Platinum Cheers For The Enigmatic Chairman At 70
Audacious and Tenacious: The Story of Dr. Mike Adenuga – A Phenomenon @70
By Michael Effiong & Eric Elezuo
There is no better time than now when the entire world stands in awe and admiration as he clocks the BIG 70 to share the inspirational, audacious and tenacious story of Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr GCON,CSG, CdrLH.
His story is better felt than told, better expressed than imagined. Well known but hardly seen, his story is the kind that will be so legendary that an -ism will be added to his name because his business trajectory and personal philosophy are uniquely his-and therefore worthy of emulation.
Some call him The Guru, others refer to him as the The Bull or most recently, the Spirit of Africa, one thing is sure, Adenuga is like the proverbial Iroko tree who is unlike any other. In terms of humility, pedigree, magnanimity, wealth and portfolio of investments, he is one of a kind.
In any area of business that he plays, he almost always makes significant impact and the facts are there for all to see.
When the Federal Government decided to give indigenous businessmen licences in the dollar-denominated but capital- intensive upstream oil sector, Adenuga was one of those who applied.
Unlike others who sold their licences for quick bucks, Adenuga, the visionary, decided to go into full scale prospecting and exploration. The gamble paid off as one of the wells that was being drilled struck oil, making his company, Consolidated Oil, the first indigenous Nigerian company to discover oil in commercial quantity.
Ever since that historic event of Tuesday, December 24, 1991, he had popped many bottles of choice champagnes and sipped some bottles of exotic cognacs to celebrate the execution of many mega deals.
Despite his success, Adenuga believes business must have a human face, it must add value, it must have an impact and ultimately, be socially responsible. These are some of the core values that he considers before throwing his money into any investment.
That is not all, he also firmly believes that the world is a field of battle and you must prepare to win, not some time but all the time. He’s a mountain climber like the Tibetan Monk, who believes that you must survive all odds to get to the top.
Incredible tales have been told about his amazing capacity for work. He is known to sleep very little when there is work to be done and he expects his staff to imbibe the same work ethic. Though generous, he is said to have zero tolerance for incompetence or sloppiness. With him, you must be on your toes every time.
It is therefore no surprise that his targeted investments and the grace of God Almighty have placed him well ahead of the authentic list of billionaires. His never-give-up spirit is well known and it is this force that has driven him to achieve feats many mortals will think are impossible.
In the entire continent of Africa, Dr. Mike Adenuga is in a class of his own-and therefore, it is inconceivable to actually put him in the same sentence or list as any of the others. He is without any shadow of doubt, Africa’s hidden treasure.
The reason is simple: Unlike many others whose worth can be calculated via their listed companies and assets, Adenuga’s intimidating wealth is usually in the realm of speculations, they are mostly privately-owned- which is reason he is usually given any position that meets the fancy of the publications.
Ololade Olaoye wrote, “Let us face it, if we count the numbers, dollar for dollar, Mike Adenuga would sweep everyone off the park. But we are in the world of paid narratives and agenda, where you can buy your place on the Rich List and those who already merited their place there don’t mind paying a few bucks to be overvalued. But if you ever become a billionaire, be this one: the billionaire who doesn’t care for the validation of Rich lLsts and the media. The one who touches lives here and there, far and beyond. And ultimately, the one who’s more about the truth of the matter, than the narratives written by others. We all can’t be the Spirit of Africa but trust me, we can learn a lot from his values and essence.” We concur with this assertion, truth be told, he has no rival.
Let’s then take you into the world of this symbol of endurance, entrepreneur extraordinaire and self-made business titan who is certainly one of the wealthiest black men in the world.
HIS EARLY LIFE
Born on April 29, 1953 to Oloye Michael Adenuga Sr and Chief (Mrs) Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga, the Yeyeoba of Ijebuland, Otun Gbadebo of Ikija and Iyalaje of Ijebu-Igbo, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr was not a silver spoon kid but his parents were comfortable.
The indigene of Oru, Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State was born and schooled in Ibadan. He attended the famous Ibadan Grammar School. He had his university education in the United States. He majored in Business administration with emphasis on Marketing.
While in school, to augment the allowance sent by his parents, he worked as a cabbie (Taxi Driver), putting in many hours of work a week. This culture of back-breaking hard work shaped him for his ambitious business adventures later in life.
Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr is married to Mrs. Titi Adenuga (nee Adewale). She provides the comfort and stability that such an incredibly busy man requires. His children are Oyin, Babajide (Bobo), Paddy, Bella, Eniola, Bimbo, Sade and ‘Niyi Jnr. He also has grandchildren. This close knit family members will be the ones around him today as he celebrates his birthday.
As soon he finished his studies in the United States, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr. returned to Nigeria. His mother was into business, and it was under her tutelage that he began trading. It is probably because of the tremendous impact that she had in his life as Business Adviser that he adored her so much. Before she passed on in 2005, he dotted on her.
Dr. Adenuga Jr, who is the youngest of his parent’s five children, began by selling removable car stereos. Probably sensing his business acumen, he was allowed to run the family saw mill factory in Ogun State.
He began to steadily grow the business. First, he went into the importation of saw mill equipment, then veered into importation of beer eventually hitting it big with his importation of lace.
Recounting those early days, the businessman extraordinaire said he was returning home from a trip in the United States when he missed his British Airways flight and had to fly Swiss Air. On that flight ,he was lucky to sit next to the owner of one of the biggest lace manufacturing companies in Austria.
He, it was, who convinced him before the flight touched down to give lace importation a shot. He took this advice and the reward was good. Later, he also went into tomato puree and vegetable oil. He was a sort of Jack of all trades and master of all. By the age of 26, he was already a millionaire.
As he grew older with more financial muscle, he decided to streamline his operations and look for investments in key sectors of the economy to concentrate on. That was how he began to structure the Mike Adenuga Group where he is Chairman.
When General Ibrahim Babangida decided to break the monopoly of foreigners in the oil industry and encouraged Nigerians to participate, Adenuga was one of those who took up the challenge.
His company, Consolidated Oil applied for and was granted some oil blocs. It was a very risky decision and even his mother advised him against it. He spent over $100 million on evaluation, interpretation and drilling. His courage and tenacity paid off when Consolidated Oil became the first Nigerian company to explore, discover and produce oil in large commercial quantities. Now called Conoil Producing Limited, it is currently the leading indigenous oil and gas exploration and producing company in Africa.
Years later in year 2000, he bought over the moribund National Oil and Chemicals Company (NOLCHEM), taking over the government’s majority shares. He has since injected fresh funds into the company and rechristened it Conoil Plc.
Conoil Plc has over 450 retail outlets all over the country and is the acknowledged leader of development in modern retail outlets such as mega stations and non-space pumps in new-look retail outlets. It is the market leader in aviation fuels.
Adenuga’s most ambitious project yet is in telecommunications. His company, Globacom is the Second National Operator in the country. The first is the government-owned NITEL. It is obvious that with Globacom, Adenuga is not interested in short-term profit, he is there for the long haul and of course, his desire is to give Nigerians and Africans world class telecommunication services.
When he launched the network, he was two years behind the others, Adenuga’s entry strategy was to be innovative and aggressive. He waged a price war, democratized and demystified telephone services. Today, the ultimate risk taker has taken Globacom from the nadir to the zenith of the industry.
Glo was the only operator in Africa to launch its operations on the superior 2.5G network which enabled the convergence of voice, data and multimedia technologies.
But more importantly, it launched operations on Per Second Billing, thus ensuring subscribers only pay for actual time spent on a call instead of the practice of billing customers N50 per minute even when the call cuts off at just 2 seconds. It also crashed the cost of SIM card from N30,000 to N6,999 and later N100, thereby making it possible for low income earners, students and artisans to own GSM lines today. It is now one of the most recognizable brands across the continent.
The network currently has over 60 million subscribers, and is the most preferred network in Nigeria, with a vast network of already laid fibre crisscrossing all parts of the country.
The Globacom network comprehensively covers over 400,000 communities, all the 36 states and all major highways. Globacom has highly successful subsidiary networks operating in other West African countries.
Reputed to be very hands-on in the operations of his businesses, Dr. Adenuga, whose daughter, the cerebral Mrs. Bella Disu is the Executive Vice Chairman, Globacom, still gets briefs on the day-to-day running of his business empire.
Glo 1 – This is the only solely-owned high capacity submarine cable with connection to the USA and running from the UK through African and European countries. It has been and continues to be a huge commercial success at the heart of the socio-economic development of Nigeria.
