Inside Dangote’s Wonderland in Lekki Free Zone

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Pendulum By Dele Momodu, Email: Dele.momody@thisdaylive.com

PENDULUM BY DELE MOMODU

Fellow Nigerians, let me confess and reiterate that I have always known Alhaji Aliko Dangote (GCON) as an audacious businessman. I have followed his foray into the world of high stakes commodities, manufacturing and industrialization with keen interests and I had long concluded that he must possess the heart of a lion. To describe him as a serial and daredevil investor is an understatement. I will explain this fact in a jiffy.

This preamble is very necessary in order to navigate you through what may be classified as Dangote’s journey through the forests of a thousand daemons (to borrow Wole Soyinka’s translation of D. O Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole). Dangote is that fearless hunter who dares to tread the road less travelled. I have had the privilege of knowing him and studying his steady rise to success, fame and wealth, since those good old days when the music sensation, Sir Shina Peters used to sing himself hoarse while chanting the praise of Lanre Tejuoso, Segun Awolowo, Femi Otedola, Kweku Tandoh, Ayo Subair, Toyin Pinheiro, Kola Abiola, Ladi Williams (RIP) Aliko Dangote, Mohammed Gobi and other yuppies of the late 1980s and early 1990s. A few journalists such as Mayor Akinpelu, Kunle Bakare, Femi Akintunde-Johnson, Gboyega Okegbenro, Kayode Ajala and yours truly managed to squeeze ourselves into the class of those members of the privilegentsia and silver spoon kids, by the power and influence of being celebrity reporters, even if we were poorer than church rats. The only journalist who was confidently and comfortably rolling with them was Nduka Obaigbena, who was already living the life of the rich and famous on McEwen Road, Ikoyi.

Somehow, the name Aliko Dangote had stood out ramrod, just as he sparkled like a million diamonds. Like the rising stars of his generation, including Deji Adeleke, Sam Iwuajoku, Olu Fagbemi, and other ambitious and upwardly mobile entrepreneurs, Dangote had started his business expedition in commodities, but later dominating the business of textiles, sugar, rice, cement, flour, Salt, steel, packaging and so on. By the early 1990s, Dangote had not only become a household name, he was already on his way to being stupendously wealthy. At that stage, he was a major shareholder and Director of a bank to boot, when banking was still in vogue.
The Dangote Group has since grown into a massive conglomerate, the reason he has been on the Forbes list consistently as Africa’s richest man. Of all his ventures, his cement business has been the octopus with fingers stretching to many African countries, including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Congo, Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and still expanding. If you think Nigeria’s cement plants in Obajana, Ibese, Gboko are humongous, then you should see the wonders he has performed across the continent of Africa.

My first encounter with the Dangote magic was the invitation extended to me and the Ovation Media team in May 2015 during the launch of his cement plant in Ethiopia. Dangote had positioned his private jets and other aircrafts to convey us in turns to Addis Ababa and back to Lagos. We then drove on luxurious buses to the site which was about 90 kilometers away. The Chinese-built technological wonder was described as stretching the limits of science and was situated in the Oromia National Regional Government, West Sheba Zone, Ada Berga District, Mugher Town. The site had a robust limestone reserves of about 223 million tones and the Dangote plant is the biggest in Ethiopia. We all marveled at his capacity for doing extraordinary work and the ability to see it through, no matter how daunting the task. In the past, Ethiopia would have had to look outside and beyond Africa for an investor for such a gargantuan project but Dangote was available, willing and ready to fund the remarkable project that gulped about $650 million.

It is a miracle how Dangote was able to build the cement plants simultaneously across Africa, and in quick successions. After our trip to Ethiopia, I soon received a mail inviting me to the launch of the 1.5mta plant in Ndola, Zambia, in the second quarter of 2015. The plant was built to supply markets in the mining regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. This plant has an amazing reserve of 240 million tonnes of limestones.

Again, I was invited to the commissioning of the Dangote Cement Plant in Mtwara District, about 400 kilometers from Dar es Salaam. That turned out to be some journey. We had to pass the night and then travelled to Mtwara the following morning. The massive plant bore the special Dangote signature and we were all proud that a Nigerian was able to show the world the stuff we are made of, as opposed the negative tales some love to spread about us. We could all imagine the incredible challenges he would have had to tackle with his team. For Dangote, it was not always about doing business and making profit. It was about developing Africa and providing limitless opportunities for the people. For example, Dangote planned to build a 50MV Captive Power Plant at Mtwara District, Tanzania. The government and people of Tanzania were full of praises and appreciation for the monumental work of this great African Ambassador Plenipotentiary in their country.

