By Lukman Olabiyi Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed October 16, to rule on whether or not to discharge a former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA ), Patrick Akpobolokemi, who was charged with N2.6bn fraud. The court fixed the date Friday after hearing…
I was in Gabon minding my business as the World Bank Country manager there when I got a call from a friend who said: “Your name has come up in the context of an interesting job opportunity. Are you interested?” And I said yes.
I wanted more information about this new job. And I got to know that the job is about being the CEO for Dangote Foundation. I didn’t even know Dangote had a foundation. So she put me in touch with someone who called me and we had a couple of conversations. And Alhaji Aliko Dangote did his own background checks. Then I came to Lagos for interviews where I was interviewed by ten people. He was the last person I spoke with. He asked: Why was I interested in the job? He talked about the fact that I am a Christian and he a Muslim. He wanted to make sure, especially Halima his daughter, that it won’t bother me to do things like Zakat and I said no. It will surprise many that Alhaji has given money to churches before. We do stuff for Christian organisations too.
For me, Dangote is an example of what is possible. For example, we had a meeting this morning with a professor from Stanford University and we were talking about his business. Here was a man who was trading and there was so much money and he didn’t know what to do with the money and the idea struck him: Why don’t we make this cement ourselves? Initially, everybody told him that he was insane. First of all, Obajana is in the middle of nowhere. There is no road, there is no power, there is nothing. The idea of a cement factory there at first didn’t make sense but it worked. Now, he is building a refinery. When I was in school, we were always talking about how developing countries were only treating commodities, there is no value added to the services and all those stories that we all know. But now he is doing something about that. So to me he represents what is possible because he did it. He overcame every obstacle. There is no power and he built a power plant to power the factory. There is no water and he sank a borehole. There is no road and he built roads. You can’t find trained people and he set up a Dangote Academy and trained the people there so that they can do it. And I think that is why he is relevant. He has a vision that he is implementing and we can actually see the result. It is not perfect but it is beyond what most people can imagine that we can actually do. And that to me is what inspires me every day. A lot of people trade but they are not manufacturing. And he says how can we take our destiny in our own hands and just do it? Why do we have to let other people dictate to us what we do? Let’s do it ourselves. That’s why somebody should write a book on a man like that. Nigeria needs more Dangotes. If we have ten like him, power issues would be over, all these ideas of importing things that we don’t need and make other people rich in the process would end.
I love his determination. Even though he is turning 60, he doesn’t think he is done. And even though everybody is hailing him as the richest black man on the planet, he doesn’t feel like he is done. For him, there is so much to be done. He is making 60 look young to me. When I was 25, I used to look at 60 as a very old age. But now that I am 49, I think 60 is not old. And the fact that he still has so much energy, so many things that he wants to accomplish still, after everything he has already accomplished, I think he is worth celebrating.
What amazes me is how simple he is, how humble and how down-to-earth and a regular person he is. We were in London in November 2016. People know him now all over the world. As we were walking on the street, people were ecstatic and hysterical: “Wow, is that Dangote?” And these three guys were running after us, wanting to take pictures with him. Most people like him would have been surrounded by tight security making access to him impossible. But he surrendered himself to the three guys who all took pictures with him. He even went to the extent of telling one: “You didn’t take a good picture. Come, come, come.” And he took a separate picture with him. That’s how he really is. But when it comes to his business, he is very hardcore about his business. Aside business, he is a very nice person, he is just a normal regular guy with so much compassion.
The Dangote Foundation has actually been around since 1993. He was doing a lot with it but with very little publicity. He just felt like he was someone who was blessed and needed to bless others. As at that time, he wasn’t nearly as wealthy as he is today. In 2014, he decided it was time to put a little more structure around the foundation. And that was when he set it up with a board, and an endowment of $1.25 billion dollars. It is the largest gift that any African has ever given to philanthropy. The reason many have not heard that much about the foundation is because it’s now that we are really building the brand. Alhaji is very modest. He is not the kind of guy who is thumping his chest and saying: “Look at how much money I am spending.” That is not his personality. It took a while to convince him that we even needed to do this branding for the foundation. Seventy percent of our spending is in Nigeria, twenty percent in Africa and ten percent for the rest of the world. Because we believe that Africans can also help others. We don’t always have to be at the receiving end. Three years ago, there was a huge flood in Pakistan and Dangote gave $2million for that. There was an earthquake in Nepal, he gave a million dollars. I remember when I went to Nepal to give them that cheque, the reaction was incredulous. It was like: “What? This is the first time we are seeing black people from Africa coming here to help us, to give us money in the hour of need.” They were used to seeing the Red Cross, UNICEF and other voluntary agencies but this was the first time help was coming from Africa. So the whole philosophy behind the foundation is: How do we bring relief to those who suffer amongst us? I have spent some time with his mother in Kano. That has been the way he was brought up in Kano with his mother. That’s the way they live. All this idea about giving. Because if you don’t give back, you too won’t be blessed. So you have to help others. And the more we can be impactful by giving, the more we can really change people’s lives, then the better all of us would be. That’s what he really believes in and that’s what I try to bring into this job.