The Sun News

Idi Amin changed my destiny

Wrong things sometimes turn out a big blessing for some people.  Pascal Dozie, the founder of Diamond Bank, Chairman of the board of telecoms giant MTN and Chairman of the Board of the Society for Corporate Governance would bless and thank God for the day the infamous, clownish, erratic Ugandan dictator Field Marshal Idi Amin staged a coup d’etat that kicked out President Milton Obote. 

The same coup like a hurricane hurriedly forced Dozie out of Uganda where he was living a diamond life working for a consultancy called African State Consulting Group.

“The group was conducting economic studies for the Ugandan government and my job was to attempt to do input-output model for Uganda,” Dozie recalls.  Armed with two degrees, the first in economics from London School of Economics and the second a postgraduate in econometrics from City University in 1963, Dozie had worked briefly in London and headed for Uganda in search of adventure which ended anticlimactically with the Idi Amin putsch.

He remembers the idyllic East African country with the nostalgia of a lost paradise where Ugandans feasted on a smorgasbord of three delicious traditional dishes namely matooke (mashed plantain boiled or cooked in a sauce of peanuts with fresh fish or meat), waragi (domestic distilled beverages) and somaki.  He was planning to stay long term with his family, but then there was a twist in the tale.

“Unfortunately, Idi Amin’s military coup on January 25, 1971 truncated our sojourn in Uganda,” Dozie laments as he headed home to Nigeria with his family, not knowing what the future held for him.  If only he knew that leaving Uganda was a blessing in disguise. One in which God wanted a better place and a prosperous future where he would be an influential business leader in his own country and among his own people.  In Nigeria, he didn’t get a job, so he took the path of entrepreneurship.  He had to “employed myself” by setting up a consultancy calling it African Development Consulting Group (ADCG) “mirroring the company I went to work for in Uganda.  African Development Consulting was concerned with feasibility studies, planning for governments as well as corporate organizations.  We had among our clients the likes of Nestlé and Pfizer.”

He had landed in Nigeria in the wake of the Udoji Award bonanza, where workers were paid jumbo salary arrears based on the recommendation of Chief Jerome Udoji ,whose commission brought smiles and celebration to workers who went on spending spree.  General Yakubu Gowon was the postwar military ruler of Nigeria—the man who once boasted that Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it.  An article Dozie wrote in the then Daily Times entitled “The background to Udoji Award” turned out to be a game-changer for Dozie as it created a buzz of excitement among readers and opinion leaders. 

“So many people were interested in the writer of the article because I queried some of the notions that were current in those days–– one of which was the idea that the country can develop using import substitution as a policy for industrialisation.  That I queried.  I queried the neglect of agriculture in preference for oil.  I also forecast that there was going to be shortage of food in the country at a particular date––these things came true.  There was a time when there was scarcity of essential commodities.

“My consulting helped me a lot.  It helped me to know a lot of people.  It wasn’t an easy thing, but it did work, and eventually, ADCG was the auspices from which we set up Diamond Bank.”

I had been researching the story of Pascal Dozie for my various books on Nigeria’s business founders, boardroom leadership and corporate governance.  Luckily, I met him at the local airport in Lagos. He was returning from Owerri, where he was born and schooled before going for further studies in London where he met Chinyere, the love of his life whom he married after proposing marriage to her the casual and confident way Nelson Mandela proposed to Winnie. 

Dozie, known by the acronym of PGD, gave me his card, promising to talk to me when we meet.  From the much I gathered about him, Pascal Dozie is not a man you can ignore in any book on Nigeria’s business leaders and founders.  His story of the founding of Diamond Bank is a testimony of faith, is a tale full of frustrations from potential investors who were dragging their feet only to regret in the end.  The same goes for those he begged at home and abroad to invest in MTN, a business which later turned out so lucrative, bringing in good return on investment.

From Dozie, the man with the Midas touch, you learn one or two entrepreneurial lessons.  One is that for an entrepreneur, “capital, really, is important. It is necessary, but not sufficient.”  He loves drawing an analogy from the Monsanto Company, an American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation which started business with the small amount of $5,000 and on its 75th anniversary, “the company published a book titled Faith, Hope and $5,000.  The man had faith in himself and what he wanted to do; his friends also had faith in him; together, all of them had hope and they had only $5,000.”

As Nigeria’s corporate historian, I wouldn’t mind one day writing the full story of Pascal Dozie and the making of Diamond Bank plus the various leap-of-faith long-term investments he embarked on.  On his investment secrets, Dozie says: “I have an investment philosophy.  That philosophy has two or three components. One, it has to be revenue-generating. Two, it must be employment-generating. And three, it must add value to the economy.  You have to understand that you don’t invest in a vacuum.  First, look at what is happening in the country––the trajectory, where the country is going––and spot the gaps, the needs of the people.  Next, consider whether what you want to invest in is of sufficient interest to you, whether or not it can engage your interest in the long run––so that you do not have to start and go, but start and finish!  If that business does not hold your zeal, then you are wasting your time.”         

Next time, I hope to bring you more stories on this master of long-term business strategy, his inspiring business odyssey, his thoughts on corporate governance as the new president of the Corporate Governance Society of Nigeria.  Of course, I will explore his faith in God who changed his destiny after fleeing Uganda for Nigeria.

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