It is remarkable that it is a Nigerian company that has pulled off this ambitious project. One of Adenuga’s close associates said the idea of building a submarine cable berthed when the entrepreneur went on a business trip to Paris, the French capital, sometime around 2008.
While there, he found out that telephone calls to Nigeria were epileptic unlike the connection between France and other parts of Europe. When he made enquiries about what could be done to solve the problem, he was told it was to have an international submarine cable. There and then, Dr Adenuga decided to build Glo 1, and the rest is now history. The project is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit and foresight of ‘The Guru’.
Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr also has vast holdings in the banking, real estate and infrastructure sectors of Nigeria.
It is not hard to imagine that Adenuga is the richest man in Nigeria, and indeed Africa, and of course when one quantifies wealth in terms of liquidity, and not stocks. He is unmatchable.
HIS SUPPORT FOR SPORTS
His passion for giving is not only personal, the culture has also been imbibed by his companies especially Globacom. Through Globacom, he became the biggest supporter of football in Africa.
For so many years, the company supported the development of Nigerian sports through the sponsorship of the Nigerian Premier League and the national football teams of Nigeria when no other corporate organisation wanted to touch the assets.
Globacom spent billions of naira in developing the Nigerian league and clubs, and this culminated in Enyimba Football Club winning the prestigious Champions League twice in a row, while the Super Eagles won the Nations Cup in 2013.
In that same 2013, the company signed a N1.9 billion deal with Nigeria’s league Management Committee. The company also did same for other associations and major leagues in Africa.
Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr. also started a football revolution with the sponsorship and transformation of the yearly Glo/CAF Footballer of the Year Awards. He is the undisputed pillar of sports in Africa.
HIS GIANT STRIDES IN CULTURE AND CREATIVE INDUSTRY
Nigeria’s entertainment industry has also received a massive boost through Adenuga’s love for the arts expressed through Globacom.
No company in the nation’s private sector in the last two decades, has consistently invested largely in Nigeria’s entertainment industry like Globacom Limited.
Adenuga’s vision is reflected in Glo’s youth-driven ecosystem. There is no strata of Nigeria’s entertainment industry that you will not find the signature of Glo on it: from music to acting to comedy to sports, etcetera, the list is long.
Glo has come to be regarded as a network of stars. No corporate organization has had the kind of constellation of entertainment heavyweights as it brand ambassadors as Globacom. All through the years, the cream of the country’s musicians, footballers, literary icons, actors, actresses and comedians have either be signed on as brand ambassadors or featured in the company’s commercials.
Some celebrities who have graced Glo’s Hall of Fame include: King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Osita Osadebe, Oliver d’ Coque, Prof Wale Soyinka, Yusuf Maitama Sule, Nelly Uchendu, Onyeka Onwenu, D’Banj, MI Abaga, PSquare. Others are Rita Dominic, Ini Edo, Juliet Ibrahim, Matter Ankomah, Davido, Wizkid, Flavour, Gordons, Basketmouth, I go Dye, Teniola, Brother Shaggi, Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Osaze Odemwingie, Joselyn Dumas, Michael Essien, Anthony Joshua, etcetera.
While the commercials that featured these stars helped to market the Glo brand and make it a household name, the partnership benefited these celebrities very well as it served as strategic public relations for their individual brands and its attendant financial gains.
So far, no corporate organization has touched the lives of these celebrities like Glo. The advent of Glo has really been a blessing to celebrities in the industry and beyond. The most interesting factor is that Glo is still in the business of investing in the industry despite excruciating economic realities in the country.
Nigeria is a reservoir of talents when it comes to entertainment, and it seems Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr. understands the nitty-gritty of talents discovery, and spotting hidden treasures, especially as it effects the youths.
This explains Glo’s humongous investments in talent hunt shows in the last eighteen years. It has sponsored shows like: Rock ‘n’ Rule, GloNaiga Sings, Laffta Fest, and the world number one music singing talent reality TV show, X Factor, which birthed in Africa for the first time in 2013.
Others are Slide and Bounce concert, an entertainment tour which went round all the geopolitical zones of the country as well as Glo Mega Music Show and Glo’s Battle of the Year, which gave the winners a life-changing N9 million prize money, a Toyota Hiace bus valued at N25 million and other prizes.
