Cheering News from Tony Elumelu

By Tony Ademiluyi
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Nigeria, the supposed ‘Giant of Africa’ has been in the news lately for the wrong reasons. The never ending Boko Haram insurgency which started since 2009, mind boggling corruption where billions of dollars is being frittered away by heartless public servants and their politician accomplices, all manner of internet scams being perpetrated by fraudsters popularly known as yahoo boys, the denial of salaries to some workers which saw the protests by some magistrates in Cross Rivers state over two years unpaid salaries etc. The list of negatives goes on and on. The sorry situation in the country with a gloomy future no thanks to visionless leadership is enough to break the heart of a die hard optimist.

I was very elated when the news broke recently of the acquisition of OML 17 by Heirs Holding and Transcorp through their sister company TNOG Oil and Gas Limited. The 45% stake in the oil bloc was acquired from Shell, Total and Eni for the princely sum of $1.1 billion.

This is indeed great news away from the clutter of the negative stereotypes that has tragically come to define the Nigerian state. The oil industry – the goose that lays the golden egg for the nation is dominated by the foreign international oil companies with the indigenous players playing a mere fringe role despite decades of the product being with us.

Agreed, the credit for the first Nigerian to explore crude oil in commercial quantity goes to Mike Adenuga of Conoil and Globacom fame when he achieved the feat in 1991 after General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida liberalized the sector and the likes of Dr. ABC Orjiakor of Seplat amongst a few indigenous players are playing big in a sector largely dominated by foreigners, it is good for the Nigerian space that Tony Elumelu was able to drive the expansion of his companies into this sector.

Tony Elumelu’s meteoric rise from grass to grace should be the subject of critical study in the world’s top business schools as he greatly represents the can do mentality and spirit of an average Nigerian entrepreneur. He is a visionary who sees what the Man on the Clapham Omnibus cannot envision and dares to dream in a gargantuan manner.

After his education at the Bendel State University now Ambrose Alli University in Ekpoma, Edo state, he did the mandatory national youth service corps in Union Bank. He performed exceptionally well as a corper and the bank offered to retain him as he had bright career prospects. He did the unthinkable by turning down the offer and taking a huge risk in pitching his tent with the now defunct All States Trust Bank owned by King Ebitimi Banigo. The new generation banks were rather shaky as they had a very high mortality rate. Why did he take such a gamble? The Deltan born entrepreneur favoured risk and innovation over tradition which must have prompted his decision.

At barely 26 he was the Port Harcourt branch manager of the bank and aggressively expanded it. Not one to rest on his oars, he was soon weary of the job and needed a new challenge. He convinced a group of investors to invest in his grand idea which led to the formation of Standard Trust Bank in 1997 with his becoming the pioneer Chief Executive Officer at 34 when many of his contemporaries were still thinking of what to do with their lives.

Rapid expansion of the bank was his mantra and the profits of the small financial institution grew in leaps and bounds. Like Tom Sawyer in Charles Dicken’s ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, he hankered to be part of the next big thing which led to his acquisition of the floundering United Bank for Africa (UBA) in 2005 during the recapitalization era led by the then Central Bank of Nigeria Boss, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo.

Industry watchers paid a close attention to this wonder kid on the block as they were in awe of how he was able to pull off the acquisition of the century old UBA by an institution of less than a decade! There was no stopping him at this point.

Prior to the UBA acquisition, the bank’s balance sheets showed that it was making massive losses and the wonder boy showed his financial re-engineering skills by leading the bank to the rebound of profitability within a relatively short space of time.

When the deposed Emir of Kano became the CBN Boss in 2009, he made a law that bank CEO’s couldn’t be there for more than ten years. In 2010, Elumelu was still very young at 47 and had been made redundant by the law. It was devastating that he had to kiss his banking passion good bye at such an age.

Rather than slip into depression or do something rash, he decided to reinvent himself which metamorphosed in the launching of Heirs Holdings – a vehicle enterprise to promote the ideals of his coinage ‘Africapitalism’ in various sectors of the economy. He had his hands in lucrative pies ranging from Oil & Gas, Hospitality, Power etc. He also capped it by his becoming the Chairman of the government owned Transnational Corporation (Transcorp) which former President Olusegun Obasanjo launched during his presidency.

Always thinking far ahead of his time and conscious of his limited time here on earth, he launched the Tony Elumelu Foundation with the bold ambition to train 10,000 African entrepreneurs who will in turn create one million jobs and $10 billion worth of wealth in the African continent. Such a large-hearted and public spirited individual who always thinks about others instead of just living for himself and family!

We need more economic visionaries like Elumelu to take Africa out of the woods. Despite the harsh operating business environment and brutal cost of doing business with miniscule infrastructure, he still brims with ideas on how to be a better social entrepreneur. He has given humane meaning to the buzzword ‘corporate social responsibility’ which many entrepreneurs in the continent even of his caliber pay lip service to.

We hope that his feat will inspire many more entrepreneurs to break the glass ceiling and raise the bar in the ‘Dark Continent’ as Africa needs more of his kind.

We wish him the best of luck in his new venture and hope that it creates more jobs for his fellow countrymen as the ‘Giant of Africa’ badly needs jobs, jobs and more jobs!

Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos