June 3, 2017

Democracy Day Anniversary: Aliko Dangote as a metaphor for Nigeria’s development

Democracy Day Anniversary:  Aliko Dangote as a metaphor for Nigeria’s development


By magnus Onyibe

At 60 years of age (April 10,2017) , Aliko Dangote who is slightly older than Nigeria by a mere three years has become the richest man in Africa and the 23rd richest in the world according to Forbes list of billionaires.

Comparatively,after nearly 57 years of the founding of Nigeria as a nation, and about 18 years of continuously functioning as a multi party democracy, she remains at the bottom rung (169/189) of the world bank’s ranking of countries where doing business is easiest.

In such an inclement business environment why   has Dangote thrived and flourished while   Nigeria as a nation has remained a famished land ?

Perhaps tracing the growth trajectory of Aliko Dangote, a brand straight out of Nigeria and comparing it to the stunted growth of our country, could help us identify the factors responsible for our nation’s arrested development.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo

Although the circumstances of the birth and development of Dangote and Nigerian nation are not significantly dissimilar, (products of harsh African socioeconomic climate) it must be emphasized that Nigerian nation started off as a prolific source of agricultural produce such as cocoa, groundnut, cotton and oil palm which were cash crops highly sought after by our then colonial master, Britain.

As history teaches us, after Thomas Newcomen pioneered the industrial revolution in 1712 by inventing the first steam engine, our colonial masters intensified efforts in   importing our natural resources massively to feed its burgeoning industrial complexes. The inflow of cash from the British who were dependent on cash crops from Nigeria such as cocoa, cotton, palm oil, rubber lumps, groundnuts, cashew etc ensured a steady flow of funds into the coffers of governments, at the three regional and national levels.

In contrast, Dangote only had a rich uncle Aminu Dantata, from whom he tapped entrepreneurial skills and started selling candies (sweets) through street hawkers in his neighborhood.

It is noteworthy, that the budding entrepreneur at that time, Dangote could have eaten the candies like the leaders of Nigeria who squandered Nigeria’s riches by embarking on spending sprees , but he did not. Instead, Dangote steadily accumulated the proceeds from the petty trade of selling candies to form the capital of the Dangote group that’s now a behemoth.

Accounts by former president of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, in his seminal and famous book “ From Third World to First” illustrated the profligacy of Nigerian leaders at inception and accounts for Nigeria’s steady decline in fame and fortune while Singapore catapulted itself from third to first world in a relatively short space of two decades.

It is guts wrenching to think that if our leaders had maintained the discipline of saving up the seed capital from commodity trade with the British in the good old days, as Dangote did, Nigeria could have been robbing shoulders with the likes of Singapore in terms of GDP which is estimated to be about $300 billion up from about $70 billion in the 1960s and in terms of standard of living of her citizens of which they are in the top ten percentile of the world’s best.

The gap comes into stark reality when it is considered that Singapore has a single digit population of less than six, 6 million people which is just a fraction of Nigeria’s which is in excess of one hundred and seventy,170 million and the GDP of both countries are more or less   equal.

However, in contrast with the outstanding leadership qualities of leaders of Singapore and owing to the recklessness or lack of vision of those at the helm of affairs in Nigeria , citizens are now wallowing in abject poverty as her economy remains in the bottom rung of poverty ladder in terms of economic development.

That sad commentary is evidenced by the development indices of the world bank, IMF and even affirmed by the recent report by Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS.

Before the view above is dismissed   as a mere figment of my imagination, allow me remind us that Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, UAE , experienced the type of phenomenal growth that l just envisioned   through visionary leadership that Nigeria could have emulated , if we did not have myopic leaders with tunnel vision anchored solely on religion and ethnic sentiments as opposed to economic growth and   progress.

Incidentally, Emiratis are as religious, if not more pious than Nigerians, but they are equally as development focused, hence they were able to accelerate the growth of their economy and their well being with phenomenal   speed during the same period that Nigeria’s fortune suffered reversals with the future of citizens not so bright.

Going back to tracing the lack of growth in Nigeria in comparison to the commendable expansion of Dangote brand which is indigenous to Nigeria ,owing to his uncommon business acumen, Dangote’s business has now blossomed into a multinational conglomerate spanning several African countries (about 14 and still counting) and even east Asia, comparable to great consumer brands like Heinz and possibly Proctor & Gamble.