Similarly, the nation’s art and culture have also been positively touched by Globacom. From Ojude Oba in Ijebu-Ode, Ofala in Onitsha, Lisabi in Abeokuta, Imeori in Abriba, Oru – Owerri in Imo state, Afia- Orlu In Nnewi, Anambra State and Abia –Ugwa in Isialangwa in Abia State.among others. The company has through sponsoring the festivals not only brought them to international limelight, but has also turned the host cities into major tourist attractions.
HIS PASSION FOR PHILANTHROPY
On a personal level, Mike Adenuga can be described as the most generous Nigerian alive. He gives ceaselessly.For this angel of mercy, giving is living
Describing Adenuga’s large heart in an article, The Boss Newspaper Publisher, Dele Momodu, wrote “Everyman should wake up and pray to meet and become good friends with the Spirit of Africa. Trust me, it is worth every second of it. Just imagine a man who dashes out the same kind of cars he drives to friends.
“He buys these expensive cars in multiples. I have been a beneficiary a few times, so I know. I have a friend who got a Range Rover while his wife got another jeep. How nicer and kinder can one be? No amount of money is too much for Adenuga to shell out on his family and friends. And he really does not expect anything in return. If you have done him a favour then you are truly triply, not doubly blessed, since Dr. Adenuga never forgets such favours and offers recompense even beyond your wildest dreams. Dr. Adenuga believes that his friends are entitled to the same kind of material things that he wishes for and buys for himself. He has no jealous or mean streak in him in that respect”.
Adenuga’s former close aide, Bode Opesietan also stated “Dr Adenuga’s generosity is legendary. He gives personal rewards like no other billionaire. If God has given you this kind of resources, it is not for you and your family alone” he would say”.
All year round he splashes generous gifts on extended family, friends, associates, staff and the less privileged. He has a long list of beneficiaries he touches with life-transforming gifts. He is detailed and exquisitely tasteful, not only in the quality of gifts but also the manner the gifts are presented”.
Also during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adenuga was the first to donate N1.5 billion to fight the dreaded coronavirus scourge. He set the stage for other Nigerians to contribute to the management of the scourge. That is typical of the Guru, he leads, others follow.
According to Adenuga “How much money can one individual or his family enjoy? You must spread it and touch lives…that is what brings true happiness and joy. What’s the point if your friend is wealthy and it doesn’t show on his friends”.
There is nothing more to add. When it comes to philanthropy, Adenuga is in a class of his own! Indeed generosity is in his DNA!
HIS PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE
Dr. Adenuga’s morals and proclivity are dictated by his abundant wealth of experience in life. He’s a very intelligent man who is vastly read and widely travelled. As a result, he not only understands the innate cruelty of man to fellow man, he has also on occasions experienced this first-hand to his surprise and chagrin. These experiences have shaped his thoughts and actions.
Dr. Adenuga loves integrity and loyalty. Because he hardly goes out, he is able to monitor people and events quietly from his desk and home.
Aside from this, He has had to navigate his way through the murky waters of Nigerian politics. Dr. Adenuga avoids and shuns politics like the plague. He does not believe that he must be involved with politics in order for his businesses to survive or thrive.
All he campaigns for is an avenue to do business on a level playing field because he knows that he can survive and outlast most people. He considers himself one of the fittest and the best, if not the fittest and the best since he is methodical, calculating and highly industrious and energetic. As he says often, he is hiding his head under the parapet as he is non-aligned and does not want this to be mistaken for support for one side or the other. He knows Nigeria and Nigerians very intimately, and does not want to attract unnecessary attention to himself or his business.
He is a sagacious and very methodical man, who rewards excellence. He does not suffer fools gladly. Most of his offices around the world are open 24 hours. There is always somebody to take his calls. When he has a brain wave, his adrenaline level pumps on over drive and he activates action immediately. Everyone who knows Dr. Adenuga knows he hates the word impossible. He is a workaholic, pure and simple.
HIS LIFE STYLE
You can call him an enigma and you will not be wrong. He is a very shy gentleman, a trait that many mistake for arrogance. Before Globacom, Dr Adenuga Jnr was one of Nigeria’s silent billionaires. He was making his money without fanfare. Then came Glo, and he became one of the most recognizable Nigerians alive.
Till date, he hardly attends public functions and even if he does he sneaks in without any fuss and leaves even before the Master of Ceremonies recognizes his presence.
Despite this elusive persona, those who have met him can attest to his ebullient nature. He is one man who catches his fun when he is in the mood. He has very fine and elegant taste. A connoisseur through and through.
