Aliko Dangote, Take A Bow

By Akin Osuntokun 

“I am excited that we are back here today in Maisaiti district, Ndola, this time to commission our new state-of-the-art integrated cement plant, with a capacity of 1.5 million metric tonnes per annum, along with a 30 megawatts of coal-fired plant. This is our sixth integrated cement plant outside Nigeria. The others are located in Senegal, Cameroun, Tanzania, South Africa and Ethiopia” 

“Dangote Industries Limited has helped Nigeria become not only self-sufficient, but indeed a net exporter of cement and by the time we complete our projects in agriculture and the petroleum sectors, we will also expect Nigeria to become not only self-sufficient but also a net exporter of rice, sugar and refined petroleum products. Over the next five years, our target is to expand installed cement manufacturing capacity in Africa outside Nigeria to 40 mtpa at par with Nigeria during the same period”. – 21st of August 2015

“Dangote Oil Refinery is a 650,000 barrels per day (BPD) integrated refinery project under construction in the Lekki Free Zone near Lagos, Nigeria. It is expected to be Africa’s biggest oil refinery and the world’s biggest single-train facility”.

“The Pipeline Infrastructure at the Dangote Petroleum Refinery is the largest anywhere in the world, with 1,100 kilometers to handle 3 Billion Standard Cubic Foot of gas per day. The Refinery alone has a 435MW Power Plant that is able to meet the total power requirement of Ibadan DisCo*.

“The Refinery will meet 100% of the Nigerian requirement of all refined products and also have a surplus of each of these products for export. Dangote Petroleum Refinery is a multi-billion dollar project that will create a market for $21 Billion per annum of Nigerian Crude. It is designed to process Nigerian crude with the ability to also process other crudes”.- 10th of January 2024

It was at a comparable moment of Nigeria’s political history (marked by Yoruba political triumphalism), that I joined the Dangote Group in 1999. The pertinent background was the unbroken chain of 18 years of Northern supremacist military dictatorship that culminated in the virulent Sani Abacha regime. Arrayed against the military dictator were the largely Yoruba based pro-democracy coalition that fought for the validation of the presidential election result of June 12 1993 (personified by the winner, Chief Moshood Abiola). 

It was in acknowledgement of Abiola’s martyrdom that recourse was made to compensate the Yoruba with the Nigerian presidency. Hence the contrivance of securing the presidential tickets of the two dominant parties, (Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the All Peoples Party, APP/Alliance for Democracy, AD coalition) for two Yoruba candidates, Chiefs Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae. For the Yoruba, it was heads you win and tails, you do not lose. Inevitably, a Yoruba was guaranteed to emerge the winner.

This triumphalism had impacted critically on Dangote. There were loud murmurs and animus that the concession to cite two or three major factories in the Apapa port-among them the third largest sugar refinery in the world, was a product of Northern nepotism in general and specifically under Abacha. A friend of President Olusegun Obasanjo was dispatched to enlist the overriding support of their most influential ‘son’ to send Dangote packing from the port. Those who know Obasanjo can very well predict his reaction in such circumstances. He walked the Yoruba emissary out of the villa and assigned him the status of persona non grata from that day on. 

The general belief and outrage of the Lagos business elite was that Aliko Dangote had been able to phenomenally grow his business (especially the concession of siting his Sugar Refinery plant at the Apapa ports) at the expense of fair competition and level playing ground. That he had been enabled by discriminatory practices and privilege bestowed by the likes of Abacha on fellow Northerners in the economic sector.  

Subsequently the political grievance evolved into the intimations of a hostile business environment for the Dangote brand. Confronted with the dilemma and the need to bridge the emergent chasm between him and the Yoruba oligarchy, Dangote concluded that time has come for him to seek the services of a mediator of my skills set: a Yoruba journalist/political activist and protege of the Afenifere political establishment. 

My job definition was to preclude the vulnerability of Dangote to being perceived as the business sector face of the venal Abacha military dictatorship. Now, as then, he was doing something unique in the (Nigerian economy prescribed) diversification of his business from commodity trading to industrialisation. My task was made easy by my conviction that I was selling a good product. My marketing pitch was that, even if he was unduly patronised by the political powers that be, we can see the evidence of what he was doing with the privilege. I could not say as much for his peers who were similarly patronised and had nothing to show for it other than fat Swiss bank accounts. If these others were to follow his example, Nigeria will today boast of a sizable industrial sector. 

