Dangote is a ‘beast’: An encounter with Africa’s most under-celebrated first son
“Suji my son, you must follow me somewhere, I want to blow your mind and quadruple your vision”.
This was a message I got from my royal father, the Ooni of Ife, HRH AdeyeyeEnitanOgunwusi, the Ojaja II. I had to leave everything I was doing, and make my way to Ibejulekki Free Trade Zone where Dangote has not only transformed the skyline, but also changed the social and economic value of the location, making it the new Lagos for all industrial and commercial opportunities.
It was a tedious experience traveling to a location that should ordinarily take us 40minutes, but we had to spend 1hour 30 minutes as a result of the unavoidable traffic on that route. However, I was stunned by the level of development that has unfolded in that area and I must appreciate the Lagos State government for the social and economic revolution of the Lekki Aja zone.
I enjoyed the trip which was filled with different interesting scenes, one of such is the sight of road-side hawkers, who reminded me of my days, hawking in South of France, and the endless joy when one finally makes that one sale. I saw one hawker with a carton of Gala delicately balanced on his head. I bought the whole box from him, not because I love gala but as a way to appreciate his hard work and bring joy to the face of a man who needs it the most.
We arrived Ibeju and I couldn’t but stop to appreciate the enormity of the project, the passion of the people and the humongous man-power. This was a place I had visited in 2016 with my friend Sulaimon Sanni Bello, and it was a simple desert land, all you could see then were many piles, trees and non-exhaustive swamp being sand-filled. Today what seemed like a dream has become a reality.
Getting to the gate where my name was already registered, a Hilux truck which was already waiting for us took us to Chief Edwin’s Office Wing, and we were ushered in.
I went straight, prostrated and paid homage to my most adored human – my King and mentor, Kabi o osi, Ooni of Ife, Ojaja-II, HRH AdeyeyeEnitanOgunwusi, the first son of oduduwa.
“Chief Edwin, meet my first son, the number one luxury real estate mogul. He builds skyscrapers in Ikoyi and Banana Island. He has disrupted everything mediocre in that space. I have a lot of them, my dream and vision is to inspire and motivate the great youths of our nation”.
I greeted everyone seated, the CFO Mr Femi Kolade, the MD Guiseppe Surace, the amazing GM EgbonYinkaAkande, Kabiesi’s friend and partner Mr.RotimiOsobe and my very good aburo and friend Landwey – OlawaleAyilara. It was an incredible experience where we discussed the magnanimity of the project, the vision, the inspirations and the challenges.
Kabiesi said; “I know 24hours will not be enough to go around this 140 kilometer project but let’s start”.
I have traveled around the world and visited numerous industrial parks but never have I seen something this gigantic – a city in a city, a swamp transformed to 8 times the size of Victoria Island, and this is why my King said it’s an understatement to call the Dangote Refinery in IbejuLekki a city, we shall name it a NATION!
Concretely fencedaround approximately 3500 hectares of land, the largest single line refinery in the world producing 650,000 barrels a day! According to Chief Edwin; “The current world largest produces 420,000 barrels a day, what we have is 50% bigger than the biggest”. A 3-in-one industrial park where they refine petroleum and petro-chemical products, and also the biggest and largest producer of fertilizers not only in Nigeria but the whole of Africa with an annual capacity of 3 million tons.
I have unfortunately been amongst some big and influential people, who throw tantrums and comments about the Dangote Refinery dream. One said ‘’Dangote should have remained in cement, he has put his hand into what will swallow him, that project will never come to pass’’. Today the 22 billion dollar project is 90% completed. Sometimes, don’t blame people for their inability to assimilate your vision, because it’s only limited to the capacity of their imagination. I am sure this man today will be swallowing his words when the plant opens in few months Q1 2022, and the fertilizer which is 50% completed will start its first commercial sale this month of May 2021.
I am sharing this as an inspiration for myself and for our generation that if Dangote can do it, we too can do it! In a country where many see calamities, let’s see opportunities! Let’s transform our anger into hunger for innovation and together change our nation.
In 2007, Dangote approached the government to buy the Port Harcourt refinery, he paid and somehow the deal was frustrated. He was devastated but what looked like a disappointment is now a blessing! Today, less than 20 years later, Dangote is building and has almost completed a project that is 10 times bigger than what he thought was a disappointment.
Chief Edwin, the brainbox and Mr. Giussepe the MD of the project narrated with an overwhelming passion the vision and the project, for more than 2 hours. We couldn’t finish the tour of the fertilizer plant with a 3,000,000 ton capacity. We also learnt that Nigeria consumes 750,000 tons annually and Brazil their biggest market consumes 8,000,000 metric tons. The lesson I learnt which is very important is this; Chief Edwin made us understand the farming sector of this nation has not yet harnessed up to 10% of its true potential. We went on with Mr. Giussepe, passionately explaining the technical data, numbers and words, in his Italian accent, just passionately expressing the gigantic nature of the project.