Contrary to what many think, he still finds time to unwind most times only in the company of his inner circle of friends and family.
Dr. Adenuga is neither ostentatious or extravagant in his style and dress. For him moderation is the value of life. In the early days, it was obvious he loved safari suits, but these days nice flowing shirts which mostly have his personal crest emblazoned on them are the norm.
Of course like all billionaires, he loves powerful cars, nothing over the top or attention-seeking. And as per flying, he has the accoutrement that fits his jet set, super executive lifestyle, which means he has long forgotten what it looks like to fly commercial.
HIS LOVE FOR FRANCE
Dr. Mike Adenuga has always had a great affection for France. And for its language and culture. And as a great admirer of the high ideals and achievements of the people of France, he often visits the country, where he also owns property, for extended visits. In his business dealings too, he has maintained a productive and valuable relationship with French interests.
It was out of this desire, love and affection for France that he ardently supported the development of Alliance Française in Lagos, in the wish to see that its activities, efforts and initiatives could be enhanced, and its reach and appeal increased.
In endowing the concept and construction of the elegant new institute, Dr Mike Adenuga Jr has affirmed his deeply held commitment to the ongoing friendship between the people of France and the people of Nigeria, and is proud to have been able to facilitate and foster that friendship through the building of the Mike Adenuga Centre. The brand new, ultra-modern Mike Adenuga Centre was unveiled by French President, Emmanuel Macron in 2019.
It is for this great act and his humongous investments that the French president deemed it fit to bestow on him the country’s highest national honour.
HIS HONOURS ROLL
For his contribution to economies and communities across the globe, Dr. Mike Adenuga has been appreciated with so many awards, traditional titles and honours. The most prominent are the national honours from Nigeria, Ghana and France.
In Nigeria, he holds the highest civilian honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), this honour was hitherto reserved for mostly vice presidents.
In Ghana, he was awarded the highest civilian honour of Companion of the Star of Ghana (CSG). According to then President John Mahama, who conferred the indefatigable businessman with the honour at a state ceremony: ”You have touched many lives in Ghana. You have provided employment for our teeming youths, artistes, footballers and many more. I am particularly proud of you. This award is our way of a saying a simple thank you.”
The entrepreneur extraordinaire was also decorated with the Chavalier de la Legion d Honnuer (CdrLH), the highest National honour of France, by French President, Emmanuel Macron.
Explaining why the French Government decided to confer the honour on Adenuga, President Macron, who described the consummate businessman as a true model of Africa, noted that he had contributed immensely to the African and French economy.
He also applauded Adenuga for his promotion of the French Language and culture in Nigeria. There is no shadow of doubt that Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr is the most accomplished Nigerian businessman of our time.
Dr. Adenuga is many things and more, and today, we raise a toast to the impressive African treasure and business phenomenon. Happy 70th birthday sir!
Adenuga: The Man Who Never Takes No for an Answer
This is stranger than fiction: in my three decades as a journalist, I have met Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr, chairman of Globacom, only once — in December 2003. I was part of a group of editors that regularly met with then-President Olusegun Obasanjo at his Ota farm in Ogun state. On one of those occasions, Obasanjo was having breakfast with the big entrepreneurs. That was how I finally set my eyes on Adenuga, who was full of smiles as we entered Obasanjo’s living room. I walked up to him, introduced myself and he shook hands with me warmly. The “big boys” soon left the room and we were alone with Obasanjo, discussing the 2003 elections and other issues of significance.
I would later meet Adenuga through the eyes of my friends who worked with him: Chidi Uzor and Olabode Opeseitan. Chidi was once my deputy when I was editor of THISDAY, The Saturday Newspaper. The day he told me he was leaving THISDAY for Globacom, I was not too happy. I had no problems with Adenuga or Globacom, but as someone who has sworn to be a journalist for life, I was unhappy that yet another brilliant brain was leaving our cherished profession. We kept in touch. He had only good things to say about his new boss, always giving me interesting insights into Adenuga’s marketing ingenuity. I was often in awe of how the telecoms company took the market by storm.
For those who may not know, or might have forgotten, we used to pay at least N50 anytime we made a pay-as-you-go call when mobile phone services were launched in 2001. If you made a call that lasted for just one second, you would still pay N50. One second and 60 seconds attracted the same charge. In those days, network connection was poor — largely because of inadequate infrastructure. It was so common for the caller and the receiver not to hear each other but N50 would be gone within the twinkle of an eye. Nigerians were enraged and demanded that they should pay for only the seconds used. The networks said per-second billing was “technologically” impossible in Nigeria.
