Inside the world of Nigeria’s richest men

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Aliko Dangote

I was young and fresh from school. I had a teaching job in a girls’ secondary school in my native Imo State. That was when my father said to me: “son, you must learn to manage your money – or else your money will manage you.” So, I took note and became cautious. But I guess not many people were as lucky to have a father like mine to advise them the way I was advised. Today, we look at two of the richest men in Nigeria and see how far they have come and how weighty the cross they carry. What we make of it is our business anyway.

I am sure it won’t be a mistake assuming that everyone in Nigeria knows Aliko Dangote – at least from his cement production which is found in practically every village in the country. Aliko Dangote is a Nigerian businessman, reputed to be the richest man on the entire African continent. He is the owner of the ‘Dangote Group,’ the largest cement producer in Africa and Dangote Oil Refinery, also widely regarded as Africa’s biggest oil refinery.

Aliko was born into a wealthy and influential Muslim family in the Northern Nigerian swinging city of Kano on 10 April 1957. Being born into a rich family meant that he was exposed early to an expensive lifestyle. His family business, presided over by his grandfather, Sanusi Dantata, was doing extremely well financially during his childhood. Dantata made his fortune dealing in rice, oats, and groundnuts. Aliko’s great-grandfather was also a wealthy man. By the time he died in 1955, he was said to be the richest man in Africa.

Aliko’s father passed away in his teenage years. His grandfather took over as his guardian. While he lived with his grandfather, Aliko developed a keen interest in business which was later to become his career. His first business venture was in primary school where he purchased boxes of sweets and sold them to his fellow pupils with a little profit.


Aliko got his early education at the Sheikh Ali Kumasi Madrasa. He then went to Capital High School in his home state of Kano. Thereafter, he moved on to Cairo in Egypt for higher education. He bagged his Bachelor’s degree in Business Studies and Administration from Al-Azhar University. When he returned to Nigeria in 1977, he began to plan his first serious business venture.


He established a small trading firm in 1977. The company gradually embarked on refinery and sugar business and expanded to neighboring countries. He expanded his scope into different ventures and made a name for himself as a seasoned businessman. Today, his company dominates the markets in such countries as Benin Republic, Ethiopia, Cameroon, South Africa and Ghana among others.


He founded the Dangote Group, a multinational conglomerate whose interests spanned over a range of sectors in the economy across many countries in Africa. Dangote ranked number 67 on Forbes magazine list of the richest men in the world. In 2014, he peaked at the number 23 spot and became the richest person of African descent in the entire world. Aliko’s personal life was always an issue of interest to local Nigerian media. He has been married four times and has 15 children from all his marriages.

From every indication, it would appear that Dangote is on top of his financial empire, enjoying the bliss of heaven while still in this world. But that may in fact not be the total truth. News about the Dangote Group could begin to get sour very soon as Dangote Oil Refinery, Africa’s biggest, runs into deep and murky financial waters because of a $7 billion debt burden that could become an invitation to the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) to take over the project. Dangote Refinery which is currently under construction in Lekki, Nigeria is owned by the Dangote Group.

The Refinery, a 650,000-barrel per day (BPD) integrated project was expected to commence production in 2016 with $3.3 billion financing secured in 2013. With the refinery now projected to commence operations in 2025, Dangote Group’s indebtedness to financial institutions is projected to hit $8.4 billion by 2025. The debt burden rose to $7 billion with debt servicing of almost $700 million per annum. In fact, since the concession was first made, the completion date of the refinery has been postponed eight times.

When Aliko Dangote unveiled early plans for the refinery in September 2013 and announced that he had secured about $3.3 billion in financing for the project, the refinery was estimated to cost about $9 billion, of which $3 billion would be invested by the Dangote Group and the remainder via commercial loans, to begin production in 2016.

After a change in location to Lekki, construction of the refinery did not begin until 2016 with excavation and infrastructure preparation, and the planned completion was pushed forward to late 2018. In July 2017, major structural construction began, and Dangote estimated that the refinery would be mechanically complete in late 2019 and commissioned in early 2020. Experts suggested that the construction would likely take at least two times as long as Dangote publicly stated, with refining capability not likely to be achieved until 2025.

On Wednesday, 4 August 2021, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, reiterated that Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the acquisition of 20 per cent minority stakes by the NNPC in the Dangote Petroleum and Petro-Chemical Refinery. Sylva, while briefing State House correspondents after the FEC meeting presided over by Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo that Wednesday at the Presidential Villa said the acquisition was in the sum of $2.76 billion. “The Executive Council also approved the acquisition of 20 percent minority stakes by the NNPC in the Dangote Petroleum and Petro-Chemical Refineries in the sum of $2.76 billion,” he said.

This development was seen by industry observers as strange because $2.76 billion falls short of 20 percent of the Dangote project valued by its sponsors at $16 billion. Using the $16 billion value, 20 percent would be $3.2 billion and analysts have expressed their amazement with the glaring disparity between the project’s value and NNPC’s funding.

