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Nigeria is a country that presently warehouses one of the worst economic inequality numbers in the entire world. Despite being one of the most endowed countries in Africa both in terms of natural and human resources, Nigeria is still home to the poorest people on the continent. In the face of plenty lies abject poverty and the gap continues to widen.
The country’s richest man, Aliko Dangote would have to spend $1 million every day of his life for 42 years to completely exhaust his fortune. This is both worrying and sad, and would make one wonder whether there is something going on in Nigeria that has kept the margin between the poor and the stupendously rich steadily wide.
Hence, the question of whether these billionaires are legitimate businessmen or moneybags comes begging for answers.
To find the right answers to these questions, we decided to dig into the empires of a few Nigerian billionaires who control the wealth in the country.
Some people might be quick to argue that they have never held government positions or political offices and hence should not be scrutinised.
But, they forget that some of these billionaires have become so powerful that they now decide who assume leadership positions in the country and can determine the course of a policy or issue with the wads of money in their pockets.
Let’s now consider the following billionaires and see if we can get some clarity about them.
Aliko Dangote is presently Africa’s richest man and the Chairman of Dangote group. While many Nigerians hail him for business ingenuity and purported nationalist economic instinct, the popular industrialist is not really who many people think he is. He might have a net worth of $13 billion but a close look shows that he is not really the legitimate moneymaker he parades himself to be.
Mr. Aliko has enjoyed high privileges over the years with an almost exclusive access to foreign exchange that is government-subsidised and runs into hundreds of millions of dollars.
No matter how one chooses to look at it, Dangote mirrors the patrimonial monopoly of the kind of wicked capitalism being practiced in Nigeria.
Patronage capitalism is wickedness! It is legally, morally, and economically wrong no matter how you look at it. It generally distorts Nigeria’s economic and financial terrains and only amounts to the unholy transfer of public wealth to the bank accounts of a select number of businessmen. It is nothing short of horrible corruption.
The general story often peddled is that just a few years after graduating from college, the young Dangote had borrowed about N500,000 from his wealthy uncle to go into the importation and sale of agricultural commodities in Nigeria. His business managed to blossom quickly and he became a success in a matter of a few years. It is said that it was from there that he was able to, ultimately, turn a local business trading commodities into a multibillion-dollar corporation that now employs thousands.
This narrative is far from the truth because Dangote is simply a reflection of a deeper economic and political dysfunction that has kept Nigeria where it is. It is only this kind of foundational dysfunction that makes it possible for this sort of oligarchic wealth accumulation to occur and become a standard. Every government that has come in Nigeria had at one point or the other granted a series of import duty waivers and subsidies to Dangote who, of course, has now become so powerful that he plays a key role in the emergence of any President.
Under the Obasanjo government, Dangote was able to virtually monopolise the cement sector by simply buying up poorly performing companies like Benue cement. For serious competitors like Ibeto Cement, he simply used his ‘friends’ in government to crush them using the instrument of the state.
For Dangote, it is not his ingenuity that has made him wealthy. He has been able to leverage political access for three decades to win protections from government and monopolistic concessions, which stands him out.
In a sane society, he wouldn’t be a role model to anyone with a working conscience.
Femi Otedola is a self-effacing Nigerian billionaire who prefers to tread the quiet side of life, and walks the business promenade with less noise, skirting the fringes of the limelight, while naturally avoiding its hug.
Born on the 4th of November, 1962 in the bubbling town of Ibadan, Femi’s familial background is Epe, Lagos State. His father, the late Michael Otedola was a former governor of Lagos State from 1992 to 1993. Odetola’s chain of businesses spans shipping, real estate, finance, and now power. He has been a major importer of fuel products as well.
Just like Dangote, Otedola has been a major beneficiary of government patronage and underhanded dealings which the Nigerian business environment is notorious for.
In 2012, he was reported by the media to have given a bribe of the sum of $620,000 to Boniface Emenalo and Farouk Lawan who was then, the Chairman of the House Committee on Fuel Subsidy Regime, ‘Integrity group’.
Earlier this year, it wasn’t surprising to see Femi Otedola expressing his support for the presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Ahmed Bola Tinubu, calling him a great friend, and praying that his desire to become Nigeria’s president is actualised.
Truly, a man who eats with criminals, election riggers, and drug Lords cannot claim himself innocent of crime.
Should we talk about the fact that Aliko Dangote was one of the few people who spent weeks sailing on the luxury yacht that cost well over N2.2billion to rent ahead of Otedola’s 60th birthday?
Naive Nigerians might see great friends hanging out together to spend their hard earned funds gained through honest and legitimate business, but what we see here are partners in crime who laugh and make merry at the expense of Nigerians who remain in penury day to day.
It is up to Nigerians to decide whether they will be misled by the smokescreen of philanthropy Otedola hides behind, or see him for what he truly is; a man who enriches himself and his family at the expense of an entire country.
To be continued..