Until Adenuga entered the scene. In August 2003. And changed everything. Forever.
By introducing the “impossible” per-second billing, Adenuga broke, as it were, the backs of MTN and Econet (now called Airtel after going through a dozen changes in ownership and branding). You would only pay for the seconds you used. Simple. As icing on the cake, he also brought down the pay-as-you-go tariff to about N35 per minute. Tariffs were already dropping before Glo entered the fray, but it was a double treat to its customers that they could pay per second and also pay less for a minute. Like magic, the other networks that had sworn per-second billing was a daydream, or pipeline, ate the humble pie and started implementing what was technologically “impossible”.
But Glo had already eaten into their market. If Glo was not your first mobile line, then it was your second. Within its first year, it had amassed over a million subscribers in a market thought to have been cornered by the two dominant operators. Glo would go on to introduce a number of value-added services, such as mobile internet and vehicle-tracking. It built Glo 1, the first submarine cable from the United Kingdom to Nigeria, to provide faster internet access, among other things. Today, Glo has 60.7 million subscribers — only behind the colossal MTN. The vision of one man has not only improved the fortunes of millions of people but has steadily contributed to national development.
At this point, I need to make a confession. When I first heard of Adenuga in the 1990s as an upcoming player in the oil sector, my impression was that he was fronting for a military general. Although I was one of those later celebrating his strides, the notion that he was fronting for a former military ruler naturally curtailed my enthusiasm. It was sometime in 2009 when I read the interview of Professor Jibril Aminu in Daily Sun that I finally let go of my petty prejudice. Aminu was the petroleum minister when Adenuga’s Consolidated Oil got its first oil block. It struck oil in commercial quantity in the shallow waters of Ondo state in 1991. It was a first for a wholly Nigerian company.
In the interview, Aminu spoke on a number of issues. One, he said he discovered that the big oil companies did not own the rigs. “They were all hiring rigs from the oil service companies, like Schlumberger,” he said. “I discovered that oil was just another business. I discovered that a lot of the chiefs of the international oil companies I met were not necessarily petroleum engineers or chemical engineers. They were businessmen, some were accountants; some were lawyers.” This appeared to have opened Aminu’s eyes to the fact that it was all about entrepreneurship. Get the oil block, get the personnel, get the finance and get going! He told himself that Nigerians too could play the game.
Two — and this is the part that is relevant to this essay in honour of Adenuga who clocks 70 today — Aminu told of how Adenuga got the oil block. Describing him as “a great businessman”, Aminu said he got to know Adenuga in 1990 when he came in company with Mr David Ogbodo (Aminu’s special assistant) to see him. Aminu said: “I didn’t even know him… [Ogbodo] introduced him to me… And if he came [to see me], he would not go until he got whatever he wanted. He kept on saying: ‘We are your children, sir, we are your children. David and I are your children.’” Adenuga relentlessly lobbied Aminu and got an oil block. There were no open biddings in those days — it was purely discretionary.
In that interview, Aminu swore that Gen Ibrahim Babangida had nothing to do with Adenuga’s oil block. He did admit that he later discovered Adenuga knew people at the top. He said: “President Babangida had nothing to do with my meeting Mike Adenuga. He was brought by David Ogbodo and I didn’t know him at that time. I had heard of Devcom and Equatorial Bank, but I didn’t know he was the owner of the two banks… Babangida had nothing to do with it. He had nothing to do with my allocating the oil block to him or allocating it to anybody else. Naturally, some of the people around him would phone you but not him, nor his wife. That I can say before anybody, before man and God.”
But what impressed me the most, it is important to say, is that unlike many Nigerians who were getting the discretionary allocations and selling them to make a quick buck, Adenuga chose to be an oil entrepreneur. The upstream sector was a strange field for Nigerian entrepreneurs, but he made history by hitting oil and has gone on to invest his wealth across sectors. He is regularly rated as one of the richest entrepreneurs in the world by Forbes. The magazine measures Adenuga’s wealth based on only his telecoms and oil businesses, using stock market value and exchange rate. He is evidently worth more than the estimated $6.1 billion as some of his companies are not publicly listed.
