By Thomas Imonikhe
His business pedigree is outstanding and had ventured where many chose to ignore. He ranks high among his peers especially industrialists whose investments are not dictated by instant benefits but strong economic parameters and products in great demand by consumers locally that guarantee adequate returns to shareholders. Aliko Dangote, president of Dangote Group, and the wealthiest African who clocks 63 on Friday (Good Friday) April 10, has become an epitome of business successes and pan-Africanist whose unshakeable faith in Project Nigeria and the continent is unassailable.
Rather than lament the clueless political leadership that has been the bane of the country’s development since independence almost six decades ago, and the attendant socio-economic difficulties such as poor public utilities, unemployment, insecurity and poor living standard of the citizenry, his immediate challenge as an investor had been to contribute his quota and make Nigeria self sufficient on some basic products to create jobs and rely less on imports.
That motivation gave birth to Dangote Group in 1978 and there has been no retreat. The Group under his leadership according to the record first launched the country into a net exporter of cement from a major importer, a feat that boosted the construction and housing sectors. Today, Dangote Cement Plc is the largest producer of cement not only in Nigeria but Africa at large. Similarly, Dangote massive investments are heralding the dawn of two other imminent amazing accomplishments, the new undisputed biggest fertilizer company in the continent expected to come on stream next month and the Dangote Refinery and Petrochemicals both located in Ibeju Lekki Local Government of Lagos State that will be come on stream later.
The good news therefore is that Nigerians, Africans and not Dangote Group alone, are gearing up to reap bountifully from the multi-billion dollars refinery acclaimed as the biggest of its kind with a capacity to process 650,000 barrels of crude oil per day, bpd, when fully operational. Apart from creating thousands of jobs, the refinery, the brainchild of the business mogul will satisfy local consumption, transform Nigeria into a major exporter of petroleum products and petrochemicals, conserve foreign exchange and totaling eliminate the mega fraud associated with the imported fuel subsidy regime in which the country had lost billions of naira for several decades.
This is not farfetched, as Dangote in past interactions with the media justified his unflinching faith in Nigeria. “Let me tell you (journalists) this and I want to really emphasize it … nothing is going to help Nigeria like Nigerians bringing back their money. If you give me $5 billion today, I will invest everything here in Nigeria. Let us put our heads together and work”. His conviction for a prosperous and developed country clearly explains the recent charge on the federal government to stop paying lip service to its often trumpeted call for diversification of the economy through provision of stable electricity, effective rail and road networks, agriculture and manufacturing in order to reduce the high cost of imports which stood at $47billion in 2019 alone.
Though born on April 10, 1957 into a wealthy Muslim family, the son of Mohammed Dangote and Mariya Sanusi Dantata from Kano State, his life journey has not been a bed of roses. From the maternal side, he is the great-grandson of Alhaji Alhassan Dantata while his grandfather, Sanusi Dantata, was once named one of the wealthiest people in Kano. Dangote was educated at the Sheikh Ali Kumasi Madrasa, and Capital High School, Kano. He also attended the Government College, Birnin Kudu while his quest for higher education took him to Al-Azhar University, Cairo where he received a bachelor’s degree in business studies and administration.
As a child, Dangote was interested in business, a trait he exhibited even during primary education. “I can remember when I was in primary school, I would go and buy cartons of sweets and I would start selling them just to make money. I was so interested in business, even at that time,” he once stated. However his business acumen manifested when in 1978 he established the Dangote Group first as a small trading before relocating to Lagos to expand the company.
Before then, at the age of 21, he borrowed about N500,000 (about $750,000) as at 1978 from his maternal grandfather to import and sell agricultural commodities in Nigeria. The loan enabled him to import soft commodities at wholesale prices from international suppliers while two of his main imports were rice from Thailand and sugar from Brazil. He would then sell those items in small quantities to consumers in his village and neighbouring communities at a reasonable price and the venture became successful and repaid the loan within three months of commencing operations.
Thereafter in 1997, Dangote built a plant to produce pasta, sugar, salt, and flour which he had been importing and selling for about 20 years thereby sowing the seed for today’s multi-billion dollars investments. Described as a man of integrity, humility, workaholic with knack for details and very intelligent, Dangote believes in the Chinese maxim that, ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’ which buttresses his remarkable drive for industrialization over the decades.
According to him, “In whatever you do, strive to be the best at it; in the journey to success, tenacity of purpose is supreme; the soul of business is not making money but making people happy; motivation, backed by good planning and correct action leads to success; I believe in hard work and one of my business success secrets is hard work and to succeed in business, you must build a brand and never destroy it’’.
For his towering achievements in business, Dangote was awarded Nigeria’s second-highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) by the former President, Goodluck Jonathan.
A philanthropist with heart of gold, Dangote made an initial endowment of $1.25 billion to the Aliko Dangote Foundation in March 2014, enabling it to scale up its work in health, education and economic empowerment. The Foundation has also given material and financial support to the fight against Ebola Virus, those displaced by the insurgency in the North East and the raging Coronavirus pandemic in addition to collaborating with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fight polio and other issues. His major disappointment is that the Nigerian economy is not working. “My heart bled when I read that Nigerian Customs Service collected N1.35trn import duties last year. It means the economy isn’t working. If the economy is working, the Customs shouldn’t collect that much money, it is the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) that should.”
A man with tremendous admirers in the corporate world, Dangote also occasionally receive knocks from those who hate his aggressive way of competing with business competitors, his cordial relationship with successive politicians in power and the recklessness of some of truck drivers on the highways. He is expected to be a subject of attacks by powerful forces who have been profiteering from the fuel import scams for which Nigeria had lost billions of naira in the past when his refinery takes off.
But Dangote remains undaunted as he reportedly declared, “You can’t just come and remove food from their table and think they’re just going to watch you doing it. They will try all sorts of tricks. This is a very, very tough society. Only the toughest of the tough survive here. People throw a lot of mud at you and you have to see how you can clean it up.” I join his admirers to wish him happy birthday.
*Imonikhe, General Manager, Publications, Champion Newspapers, writes from Lagos