There is actually the instance of a Nigerian oil block owner who loudly proclaimed he does not know what to do with the billions of dollars he was getting (doing nothing) from his oil wealth. Talk of the Nigerian resource curse syndrome. The positive Nigeria that is struggling to be born is that in which the many contemporaries of Dangote (who likewise acquire considerable resources from the primitive accumulation stage of Nigeria’s capitalist development) should equally embark on profitably ploughing back the accumulated capital into Nigeria’s economy. 

As a student of political science, I was equally fascinated with his utility as a case study in the subject of the development of Nigerian capitalism. At close quarters, I saw in him an entrepreneur who was driven by the mentality of a professional investor as against the instant gratification syndrome of the Nigerian casino economy. He had a long term vision of birthing an industrial conglomerate to which short term material gratification was subordinate.

There Is also the fascinating aspect of his Northern Nigerian pedigree. Weaned on the aspiration of emulating the feat of his great grandfather, Alhassan Dantata, (who was reputed to be the biggest Nigerian investor of his time) he is the exact opposite of the stereotype of the Northern elite as generally lacking in the ethic of hard work and productivity. I’m endlessly tickled by the observation that the biggest industrialist in Nigeria, by a wide margin, is from the relatively economically backward North! We may never know the degree but it is inevitable that he would have caught the fancy of quite a number of the up and coming generation of Nigeria, especially from the North as a worthy  role model.

In contrast, I have been accused, with some justification, of being a professional antagonist of former President Muhammadu Buhari. I plead guilty as charged. In his ruinous and destructive bequest to Nigeria, one of the legacies I find particularly galling was the ideological reorientation of the North back to viewing government and public sector patronage and corruption as of the essence, as an indispensable source of unearned income and livelihood. Wherever there was space and currency to be made in the Nigerian lingo of “juicy and lucrative” public postings, it is certain to attract the Buhari curse of Northern Muslim bias and nepotism. He was so blatant and unrestrained in this regard, that I came to the conclusion that any attempt by his successors to redress the injury will look like discrimination against the pampered constituency. 

Fate has conspired, once again, to crosscut another era of Yoruba political triumphalism with an unprecedented Dangote industrial expansionism, undergirded by a similar refrain of instigating President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to go after the acclaimed richest African. With the economically pivotal potential of the Dangote refinery, such would have typically amounted to cutting the Nigerian nose to spite its face. Some were actually rooting for the non fruition of the mega project.

I do not dismiss nor trivialise the allegations against him but they are inevitably exaggerated. Right now in Nigeria, he personifies, warts and all, the Peter Obi political vision of moving Nigeria from ‘consumption to production’. It is the reason I’m a fan of the Max Weber thesis of ‘the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism’, especially the inference of attitudinal dedication to money-making and rational self control as sine qua non to capitalist development. I’m less enthused with the Karl Marx obverse- ‘dialectical materialism’. 

It is my understanding that both Weber and Karl Marx, (patriarchs of the theoretically divergent Marxists and Capitalists school of thought) agree to the independent variable role of the wealth accumulator in the causation of capitalist development; the former negatively so and the latter positively. The Marxists assert that progression to capitalist development is necessarily preceded by the utilisation of the proceeds of primitive accumulation of capital to seed and grow industrialisation. 

Whereas in the cultural origins of capitalism, Weber argues that capitalism is rooted in the cultural mentality that deems wealth creation as a vocation, a calling and specifically, the protestant ethic. And according to the book of Proverbs, ‘biblical wealth rarely just falls into one’s lap. God’s blessing of wealth is usually obtained by great wisdom and responsibility and through discipline, hard work, savings and investment’,

Some years ago, there was a documentary that ran on the DSTV cable TV titled “the makers of America”. The cast comprised five historical figures including JP Morgan and Rockefeller; I cannot now remember the other three but they were all entrepreneurs and high stake investors. As distinguished as many American politicians were, no mention was made of any. This remarkable documentary was only being consistent with what we were taught in our political science classes- that the economy is the substructure, the foundation upon which political superstructure is anchored.

Though not a politician, he plays a considerable role in forging and fostering national unity and integration. His network of friends and associates cuts across the nation and his Lagos residence can be mistaken for a permanent national conference in session. On account of his nationalist credentials, cosmopolitan panache, discipline, humility and globally acclaimed entrepreneurial success, he had intermittently come under pressure to run for the Nigerian presidency. Quite significantly, he would have no need nor impulse to turn the public treasury into an open sesame for psychotic pillage. I think we should just leave him to continue to do what he knows best, industrialising Nigeria and Africa. 

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