In Search of Nigerian Billionaires

Trust me. When the Forbes Rich List was published last month, I did not want to be left out. So I told a senior colleague: “Three Nigerians have made the list of the world’s richest.” He, in curiosity, asked for their names. “Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola…,” I said. He was eagerly awaiting the last name. Majestically, I announced: “… and my humble self, Simon Gbenga Kolawole, otherwise known as SGK.” As soon as the laughter was over, he pressed to know who really the third person was. I said only Dangote and Otedola made the list. Just two Nigerians! “What about Mike Adenuga?” he asked. We also wondered why business giants such as Oba Otudeko, Jimoh Ibrahim and Nuel Ojei did not make the list.
Sure, if the definition of a billionaire by Forbes had been someone who has assets worth at least $1 billion, many Nigerian billionaires should make it – whereas only three Africans and, in all, four black persons, made the list. This is because Forbes bases its assessment on the quoted and verified values of companies and individual shares in them, significantly leaving out a lot of assets in the process. According to Wikipedia, Forbes generates the list thus: “The total net worth is an estimate measured in United States dollars, based on the closing stock prices of the stock exchanges on which each person’s company is listed on, and exchange rates… Stock prices are defined as shares of ownership in a corporation, and exchange rates are defined as how much one currency is worth in terms of another. This list only represents each person’s valuation on a single day due to daily fluctuations among exchange rates and stock valuations.”
For instance, Dangote should be worth more than the quoted $2.5 billion if his non-listed assets are considered. I was amused that Otedola, whose worth was put at $1.2 billion, joined his “friend” on the list. Both men used to be like twin brothers with an adoptive father in ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. They ate together, drank together and went everywhere together to the envy of many of their peers. That they have become sworn enemies today – presumably because of the tussle for Texaco – is just another lesson about life. Nothing lasts forever. It was unthinkable that Dangote and Otedola would be at each other’s throat with such bitterness and venom today.
The financial meltdown has left the world with 793 billionaires out of the 1,125 that made the list a year ago. Out of the 373 who dropped out, 355 were from diminishing fortunes; 18 have died. There are 38 new names, including three billionaires who returned to the list after regaining their fortunes. The richest man this year, Bill Gates, is $22 billion poorer than last year’s number one, Warren Buffet! In total worth, the world’s richest are also poorer, according to Forbes. Their collective net worth is $2.4 trillion, down by $2 trillion from a year ago. It’s the lowest since 2003, said Forbes. We are a bit lucky in Nigeria – not everybody’s wealth is tied to the stock market. While the world is crying meltdown, the impact on private wealth in Nigeria is not that calamitous.
For instance, Dangote may have been significantly affected because of the value of his quoted companies (last year, he was rated $3.5 billion; this year, $1 billion less). The crash in African Petroleum shares has also affected Otedola. Forbes now estimates that Otedola is worth $500 million, which means he would drop from the billionaires’ list if his fortune does not improve by March 2010 when another Rich List is published. AP is alleging that its shares crashed because of price manipulation, an allegation authorities are now investigating. As things stand, based on Forbes’ criteria, Dangote is the only Nigerian billionaire. But if AP shares appreciate again, Otedola will be back.
Comparatively, however, Globacom chairman, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr, has only one listed company – Conoil Plc – despite his vast business interests. The bulk of his wealth is outside the structure of the stock market so he is “immune” in a way. He is arguably Nigeria’s richest entrepreneur. A top Igbo billionaire told me last week: “Adenuga is richer than all Igbo people put together!” There may be some tinge of exaggeration to that though. Forbes must be feeling frustrated trying to track and list Adenuga’s phenomenal assets. He is a big-time player in Nigeria’s consolidated banking sector, but his bank, ETB, is not listed on the stock exchange. He has interest in real estate both in Nigeria and other key cities globally, with property all over Western Europe, North America and the Middle East.
In the oil industry, he has multi-billion dollar stake in the capital-intensive sector. Downstream, he is mighty. When he bought the then National Oil from the Federal Government and changed the name to Conoil, the value increased 15-fold in the first year. Upstream, his Consolidated Oil is a big player. It came into the field at a time the government chose to get local companies involved. While others who got oil blocks quickly sold theirs to foreigners, Adenuga chose to drill. He struck oil on Christmas Eve in 1991. The rest, as they say, is history. In the telecoms sector, Globacom is like a money-minting machine. It prides itself as Africa’s fastest-growing telecoms company, and has an ambition to conquer the continent, with operations already in Benin Republic. The Ghana operations are to be launched this year.
According to reports, Globacom has signed a multi-billion dollar network expansion contract with Alcatel-Lucent for its Nigerian operations to cope with the projected growth in its customer base. The new contract will expand the telecoms giant’s capacity from the existing 25 million subscribers to 45 million. Adenuga’s most ambitious project is by far the construction of a $1 billion undersea optic fibre cable, Glo-1, to link Africa with the rest of the world. The aim, according to Globacom, is to ensure that telecommunication services reach the people of Africa at the most affordable rates. But for as long as Adenuga’s wealth is outside of the stock market, he will not be listed in Forbes. So while he may gain some form of insulation from the meltdown, his face will also not grace the glossy pages of Forbes.
By Forbes’ criteria, there are only two “quoted” billionaires in Nigeria. But there are certainly many more if non-quoted assets are factored in. There are other Nigerians whom I think are billionaires in dollars – but whose problem is not non-listing on the stock market but the source of their wealth. Now, you got my drift. They cannot account for how they got the money. Without much research, we can conveniently point to at least 20 “shady” billionaires (in dollars) produced between 1999 and 2007 during the oil boom when trillions of naira were shared by different tiers of government. My pain is that unlike productive businessmen and women who have invested heavily in the Nigerian economy, many of these “shady” billionaires have their wealth invested outside our shores, thereby empowering other countries’ economies at our expense. That is too much to take. It is bad enough to steal and even worse to “invest” the loot abroad.
We need more Nigerian billionaires, genuine ones whose businesses we can point to. We need more Nigerian companies, more jobs, more private wealth, more value added to the economy, more tax revenue to the government, more money to spend on social services, and less reliance on oil. We need more Adenugas, more Leo Stan Ekehs, more Isyaku Rabius, more Paschal Dozies. Potentially, we can have the highest concentration of millionaires and billionaires in Africa whose wealth, I earnestly pray, would be invested in production, thereby creating wealth and jobs. Amen.