Having travelled to these places, I was sure I had seen it all and there was nothing more to deliver by Alhaji Aliko Dangote but the grandmother of all projects was still on the way. And when it came, it landed spectacularly in the most unexpected of places, the Lekki Free Zone in Lagos State, Nigeria. Nothing I had read on the Dangote Refinery and it’s associated urea fertilizer factory adequately prepared me for the pleasant shock I experienced, and openly expressed, last Sunday during a visit to what had been aptly dubbed “The DANGOTE WONDERLAND.”

Our trip had been facilitated by Dangote’s bosom friend and protege, Mr Femi Otedola, a very successful African businessman with fingers in many pies, who had taken it upon himself to invite a few friends to what is believed to be the largest industrial site in Africa. Femi had called me days earlier for our periodic chats and one thing led to another and our discussions dovetailed to Dangote. “Dele, have you seen the amazing work Aliko is doing in this country at Lekki Free Zone?” Femi asked innocently. “No,” I also responded, humbly. “Dele, Haaa, Aliko is a wizard, you need to see that refinery. It is going to change the Lagos landscape and improve our economy drastically… Dele, there is hope for this country… Aliko’s investments in Nigeria is an indication that he has faith in this country and we must all draw our strength and inspiration from such serious Nigerians…” I could feel the excitement and a deep sense of admiration for Dangote in Femi’s voice. “Dele, will you like to visit the project?” That sounded like a rhetorical question to me. Who wouldn’t want to be a witness to history, I soliloquized, before responding. I told him, I would love to and he said I should join him somewhere on Lekki Road on Sunday.

Unknown to him my brains were already doing some supersonic calculations. I can’t go to Dangote’s Refinery without traveling with our crew from the Ovation Media Group, but I didn’t let out that secret. I will never miss such an opportunity to report a story of this magnitude.

Femi reconfirmed our trip last Saturday, that all was set for Sunday. A few friends joined us including Lanre Alfred, journalist and author and Tokunbo Amosun, a businessman. What we saw on ground was beyond my wildest imagination. After the long drive to the place, what I didn’t prepare for, nor envisage, was another two hours of driving round the super structures! What Dangote has erected in that place is totally out of this world. The Dangote refinery is designed as a 650,000 barrels per day project and it is expected to be the biggest oil refinery in Africa and the world’s biggest single-train facility. Work has reached advanced stage, about 70 percent minimum, as I write this.

A report I had read in the New York Times sometime ago was reverberating on my mind:
“It is here in this vibrant metropolis of 21 million people that Africa’s richest person, Aliko Dangote, is undertaking his most audacious gamble yet. Mr. Dangote is building a $12 billion oil refinery on 6,180 acres of swampland that, if successful, – could transform Nigeria’s corrupt and underperforming petroleum industry… Planned as the world’s largest refinery, Mr. Dangote’s project is set in a free-trade zone between the Atlantic Ocean and the Lekki Lagoon, an hour outside the city center.”
Beyond being a refinery, the facility will produce three million tons of fertilizer annually on full completion and operation. Let me say with all emphasis at my disposal that this is a world-class and well thought out project. It comes with it’s own ultramodern seaport.
My special thanks and gratitude to Mr Femi Otedola for making the trip a worthwhile one.
And a standing ovation to Alhaji Aliko Dangote…

President Buhari, The War is Brewing

For weeks, I had written passionately and copiously about an impending war in Nigeria, which many people in the corridors of power standoffishly dismissed as impossible and alarmist. Once again, President Muhammadu Buhari should be told unequivocally that Nigeria is about to collapse if urgent steps are not taken to arrest this perfidious drift towards perdition. The fire has already been ignited in Yorubaland and will definitely spread to other parts of the country at the speed of light which may be too late to quench. While I do not expect this government to feel any sense of remorse for the way it has allowed this situation to degenerate, I shall continue to place my own voice on record because I’m certain, when tomorrow comes, we shall remind them that we told them but they chose to ignore our patriotic admonition.

The obstinacy of this government in refusing to take decisive actions against the recklessly irresponsible herdsmen may ultimately and eventually signal the terminal end of a great country once known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This will be a big blow to all those who misplaced their faith in this government in 2015 and 2019.

What is so difficult in doing what is right by flushing out the notoriously evil bandits from every part of the country? How can a government look on indifferently while some local and foreign rogues invade people’s lives and properties while government fails to perform its statutory duties of protecting lives and properties?

But wait a minute. What shall it profit a government and a leader who God has given another chance to redeem his lost glory, some 30 years after, but stubbornly decides to repeat the same mistakes that cost him and his country so dearly! If the videos circulating from Oyo and Ondo States are confirmed to be true, about the ongoing bloody skirmishes, then Nigeria is doomed and finished and these present crop of leaders will go down in history as totally irresponsible people who watched on hopelessly as the once beautiful country was being set ablaze by some myopic, unreasonable, tribal warlords and religious terrorists.
Shame!