By SOC Okenwa
Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Chairman of Dangote Group, is Africa’s richest man and one of the richest men in the world. The business mogul made his money through dint of harwork (or so we had thought before now). He wines and dines with presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens around the world. His colossal investments transcend international boundaries. To the best of our knowledge he is not haughty or been involved in any scandal. In the Forbes list of billionaires Dangote occupies an enviable position to the pride and glory of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. Making money decently is not a tea party!
As a man of money, Dangote is not like the late Bashorun MKO Abiola who courted controversies and married many wives, fathering countless children! Dangote is humble, patriotic and deeply religious. He is not known to be suffering from the rich-man complex or syndrome associated with many African billionaires and millionaires.
Millions of Nigerians are using Dangote products across ethnic or religious lines. Thousands earn a living through his companies’ employment opportunities. Someone once told me sometime ago that Dangote could have employed more Nigerians than the federal government and we laughed over it! Of course he is a great employer of labour.
Disciplined and munificent, Dangote’s entrepreneurial ingenuity marks him out as a great man, a great Nigerian. When I was about to build a house in my village I remember going for his cement in up-town Ihiala, Anambra State, in 2005. According to those who know him better he has a great heart! But could be ruthless when it comes to business deals and interests.
Recently, however, the big man had innocuously waded into the social tension in the country arising mainly from the October 1 ultimatum given to the Igbos up north by the so-called Arewa youths to vacate the entire north for their various villages or towns in Igboland. Dangote, a man not known for megalomania or magniloquence, had dismissed the quit notice stressing that people should not engage or dignify same with any response.
He had said: “Some fellows who have no relevance and values came out to issue a warning that Igbo should leave the North. I am surprised everybody started talking about this nonsense. Why are we talking about it?
Obviously, in a place where there is a lot of joblessness, it is expected that this kind of jobless people would come out with all sorts of anger……We understand the reasons why they are angry, but, they cannot justify their action when they have decided not to work. They only issued the senseless warning to keep themselves relevant.”
Of course, he overreached himself by calling them “jobless youths seeking relevance”. Soon after this declaration, however, the Arewa youths issued a strongly-worded statement full of invectives and allegations against the cement magnate. When I read online that incendiary statement I was shocked. Shocked because of the virulent tone employed and the accusations it bore. According to the release: “Most importantly, we are very much proud that we are only “jobless’ as claimed by Dangote, but then, none of us has the record of ever being involved in drug peddling or currency counterfeiting… All our lives, since childhood, we have never been found wanting in any money-worshipping venture to the point of criminally peddling hard drugs and, or forging hard currency.”
They did not stop there as they went on to say: “We all know that Dangote and all those that appear uncomfortable with our Kaduna Declaration are those who thrive from condescending against northerners and the northern values. They represent a pack of scavengers who would readily negotiate the general interest of their people in order to cover up their dirty sources of wealth and fame…In particular, Dangote has never been and can never be among genuine northern patriots and therefore his support for, or opposition to anything that tends to serve the interest of the region and its people is inconsequential and is not expected….If anything, Dangote is no more than a moral liability to the cultured north having become the final destination where every corrupt government official dump their public treasury loot. He is therefore morally liable along with other Igbo accomplices for the economic hardship wrought on Nigeria in the past 25 years.”
But in a counter declaration a coalition under the auspices of Joint Northern Youth Forum came out in defense of Dangote asking the Arewa youths to stop insulting their champion. According to them: “It has never happened and anyone who knows Dangote would readily admit that he has been a hardworking investor for decades and not a politician. The Coalition’s bedtime story about Obasanjo asking Dangote to run for the nation’s presidency is also laughable indeed…. This can never be true, given the hundreds of thousands of Northerners earning a livelihood through his vast array of investments in the North…And for whatever it is worth, Dangote deserves respect for rebuilding the lives of many young Northerners through his chain of businesses…. If we cannot celebrate his efforts to give meaning to the lives of many northerners in particular and Nigerians in general, we should also not cast aspersions on him…When the so-called Coalition said its members are not involved with “drug peddling and currency counterfeiting” what are they insinuating? What business has the respected African entrepreneur got to do with it? It is not in the character of northerners to be involved with insulting elders, especially elders that are enterprising and economically productive.”
