By Adewale Sanyaolu Despite being a country with the second largest deposit of bitumen in the world, Nigeria, according to Foraminifera, a marketing and research firm, spends about N2 billion yearly on importation of asphalt, a derivative of bitumen. The occurrence of bitumen deposits in Nigeria is twice the amount of existing reserves of crude…
You know him as Africa’s richest man. And by that, he easily qualifies as Africa’s most recognisable face and name. With multi-billion dollar investments, spanning manufacturing, trading, oil and gas, among others, Alhaji Aliko Dangote’s amazing story is the stuff legends are made of.
But, you will be dead wrong if you think this piece is a panegyric on Dangote’s stupendous wealth and aggressive tentacles, which he has sunk in every facet of life, as he transverses the vast territories of our nation and continent.
This is about the other side of Aliko, the business mogul, driven by concern for the plight of the downtrodden. The Aliko, who speaks and quietly warns of a social upheaval if the wealthy and the privileged in our society do not spare a thought for their less fortunate compatriots.
This is not just about philanthropy, where a few rich men dole out some handouts every now and then to some causes or individuals, and get media mileage or acknowledgement by their benefactors.
Dangote says it is about a strategic plan of action, by government, the high and mighty, and those who can afford it, to take the widening poverty in the land more seriously than they presently do. The consequence of continued neglect of the larger poor, impoverished citizenry of Africa’s most populous nation is: A people’s angst. Where hungry, angry citizens would begin to speak with their fist pointed in the direction of the wealthy, the government officials; their perceived oppressors, if things continue the way they are.
“We are lucky we haven’t gotten to that situation,” Africa’s business mogul says. “But it won’t be for long, if things continue the way they are. There are thousands of idle youths everywhere, doing nothing. You know a hungry man is an angry man. You go somewhere and you see hundreds of people besieging your vehicle, hailing and begging for money. If we don’t do something urgently about them, they may soon begin to do what we don’t expect them to. We have to create jobs for them, or they will find something to do for themselves. And it won’t be funny. We in Dangote have started working on initiatives that would take most of our youths off the streets, into our factories, to productive ventures. I have been talking to the government and some of our friends in business to do something urgent, to get our youths out of the hopelessness and idleness around.”
It was last Saturday at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel, in what was called interactive media parley, meant to unveil Dangote’s group’s foray into crude oil refining business, and the gigantic refinery Aliko Dangote is setting up in Nigeria; his other well-known interests in cement, sugar, pasta, among others.
But it turned out to be an excursion into the mind of Africa’s biggest entrepreneur. It could have well been a business lecture, an MBA or Ph.D class. It was also for some us, who hadn’t known him at close quarters, a shocking discovery of the progressive inclinations of a man you could call conservative going by his wealthy status. Meant as off the record chat, I had to plead with his media head, our friend, Tony, to be allowed to bring excerpts from the chat, because of its engaging content,
Before delving into his views on transformation that the country needs rather urgently, here are some of Dangote’s nuggets for success in business. If it worked for him, it could work for you.
First, he says: Look out for opportunities and aggressively dominate the market. Second, don’t play in a market where you are neither number one nor two. He says anywhere Dangote plays, it is either first or second.
Third, if you want to invest in any business, invest big and well. It could be painful and tough initially, but rewards are bountiful.
“We look for opportunities where others don’t. We move in. When we succeed, they then accuse us of being monopolists. But, we are not. We only start the game, even before the blast of the whistle, when others are still deciding what they want to do.”
But, the session was not all about the success story of Dangote; it was also about some home truths for our dear nation. There were some puzzles: How come a nation that is so prodigiously blessed by God would wallow in poverty? How come we have become a notoriously consumption-driven, rather than a producing nation? How come with our vast natural endowments, we are still struggling to feed our people?
Dangote warns of the dangers of failing in our food security agenda. “We can survive with dollar scarcity, but which nation survives if it can’t feed its people?” he asked. Big question.
Now, many also ask: What happens if hunger suddenly forces Nigerians to the streets? We all will be unsafe. Even the wealthy and those siren-wailing vehicles of government officials would be forced to face the reality of anarchy!
The way out says Dangote, is for governments at all levels to embrace agriculture, look inwards, build economies of their respective states to be self-sufficient.
“Lagos can survive and is surviving with its IGR, but how many states are like Lagos? For how long will states continue to live on bailouts? There must be something the states can do to stand on their feet, feed its citizens. I am happy that some states are doing well in rice production. We must continue in that direction. We must never fail to feed our people.”
Of course, Dangote’s prognosis of the Nigerian situation resonates with this writer. We are a nation sitting on a keg of gun powder. We are playing with fire, if we do not do something about our unemployed youth population, many of whom are fast embracing criminal activities.
Many Nigerians are fast losing their sanity due to hunger and distress in the land; not a few have turned executive and ordinary beggars. Unemployment line lengthens even, as many are being kicked into the job market. If that’s not enough to sadden and depress anyone, I wonder what else could.
But, it is also very annoying, because we really didn’t have any business being at the bottom of the ladder, but for the mismanagement of the past and the irresponsibility of those who had been charged with superintending our affairs.
The news of loot recoveries and confessions; the EFCC inquisitions and news of diverted funds tell the pathetic tale of the rape of a nation by its prodigal leaders. It tells the tale of a nation severely bruised and battered over the years by predatory leaders at all strata.
However, it’s not just the past that haunts our nation, the present shocks us. From what we hear and read, it seems not much lessons have been learnt from the mistakes of the past. It seems not many of those at the leadership positions today have changed their attitude to public office and public treasury; not many are willing to embrace the ‘change’ mantra of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
It’s shocking to hear that corruption hasn’t quite disappeared from the system; that stealing is allegedly still going on underneath; that corrupt officials are still behaving and living in the past. And that should worry this administration. That should also make her beam searchlights on the new men at the helms. Nigeria can’t afford to replace a set of crooks with another set. Eternal vigilance should be our watchword.
For the change Nigerians voted to have true meaning, both the leaders and the led must key fully into it. It shouldn’t be a precept only for the led, while leaders mouth it, as a slogan of deceit and camouflage. Change should have no stratification, nor should it be discriminatory or selectively adhered to.
A nation preaching austerity and fiscal discipline should have no business with governors on chartered flights and large entourage; with profligacy and ostentatious lifestyle that tell nothing of the austerity and belt-tightening being preached to the people.
At the last count, over 20 states have been unable to meet its workers’ monthly salaries obligation (some as long as eight months), yet you find the governors of such states and others flying everywhere on chartered aircraft, with millions sunk in bills of such travels and other frivolities. What, for example, is a poor state doing with an entourage of 12-15 exotic cars in its convoy? States that can’t even discharge its statutory obligations to its workers have governors living like emperors! This is completely unacceptable.