Dangote too needs a birthday gift
Dangote’s career has affected the fortune of Nigeria in many fundamental ways. Though he became the poster-boy of the President Olusegun Obasanjo era, he had already come on his own before the dawn of the current democratic dispensation in 1999. He is the successor-prince to the ancient mandarins and merchants who once brought goods and spices from far-away lands with their caravans across the Sahara Desert. Indeed, no city in Nigeria has the allure of Kano, with its old groundnut pyramids, international merchants, enterprising craftsmen and brave warriors. Indeed, this was the only city of the old Hausa States where a woman had reigned as the warrior queen. Today, though she is both myth and woman, the Kano people are proud of their Queen Amina.
When Dangote was born in 1957, the city was still dominated by the myths of his grand uncle, the legendary Alhaji Alhassan Dantata. By the time Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914, Dantata was already an experienced international merchant, sending many caravans of goods across the Sahara. When the British came, he became a factor for the dominant Royal Niger Company, creating the famous Kano groundnut pyramids and dabbling into international trade across the Atlantic. When the British Bank of West Africa opened its first branch in Kano in 1929, Dantata opened his first account there by depositing 20 camel loads of silver coins.
Like his grand uncle, Dangote has risen to the status of myth in his own right. He has his primary and secondary education in Kano before proceeding to Cairo, Egypt for a degree course at the Al-Azhar University. However, his real education that was to dominate his life and affect the destiny of our nation, was the one acquired about the merchandising skill of his parents, Muhammed Dangote and his wife, Mariya Sanusi Dantata. Dangote worked briefly with his uncle who loaned him the princely sum of N500,000 in 1975 for the young man to dabble into merchandising. The rest is a history that is still unfolding before our very eyes.
Today, Dangote has climbed heights that 30 years ago many Nigerians would have thought was impossible. Today, his empire is worth almost 25 billion dollars. His group of companies is present in at least 18 African countries. His companies’ annual turnover is more than the GDP of many African countries. His cement factory in Obajana, Kogi State, is the biggest on the continent. There are other cement companies in Ogun and Benue states. But Dangote’s most ambitious project so far is the Dangote Refinery, Petrochemical and Fertilizer Project which he is building in Lekki Peninsula, Lagos. His refinery, when operational by 2019, would be bigger than all the four existing refineries owned by the Federal Government. By that too, he would become Africa’s greatest exporter of petroleum products. He has become, by relentless striving, the most important factor in Nigeria’s economic development after the Federal Government.
Making money is a game that many can play. However, only few of the super-rich really have the capacity to be kind. The Dangote Foundation is the official organ for Dangote public generosity. Through this foundation, he has been able to donate billions of naira into social intervention programmes that have affected and are affecting the lives of millions in Nigeria and abroad. The foundation, the largest in Africa, started with initial seed money of 1.25 billion dollars. The foundation has donated billions of naira to many causes including the rehabilitation of victims of Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East and for the eradication of the Ebola virus epidemic. The foundation, with a donation of N3 billion, was the largest single supporter of the Ebola Fund.
Dangote is the new face of the African big man, those who made money and with their money are changing the face and reputation of Africa. These wealthy men and women are ready to leave the government alone and focus directly on the people. On the train are the likes of Tony Elumelu and his Heirs Holdings, Fola Adeola and his FATE Foundation, Mike Adenugu, Leo Stan-Ekeh, Wale Babalakin, Jimoh Ibrahim, Femi Otedola, Jim Ovia and others. They are the successor generation to the likes of Otunba Olasubomi Balogun, General Yakubu Danjuma, Chief Michael Ade-Ojo, Muhammadu Indimi, Arthur Eze, Harry Akande and Chief Gabriel Igbinedion.
The new member of the Billionaire Club does not often flaunt his golden carriage or their Rolls Royce, but he is effective, quiet like deep running waters and pervasive like the harmattan haze. This group willingly accepts Dangote as their leader as the face of the successful trend of African capitalism. Dangote beats his drum gently and walks with the assured stepping of a peripatetic teacher. He carries no air and his humility is genuine. Therefore, his influence is not acquired by reckless territoriality, but the smooth expansion of an experienced empire builder. It is no surprise that his companies dominate the Nigerian Stock Exchange with patriarchal muscle and benign prevalence.
I am amazed at how close Dangote has stayed close to politics without fallen into its treacherous embrace. In the closing months of President Obasanjo in power, there were those who were prepared to drag him into the presidential race. He only needed to signify his willingness and the presidential ticket of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, would have been his. However, Dangote made it known in the right quarters that he was not interested. Not even the power, the pomp, the prestige and the panoply of the presidency could lure him from the straight and narrow path.
Some will argue that he is giving much more than he could have given were he to be a politician. His impact on the economy is bigger than almost all the banks combined. His has created a leviathan that has a greater reach than any state government. His position reminds one of Alhaji Babatunde Jose, the legendary chairman of the old Daily Times at the height of his powers. Jose dismissed speculations that he would like to be the Prime Minister of Nigeria under a diarchy system being proposed by those who wanted a joint military-civilian regime under the leadership of General Yakubu Gowon. How can anymore swap the position as the Chairman and Managing Director of the octopoidal Daily Times with that of the Prime-Minister of Nigeria?
Dangote leads an open life. We know his companies. We know where his assets are situated. We know his net worth as published by the leading world economic magazines like Forbes and Fortune. He does not bury his fortune in a groundnut field or in the soak away pits or overhead tanks. He has no cocoa farm where dollars and pounds are buried. He makes his money and we know he is rich because he makes and sell things we can see and touch. There is even a private jet to prove that he soars above the ordinary man.
But who can say he knows how much our politicians are earning and how much they are worth? Every year, public spending is subjected to opaque accountancy and we are none the wiser for it. Eighteen years after our country gained freedom from military rule, we continue to wonder when we are going to gain freedom from civilian impunity. If Dangote deserves a birthday present, it is that the National Assembly should honour him by publishing the salary and emolument structures of its members. We know, if the truth must be told, that each of our lawmakers must be worth many bags of Dangote cement.