A project which has taken about 4 years to complete. It is still a baffle how could one man assemble a team of over 15,000 expatriates, constructing about 50,000 homes in 9 months, 2500 construction equipment (making him the largest construction company in the country, bigger than JB), 350 Cranes, building 20 control rooms for 20 projects, grouped in 5 major projects, making it the largest industrial hub in Africa. A 5 billion storage capacity of oil product (which is 5 times the capacity of all the tank farms in Ibafo and the whole of Nigeria); a power plant generating a combined capacity of 500 megawatts; a business that is employing over 200,000 skilled and unskilled people daily, Dangote is an entrepreneurial BEAST!
We drove through the 86 pump station for tanker trucks, an automated station that fills every truck in 21 minutes. At its full potential, it should disperse approximately 198,000 litres of fuel daily, an efficient and illustrious project in sub-Saharan Africa.
We went on break to have lunch, a beautiful mixture of about 12 dishes from African fusion to the pastas of Italy. I rolled my sleeves to the hot Amala and Egusi with fresh goat meat. I didn’t care staining my white shirt, it was as delicious as my experience in the mega project of 140 kilometer road network (Phase1), which is almost like traveling from Lagos to Ibadan. It is HUGE!
We finished eating and got on the bus again and Mr. Giuseppe- the MD of the project, took us on another 3hours tour. The Italian born who has been in Nigeria for almost 20 years enjoyed taking us on the tour and giving us every detail, something he has done more than 200 times. At every junction, he will stop and give us a lecture on the project, the vision, the challenges and how they overcame them, (Kabiyesi, this place you stand now was a swamp, we sand-filled 65 million cubic meter of sand bringing 3 dredgers – 2 of them were the largest dredger ever built in the world).
“After sand-filling about 65 million cubic meter, we had to do a foundation of approximately 200,000 piles, stacking 350 piles a day, a total cost of over 300 million dollars. We were frustrated and had to do many things ourselves in order to meet deadlines. We set up our batching plant delivering 30,000m3 batching capacity on a daily basis, using about 1000 Tipper trucks and today we have done more than 2.5 million m3 of Concrete”.The same amount of concrete needed to build the BurjKhalifa.
KabiyesiOonirisa, Oba Oluitori, and everyone were so perplexed and wondered how one man could conceive this. Kabiyesi never stopped asking questions, technical questions that if I didn’t know him, I would have thought he had done a refinery project before. Everyone was left in awe every time the Oonirisa asked a question or contributed to the conversation.
It was a great experience, an eye-opener, and a lesson for any entrepreneur on earth. One of the lessons I learnt also was that Dangote had to build his own port, out of necessity and urgency. Apapa port capacity couldn’t support Dangote’s equipment which are 3 to 8000 tons, with the biggest single steel product in the world, weighing 3,000 tons. Sometimes, your location and environment should not be enough to swallow your vision.
The so-called miniport is not mini at all, it has a tonnage capacity 3 times that of Apapa. Though limited in size, it can still handle approximately 500 containers daily. It’s small but MIGHTY! If I were the NPA, I will immediately ease the Apapa already over-congested port and divert some ships to the Dangote port.
The undisputed 10 times Africa’s richest man never sleeps and is always active and welcoming when we appear in his home. I have been here for 31 years, I love it here! I come home, sleep, off to work and many times out of the country, you can’t be sleeping when you have such a humongous project at hand, especially in a rather tough terrain that is relatively new to us.
Alhaji came outside to usher us in, he bowed in greetings to the Oonirisa and welcomed us to his home with delicious ginger tea and fresh honey. We were hosted by his assistant Mr. Sam, who always politely gave us what we needed before asking.
“The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria “Private sector”, thank you for inviting us to your home. Alhaji, meet my first son, Sujimoto….”
“Oooo I know Sujina, he’s the luxury skyscraper man, keep up the good work Suji….”
“Alhaji, we have come to bless and appreciate you as a son of Africa who has made us proud, for over 40 years! You have been consistent, moving up like this your plane on the table. You have confronted and fought the biggest battles and impacted our economy! You have made dreaming a possibility and inspired many generations. We are thankful to you and that’s why I bring you this artwork, as a symbol of wealth and good health.”
11th of May 2021, will be a day I will never forget in my life, actually one of the best days of my life! A day that changed my perspective, increased my vision and redefined my mission on earth.
We left the location around 10:30pm and I couldn’t stop thinking about my life, my vision and my projects. I told the Ooni about my Sujimoto Diamond City (SDC) – a smart city inside a city, where we shall have about 16 skyscrapers with the shortest one at 22 storey, 2 giant Malls, 2 exclusive 5 star Hotels, Amusement Parks, Games and Event centers with a 25,000 car park capacity, this trip has really inspired me and revamped my vision.
Entrepreneurship is about surrounding oneself with people, stories and events that inspires the hidden dreams in us. I shared the story on my TNL group where many appreciated and adored Dangote for his audacious project. Some were being critical and I had to vigorously address them, that it was a shame to only see the ‘hole’ when you are served a doughnut’. This is an investment of 22 billion dollar which will generate 27 billion annual revenue, with a profit margin of 15 to 25%. If this does not drive you, then I doubt anything will. If anyone wasn’t mesmerized- I was, as I even dreamt about the project again last night.
This trip has taught me that Fortune follows the Brave and life will only succumb to you if you persistently chase your dreams.