigeria. Recall, that in this 62 years of existence as a country, Nigeria has seen civil war, several coups, election annulment, terror attacks and regional agitations. Some of these incidences led to several companies flying the country. So it is only natural that we take a look at these oldest countries in Nigeria and learn from what has kept them going over the years.
Oldest Companies in Nigeria That Are Still in Existence
Before we go ahead with a list of the oldest companies in Nigeria it is important I state thus: by ‘oldest companies in Nigeria’ I am referring to companies that are operating in Nigeria and not necessarily companies owned by Nigerians. So you might be seeing German brands, French brands, American brands. So whether the investment in those companies are local or foreign, as long as it has a presence in Nigeria, it is considered in my analysis of the oldest companies in Nigeria.
1. Oldest Companies in Nigeria – First Bank Plc – 1894
Without doubt, First Bank Plc is clearly the first on the list of the oldest companies in Nigeria. The company was founded in 1894 meaning it is now 128 years old.
Of course not many Nigerians especially young professionals will want to pick First Bank as their favourite bank in Nigeria. But be that as it may we must admit that the bank must have been doing something right to still be around after a century and nearly 3 decades.
The good thing about First Bank is that it is not showing any sign of going down at all. In fact, by all standards it remains one of the best and biggest banks in Nigeria today.
First Bank itself has attributed its success story to innovations and reinvention of products and services aimed at satisfying customers’ needs and aspirations.
The bank became a public company in 1970 and was listed on The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) in 1971. However, as part of the implementation of the non-operating holding company structure, it was delisted from the NSE and replaced with FBN Holdings Plc. in 2012.
So today you won’t find First Bank Plc among companies listed in the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
2. Oldest Companies in Nigeria – John Holt – 1897
John Holt is a Liverpool-based firm which arrived Nigeria as early as 1897 when the colonialists were executing their trade agenda. The man John Holt actually bought out his employer to set up a trading company which was then into the sale of palm oil, palm kernels, rubber and cocoa. Being a company based in Liverpool, the shipping centre of Europe from where ships sailed to West Africa, it was easy for it to capture trade in Nigeria.
The company became a major agent for producers in Europe and also shipped raw materials from Nigeria to Europe.
Today, the company with a vision of becoming the leading conglomerate in Nigeria has diversified into different other services. But they are mostly into the supply of high capacity generators, boats, fire fighting equipment, air conditioners etc.
The company became listed on the floor of NSE in 1971. At a time when other foreign contemporary brands could not survive the Nigeria business environment, John Holt has managed to still be around and waxing strong decades after the death of the founder.
3. Oldest Companies in Nigeria – Union Bank – 1917
The third on our list of the oldest companies in Nigeria is Union Bank, aged 105 years. It was established in 1917 as a colonial bank which was owned completely by Europeans. Through the years, the company has undergone some corporate changes , including a name change and transfer of ownership to Nigerians. The former name of the bank while it was still owned by Europeans is Barclays Bank. But after it was listed on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 1971, the government started a gradual take over. First, 8.33% of the bank’s shares was offered to Nigerians. In 1972 the Federal Government acquired 51.67% of the bank shares making the government the majority shareholder in the bank.
Then in 1979, the remaining shares were sold to Nigerian individuals and businesses to comply with the then recently enacted banking and investment laws. It was at that point that the bank then changed its name to Union Bank of Nigeria Plc.
The bank struggles in recent years however climaxed with an acquisition by Titan Trust Bank earlier this year.
4. Oldest Companies in Nigeria – Royal Exchange Plc – 1921
Royal Exchange Plc is not just one of the oldest companies in Nigeria but also the oldest insurance company in Nigeria. The company was established in 1921.
Insurance companies have not had it as rosy as the banks, however Royal Exchange is still in business 100 years after.
5. Oldest Companies in Nigeria – Unilever Nigeria Plc – 1923
Formerly known as ‘Lever Brothers (West Africa) Ltd’ Unilever Nigeria Plc was established by Lord Leverhulme 1923. It was primarily into the trading of soap. Today, the company is among the world’s leading FMCGs. In fact, it has over 400 brands to its credit. The company has however witnessed many mergers and acquisitions which have turned it into a diversified company which is into manufacturing, marketing of food and personal care products.
Though it is the first known FMCG that is still in existence in Nigeria today, however, there are now so many competitors in the industry. The competition are coming from both local and foreign brands. And though it has affected profitability but Unilever is still as strong and among the market leaders just a year before its centenary celebration.
