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Tony Elumelu’s 60 Years of Unrelentless Service to Humanity

Tony Elumelu’s 60 Years of Unrelentless Service to Humanity


Festus Akanbi, in this piece, pays tributes to the billionaire banker and foremost philanthropist, Mr. Tony Elumelu who marks his 60th birthday this week

How do we fight poverty and other indices of underdevelopment in a country with a bourgeoning population like Nigeria? Should we leave the government to do justice to the ever-increasing needs of the people?

Economists explain that as demand for a better life among the citizenry continues to rise, the reality is government alone cannot turn the economy around without the full support of the private sector.

All over the world, discerning political officeholders have realised the symbiotic relationship between the public and private sector players. While one sets the rules and provides the enabling environment, the other party executes the policy and funds the government by playing its role as a set of good corporate players.

Perhaps, this explains the decision of Nigeria’s President-Elect, Bola Tinubu to have picked the Lagos home of the foremost philanthropist and serial investor, Mr. Tony Elumelu as one of the places to visit shortly after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) pronounced him the winner of the 2023 presidential election.

His emergence was followed by an unprecedented protest laced with ethnic sentiments. It was in the thick of these ethnic and political tensions that the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, Tony Elumelu released a video of a visit to his house by the President-Elect, Asiwaju Tinubu in Lagos.

In an Instagram post, Elumelu writes: “Last (Tuesday) night, I was honoured to receive the Nigerian President-elect at my home. We discussed ways in which the incoming administration must empower and support our immensely talented Nigerian youth. We have so much young potential to unleash.”

Elumelu as Private Sector Mirror

Elumelu, who marked his 60th birthday this week, has indeed paid his dues as a foremost businessman with his interest spanning the power, oil, hospitality, and banking sectors of the economy.

Today, Elumelu has distinguished himself as a consistently focused administrator. He has carved a niche for himself as one of Africa’s leading investors and philanthropists. He is the Founder and Chairman of Heirs Holdings, his family-owned investment company committed to improving lives and transforming Africa, through long-term investments in strategic sectors of the African economy including financial services, hospitality, power, energy, technology, and healthcare. He is the Chairman of the pan-African financial services group, the United Bank for Africa (UBA), which operates in 20 countries in Africa, the United Kingdom France, and is the only African bank with a commercial deposit-taking presence in the United States. UBA provides corporate, commercial, SME, and consumer banking services to more than 21 million customers globally.

 He also chairs Nigeria’s largest quoted conglomerate, Transcorp Plc whose subsidiaries include Transcorp Power, one of the largest generators of electricity in Nigeria, and Transcorp Hotels Plc, Nigeria’s foremost hospitality brand. He is the Founder and Chairman of Trans-Niger Oil & Gas Limited (TNOG), an upstream oil and gas company that owns and operates Nigeria’s OML17, (with 2P reserves of 1.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent) and is committed to creating resource-based added value on the African continent.

 In 2010, he created The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), the pan-African philanthropy empowering a new generation of African entrepreneurs, catalysing economic growth, driving poverty eradication, and ensuring job creation across all 54 African countries.

Creating African Entrepreneurs

According to reports, the Foundation has funded just under 10,000 entrepreneurs and created a digital ecosystem of over one million Africans as part of its ten-year, US$100m commitment through its flagship Entrepreneurship Programme. Self-funded, the Foundation is increasingly sharing its unique ability to identify, train, mentor, and fund young entrepreneurs across Africa, with institutions such as the United Nations Development Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other global development agencies.

Breaking Boundaries with Africapitalism

His businesses and foundations are inspired by his economic philosophy of Africapitalism, which positions the private sector, and most importantly entrepreneurs, as the catalyst for the social and economic development of the African continent. Tony sits on many public and social sector boards including the World Economic Forum Community of Chairmen and the Global Board of UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited. He was named in the 2020 Time100 Most Influential People in the World, recognised for his business leadership and economic empowerment of young Africans.

