by Dare Lawal
On January 10th, 2013, Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man turned 56.
He gathered together some journalists and senior editors in Lagos and shared some of his thoughts on doing business in Nigeria. It was a very enriching interview. Here are ten quotes courtesy of The Vanguard:
1. On the problem with doing business in Nigeria
“To clear a container in Lagos it would take about $1000 but in Brazil where they are not even efficient, it costs less than $100 to clear the same container.
“The issue which people seem to forget is that the last port we built in Nigeria, the Tin Can Island Port, was built in 1978 – look at the population of Nigeria at that time, the size of the economy, crude oil was being sold for about $9 and compare with the expansion of the economy and the population and people think we should still manage with the same facility?
“God forbid, some people were expressing fears about Third Mainland Bridge; God forbid I say, should something happen to that bridge, how would people move around in Lagos? Look at how difficult it is for people to move around now and it is being said that by 2020 Nigeria’s population would be about 200 million.”
2. On lack of infrastructure in Nigeria being a greater danger than Boko Haram
“Somebody was asked how he would operate in government and the person said he would face only two things – infrastructure and education. And he was asked what about the rest. He said with infrastructure, other things would follow.
“This is what I think confronts us as the greatest danger even beyond Boko Haram.”
3. On the fear of poverty…
“The biggest problem of anybody is when you taste money; you were once rich and then you become poor. It is very bad. Nothing can be worse than that.
“It is when that money goes that you’ll see the true colour of everybody – your wife, your children.”
4. On scavengers holding refinery licences
“Look, let me tell you what we have in Nigeria: We have scavengers who hold licenses but wait and do nothing. People just grab opportunities and wait to see what happens rather than operate with the licenses. Government has issued 19 licenses for refineries and everybody is holding the licenses and claim that they are waiting for foreign investors. Mind you, the foreign investors are not fools.
“Foreign investors did not build South Korea – South Koreans developed their country; the Germans built their economy, an economy that was once in ruins. The Germans suffered a lot but now they are the best.”
5. On the price of greatness…
“If you ask me whether the future is brighter than today, I would say yes; but the people must be ready to pay for services and pay their taxes. A simple example! At Obajana where we are producing at a current capacity of 10 million tonnes per year, which is $1.7 billion, we can continue to produce cement for the next 100years with the same capacity but you do not rest – mind you, limestone is the cheapest mineral resource in Nigeria, so if people look inward they would see the opportunities for greatness”.
6. On Dangote’s vision
“You must have a vision and not just a vision but you must have a plan that would make you fulfil that vision. For us at Dangote, for instance, just conception and planning alone sometimes takes two years. You must also put in place processes of how to execute the plans. Our vision in the next fives years is to be a company that has about $75billion in market capitalization, be number one in Africa and one of the first 100 in the world.”
7. On opposition to subsidy regime
“Would you believe that in 2011 and 2012, Nigeria paid $30 billion in subsidy, money which would have been used to build at least 20 refineries – that was the finding of a report! How can we say that people are stealing crude and we are running about, going to night clubs and we are happy as a people?
“The total tax collected in Nigeria is just about $10 billion. How much is that in a country as big as Nigeria.”
8. On Dangote Refinery… coming soon…
“May be we at Dangote now would be referred to as being insane because we are going ahead to build a refinery very soon in Nigeria.”
“The investment is going to be about $8billion.
“Meanwhile the fuel they import for us is the worst and we pay them for the best. When we have our refinery, we would sell to them here and we can even cut the cost – no shipping, no demurrage. We cannot continue to behave the way we are behaving now.”
9. On an alternative to this Vision 20:2020 thing
“Look, by 2020, Nigeria’s population is expected to hit 200million. So, how would you handle cargo or shipping of products for 200million people with the existing facilities that we have today? How would you distribute? The pipelines are not functioning; the roads are not good. The ports are not there. We should make up our minds on what we want to do. Something drastic needs to be done.
“What I think we should do is that we should attain self-sufficiency instead of this 20:2020 thing.”
10. On the Brazil example…
“Look at the example of Lula Da Silva of Brazil, the country used to be heavily indebted. “By the time he left he cleared the debt. But the policies he put in place for education and housing engendered serious development. He said people in government were bringing proposals which were lies to him but he was resolute and he stood his ground. By the time he left office, he had built 18 standard universities. Before he left office, Brazil had $467 billion in reserves.
“These things can only be possible when people pay their taxes. Nobody is perfect. We need to come out and pay our taxes.”