I was very elated when the news broke recently of the acquisition of OML 17 by Heirs Holding and Transcorp through their sister company TNOG Oil and Gas Limited. The 45% stake in the oil bloc was acquired from Shell, Total and Eni for the princely sum of $1.1 billion.

The oil industry – the goose that lays the golden egg for the nation is dominated by the foreign international oil companies with the indigenous players playing a mere fringe role despite decades of the product being with us.

Agreed, the credit for the first Nigerian to explore crude oil in commercial quantity goes to Mike Adenuga of Conoil and Globacom fame when he achieved the feat in 1991 after General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida liberalized the sector. As the likes of Dr. ABC Orjiakor of Seplat are also playing big in a sector largely dominated by foreigners, it is good for the Nigerian space that Tony Elumelu was able to drive the expansion of his companies into this sector.

Tony Elumelu’s meteoric rise from grass to grace should be the subject of critical study in the world’s top business schools as he represents the can-do mentality and spirit of an average Nigerian entrepreneur. He is a visionary who sees what the man on the Clapham Omnibus cannot envision and dares to dream in a gargantuan manner.

After his education at the Bendel State University now Ambrose Alli University in Ekpoma, Edo State, he did the mandatory National Youth Service Corps in Union Bank. He performed exceptionally well and the bank offered to retain him. He did the unthinkable by turning down the offer and taking a huge risk in pitching his tent with the now defunct All States Trust Bank owned by King Ebitimi Banigo. The new generation banks were rather shaky as they had a very high mortality rate. Why did he take such a gamble? The Delta-born entrepreneur favoured risk and innovation over tradition.

At barely 26 he was the Port Harcourt branch manager of the bank and aggressively expanded it. Not one to rest on his oars, he was soon weary of the job and needed a new challenge. He convinced a group of investors to invest in his grand idea which led to the formation of Standard Trust Bank in 1997 with his becoming the pioneer Chief Executive Officer at 34 when many of his contemporaries were still thinking of what to do with their lives.

Rapid expansion of the bank was his mantra and the profits of the small financial institution grew in leaps and bounds. Like Tom Sawyer in Charles Dicken’s ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, he hankered to be part of the next big thing which led to his acquisition of the floundering United Bank for Africa (UBA) in 2005 during the recapitalization era led by the then Central Bank of Nigeria Boss, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo.

Prior to the UBA acquisition, the bank’s balance sheets showed that it was making massive losses and the wonder boy showed his financial re-engineering skills by leading the bank to the rebound of profitability within a relatively short space of time.

When the deposed Emir of Kano became the CBN boss in 2009, he made a law that bank CEO’s couldn’t be there for more than 10 years. In 2010, Elumelu was still very young at 47 and had been made redundant by the law. It was devastating that he had to kiss his banking passion goodbye at such an age.

Rather than slip into depression or do something rash, he decided to reinvent himself which metamorphosed in the launching of Heirs Holdings – a vehicle enterprise to promote the ideals of his coinage ‘Africapitalism’ in various sectors of the economy. He had his hands in lucrative pies ranging from oil and gas, hospitality, power, etc. He also capped it by his becoming the chairman of the government-owned Transnational Corporation (Transcorp) which former President Olusegun Obasanjo launched during his presidency.

Always thinking far ahead of his time, he launched the Tony Elumelu Foundation with the bold ambition to train 10,000 African entrepreneurs who will in turn create one million jobs and $10 billion worth of wealth in the African continent. Such a large-hearted and public-spirited individual who always thinks about others instead of just living for himself and family!

We need more economic visionaries like Elumelu to take Africa out of the woods. Despite the harsh operating business environment and brutal cost of doing business with miniscule infrastructure, he still brims with ideas on how to be a better social entrepreneur. He has given humane meaning to the buzzword ‘corporate social responsibility’.

Tony Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos

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