Celebrating Africa’s Foremost Business Icon @60

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One of the most difficult writing tasks anyone could take on is putting together a piece about a subject or person for whom there’s practically nothing else to write about; that is, something or someone that has become more of an institution, an enigma, a phenomenon, and an icon from whatever angle you choose to look at it.

Without meaning to deify Alhaji Aliko Dangote (the richest man in Africa), making him the subject of my writing is like scraping the bottom of an empty soup pot for more or scratching my head and racking my brain for something to write about on water or air. And there’s the dilemma. What exactly more could I talk about? That water is H2o and we cannot live without it; that air is what we breathe in and the essence of our lives; that water and air are life and living is all about air and water.

Yet these phenomena are worth celebrating and being grateful for all the time. And in every human society, there are people – although with their own personal flaws unlike natural phenomena – that we are all always thankful for, that inspire us with hopes and ambitions of our own, and are classic specimens in the study of how to maximise your full potentials.

In Africa, and Nigeria especially, we are particularly blessed to have in our midst Alhaji Aliko Dangote, an exemplar of stellar entrepreneurship and philanthropy and the largest single employer of labour outside of the government. As we celebrate this foremost African business icon at 60, perhaps it is time we also all – including the government as an institution, government agencies, private organisations and individuals – take a closer look at some of the success blueprints of the man once named by Forbes as the ‘most powerful man in Africa.’

Born on April 10, 1957 and a graduate of Business Studies from the Al-Azahar University in Cairo, Egypt, Dangote began to hone his trading skills at only the age of 21, buying and selling rice, sugar and cement, before he ventured into full-scale manufacturing.

“I can remember when I was in primary school, I would go and buy cartons of sweets (sugar boxes) and I would start selling them just to make money. I was so interested in business, even at that time,” the Kano-born business magnate recollected of his childhood days and how he began to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and business intelligence so lacking in many a graduate today.

With hard work, persistence, and an eagle vision (like in the corporate symbol), the Nigerian billionaire has earned global fame, chiefly in Africa, with Dangote Group, which today operates 18 fully-fledged subsidiaries dealing in various commodities and spread across 16 African countries, including Benin, Ethiopia, Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana, South Africa, Togo, Tanzania, and Zambia.

Dangote’s business interests include cement, sugar, flour, salt, pasta, beverages, manufacturing, mining, FCMGs, poly products, logistics and and real estate, with new projects in development in oil and natural gas, telecommunications, fertilizer and steel.

Four of the over a dozen subsidiaries of Dangote Group are listed on the NSE, with Dangote Cement Plc being the biggest listed company in West Africa and the first Nigerian company to join the Forbes Global 2000 Companies. The Group’s Obajana Cement Plant is reputed to be one of the single largest cement plants in the world with an estimated capacity of 13.25 million metric tonnes per annum; while Dangote Sugar Refinery Plc (DSR) is rated the largest sugar refinery in Sub-Saharan Africa and the second largest in the world.

As of February 2017, he is estimated at a net worth of US$12.5 billion and ranked by Forbes as the 67th richest person in the world and the richest in Africa. He peaked on the list as the 23rd richest person in the world in 2014 with a fortune of $25 billion, surpassing Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi in 2013 by over $2.6 billion to become the world’s richest person of African descent.

Still in that year, Aliko Dangote, who holds the second highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) in Nigeria, also holds the highest honour in the Republic of Benin, the Grand Commander of the Order of Benin Republic, was listed among TIME Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People in the World.’ He also listed on CNBC’s ‘Top 25 Businessmen in the World.’

Yet the persistent richest black man on earth is driven by a lot more than just hard work and success. There’s a healthy dose of passion and pan-African patriotism in the energy that gets him going. While on an aggressive expansion of his cement company across Africa in anticipation of an infrastructure and construction boom, Dangote reiterated that he has only achieved about 5 per cent of his overall strategic vision for the continent.

“I believe that we will be able to transform Africa by ourselves. Not alone, but we will lead and others will follow,” he was once quoted as saying.

In recent times, Dangote Group has been making forays into several other sectors of the economy, most notably building the largest refinery, petrochemical and fertiliser complex in Africa. The refinery is expected to have the capacity to refine 650,000 barrels of crude oil per day, while the petrochemical plant is targeted to produce 600,000 MTPY of Polypropylene.

Dangote says the massive refinery and petrochemical plant – estimated to come on stream by late 2018 –will be the ultimate solution to Nigeria’s fuel crisis with a potential to satisfy the nation’s daily requirement of 445,000 to 550,000 barrels of fuel, with spare capacity to export. It will also significantly contribute to the electricity power generation drive of the government.

This one we are building will satisfy 100% of the (fuel) need of Nigeria,” Dangote told CNN about the ambitious oil and gas project.

Dangote also believes Nigeria’s economic future lies in diversification into other sectors such as agriculture and telecommunications. He in fact is of the view that global energy crises which usually have telling consequences on the country’s mono oil-dependent economy is a blessing in disguise.

“It will force us to be more serious and more focused in terms of diversification of the economy,” he says.

Amidst these landmark achievements of Aliko Dangote at 60, I join the rest of Nigeria and Africa in extolling not just the admirable business acumen, industry and vision of Alhaji Dangote, but also his disarming modesty and charity. It’s all so inspiring!

Here is wishing him great and many fruitful years both in business and private family life – for himself, his family, Nigeria, Africa, and the world.

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