It has not been a smooth ride for Adenuga and this should not be odd. In a developing country, the powers of the state are awesome and the political figures can do and undo. Adenuga did not have it easy under Obasanjo. First, the first mobile phone licence he got through his Communications Investment Limited (CIL) in 2001 was revoked and his deposit of $20 million seized because he reportedly missed the deadline for the payment of the $265 million fee by a few hours. Obasanjo was clearly determined not to give him the licence: the hair’s breadth miss was an insignificant breach of the guidelines. No law was broken. In a country hungry for investments, that was baffling.
But more was in the offing. Although there were whispers that Obasanjo did not want Adenuga to get the licence because of his rumoured ties to Babangida, it also did not help that he got another telecoms licence — bigger than the one he lost — when Vice-President Atiku Abubakar presided over the affairs of the country while the president was away in the Caribbean Islands in August 2002. Globacom got the second national carrier licence, of which mobile telephony was just a part. It’s like losing a bucket of mangoes and getting a mango tree in return. While his admirers celebrated with him, Obasanjo was quietly seething with rage and Adenuga nearly paid for it with his life, literally.
As Obasanjo began to prepare to amend the 1999 Constitution in 2006 to give himself an extra term of four years in office (although he disingenuously denies it till this day), Adenuga was one of the targets marked for demolition by the third term strategists. He was seen as an ally of Atiku, who staunchly opposed the third term agenda. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), headed by Mallam Muhu Ribadu, became a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of Obasanjo. They went after Atiku, but Adenuga became collateral damage in the process as they tried to create a link between his Equitorial Trust Bank (now part of Sterling Bank Plc) and the then vice-president.
In Gestapo fashion, the EFCC operatives invaded Adenuga’s Lagos home and broke down as many things as they pleased — using extra-sophisticated equipment. They had an excuse: Adenuga had failed to honour their invitations. I too wondered why he did not honour the invitations. But the war-like approach confirmed Adenuga’s fears that everything was political. The EFCC was just working to an answer. They arrested him and, as we later heard, were determined to move him to Abuja overnight by road. It was a humiliation and traumatisation strategy. He was eventually set free. He fled into exile, returning only after a wounded Obasanjo grudgingly left power in May 2007.
I fully admit that I do not know Adenuga well enough to be able to comment on his person, but like every normal human being, he must have his failings. There is nothing weird about that. However, people often talk, privately and publicly, about his generosity and philanthropy. I am more impressed that he does not make a show of it. Some so-called philanthropists will give an ailing celebrity N5 million and then spend N10 million to publicise it. Adenuga does his own quietly and discreetly. I have nothing but respect for people who do this. I am a believer in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
There is a romantic part of Adenuga’s story that should not escape us as it comes with some inspiration. He was not born into the home of established industrialists, although his Ijebu Yoruba subethnic group is known for business acumen. His father, Oloye Michael Adenuga Sr, was a school teacher. His mother, Omooba Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga, did some trading. Adenuga, while studying for business degrees at the Northwestern Oklahoma State University and Pace University, both in the US, drove taxis to pay his way. It is a story of his life he never fails to tell. It is one worth a rumination. What if he had stayed back in the US just because of constant power and traffic lights?
Born on Wednesday, April 29, 1953, Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga Jr schooled in Ibadan, Oyo state, and Aiyetoro, Ogun state, before travelling to the US. He came back to Nigeria in the 1970s and started selling lace materials and soft drinks, a business from which he said he made his first million. His banking adventure made him richer but also landed him in danger: he allegedly survived an attempt on his life and virtually became a recluse thereafter. Regardless, he stamped his authority on entrepreneurship and earned the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), Nigeria’s second highest national honour, in 2012; the Companion of the Star of Ghana (CSG), the country’s highest, in 2016, “for demystifying telecoms in Ghana and Africa”; and the Légion d’Honneur (LDHr), France’s highest order of merit, in 2018.
Adenuga has surely enjoyed favours from God and man in his 70 years so far. One of my favourite verses in the Holy Qur’an that fits this story is the one from Surah ar-Rahman: “Then, which of the favours of thy Lord will ye deny?” It is not enough to dream big and pursue your dreams with determination. Yes, these are important in the story of success. But there is a place for timing and opportunity — or chance — and help from above. As the Preacher said in the Bible, “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” Adenuga can easily relate with these divine principles.
Source: Thisday live