Some of the most popular products of Unilver are:
6. Oldest Companies in Nigeria – United Africa Company (UAC) – 1931
Kingsway as it was formerly known, now United Africa Company of Nigeria (UACN) is a leading diversified Company in Nigeria. Though its history in Nigeria can date as far back as 1880 as shown by the journey map in the company’s website. Yet, it was formally launched as a company in Nigeria in 1932. It operates in the Food and Beverage, Real Estate, Paint and Logistics sectors of the economy. As a conglomerate, it used to be a major competitor of John Holt.
UAC is the company that produces the popular Nigerian sausage roll – Gala. Though Gala is the most popular and associated product of UAC yet it has several other products across its different subsidiaries.
So apart from gala, some others of its products include leading brands such as Mr Bigg’s, Funtime Coconut Chips, Supreme Ice Cream, Swan Water, Dulux Paint, Grand Soya Oil, Vital Feeds, Binggo Dog Food, Grand Cornflakes and Sandtex Paints.
Like most companies existing in Nigeria, UAC has had its fair share of challenges. In fact someone said that UAC is so big that it is the only company in Nigeria that can make a loss over 9 billion naira and still be in business.
7. Shell – 1937
This is the first oil company to come to Nigeria. And to know that it is one of the best performing companies in Nigeria is a proof of the place of oil in the country.
SPDC was originally known as Shell D’Arcy and later as Shell-BP which was jointly financed by the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies and the British Petroleum (BP) Group on an equal basis. The Company discovered the first commercial oil field in the country at Oloibiri Bayelsa State, in 1956 and through a sustained exploration effort had since discovered more oil fields that have firmly established Nigeria as one of the world’s major crude oil producers with significant gas potential.
The company remains not just the pioneer but also the leader of the petroleum industry in Nigeria. It has the largest land mass in the country among all industry players. And it produces about 39% of the total country’s oil.
8. May and Baker – 1944
Popularly known as M & B, May and Baker is a drug manufacturing company that was incorporated on April 9th, 1944. The company is now 78 years old and still competing fairly well in the Nigerian pharmaceutical space.
It was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 1994. Besides pharmaceuticals, it is equally into beverages.
9. Wema Bank – 1945
First Bank and Union Bank are the only two surviving banks in Nigeria that are older than Wema Bank which is about 77 years old at this year’s independence day celebration.
The bank was founded on May 2, 1945 as Agbonmagbe Bank by the Late Chief Mathew Adekoya Okupe. He set up the first branches of the bank which were in Ebute-metta, Sagamu, Abeokuta and Ijebu-Igbo.
Wema may not be the most glamorous bank of the century, however it is currently experiencing the best time of its life in terms of performance in the last 3 quarters. Infact, the second quarter unaudited financial result for the period ended June 30, 2022, shows a 50% increase in its gross earnings from N39.82 billion recorded in 2021 to N59.59 billion in H1 2022.
And explaining the reason behind this rapid growth the Bank’s CEO Ademola Adebise said it as a result of the priority the bank has given to its digital channels. And I think this is actually true and obvious for all to see. In fact, almost all the top FinTechs in Nigeria built their platforms on Wema Bank infrastructure. And with the growth acceleration of FinTechs in Nigeria it is easy to see why Wema Bank is growing stronger with age.
10. Nigerian Breweries Plc – 1946
This is yet another Nigerian company that has continued to exist for over a decade even before independence. And that is still in existence today. Incorporated on November 16th 1946. And it remains the oldest breweries in Nigeria today. The company is into the manufacturing and selling of different brands of alcoholic beverages to Nigerians.
Along with International Breweries Plc and Guinness Nigeria Plc it remains among the top breweries in the land 76 years after it was established.
Some of its popular products include Gulder, Heneiken, Legend Extra stout, Goldberg lager, Star lite lager and so on. They also have non-alcoholic drinks such as Maltina, Malta gold, Amstel Malta and Fayrouz.
Others Among The Oldest Companies in Nigeria
Aside the ten companies listed above there are others that has been existing before independence:
PZ Cussons – 1948
United Bank for Africa (UBA) – 1949
Julius Berger – 1950
Oando – 1956
Berger Paints – 1959
Aero Contractors – 1959
Sterling Bank – 1960
Every entrepreneur will know that running a business in Nigeria is not an easy task. Many people started but could not sustain it. Others are few years in business but already struggling. So to see some of these companies still in existence more than 60 years after deserves some mention.
It is also very important for upcoming entrepreneurs to study these brands more closely with the goal of finding out the secret of their success and longevity.
However, we must understand that none of these companies have had it easy all through these 60 years plus. Some of them have undergone some structural, managerial and operational changes. Some of them have been involved in one difficult challenge or the other. But we can write about them as been among the oldest companies in Nigeria because they did not give up. And I do hope this inspires you to keep at your own dream of building a brand that people can write about (for good) in the next 100 years. It is possible.
Also Read About Other Nigerian Brands and How They Started: