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Heroes of the Nigerian economy

BY NDUKA NWOSU

In this article, Nduka Nwosu picks a few examples of men whose selfless efforts at moving the economy to the next level, give us hope that the future will be great someday.

Just last Monday, there was a newspaper report that the global analytics company S & P was very impressed with what it saw at the Dangote Refinery, asserting that the company with a capacity to refine 650,000 barrels of crude oil daily was capable of solving Nigeria’s foreign exchange problems through export of some of its products as well as catalyse economic development.

We as a country have been told severally that we stand to make a tremendous haul of our deliverables in the oil and gas sector if only we can put our acts together and do the needful. How many of us are doing the needful in our chosen areas of endeavour? Have we had the Aliko Dangotes in the past and are they still here working quietly to redefine our economy in the right direction despite the pains and potholes of the moment?

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The private sector which should take off where the government kick starts policy implementation has been emasculated by potholes of corrupt practices that a Dangote has through painful effort successfully traversed to get to where he is. And now the US-based Standards & Poors says Dangote Refinery can help us swim to the Promised Land.

Even now Dangote is crying aloud that the enemies of the economy conspiring with the IOCs are working hard to destroy the new venture. How sad.

That is not a welcome news. We know the success of the refinery would deny many their illegitimately acquired daily bread, the same people that call Dangote names.  Think of all the scandals every great man of endeavour has passed through to have his name engraved in the hall of fame, the Nigerian Hall of Fame to be specific. What have we not heard of an Aliko Dangote? The good, the bad and the ugly? Yet he remains focused etching his name in the sand of time like great grandfather Al-Hassan Dantata.

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 Dangote will be glad to say he helped to turn around the Nigerian economy with the vision from the Almighty. The man has enough accomplishments that will earn him a place in the Hall of Fame of the Nigerian economy. And there are many Dangotes all over the polity who deserve a mention and a place in the Hall of Fame, the heroes of our future economy

Alhaji Al Hassan Dantata

The success story of the Dantatas and the Dangotes is traceable to Alhaji Al-Hassan Dantata who was considered the richest man in West Africa until his death in 1955. He had a huge influence on economic development in the north, especially in shaping the business acumen of the emerging Dantatas and Dangotes. He was the great-grandson of Aliko Dangote from the mother’s side and father of Aminu Dantata founder of Express Petroleum and Gas Ltd and earlier CEO of Alhassan Dantata and Sons Group, a trading company in kola nuts, groundnuts, and foreign goods. Al-Hassan Dantata’s company’s groundnut pyramids made the north famous in the export sector of the old Northern region. His pioneering efforts in the export sector make him a fitting candidate for the hall of fame of pioneers of our new economy.

The Chagoury Brothers

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I had thought many years ago that the Chagoury family were foreign to this country until recently. These are Nigerians of Lebanese extraction. Their parents arrived in Nigeria in the first half of the 20th century and had their children as Nigerians. Two distinguished members of the family the elder Gilbert, an ambassador extraordinaire to many countries, and businessman, and younger sibling Ronald, had traversed Business Nigeria like a colossus, providing meaningful employment to over 100,000 Nigerians across 50 years of active investment in various sectors of the economy. The Chagoury Brothers have made an impact in the manufacturing sector across the length and breadth of corporate Nigeria. 

Just like Dangote, the Chagourys have spread their business investment savvy to other African countries. Of course, we can talk of Nigerians who are citizens of other countries who have impacted positively on the economic development of such countries in West Africa. Ali Bongo who was overthrown in a military coup, was said to have been flown to Gabon with other Biafran kids during the war and was adopted by President Omar Bongo. In Britain, the US, Canada and Australia, Nigerians have risen to occupy high offices and as parliamentarians, special advisers and ministers. Home indeed is where you make it.

Bola Tinubu

The floods returned to Lagos last week with panic and horrible stories of victims, some of whom lost their lives. It was worse at Bar Beach before Governor Bola Tinubu with the Chagoury Brothers translated a once chilling experience of the Atlantic Ocean to that of a new city; Eko Atlantic City. Tinubu himself projects the image of an adventurer excited by new ideas and can-do possibilities. The list is quite impressive. The purchase and recognition of an idea when it comes, is part of the reason Lagos has become the leader of an economy anchored on maximisation of its internally generated revenue (IGR).

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Now as president, he is constructing a 700-kilometer coastal highway (about half the distance from Florida to New York City) with the Hitech Construction Company Limited as the contractor. And there are many more such projects on the table. That is the story we want to hear with all the despondency that is afflicting the economy.

Innoson Motors

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I was privileged to visit the two factories of Innoson Motors in Enugu and Nnewi shortly before the commissioning in 2010 by President Goodluck Jonathan. What amazed me the most was the revelation from the odyssey of Chief Innocent Ifediaso Chukwuma (CON). Born in 1961, Chukwuma whose early beginnings sound like that of another great investor, Cosmas Maduka, was barely schooled when he went into the import business of motorbikes and the accessories. Today he has reversed the trend. Innoson Motors in my presence was hosting the then Ghanaian minister of trade interested in importing the products from his factory. From being a net importer of motorbikes, Chief Chukwuma now exports what could rightly pass as a Nigerian manufactured car brand. Chief Chukwuma has promised that if the drivers of the economy can give him steel-related products through Ajaokuta or Aladja Steel companies, a near 80 percent production of a Nigerian-made car is possible.