Conversely, Nigeria and majority of Nigerians have remained shackled in the abyss of poverty even after crude oil/gas, also known as black gold was discovered in addition to her existing array of other foreign exchange generating resources such as solid gold, silver,iron ore, cooper,aluminium, bauxite and other precious gem stones/minerals. Instead of using the revenue windfall arising from increased price of crude oil which was a positive fall out of the famous Arab oil blockade in the 1970s, Nigerian leaders wasted its resources in 1977 in hosting Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC 77, a recurrent expenditure. Establishing the value creating sea ports like jebel Ali in Dubai or export processing zones like the one in Guangzu, China, could have created jobs and improved the living standards of Nigerians but politicians of those days preferred to host a global soirée and thereafter brand a champagne.

It is therefore no surprise and as such an irony that while Dangote prospered through dexterous and prudent management of his lean and meagre seed capital , Nigeria has been diminishing due to the profligacy and squander-mania nature of her leaders from independence in 1960 till date.

Even the 2017 federal government budget of change estimated to be in excess of N7.4 trillion, is about 70% skewed in favor of debt servicing and recurrent expenditure/over heads- salaries, allowances and other expenses-than on capital projects like building of roads, hospitals, schools, sea/airports and homes which fuel socioeconomic growth and progress of society.

Alhaji Aliko Dangote, President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE)

In light of the above, Dangote has proven himself to be an adroit manager of men and resources way beyond the capacity of our political leaders in Nigeria’s chequered political history in the nearly 57 years of existence as a sovereign entity, with PDP at the helm of affairs for sixteen,16 years,and APC in the same position in two years.

I therefore hasten to ask:

Could the concept of Donald Trump,a multi billionaire businessman who went on to become the 45th and current president of the USA, be replicated in Nigeria?

Despite the fact that Dangote has been unabashedly and conspicuously apolitical, I asked the rhetorical question at the risk of being misunderstood and if Africa’s richest man ever considers such a venture, he is likely to be misunderstood too.

I suspect that my question may be misinterpreted and the premonition stems from the wise counsel of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who posited in his seminal essay SELF RELIANCE that :

“Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Essentially, Emerson in the phrase above was only trying to explain that very often great thinkers are misunderstood, because they have dared to think out of the box   as was the case with the list of high profile personalities that he highlighted, and who were initially misunderstood but they ended up being purveyors of positive developments and great influencers of society.

Even Mark Zukerberg, the co-founder of the hugely   financially successful Facebook is currently being misunderstood and suspected of nursing presidential ambition by a section of the USA media despite his denial simply because he has been trying to connect with American users of his social media platform by traveling round the country and meeting with ordinary folks.

In light of my advocacy for a political reset in Nigeria, perhaps like Albert Einstein who noted that “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree” , l wish that our political leaders should (irrespective of their creed or ethnicity) be like Dangote who shows up in churches and mosques for coronations, marriages, birthdays,burial ceremonies etc for both the rich and powerful as well as the not so rich friends and associates (no matter how far flung and remote the location of the ceremonies are), so that there will be less acrimony in Nigeria.

That is because it is one of the most efficacious ways to bridge/cure the religious and ethnic divide/malaise exacerbated by the negative sentiments stoked during the last general elections and contest for the presidency,  which incidentally is one of the tension points and disincentive for foreign direct investments, FDI flow into Nigeria.

Unlike most Nigerians and foreigners   whose wealth have taken flight from our shores due to initial policy inconsistencies resulting in the current economic crisis,it would appear that Dangote sees infinite spectrum of possibilities at home hence he has continued to invest in Nigeria both in good and bad times.

Furthermore, as John f. Kennedy the 33rd president of the USA declared during the dedication of the Aerospace medical health center in 1963 “America has tossed the cap over the wall of space” implying that the USA was going to be at the forefront of space race, Dangote does not appear to be ready to be at the rear but continue to be at the forefront   of economic development in Nigeria, hence he is expanding his business empire into petrochemical, petroleum products refining,fertilizer blending, farming   and possibly rail transportation.

To replicate the lofty accomplishments of Dangote in the business sphere in our public sector , l wish our political leaders would be   like Franklin D Roosevelt, FDR,who during his inauguration as president   of USA in 1933 stated emphatically in his message that gingered up his despondent fellow Americans by saying “l assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people is dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems”.

