Opinion  :: Columns  :: Letter from Lagos


Entrepreneurs for Africa

Published: 03-JUN-05

Nigeria has thousands of silent businessmen in the informal sectors of the economy, pursuingm business interests ranging from the importation of refined crude oil to selling repackaged table water. It is estimated that the informal sector accounts for over 60% of Nigeria�s GDP and represents a source of livelihood for about 70% of Nigerians.

These business operators in the small sectors are the engine that drives any economic revolution, and Nigeria has no scarcity of them. However, some of these Nigerians have become icons and models for enterprise and business pursuit today through the sheer size and influence of their business dealings. They are from the banking, energy, technology, telecommunications, manufacturing and other industry sectors and have distinguished themselves by contextualising the resources they manage and by contributing to growth of entrepreneurial spirit in Nigeria.

Nigeria�s business opportunities have increased tremendously as the political system becomes increasingly stable. The era of private sector-driven investment has just arrived.

One of the key Nigerian business entrepreneurs to watch out for is Bolaji Balogun, the principal of Chapel Hill Advisory Partners, a financial advisory service that seeks to interface with private equity sources that have an eye on developing the real sector of Nigeria�s economy. This effort has generated many wins, including the IPOs of several key corporations. He has many years of experience in investment banking and helped syndicate local equity for what was then Nigeria�s second-largest mobile telecommunications company, Econet Wireless Nigeria (now V-Mobile).

What distinguishes Balogun is his consistent belief that private sectordriven enterprise is the key to unlocking Nigeria�s potential. He also believes that the current privatisation drive of the Nigerian government presents an opportunity for Nigerians to break the stronghold of government on the economy as well as a chance for private capital to take a firm root in Nigeria. Another emerging entrepreneur is Jubril Adewale Tinubu, CEO of Oando Plc.

His greatest feat was the bringing together of like minds to generate capital for the takeover of a majority stake in Unipetrol Nigeria. He has since grown it into the largest privately-held energy sector organisation in West Africa, with revenue for 2004 in excess of $94bn. Then there�s Aliko Dangote, who learned at the feet of his uncle, Sanusi Dantata, in the 1970s in Kano, and has grown up to become Nigeria�s leading entrepreneur in his own right. His mix of commodity trade and manufacturing through local industry is the balance that Nigeria needs to compete in the international market.

Today, as CEO of the Dangote group, Aliko runs its heavy interests in importation. His group controls 60% of the sugar market in Nigeria, and its trading interests in textiles, food commodities and transportation span the West African sub-region, particularly Benin, Cote D�Ivoire and Ghana.

Tony Onyeamachi Elumelu, CEO of Standard Trust Bank, Nigeria�s most widely spread new-generation bank, is another man who is not afraid to take risks; indeed, it is his appetite for measured risks and his ability to turn around those risks that has brought him into the limelight as the facilitator of Nigeria�s largest banking merger ever.

His Standard Trust Bank and the United Bank for Africa (Nigeria�s third largest Bank) are completing due diligence for a merger.

As managing director of BGL Limited, he and a savvy team moved to take over Crystal Bank, one of the financially-distressed banks that was to be axed by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Most industry observers were alarmed.

Today, the emergence of Standard Trust Bank into a neighbourhood bank with a presence in most Nigerian cities and an increasing spread to West Africa remains an undisputable testimony to the benefit of innovative resilience.

Finally, there�s Mike Adenuga, chairman of Nigeria�s second national operator and GSM provider Globacom, who has proven himself a man of many parts.

He is chairman of Elf Petroleum Nigeria, Equatorial Trust Bank, Devcom Bank and has continued to pursue growth in all of these operations. He has become legendary for heating up competition in the telecom sector by the introduction of people-related pricing and challenging the erstwhile king to a price war.

Globacom is also credited with being the only provider providing lasting infrastructure to accommodate the bandwidth demand that is approaching a crunch, as the Nigeria�s mobile revolution continues to explode.

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