Femi Otedola…strong commitment to business and philanthropy
By Udeme Akpan
- M Femi Otedola is our Personality of the Year 2019 because of his outstanding and strong commitment to not only business, but also philanthropy, thus touching lives in many positive ways. Born in Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, Nigeria, on November 4, 1962, into the family of the late Sir Michael Otedola, Governor of Lagos State, Otedola noticed and exploited business opportunities in the downstream sector of Nigeria’s petroleum industry much earlier than his contemporaries.
Consequently, he quickly raised funds to establish Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited. As chairman of Zenon, he invested N15 billion in downstream infrastructure development and acquired storage depots at Ibafon, Apapa as well as four cargo vessels, amounting to a combined total storage capacity of 147,000 metric tonnes in 2004.
He also procured a fleet of 100 DAF fuel-tanker trucks for N1.4 billion to boost the investment, thus enabling Zenon to supply fuel to major industries, including Dangote Group, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Nigerian Breweries, MTN, Unilever, Nestle and Guinness.
The operations of the company started to attract the confidence of banks and in March 2007, 10 banks provided $1.5 billion (N193.5 billion) syndicated loan to Zenon to enable it build the largest premium motor spirit storage facility in Africa. A few months later, Zenon acquired a 28.7 per cent stake in African Petroleum and invested massively to become the largest shareholder in some banks, including Zenith Bank and United Bank for Africa, UBA.
In December 2007, he personally acquired another 29.3 per cent shares in African Petroleum for N40 billion, which added to Zenon’s shares increased Otedola’s total stake in African Petroleum to 55.3 per cent. Indeed, his advent caused African Petroleum’s share price to shoot up, increasing the market capitalisation from N36 billion to N217 billion in six months.
Two years after, the pace of progress was so dramatic that Otedola became the second Nigerian after Aliko Dangote to appear on the Forbes list of African billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion. By December 2010, when African Petroleum changed its name to Forte Oil Plc, Otedola invested massively in restructuring the business, with special attention to new technologies and corporate governance, which started yielding profit by 2012.
Headed by Otedola, Forte Oil funded Amperion Limited, its subsidiary to acquire the 414 MW Geregu Power Plant for $132 million. With improved fortunes in Forte Oil, Otedola was listed again as one of the richest Africans by Forbes in November 2014. In September 2015, Forte Oil sold 17 per cent of its shares to Mercuria Energy Group, an international commodity trading company. In 2019, Otedola sold Forte Oil Plc and announced plans to focus on Geregu Power Plc.
From available records, Otedola is emerging one of the greatest philanthropists of our times. For instance, he established the Michael Otedola University Scholarship Scheme, in 1985 to give underprivileged students in Lagos State access to higher education. In 2005 Zenon donated N200 million to the scheme’s fund. In 2005, Otedola made a personal donation of N300 million towards the completion of the National Ecumenical Centre in Abuja.
In 2007 Otedola and others donated N200 million to the Lagos State Security Trust Fund in order to tackle crime in Lagos State. Still that year, he donated N100 million to the Michael Otedola College of Primary Education in Noforija, Epe. In 2008 he donated N80 million to the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Port Harcourt and fulfilled his pledge of $25,000 to the Super Eagles that played against Algeria in the 2019 African Cup of nations, AFCON.
Otedola pledged and redeemed his pledge to contribute N1 billion towards funding scholarships for indigent students in Lagos State. Earlier last year, the energy magnate paid $50,000 for the medical treatment of Christian Chukwu, a former national player and settled the medical bills of Peter Fregene, another former international goalkeeper. Before then, he had donated $100,000 (N36 million) for the treatment of Victor Olaotan, a veteran actor. He promised to take care of the medical expenses of another ailing Nollywood actor, Sadiq Daba.
Through his philanthropy organisation, the businessman has contributed over N2.6 billion to various schools across the country, including Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) -N1 billion, University of Ibadan – N300 million, and a N1.2 billion ultra-modern business school to Bayero University (BUK) in Kano. He paid the medical bills of reggae legend, Majek Fashek, and left everybody gasping when he donated N5 billion (approximately US$14 million in support of Save the Children.
The list of Otedola’s expression of human kindness seems to be endless, thus leaving observers wondering about his source of inspiration.
However, he once said: “God has been so kind, the only way I can show my gratitude to Him is to use my resources to support those who are underprivileged. This I intend to do for the rest of my life. In a world full of conflicts, diseases, calamities and inequality, we all need to show the milk of human kindness, to reach out and comfort the sick and give a helping hand to the weak.”
For these and other gestures, Femi Otedola, is indeed our Personality of The Year 2019.