With such motivating   speech which was backed by action, most Americans were primed up with the zeal to join in pulling the recession ridden economy from the throes of depression. Contrary to the situation in the USA during the great depression, the exhortation and commitment that were like a shot in the arm of Americans  are lacking in Nigeria which is the reason the country is now mired in financial quagmire. This is   simply due to lack of visionary leadership that would inspire and mobilize Nigerians into taking the challenge of salvaging the economy.

It may recalled that at the time FDR took office, he needed to galvanize his compatriots, who were crest fallen into a formidable workforce to rescue the economy and his speech was like a lightning rod that sparked and drove the vision.

Obviously, unlike the motivational speech of FDR which culminated into   the famous contract with America,   the “ l Belong To No One and I Belong To Everyone”   speech that president Buhari made at inauguration and the “Change Begins With Me”   mantra that information minister, Lai Mohamed tried to introduce, have proven to be mere intentions without any noticeable effort to practice what the authors preached.

The assertion above is clearly   unsavoury.

But the negative sentiment is derived from the fact that the actions of the government in power, not just body language, have been quite the opposite of the message in the mantras, so l’m only being frank.

However, lately,acting president, Yemi Osinbajo seem to be literally standing in the gap for president Buhari through his recent inspiring comment during an interactive session with senior civil servants after signing the three executive orders on ease of doing business in Nigeria . According to him   “Great economies and great nations, prosperity and abundance of nations and communities are created by men and not spirits. No matter how much you pray, fast, our country can not grow without some of us deciding to do the hard work that makes nations work. I’m a pastor, a spiritual person, and l understand the law of sowing and reaping. It is a spiritual law that has tremendous physical implications.

Every time that we delay or frustrate what we can do today, leaving it till tomorrow, we hold back the future; we too must reap what we have sown by experiencing delays. If you help others to achieve, if you have sown good seeds,you will find help and you will prosper too. So don’t see this as government policy. Understand it as personal policy”, he urged.

Osinbajo’s ‘sermon’ to the bureaucrats at the national conference Centre is epochal and a welcome turning point in Nigeria’s development stratagem which is refreshingly pragmatic.

As Ronald Reagan reassured Americans in 1985 when he said   “But there are many mountains yet to be climbed. We will not rest until every American enjoys the fullness   of freedom, dignity and opportunity as our birthright”.

Nigerians must have   been looking forward to a president that would espouse such vision of a greater purpose than their personal or clannish interest and pursue it with utmost vigor.

By and large ,for literarily going to the ‘factory floors’ as demonstrated   through his interaction with technocrats ,acting president, Osinbajo seem to be redefining governance and etching himself into the minds of ordinary Nigerians by connecting with them in uncanny ways hitherto not practiced by Aso Rock dwellers.

Take the surprise visit to Garki market, Abuja, where he mingled   with fish and garri sellers freely last week as part of activities marking this year’s democracy day. By that singular action, if per adventure Osinbanjo falls ill, l won’t be surprised if most Nigerians   go on fasting and praying for God to grant him speedy recovery.

As I observed in a recently published   article lamenting the loss of my daughter Kikaose to negligence of British doctors owing to NHS shortcomings and lack of critical life saving equipments in Nigerian hospitals, had president Buhari been interacting more with Nigerians on the lower rung of the social ladder, l have no doubt that there would have been more people praying for his speedy recovery from his current ailment than is the case now where he is being made caricature of by a few mischief makers.

Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zukerberg ,Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovia, Tony Elumelu and Mike Adenuga as well as a host of other international and Nigerian billionaires, apart from being members of the billionaires club, have one thing in common. And that one common secret is having greater purpose in life and which is how to connect with the down trodden in the society by coming down from their gilt edged thrones and castles to mingle with the less privileged.

They do so by being aggressive in philanthropy which is a veritable means of interacting with the hoi polloi and for which they’ve set up social cause related foundations.

Bill Gates for instance has Bill and Belinda Gates foundation which is poised to eliminate polio in the world including Nigeria.