Africapitalism positions the private sector, more importantly, entrepreneurship, innovation, and business enterprise, as the key economic driver of growth and job creation across Africa, while also promoting sustainable development. The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) is the leading champion of Africapitalism in Africa, and across the world, with significant contributions to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across the continent.

Reaping the Fruits of Hardwork

Not shy to tell his success story, Elumelu recalled, “I owed my accelerated career and successes to two things: hard work and luck…,” the entrepreneur said.

He disclosed that he became a bank chief executive at the age of 34, one of the youngest in the industry at that time, by a dint of hard work and luck.

He was the CEO of the defunct Standard Bank at the time before a business combination with UBA saw him become the chief executive of the new larger entity. The business combination has remained a subject of study in the history of mergers and acquisitions in Nigeria to date.

“My successes – and yes failures – have always driven me to create opportunities for young people. I believe that our young have the talent and the zeal to transform our world,” he said.

He noted that the time he took the helm at Standard Bank coincided with a period of fast-paced transformation in banking when “reform-minded policymakers had opened up paths for consolidation and strengthening our sector”.

He added that even though the competition was stiff within the industry, being young posed no barrier.

Elumelu urged successful leaders to champion young people who are focused, hardworking, and committed to making a difference in their communities because their drive and determination make things happen.

“More than ever, all of us who have attained success must become role models for the younger generation, so that the next generation can learn from our mistakes and achieve even more than we have,” he said.

He was also the originator of the economic philosophy of Africapitalism, which emerged as a means of fostering economic development in Africa through private sector-led growth.

Rising to the Occasion

It is also on record that Elumelu was among the leading lights of the Nigerian private sector that mobilised N100 billion to support the fight against insecurity in the country.

Giving an insight into the national service, Elumelu was once quoted as saying, “We, the private sector, have just put N100 billion together, again, under this coalition to help fight insecurity or to support our security agencies’ capacity to be able to deal with the issues we have in the country on security.”

Changing the Narrative

Last year, Africa No Filter, a donor collaborative working to transform stereotypical narratives of Africa, launched the Tony Elumelu Storytellers Fund. Named after African business leader and philanthropist Tony O. Elumelu, the Fund will award grants to emerging artists and storytellers, whose work shines a light on entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in Africa. The $30,000 fund is sponsored by Heirs Insurance and Heirs Life Assurance, the insurance subsidiaries of the pan-African investment group, Heirs Holdings.

The Tony Elumelu Storytellers Fund is a standalone initiative and an extension of his commitment to catalysing a redefined African success story, powered by Africa’s youth and their creative ideas. The Fund calls on journalists, filmmakers, content producers, and visual and performing artists to submit multimedia creative ideas, that tell the stories of inspiring entrepreneurs and showcase the true and positive spirit of entrepreneurship in Africa.

Elumelu was born in Jos, Plateau, Nigeria, on 22 March 1963, to Suzanne and Dominic Elumelu from Onicha-Ukwu in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State.

He studied Economics at Bendel State University (now Ambrose Alli University) obtaining a Bachelor of Science. Afterward, he received a Master of Science degree in Economics at the University of Lagos.

Elumelu worked at the Union Bank as a Youth Corp member during his National Youth Service Corps in 1985, before starting his career as a salesman. He subsequently joined Allstates Trust Bank.

 In 1997, Elumelu led a small group of investors to take over a struggling Crystal Bank (later renamed Standard Trust Bank). He turned it profitable within a few years and in 2005 he led one of the largest mergers in the banking sector in Sub-Saharan Africa by acquiring the United Bank for Africa (UBA).

Following the merger of Standard Trust Bank and United Bank for Africa in 2005, Elumelu led the company as Group Managing Director from a single-country banking group to a pan-African bank with subsidiaries in 20 African countries, France, the U.S and the U.K, eventually stepping down in 2010. Elumelu currently chairs the board of the United Bank for Africa.

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