For the love of France

Mike Awoyinfa

In the euphoria of the World Cup season, Dr. Mike Adenuga, the founder of Nigerian telecoms giant, Globacom scored one massive goal to win France’s highest honour to complete a hattrick of similar highest national honours from Nigeria to Ghana to France.

For the love of France, he built a state-of-the-art Alliance Francaise Centre, an exquisite building in Ikoyi, a posh area of Lagos and bequeathed it to the French government as a place where Nigerians can learn or polish their French with the hope that they too can be as bilingual as President Emmanuel Macron, the youthful, oratorical French President who dazzled Nigerians with his unabashed love for Fela’s music and even went to “worship” at The Shrine where he paid homage to the immortal Nigerian Afrobeat music star Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Ah, Fela, the one who even in the grave has continued to mock and defy death in conformity with his name Anikulapo-Kuti which translates as he who has death in his pouch and refuses to die. Fela who single-handedly put Nigeria on the world’s music and cultural map with his irresistible African groove loaded with radical political messages. Fela, the bespoke jumpsuit-wearing star who could even go on stage just in pants and smoking his weed. Like Abiola and June 12, Fela enjoyed a revival in a week of Felamania—courtesy of President Macron’s visit.

President Macron came to vindicate Jesus who said “a prophet is not without honour except in his own country.” To many in the political and religious establishments, Fela is a hell of an outcast. But like Jesus, Macron was ready to mingle with Fela and his “amugbo” (Indian hemp smoking) people.

At the Mike Adenuga Alliance Francaise Centre, President Macron arrived to be welcomed by Mike Adenuga’s beautiful daughter Mrs. Bella Adenuga-Disu. He was going to confer on Adenuga the Legion of Honour which is the highest order of merit for military and civil merits established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. Andrew Young (US former US Ambassador to the UN), Zinedine Zidane (a French World Cup winning captain), Alvin York (one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War 1 fame) are some of those who have been so honoured.

Against the backdrop of French and Nigerian flags, Macron decorated Mike Adenuga, saying: “You embody the qualities that give strength to Nigeria. You definitely are a role model to a lot of entrepreneurs (and) for a lot of young Nigerians thinking about the future. Thank you for your commitment to the promotion of French language and French culture in Nigeria. And I am sure the next time I meet you in France your French would be outstanding. I am happy now to give you this Legion of honour.”

At this point, let me share a biographer’s insight into Adenuga’s relationship with France. From my research, I got to know Adenuga’s great love for Paris, the city of light. It’s one of his favourite cities. He knows the best restaurant in Paris which he frequents whenever he is there. “He loves dining and eating out,” his daughter Bella told me. “France has the best food in the world. We go to the best restaurants. Going out to eat for him is an experience.”

And when it comes to big business, Adenuga relies on a French bank BNP Paribas. This was the bank that loaned Mike Adenuga $265million to start Globacom. The drama of how the loan was negotiated up to the last minute amidst the tension of possibly missing the telecoms licence deadline is the stuff of movies.

The Mike Adenuga in my book is a polyglot in the sense that he knows a few phrases in many languages and from the way he uses those phrases, you will think he is fluent in them. Ian Randolph, a friend of Adenuga and one of his top aides in Globacom told me: “I schooled in the north of Ghana where they speak Hausa and I speak some Hausa. But I thought he spoke Hausa fluently, not knowing that all he knows in Hausa are a few phrases that he never forgot. You can say the same for him in Efik, Igbo, French, Italian and Spanish. He would speak a few phrases. In a restaurant, he knows how to order food in any language. And you would think he is fluent. He has an indelible memory. Fantastic memory.”

A Father’s Pride and Joy

In French, there is a marketing expression cherchez le creneau which roughly means: find your own niche. Or find your own angle—journalistically speaking. So, what is my angle to this story?

You can imagine my own joy in all of this when my son, Kehinde Awoyinfa called me a few months back and said: “Daddy! My company will be part of the biggest educational project in Nigeria which will involve Mike Adenuga and the French Government”. The truth is Kehinde had recently decided to start his own technology company together with a few of his best friends after they had worked at a similar company for over 8 years. Their company called Triangle Audiovisual is on a mission to integrate the best technologies into leading homes, offices, schools, hotels and houses of worship. For the new Alliance Francaise Lagos, they will be creating the best learning experience second to none here in Nigeria. The technology they will be integrating includes state-of-the-art classroom solutions, distributed music and paging system around the entire facility, ultra-high definition video distribution system, CCTV system, a groundbreaking 200-seater indoor cinema and auditorium, an outdoor amphitheatre system and an automation system to make the control of all these solutions seamless. They will be working with a team of a few of the best construction companies in Nigeria to include Cappa and D’Alberto, Baron Architecture, Topklan Engineering and Connecting People. Looking at how things have unfolded, I believe it’s the Lord’s doing and it’s marvelous in our eyes. I give Him all the glory. May God open doors for your children too in Jesus name. May our children grow bigger than us. May our youths embrace entrepreneurship which is the way out.

And to think that Macron came to Nigeria as an evangelist spreading the gospel of entrepreneurship together with his Digital Africa initiative. It was great listening to President Macron talking to some young African entrepreneurs under the auspices of the Tony Elumelu Foundation where he shared with them his thoughts on innovation, disruption, creativity, leadership and how to put the future in their own hands. If he had not been President, he probably would have been a management or mar- keting guru. His interaction with the youthful entrepreneurs was filled with wisecracks, bon mots and plenty takeaways. I like what he said about innovation: “Innovation is about how to invent or reinvent something that can succeed, make your life better and the life of your family and people better. Innovation is about how to create and at the same time to destroy the past activity when it doesn’t make sense. It is about how to create new perspective and provide new opportunities to young people.”

Mike Adenuga, a man celebrated for many innovations brought into the Nigerian telecoms ecosystem, will definitely agree with Macron who told the African youths: “If I am here today, it’s because I wanted to challenge a lot of things and I decided to innovate and take my risks in political life. I never asked for permission to do so.”