The statement described as sad and unfortunate the accusations made by the coalition that Dangote Group is a destination for corrupt government officials, saying there was no iota of truth in the allegation: “The insinuation that Dangote group of companies is a “financial destination for every corrupt government official” is simply ridiculous because his chain of investments have never been associated with the trial of corrupt public officials by agencies like the EFCC or ICPC for many years. Dangote would not have been recognised by credible institutions like Forbes as the richest man in Africa.”
For us Dangote made his great fortune legitimately unless a valid proof is provided on the contrary by Prof. Ango Abdulahi and Yerima Shettima and their Arewa charlatans. So the wild allegation of dealing in narcotics, money laundering or counterfeiting or liaison with politicians associated with graft cannot fly so easily. Whilst we recognise the old saying that behind every great fortune there is a crime we hold that Aliko has never been involved in any financial scam or hard-drug related offense or money laundering. He relates well with politicians but we believe the relationship is never tainted with any crime.
Yet it goes without saying that Dangote as the richest living black man ought to have done better in the area of empowering the ‘talakawas’ in the north being recruited by the Arewa youths and even Boko Haram terrorist organisation! His prosperity story is one that should, ordinarily, inspire us and make us proud as Nigerians. But majority of our people are still victims of poverty with many living dangerously on less than a Dollar a day! While billionaires and millionaires abound in our unjust society there are still compatriots out there dreaming of eating three square meals a day or getting befitting employment or even counting one thousand Naira as savings after a gruelling month’s work.
Against this background Aliko Dangote cannot possibly be too proud of his powerful status as one of the richest men in the universe simply because of his Nigeriannness and the ebbing Nigerianness of many of his compatriots. One man, one billionaire of great charity could impact positively on the lives of many Nigerians more than Dangote has done thus far. We hold nothing against him but more needs to be done to leave his marks on the sands of the time. Allah has been kind to him and Nigeria has been a blessing to him too. So he must give back to the society that made him more than he is currently doing.
The last time we checked Dangote was not a politician and he does not belong to any political party in Nigeria. So the allegation of the old wily Obasanjo convincing him to become one or strategising on how to impose him on Nigerians as President (as he did the late Yar’Adua/Goodluck Jonathan) can only be taken as an idle talk. Any possibility of an Obasanjo getting himself involved in our presidential choice, come 2019 or 2023, sounds hollow. Nigeria of today is not the same as that of 1999 and Obasanjo is no longer President so the space or power he possesses for any manoeuver towards that end is negligible. Besides, even if we take it on face value to be true it is bound to fail. We need a younger man (as the French electorates did recently by electing the 39-year old Emmanuel Macron as President) to preside over our affairs now that we know that gerontocrats are not necessarily blessed with the wisdom of Solomon!
Between Dangote and the “talakawas”, the Arewa youths and their elders, there is no love lost. The problem lies in the fact that the international businessman was only trying to be seen as a pan-Nigeria investor who is at home in Lagos, Enugu or Kaduna; one unwilling to aid and abet the nonsense of the Arewa youths’ quit notice to the Igbos. It is not that he loved the Igbos more than his insultive brothers; it is simply a question of protecting one’s corporate interests upon sensing that those interests could be jeopardised in the event of war or any relative social explosion. Having said that we believe that Dangote deserves some respect from the Arewa youths.
The huffing and puffing must stop fortwith. Empty moral grandstanding cannot help our challenged nation move forward. We must refrain from chasing shadows and shunning substance. Everyone must purge themselves of their own ignoble attempts at distracting the public. We deserve better!