Some Nigerians might think that this is not the normal behaviour of Dangote Group which already has successfully executed numerous projects across different sectors of the economy.  That may be so. But the point here is that the problem is much more deeply rooted.

There is an allegation, for instance, that poor planning, underpayment of contractors and improper project management of the over 40 contractors on site have been responsible for the bulk of delays. There is also the fact that none of the 40 contractors is willing to commission any project because of over-decentralization that has led to absolute chaos with no clear delegation of duty in sight. And in response to these incessant delays, some financing banks are already recalling their loans for fear of liquidity, while others are excited by the prospect of the handsome interests they might recoup as soon as the refinery comes on stream.

So far, Dangote has been able to restructure the facilities from various local and international banks two times, but with principal repayment falling, coupled with the annual interest payments, most banks have completely refused to restructure for the third time. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has made available $3.8 billion as part of federal government’s 20% equity in the project, providing $1 billion cash, while the remaining $2.8 billion is expected in crude oil supply. But analysts are quick to point out that NNPC’s 20% equity at $3.8 billion makes the Dangote refinery overvalued at $19 billion.

Despite the massive support of the Nigerian government in the refinery project, things have got so bad for the billionaire that even income from his other businesses may not be enough to cover the interest rates, let alone the principal. The $8.4 billion debt represents 75% of Dangote’s net worth at $11.1 billion and Africa’s richest man has to seek innovative ways to prop up his business now as the refinery project continues to be consistently delayed while his debt profile mounts.

On the next level is the second richest man in Nigeria, Chief Dr. Mike Adenuga whose mind is said to have been troubled over the years. Adenuga is а Nіgеrіаn bіllіonnаіrе buѕіnеѕsman, the third rісhеѕt mаn on the entire Аfrісаn continent and founder of Nigeria’s second-largest tеlесоmmunications ореrаtоr, Glоbасоm. Glоbасоm hаѕ business in Nіgеrіа, Ghаnа аnd Веnіn Republic. Adenuga аlѕо hаѕ ѕhаrеѕ іn the Еquаtоrіаl Тruѕt Ваnk аnd in Соnоіl. He is the Otumba Apesin of the Ijebu clan in his native Yoruba tribe, and he is a well-known and wealthy businessman.

Mike Adenuga


Mike Adenuga was born on 29 April 1953 in Ibadan, Oyo State in Nigeria to Oloye Michael Ogbolade Adenuga Snr., a schoolteacher and Omoba Juliana Adenuga, a businesswoman who owned a sawmill. Mike’s father died in a ghastly car accident in 1993 when Mike was 40 years old. It is on record that in 2005, Mike reburied his father in one of the most expensive ceremonies ever known in the history of Western Nigeria.

Mike studied at North Western Oklahoma State University and earned a Business Administration degree. He also holds a Masters degree in Business Administration from Pace University in New York. While in the university, he drove a taxi to help pay for his education. Mike made his first million at the tender age of 26 selling lace and soft drinks, quite unlike many other billionaires. He has two wives and12 children altogether.

In 1990, the Petroleum Minister, Professor Jibril Aminu, implemented a new national policy and Mike was one of the recipients. He received a drilling license for his Consolidated Oil Company in Ondo State as a result of the new policy. As an entrepreneur, he became interested in a telecommunications market and obtained a GSM license from the Nigerian government in 1999. And that was how he founded Globacom. Today, the company has expanded its operations in Nigeria and also into Ghana and Benin.

But contrary to what many might think, life has not actually been a bed of roses for Mike Adenuga. He has had to face several difficulties. In 2009, he was arrested for money laundering by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He was banished to London until the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua government granted him a pardon. In 2015, he paid $600 million for Comium, an Ivorian telecommunications company. Conoil, his firm, had a $140.5 million debt and was being followed by Total, a French oil company, in 2016.

Despite these detraction, Mike is well distinguished as an accomplished businessman. He was elected African Entrepreneur of the Year at the first African Telecom Award in 2007, among his many accomplishments. For his generous sponsorship of African football, he has also been regarded as the “Pillar of Football in Africa.” Adenuga received the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger Award in 2012. He was also granted the Special Golden Jubilee Independence Anniversary Award.

Mike Adenuga has a net worth of about $6 billion as of 2021, making him Nigeria’s second richest man after Aliko Dangote and Africa’s third-richest man. This is scarcely a surprise, given the fact that he made his first million at the age of 26.  Globacom, Nigeria’s second-largest telecommunications group is headquartered in Lagos and has offices in Ghana, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire.

It is perhaps interesting to learn that Mike is so wealthy that he purchased his own tomb. He set up the Mike Adenuga Foundation for charity and owns the Gold Diggers Den, a mansion in Banana Estate. An example of hard work, perseverance and dedication, Mike rose from a humble background to become a major player in the telecommunications and oil sectors. Overcoming many obstacles, he rose to become Nigeria’s second wealthiest man and Africa’s third. He is widely regarded as the true representation of the African and his culture. I believe that those of us who are not favoured to be a Dangote or an Adenuga will at least learn something from the experiences of these two gentlemen – that it is not always what you think it is. So, don’t kill yourself.

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