So Yar’Adua Could Be Bothered?

Have you heard? President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua said it was “sad” that Nigeria was kept out of the G20 leaders’ summit in London. I could not believe my ears. The impression I have always had of the president is that nothing worries him. In fact, my friend calls him “ba komi” president – which, in Pidgin English, you would say “nothing spoil”. He has never cut the picture of a man who can be bothered by anything. I think it is a good sign that the president is now getting “sad” about how the world sees Nigeria.
When Yar’Adua came in and went ferociously after Nuhu Ribadu, we kept telling him that he was creating a wrong impression about the country. But he could not be bothered as long as he got his pound of flesh. When the Attorney-General, Mike Aondoakaa, was busy writing letters to UK authorities, frustrating attempts to bring corrupt politicians to book, we did warn Yar’Adua that this would serve our image no good. He cared nothing. When he chose to be absent from the UN General Assembly last year and sent the Foreign Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, instead, we said this was not the right approach, especially when the Vice-President was around. It was “ba komi” as usual.
Let’s face it: Nigeria has dropped from the international radar. We’re not as respected as we used to be. All the re-branding of Nigeria done by EFCC under Ribadu and NAFDAC under Dora Akunyili is being systematically frittered away. Nigeria was perceived as corrupt and as a country where “anything goes”. With EFCC making many politicians to cough out their loot and face justice, the rest of the world began to give us a chance. With NAFDAC vigorously cleansing the market of fake and substandard drugs, Made-in-Nigeria pharmaceutical products became accepted and respected abroad again. Gradually, Nigeria was being re-branded.
But Yar’Adua came and put us in reverse gear. Who will take us seriously again? If anything, the rest of the world is laughing at us. They think we are a country of people well dressed up with nowhere to go. However, I refuse to give up on Yar’Adua. If anything, I am beginning to see more reasons to give him a second chance. One, he is “sad” we were not invited to G20 summit. So he may not be “ba komi” after all. I hope the “sadness” will make him change his ways. Two, he has promised 6,000mw of electricity by December 2009. With the frenzy of activities, I think I am willing to give him a benefit of the doubt.
Finally, the new EFCC has promised to go after the Halliburton bribe takers. Honestly, I think it’s a joke – but maybe Yar’Adua wants to redeem the image of his administration and show the world that he means business. Let’s wait and see. He did nothing about the Siemens and Wilbros scandals. Has he repented? If those “untouchable” Halliburton bribe takers (and not just their fronts) are actually brought to book, there is no way the world would not take Yar’Adua seriously. In fact, he would be invited to the next G20 and G7 meetings. Yar’Adua needs to re-brand himself urgently.