by John Olaniyan
I read Mr Akin Osuntokun’s insightful piece on Aliko Dangote with scarcely disguised disbelief tinged with scorn. While I acknowledge Dangote’s remarkable strides how far he has come, Osuntokun exhibited selective amnesia when it came to issues concerning Alhaji Dangote’s business practises. He did a moral cherry picking of the man’s positives while conveniently side stepping his untoward personality traits. He did an awesome job of highlighting and doing a review on his friend, boss and mentor Alhaji Dangote’s seemingly irrefutable positive anterior so I won’t belabor the obvious, but focus on the less admired foibles he neglected to accentuate.
I had promised myself to do a straight in, go really hard review of his business practices and how it has negatively impacted on the Nigerian economy but for the love of all things good I could not muster up the needed cojones to execute my pre-meditated monograph.
Alhaji Aliko Dangote’s invaluable contributions to the Nigerian economy is nothing short of GOD-sent. I dare anyone to query the man’s acumen and I will reel out his enviable business antecedents which read more like a Harvard business school alumni entrepreneur’s portfolio than that of a self made trader who started out in a humble northern state of Kano.
The man’s business cuts across all sectors from rice and sugar importation amongst other commodities to textile manufacturing and even ginnery, moreover he employs in excess of 12,000,considerably more presently although I do not have the latest figures for obvious reasons.
In political ingenuity I would rate him a 9 out of 10, considering he is a consummate and full time businessman-entrepreneur this is high praise indeed. He would have gotten a 10/10 score but for the fact that the likes of Obasanjo, Atiku, Tinubu will still trump him in that department.
Nevertheless he is a genius at knowing what side to support, what political cell to insert himself into, having being an active participant calling the shots in every single government since 1999. The part he played during the Yaradua cabal episode is a testament to this. Presently he is firmly ensconced in the nucleus of power as a member of a government economic advisory board, where he amongst other influential business entrepreneurs of his ilk are vested with the responsibility of advising government on economic policies and directions. In view of this it’s safe to say he is like a shadowy power broker and fifth columnist never showing his hand but like Geppetto Pinocchio’s father controlling all.
However, in spite of the enviable foregoing it is fair and proper to say he is also undoubtedly one of the most unorthodox businessmen in Nigeria today, with Machiavellian and ambiguous moral boundaries when business is concerned.
An incident and firsthand account which happened several years ago illustrates this most candidly. A certain businessman (name withheld) who made the mistake of trying to ship in same staple commodities Dangote deals in,realised too late that he had been outfoxed and outplayed ruthlessly. First Dangote used his considerable influence in the customs and excise unit at the Port authorities to hang the man’s shipment in a confusing maze of bureaucratic red tape lasting several weeks. The shipment understandably started to attract very expensive demurrage charges, added to this was interest accruing rapidly on the bank loans which the said businessman had procured to bring in the shipment.
In desperation the man ran to the comptroller of customs heading the Ports authority and met Dangote in the man’s office playing a video game. Eventually against all odds and countless entreaties he was able to clear his shipment and at the point of trying to sell at least to recoup the unplanned shortfall and inevitable loss, Dangote opened his warehouse and serially undercut the man selling for half the price.
While this was going on he applied subtle pressure on the man’s bankers who threatened and pressured the man to foreclose on his overdue loan. It became a financial bloodbath as the market dictated accordingly. Eventually the man literally went on his knees begging and supplicating Dangote who finally had mercy on him and bought off the man’s complete shipment at the cost price so he did not make any money.
Apart from these vivid and compelling instance two different gentlemen namely Messrs. Olu Fagbemi and Doherty if asked can attest to having experienced Dangote’s darkly insidious business practice.
There are also several allegations of insider trading and stock manipulation using his considerable reach as the Chairman of NSE, overvalue of collateral in concert with compromised AMCON/Government officials amongst many others swirling over him.
While I can make several allusions and allegations concerning several business infractions, I will only restrict myself to what is public knowledge. During the Obasanjo years, it was public knowledge that he enjoyed consistent and sustained government patronage which gave him an unfair advantage over other entrepreneurs. A ready example is the disclosure by a shady businessman and a business associate called Sam Iwajoku who was being investigated by EFCC. According to his testimony Dangote has been a beneficiary of the import waiver to the tune of over 100billion naira just under the Obasanjo government alone. There are multiple sources although unsubstantiated who state he has benefited considerably more in this regard and other untoward government breaks.
To put it in context, a single man has summarily dictated the price of cement and rice which is the main staple nationwide for several years, with either no challenge or feeble challenge from any quarter either in or out of government. When you interface this with the country’s 170 million plus population, even a dyslexic can correctly calculate he would be definitely worth billions of dollars effortlessly.
Now without even going into the price of a bag of imported easy cook rice, which is also his exclusive preserve a pertinent question we would like to ask Osuntokun, is why Dangote has refrained from overwhelmingly investing in the rice industry in Nigeria? Surely our indigenous unpolished and untreated rice is a much healthier variety to the imported rice which comes from Thailand and has been in storage for upwards of 2/3 years or more.
Secondly would it not make economic sense to grow and produce internally rather than importing and simply bagging in his warehouse? Every country these days including superpowers like the USA, China, UK all practice exclusivism buying from their own country rather than stimulating a foreign economy. Why is Dangote in spite of his monopoly empowering the Thailand economy at the expense of Nigeria’s Agri-business sector?
I wonder how Osuntokun will manage to seamlessly correlate this kind of business practice with the picture of a morally upright businessman he has painted to the general public.
It is also disappointing that Mr Osuntokun lithely glossed over the assertion that Dangote was the most hated man in Kano. Without castigating him for his attempt at laundering the moral, political, social image of his boss and friend or going into a long winded sanctimonious tirade advancing reasons for this, I will like to remind Mr. Osuntokun that in spite of his principal being the richest black man if Forbes rating is to be believed, Dangote’s record of both personal and corporate social responsibility across the board is atrocious to say the very least. Moreover they are yet to feel any appreciable impact of his considerable wealth in his own home state much less the region never mind Nigeria. Polio which has been all but eradicated in the rest of Africa, including war torn countries is still prevalent in the home state of Forbes richest black man. If that is not a moral indictment I do not know what is.
Now having said all that, while his recent incursion into the oil industry with his recent syndicated loan of $9.4billion investment is cautious progress, I personally see this as not only a failure of government to live up to its responsibilities but of a severally compromised and morally inept government that has unwittingly sold its responsibility to an individual businessman whose sole goal and motivation is profit. We have four severally jaundiced oil refineries which has served to severally but negatively impact on crude oil output, yet the government has neglected to sort this out but willingly allowed Dangote free rein in all sector of the economy now lately the oil sector.
While the fact that Dangote is an entrepreneur of note and a serial employer of labour cannot be disputed, I dare say that this kind of monopolistic business practice is summarily denying thousands if not tens of thousands of Nigerian businesses a foothold, it is restricting business growth and definitely hampering our collective potentials as a nation. The cottage industry in the South East region of Nnewi was in excess of over 60 industries about 10 years ago, now due to the prevailing economy they are down to less than 10, the agric sector in the north and south west, middle belt is moribund while the only business is that of Dangotes.
In the whole world without exception,i am yet to find a country where an individual business person has single handedly led a country to an industrial el dorado, so it is not only naive but totally irresponsible for a government to allow a single man wield this much power over a whole country.
Apart from the hurt and constriction his strangle hold on the country is causing, Nigeria’s short, medium and long term financial future will directly impact on the rest of Africa so his considerable power must be curbed, his monopoly must be nipped in the bud while other entrepreneurs are given the free rein to tap into the business potentials.
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