Dangote as a Metaphor for Development

THISDAY Newspaper- Magnus Onyibe

At 60 years of age 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 eighteen, 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 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.

Although the circumstances of the birth and development of Dangote and Nigerian nation are not significantly dissimilar, (products of harsh African socio-economic climate) it must be emphasised that while 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 neighbourhood.

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 giant.

Accounts by former President of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, in his seminal and famous book entitled 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 10 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 million people, which is just a fraction of Nigeria’s, which is in excess of 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 proved 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, Emiratees 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, copper, 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, which is 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, Akinloye, named after the chairman of then ruling party, NPN.

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 favour 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 socio-economic growth and progress of society.

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 16 years, and APC in the same position in nearly 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 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 centre 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.


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