By Ikechukwu Amaechi
OTUNBA Mike Adeniyi Ishola Adenuga Jr. is 68 years old today. Born on April 29, 1953 in the ancient city of Ibadan, Adenuga has indeed come a long way and ideally, the red carpet is in order. For a man who has achieved so much, pomp and pageantry, an elaborate ceremonial splendour, won’t be out of place. But that is unlikely. Instead, the day will most likely be marked in solitary quietude. Adenuga loves his quiet moments, even as he, paradoxically, lives for others. Believing in the immortal words of Albert Einstein, the German-born theoretical physicist, that only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile, Adenuga refuses to bask in public adulation.
Nothing at his birth indicated he will be a phenomenal business success. Though his parents, Chief Mike Adenuga Snr., a teacher, and Madam Oyindamola Adenuga, a successful trader and Yeyeoba of Ijebuland, were successful in their own right, he didn’t fit into the archetypal characterisation of a silver spoon child. Having attended Ibadan Grammar School for his secondary education, he immigrated to the United States where he studied Business Administration at Northwestern State University, and later earned a Master’s degree at Pace University, New York, majoring in Business Administration. But he had to support his quest for the Golden Fleece in the U.S. by driving a taxi.
Upon his return to Nigeria, Adenuga proved himself to be an entrepreneur with the Midas touch, becoming a millionaire at the relatively young age of 26 selling lace and distributing soft drinks. Today, with one of the most diversified business portfolios spanning oil and gas, telecoms, aviation, banking and real estate, he presides over one of Africa’s largest business empires, putting his legendary imprimatur of excellence on each of these key sectors.
What stands Adenuga out as a businessman is his diligence and entrepreneurial excellence. He has emerged a shining symbol of the irrepressible spirit of the archetypal African entrepreneur – fervent, steadfast, irrepressible and extremely hardworking. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the 19th American poet and educator, must have had him in mind when he wrote his memorable poem: “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
But his success is not what defines him. What sets him apart is his uncanny ability to ensure that his quest for profit is not at the expense of common good. Rather, what benefits all moderates his capitalist drive for profit. So, while Adenuga is a typical businessman whose goal is to make profit from his capitalist ventures, he is driven by a much higher ideal of fellow feeling. He strives for profit, which explains his phenomenal success, yet, he walks the delicate balance that guarantees public good.
This remarkable ability is most manifest in the telecommunications industry. His dramatic entrance in the highly technical sector with Globacom Limited made it possible for Nigerians to pay for actual time spent on call through Per Second Billing, which other operators had denied them. Adenuga’s Globacom also crashed the cost of subscriber identity module, SIM, card from N25,000 to N100. The impact was phenomenal – today, almost every adult Nigerian has a phone line.
In 2010, Globacom again made history when it commissioned the multi-million dollar Glo-1 submarine cable, the first privately owned international submarine cable in Africa, to strengthen the region’s bandwidth capacity. This opened up internet opportunities for individuals, businesses and governments, impacting on diverse sectors of the economy. Today, Globacom is one of the most innovative networks in Africa and has operations in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia and Cote d’Ivoire.
His other businesses are also flourishing, playing leadership roles in every sector of the Nigerian economy. In the oil and gas sector, for instance, Conoil Plc is one of the largest and most profitable oil marketing companies in Nigeria, with the downstream arm making history by becoming the first Nigerian company to strike oil and produce it in commercial quantity in 1991.
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In the banking sector, Equitorial Trust Bank, ETB, was one of the few banks that effortlessly met the N25 billion capital requirement during the 2005 banking consolidation exercise without going to the stock market. Few years later, ETB merged with Sterling Bank. Adenuga’s multi-billion dollar real estate business is also thriving. These companies provide direct and indirect employment to millions of people.
But it is in the area of philanthropy that he has distinguished himself most. Adenuga deploys his huge resources in putting smile on the face of humanity, believing, as it were, in Goldie Hawn’s immortal saying that: “Giving back is as good for you as it is for those you are helping, because giving gives you purpose. When you have a purpose-driven life, you’re a happier person.” Adenuga is a happier person at 68 because, like Winston Churchill, the war-time British Prime Minister, he believes that while we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.
And he gives to national causes just as he gives to individuals. When the Nigerian Premier League was in dire straits, Adenuga’s Globacom came to the rescue, becoming the biggest supporter of football in Africa. The telecoms giant raised the profile of football in Nigeria and Ghana with the sponsorship of their Premier Leagues and national football teams for many years.
The company not only spent over N15 billion on Nigerian football, it transformed the annual CAF Awards and made it the most glamorous sporting event on the continent. In reciprocation, CAF awarded him the Pillar of Football in Africa. His contributions to education in terms of endowment of professorial chairs, donation of computer laboratories to several institutions are well-documented. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, he made a whopping N1.5 billion donation to give the national fight against the virus an impetus, just as he did few years ago when he donated N500 million to victims of the flood disaster across the country.
On the individual level, he has transformed the lives of thousands of people – employees, associates, friends, relations, acquaintances and old school mates. Most remarkable is the help he renders to strangers whose plight he knew through the social media. For instance, recently, his attention was brought to an ailing Nollywood veteran who needed about N2 million for surgery. Adenuga raised a cheque for N5 million covering the cost of treatment and another N10 million for post-treatment rehabilitation for him.
Ailing Nollywood veteran
There was also a petty food seller whose story went viral on social media after she stripped naked and destroyed her wares when a customs official whose love advances she rebuffed framed her up for a crime she knew nothing about. Adenuga sent her N3 million to rent a proper shop and another N10 million to stock up. These instances are legion and a grateful nation is appreciative.
Adenuga holds honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Ibadan and the Ogun State University. During Nigeria’s 50th anniversary celebration, he was one of the 50 pre-eminent Nigerians who were conferred with the Special Golden Jubilee Independence Anniversary Awards by the Federal Government. In 2012, he was decorated with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON, medal, the second highest award in the land.
President Goodluck Jonathan predicated the gesture on Adenuga’s immense contribution to the socio-economic development of Nigeria and the West African sub-region. “Chief Adenuga has done a great deal for the country through his numerous business concerns which employ thousands of Nigerians,” the former president said.
In 2010, he was voted Nigeria’s Most Outstanding Business Personality in the last 50 years in a poll conducted by ThisDay newspaper. A year earlier, he had won the coveted Silverbird Man of the Year Award, polling over 75 per cent of the votes to beat other eminent personalities. But it is not only Nigerians that are appreciating Adenuga. In 2016, Ghana awarded him its highest national award – The Companion of the Star of Ghana.
A year later, it was the turn of France with the “Chevalier la Legion d’Honnuer” award, which was upgraded in 2018 by President Emmanuel Macron to “Commander of the Legion of Honour”, France’s highest national honour. Adenuga is not only a gift to Nigeria, but the entire African continent. Two years shy of the Biblical age of three scores and ten, and at a time when the country is on a free-fall, the altruism of Adenuga, the capitalist with a heart of gold, continues to inspire hope.