Yet, Chukwuma was at a point scandalised by the very system he was elevating as running away from payment of duties or was owing a bank when in fact the bank was owing him

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Governor Alex Otti

Governor of Abia State, Dr. Alex Otti, an economist and banker, has proved that daring uncharted territories of impossibility can come with success and greatness. He did it in First Bank and Diamond Bank and now in God’s own state Abia, long driven to abysmal heights of structural and infrastructure development from its creation. What previously looked unattainable in reconstructing Abia to compete effectively with other progressive states of the south-east and the country, is witnessing a turnaround, a dream come true by the day. Aba, the once economic hub of the south-east, is witnessing a gradual and steady reconstruction. Otti has abolished the monstrous pension and gratuity the managers of the state used to clean the economy. Prebendal politics is over because he is not accountable to any godfather. Infrastructure as a tool of economic reawakening, has taken the better part of the state in addition to clearing arrears of salaries and pensions of civil servants and pensioners. A new lease of life has come into Abia. Otti is moving on despite the efforts of the opposition to scandalise his administration’s achievements. He is a candidate of the heroes of our new economy.

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Dr. Allen Onyeama

Can we ever complete discussion on heroes of our new economy without making mention of Dr Allen Onyeama, founder and CEO of Air Peace. We saw and keep seeing his war against foreign airlines who have been fleecing the economy with killing air fares. Onyeama’s entry into the euro, dollar and pound sterling fetching routes rewrote the narrative. Air fares to these routes crashed with the airlines and their home governments screaming blue murder and digging potholes of destabilisation for Air Peace, having pegged its fares to an affordable minimum. Onyeama is still in the trenches leading his squadrons against the fireworks of the enemy. He has proven that patriotism soars higher than the material dollar each time he offered to fly Nigerians home gratis, from troubled spots. 

He has been called names he does not deserve by those who want him to lose focus, but he has picked a few lessons from Michelle Obama that whenever they go low, soar higher and higher. Onyeama is a candidate of the heroes of our new economy.

Sir L.P. Ojukwu

So much has been written about Sir Phillip Odumegwu Ojukwu, parliamentarian, businessman and first Nigerian president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. His accomplishments and investments as a pace setter are non-pareil for his time, documented for research for students of business studies.

You can talk about him as the father of a “rebel,” first and last head of state of the defunct Biafran Republic, Gen Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, but Sir LP Ojukwu believed in the Nigerian project, disagreeing with his son on many issues, yet he was a trail blazer whose investments are still noticeable in the former federal capital territory of Lagos and elsewhere in the country. Post humously, Sir Phillip was a pace setter that left some lessons for the drivers of a progressive economy.

Femi Otedola

Femi Otedola’s name will always resonate as the comeback kid who went down and came up with a bang. His relevance in the Nigerian economy will be sketched in what he is doing right now in the power sector where he drives the Geregu Power Plc. As chairman of Forte Oil PLC, he moved the company to one of the best performing oil companies at the Nigerian Stock Exchange. To accelerate economic growth through sustainable power generation in Nigeria is the mission of Geregu Power under Otedola with a vision to be the leading provider of integrated power supply in the country, generating electric power supply to the National Grid managed by the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN). 

This is a tall order; Otedola whose father was once the Governor of Lagos state, knows his mission is in business, not politics.

If Otedola can rewrite the story of the Nigerian power sector, he would have made himself one of the greats in Nigerian history. He is a known name in philanthropy which makes him happy serving humanity with selfless motivation. 

Chief Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga

Chief Mike Adenuga brought positive change to the economy when he challenged the entry of foreign telecom operators, floating a completely indigenous outfit Globacom which helped to rewrite the story of telephone operation in the history of Nigeria. Chief Adenuga’s greatness is found not in his foray into the banking and oil business where he equally distinguished himself, but in his consistent effort to make Glo one of the best if not the best telecom company in the African continent.

Glo becomes annoying when it rains and its facilities experience a collapse. Notwithstanding, the telecom company is the pride of the nation, our own thing. No doubt Adenuga remains a pride of the nation

Timothy Adeola Odutola (Odutola tyres)

Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola is best known for his brand product Odutola Tyres, just like Ugo Tyres in the east. The question everyone should ask is, where is Odutola Tyres or Ugochukwu Tyres today, our early indigenous efforts in the manufacturing export sector? Was there no succession plan to sustain and expand these factories? A man was inspired to quit his job as a court clerk and went into the trading business in damask clothes and fishing with emphasis on nets. He was so successful he expanded across many cities outside his hometown Ijebu Ode. We learn the businessman traded in cocoa and palm produce before establishing factories in various parts of the country. The tyre business which came on stream in 1967 has gone under just like Michelin and Dunlop that closed shop and left the country. What happened to us that we could not protect our own? Sir Odutola, OBE CON and first President Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, is a hero and pace setter of the new economy.

Leventis Brothers

Just like the Chagoury Brothers, the Leventis Brothers were very prominent in the business development of the economy long before independence and the late 1990s with business interests that span various parts of the country. We heard of AP and AG Leventis but the pioneer was Anastasios Leventis who held the title of the Babalaje of Egbaland and founder of the Leventis Group. 

In 1982 I was in Northern Cyprus to interview cessationist President of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktash. Ambassador Leventis whose country Greece was backing the government of Cyprus against the cessionists conveyed the displeasure of the Greek government over my robust exposure of Northern Cyprus, expressing his willingness to have an interview with me so I can hear the story from the Greek perspective. The trip was halted because of a clause in Greek immigration law that says you cannot come to Greece if you had been to Northern Cyprus.

This is an attempt at a fair representation of the new and old heroes of the Nigerian economy. We must not forget what they have done and keep doing to keep corporate Nigeria alive in the short and long run while expecting the best in our momentary lamentations of a flailing economy. The activities of men and women like these, will take us to the promised land. They are the men of the new era of economic growth and stability, the heroes of our future economy.



Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.
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