Happily, under the supervision of Osinbajo, the federal government of Nigeria has also joined the ranks of ‘do gooders’ through its poverty alleviation program of giving monthly stipends to indigent members of society as part of the program of providing social safety net for the poorest of the poor -a practice popular in Brazil and India amongst other developed economies. Thats in addition to the equally newly introduced lunch packs for school kids, who are the future of Nigeria and which is reportedly currently operational in 7 states. The effort has so far gulped over N7 billion Naira, l’m told.

In comparison to government , lately, Dangote seems more poised to making entrepreneurship and philanthropy his birthright through social investments and outright gifts to the poor and needy.

Although some perhaps uncharitably refer to him as an oligarch owing to the special privileges that he purportedly enjoys from government , but through his good cause related interventions, Dangote is one man who Nigerians should be grateful to for creating jobs and boosting the economy.

Little wonder, Nigerian government has recognized his good deeds via the award to him of the highest Medal of Honor , Commander Of The Federal Republic, CFR, a medal hitherto reserved for Vice Presidents only.

If Dangote can become one of the richest men in the world (23rd on Forbes list of billionaires) and Africa’s richest man,despite the pathetic and debilitating business climate in Nigeria,this nation has no excuse for being a basket case and an example of a country suffering from resource curse, Venezuela.

So I wish the leaders of Nigeria could be like Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the USA who during his first inaugural address in 1993 commended his compatriots for voting him into office to help in resolving the turbulence and down turn in the economy occasioned by the shambolic reign of his predecessor in office, George W Bush who left huge debts.

Clinton set the tone for his change agenda thus “And you have changed the face of congress, the presidency, and the political process itself. Yes, you my fellow Americans have forced the spring. Now we must do the work the season demands”

As opposed to doing the work as Clinton urged his compatriots , APC led federal govt   seem to have been busy in the first 24 months of winning   the reins of power, setting wrong priorities like investing humongous energy and resources into fighting corruption as the first on the agenda, and tackling insurgency as second and thus neglecting or relegating the economy which is the live wire and heart of any nation to the third position in their governance agenda. It’s economic and growth recovery plan, which should have been launched ahead of the floundering   Itse Sagay led presidential panel on anti corruption which took pre-eminence over others ,has only been inaugurated nearly two years into a four year tenure and after the economy had tanked, having been allowed to go through a free fall into recession.

For the sake of emphasis , my grouse is that rather than prioritize setting up a robust economic team to steer the ship of state that was headed for the rocks, president Buhari acted on his emotional impulse of railing against against corruption with every weapon in his arsenal no matter the collateral damage to the nation and the consequences of   his emotional action can only   be likened to chasing a bull into a china shop- a prostrate economy and scotched citizens.

Can you imagine what it would have been like if Dangote was running around arresting truck drivers diverting his cement   instead of putting in place relevant technology, like trackers to deter the theft from happening ?

In conclusion, given   Dangote’s hard nose for business and his entrepreneurial ingenuity, he has the potential to be Nigeria’s version of John D Rockefeller , more so as his antecedents tend, by omission or commission to be replicating Rockefeller’s growth trajectory which followed similar pattern of investing   in petroleum refining and distribution as well as real estate.

Sadly Nigeria has not prospered like the USA where Rockefeller blossomed even though the country has the potentials.

So comparing Nigeria’s leadership cohort which is better known for ineptitude and lack of focus to the USA’s purpose driven and result oriented   leadership, would be somewhat uncharitable since it appears that given the current socioeconomic fundamentals, and the uncoordinated nature of our political set up, Nigeria can’t possibly be like the USA in the foreseeable future.

I plead for forgiveness for the foregoing harsh conclusion which is borne out of the fact that l have chosen not to live in a bubble. And that’s  not to say that l have given up hope that Nigeria will rise from decadence to greatness as her potential has obviously not been fully harnessed.

As a matter of fact, if Aliko Dangote can become the wealthiest man in Africa, like Rockefeller was in the USA, Nigeria can become the richest country in Africa, not merely by the size of her GDP, but also as reflected in high standard of living, robust infrastructure and top quality education and healthcare for her citizens in Nigeria.

If that should truly be the driving force and motivation of every Nigerian, whether in the private or public sectors, from the north or south, muslim or Christian, then our country and her citizens will have no reason being shackled in poverty.

That’s the commitment that l expect every Nigerian to rededicate themselves to as president Buhari and APC mark two years of being in the captaincy of Nigeria’s ship of   state.


Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a former member of delta state cabinet, sent this piece from lagos.