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Mike Adenuga: A layered legacy for young people

By Andikan Umoh
03 November 2022   |   3:40 am
In this day and age of social media, it is seemingly difficult for public figures to keep their lives extremely private. The unquenching thirst for content has increased the publicity of information that was hitherto classified, and in the quest to demystify them, some of those perceived to be reclusive have bowed to the pressure…

Otunba Mike Adenuga

In this day and age of social media, it is seemingly difficult for public figures to keep their lives extremely private.
The unquenching thirst for content has increased the publicity of information that was hitherto classified, and in the quest to demystify them, some of those perceived to be reclusive have bowed to the pressure of sharing on social media. For example, in the past, the members of the British royal family were notoriously private, yet today, they share some parts of their lives on social media and even for the first time, televised their accession ceremony.

Whilst one could put that to changing times, where would you put the seeming desperation of a number of multi-millionaires and even some billionaires to be validated and have their egos and dopamines boosted by a few retweets and likes? Some could even pass for bloggers these days.

One billionaire has tellingly defied this pressure – Otunba Dr. Micheal Adenuga Jnr., one of the world’s richest men. Although much may be written about Dr. Adenuga, relatively little is known about him. His success in building a public persona defined by invisibility has earned him the sobriquet ‘Spirit’, which further metamorphosed into ‘the Spirit of Africa’. It has come to be known that, true to his spirit-like personality, he has no social media accounts, is rarely in the public eyes, and only sees those he wants to see when he wants to see them and for as long as he intends to see them. He has also been described as an enigma. However, this enigma, who makes rare public appearances has come to be a greater Influence than we may think.

A descendant of Pariola, a very wealthy and influential female trader, M.A. Jnr. is the second son of Oloye Micheal Agbolade Adenuga Snr., who was a school teacher, and Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga (Nee Onashile of Okesopin, Ijebu Igbo), who was a businesswoman. Born in Ibadan on the 29th of April, 1953 yet with roots in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State, the business guru was given the name John Bull due to his size at birth and has since reflected certain characteristics of a bull, such as being a relentless fighter.

Mike Adenuga was not one born with the sort of silver spoon one can easily associate with his own children today. Though his family was comfortable, he had to work to augment family support early on. One such time was whilst he studied overseas. Many Nigerians, especially in the Diaspora, can relate with the cycle of working and studying and how difficult it can be to combine working two jobs whilst also schooling. But this was not far from the story of Mike Adedunga, who had to work as a taxi driver and a security man to survive and raise his school fees whilst he pursued a degree in Business Administration.

After Mike Adenuga’s return to the country in 1974, post studies overseas, he intimated that he thrived because he was a jack of all trades. He managed his family sawmill operation in Ogun State whilst also engaging in other side businesses. From importing car stereos – as cars imported into Nigeria at the time barely had those – to importation of lace, importation of sawmill equipment, tomato paste, wines, and beer. He was also into general merchandise and construction. By the age of 26, he had become a millionaire from selling soft drinks and lace materials.

So how did Mike Adenuga become a silent influencer even though he is rarely seen outside? His action speaks louder than his words; Through his businesses and enterprises, Mr Adenuga has contributed tremendously to the ease of living and working in Nigeria.

“Adulthood na scam” is a song made popular by young people today. Needless to say, we would have been enraged to be paying N60 per minute for a telephone conversation, whether the call lasted 5 seconds or 59 seconds – calls were rounded up to one minute or the nearest minute, to the benefit of the GSM companies operating at the time (MTN and Econet Wireless). A man who has perfected the act of consequential absence or a bullish presence, Mike Adenuga indeed disrupted the industry in a way hardly seen ever since; Globacom crashed the price of SIM cards and also started per second billing – PSB – two moves that had been predicted to be unlikely for the foreseeable future at the time. This bull was busy with another script from the one that was in play at the time.

The goal behind the introduction of the per second billing was to make telecom services more accessible to the everyday Nigerian. As a result of his actions, the prices of SIM cards crashed as well as the cost of telephone calls. That we now get charged for calls to the exact second is one of Mike Adenuga’s many legacies.

The introduction of per second billing and crashing of SIM prices are not the only acts of service to the common Nigerian from Mr Adenuga. Through his company, Globacom, Dr. Adenuga has sponsored the Nigerian and Ghanaian Football Leagues as well as the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Inclusive of this is the Glo battle of the year Competition. Mr Adenuga has strategically made millionaires of several Nigerian youths. He elevated Nigerian celebrities to become superstars using the Glo Ambassadorship platform in a way never seen and done before.

Mike Adenuga further displayed his service to the common Nigerian through the opening of the Mike Adenuga Centre in 2019. The goal of the centre is to deepen the bond between Nigerians and the Francophone community. The centre offers language courses, an art gallery, and a French experience for the common Nigerian who is unable to travel to French-speaking countries to gain those experiences.

His services to Nigerians and by extension Nigeria as a whole have prompted the Mike Adenuga Foundation, which focuses on entrepreneurship development, education, health, and rural development. It is the machinery through which he silently donated N500 million to flood victims in Bayelsa in 2012 and N1.5 billion towards fighting COVID-19, amongst many interventions he has done his best to keep away from the media.

In the times when it seems as though everything had been done and there was nothing new to do, we should be reminded of Mr. Adenuga’s Conoil Producing limited making history as the first indigenous company in Nigeria to strike crude oil in commercial quantity back in 1991. Today, Conoil operates 6 oil blocks in Nigeria with an estimated 300 branches nationwide and has provided job opportunities to several Nigerians.

Mike Adenuga’s success story does not go without failures. A notorious one was the failure of his company Communications Investment Limited (CIL) to acquire the Mobile Communications (GSM) provisional Licenses auctioned by the Nigerian government in 2001. The alleged reason was their failure to raise the prerequisite sum for the acquisition; however, Mike Adenuga has debunked this and categorically stated that the licence assigned to them was litigious and though the payments were met, the Nigerian government refused the conditions that the payment was made with.

Evident of Mike Adenuga’s innate ability to persist in adversity, despite losing $20 million mandatory deposit fee for the license during the first bid, he made the same payments again a year later in the quest for the Second National Operator (SNO) license and was awarded the same. The initial setback would have sent many disappearing into oblivion.

The Spirit of Africa is a firm believer in the constant acquisition of knowledge, inspiring the youths to continuously pursue knowledge, especially for those starting a business.

Umoh wrote from Abuja, Nigeria.