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Face to face with Dangote @ 60

Every good editor would have fired me for this.  Every Dele Giwa.  Every Segun Osoba.  Every Harold Evans.  Every Ray Ekpu.  Every Dan Agbese.  Every Bayo Onanuga.  Every Nosa Igiebor.  Even me as an editor I would have fired myself.  My good friend Nduka Irabor in his heyday as editor of the hottest evening paper in Nigeria would have even given me a dirty slap for this booboo, if I were to be his reporter.

What did I do?  Who will believe that I met face to face the man of the moment, the great Aliko Dangote, one of the most powerful men in the world who will be 60 on Monday, April 10 and I didn’t behave like a good reporter.  I didn’t fire him with questions that will generate news.  I didn’t ask him: How do you feel being 60?  What does it mean to be 60?  Did you know you will come this far?  Looking back, what gives you joy?  How has the journey been so far?  What are your regrets?  What was your highest moment?  What was your lowest, your worst day?  What will you like to thank God for?  What role has God played in making you who you are today?  Now that you are 60, what next?  How are you planning to celebrate your 60th birthday?  Any big bash?  Or are you going to keep it low-profile in the light of the recession facing Nigeria?

Questions, questions, questions, but I ask him none of them.  Poor me!  Foolish me!  Stupid me!  My friend Dimgba Igwe should not hear this in his grave.  He will say: “It’s unlike Mike.”  He knows I think news in everything, in every situation.  But this time around, I fired blank!  Like Yakubu at the World Cup, who “Yakubued” an opportunity to score for Nigeria against South Korea and progress to the knockout stage.

Aliko Dangote had invited me to his office this blessed morning.  He comes to work very early and stays late.  Oftentimes, he is the last to leave.  He is one leader who leads by example.  Here we sat face to face, eye ball to eye ball, in his big spacious office, the great Aliko Dangote given to me on a platter of gold.  On his desk is the mounted quote that proclaims his motto, his mantra which says: “Nothing is impossible.”

Here he sat, the great man who looks so ordinary.  The man who has climbed and conquered so many mountains and is still climbing.  The man who did the unthinkable, moving from trading to manufacturing and succeeding in a country where nothing works, where there is no power, where there is no light, where there is nothing to encourage anyone to go into manufacturing.  Only darkness.  The man who is not afraid to confront challenges of any kind.  The man who says: “What differentiates a good manager from a bad one is the ability to manage well in a difficult environment.  People who are claiming that Nigeria is difficult, there is no place that is not difficult.  If Nigeria is not difficult, then we would have too many people trying to do the same things.  It is a place that I believe has the best opportunities in the world.”

The man who has been blessed and is giving back, particularly to help the poorest of the poor in Nigeria, Africa and the world all over, through his Dangote Foundation which is driven by an amazon called Zuera Youssoufou, a go-getting and articulate CEO with a World Bank background who I interviewed for about an hour and whose story would be featured here next week and in my boardroom leadership book.

As I sit writing this column, I am still angry with myself for not pursuing the news angle when I met Dangote.  The other day, my son Babajide who works as a reporter with the News Agency of Nigeria was telling me so excitedly about how he sat all night with Davido in the studio.  He was so carried away with the ecstasy of meeting one of his musical idols that he forgot to interview him.  I was so mad at him.  “Where is the story?” I raved at him.  “You mean you sat all night with Davido and you didn’t come back with a story?  Get out of my sight!  I am disappointed in you!”

As I was telling Babajide the story of my encounter with Dangote, he reminded me of the day I shouted at him for meeting Davido and not interviewing him.  Like a boy scout, a reporter must be prepared every time to fire questions at a celebrity, at a newsmaker.  That is what we are trained to do.  To respond to news with alacrity.  But sometimes we are human and we let the emotions of the occasion take over.  Sometimes we disappoint ourselves.  It is after you have left the celebrity that you remember you should have asked him or her some questions that will generate news.

In my case, I didn’t completely fail.  At least, I let Dangote know that I was writing a book on Boardroom Leaders and I would like to interview him for that.  He told me he was travelling to Marrakesh for the Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend taking place from April 7 to April 9.  When he comes back, he promised to grant me an interview.  As a man of integrity, I believe he would keep his word and talk to me.  By the time you are reading this, Dangote would be in Marrakesh, the imperial city of western Morocco.

Lessons from Dangote and Adenuga 

Last week, I wrote about a tale of two titans: Mike Adenuga and Aliko Dangote.  These are two men I can’t stop learning from.  That is why I keep following them and writing stories and books about them.  Talking about lessons, from the two men, I have learnt that only Africans can develop Africa.  Only Nigerians can develop Nigeria.  Not foreigners.  From them, I have learnt that there is greatness in humility.  To be a Dangote or Adenuga, you must have the capacity for work and work and work.  You must be hundred percent knowledgeable in any business you are into, so that no one can hoodwink you.  You must also be wise because fools don’t become billionaires.

Then you must dream BIG and think BIG.  Only big-time dreamers and thinkers can go into a project like the refinery that Dangote is building and upon which hangs the economic fate of Nigeria to become an independent country that refines its own crude oil.  To be an Adenuga or a Dangote, you must love Nigeria, have faith in Nigeria, believe that in Nigeria it is possible to make it here rather than running to America or Europe or to any other place in the world.  You must be persistent, you don’t give up, you don’t surrender even if you suffer disappointment.  In the words of Dangote, “I once bit a bullet, cut my losses and moved on.”  He is referring to when he lost in textile manufacturing business and had to give it up, when he couldn’t compete with the Chinese smuggling textiles into the country.  From these two great men, I have learnt that he who is blessed must bless others.  I have learnt that in business, faith in God is everything.  God has truly blessed them and will bless you too, you reading this column.

Finally, this is to join the world in wishing Aliko Dangote a happy 60th birthday.  May God continue to bless you as you remain a blessing to Africa, our Africa.

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