Dangote and the Nigerian enterprise

I love Alhaji Aliko Dangote, President of the Dangote Group and Africa’s richest man. Really, it is quite difficult not to like him. After hearing him speak on business and economy for a couple of minutes, one would be convinced that he did not come into money by accident. The capacity of his mind is mind-boggling, his lucidity is fascinating, his analysis is always enchanting and his projections have the precision of a laser-guided missile. These qualities have helped him to build the largest business empire, not just in Nigeria but also in Africa.

Added to all of these are his humility and philanthropy. Dangote is unassuming and could easily fit into any crowd despite his billions. This has helped him to cultivate friendship across spectrums. He is at home in every part of the country and is friends with people of different religious persuasions. His philanthropy warms him into the hearts of the people. He is loved by the downtrodden because he never forgets to reach out to them. Above all, I am of the view that his staying power in business and the secret of his sustainable business success is his ability to mind his business. To a very large extent, he has been able to maintain a delicate balance among the nation’s political interests such that it is difficult to accuse him of ruffling any political feather anywhere in the country.

Aliko Dangote is an exemplary success model. But there is a concern.

Dangote is getting too powerful for his own good and the country’s wellbeing. For nearly every challenge in the country, the government runs to Dangote. That is disconcerting. Just last Wednesday, the Federal Government announced that it had approved the award of a contract to Dangote Industries for the construction of five concrete roads totaling 274.9 kilometres at the cost of N309.9billion as tax credit. The meaning of that is that the company would use its tax to the government to construct the roads. This is not the first time the government would award road contracts to Dangote Industry in lieu of taxes. A few years back, the construction of the 42.5km Obajana-Kabba road in Kogi State was awarded to Dangote Group on tax concession basis. Dangote Group is also handling the construction of concrete roads for Lagos, Bauchi, Kogi, Kaduna and Ogun state governments.

When the Apapa Wharf road became decrepit and impassable, the Federal Government turned to Dangote to fix it. The government signed a N4.34 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Dangote Group, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Flour Mills of Nigeria for the reconstruction of the road but the construction of the 2-kilometre road was handled by AG Dangote, the construction arm of Dangote Group.

So, Dangote Group is fast becoming solution to the nation’s infrastructure challenge.

With some of the companies in the Group being among the most capitalised on the Nigerian Exchange Group (NGX), Dangote Group controls almost 40 per cent of the Nigerian stock market. This means that the Group can make billionaires or paupers of investors within the twinkling of an eye.

The Group is also into rice production and processing, sugar production, tomato production as well as flour and pasta production. So, Dangote Group may soon be providing about 50 per cent of the country’s food needs.

Then, Dangote Group is building the largest refinery in the world. The 650-million-barrel per day refinery would be a game changer in Nigeria because it will solve the perennial problem of petroleum products scarcity. In addition to that, the refinery will also solve the problem of inadequate supply of fertilizers and other petroleum by-products.

Dangote is poised to take charge of fueling the nation.

Now, if a man is in charge of the infrastructure, determines the fate of stocks and takes responsibility for feeding and fuelling the nation, it would be disrespectful to equate him with the government; he is more than the government, he is indeed the God of Nigeria.

That is where the concern is. Gods do whatever they like with mortals. It will be dangerous to allow any individual play god in a country for the simple reason that no human, no matter how humane, can be trusted with too much power. Power, of whatever form, intoxicates. Louis XIV of France when inebriated with power said, “L’état c’est moi,” I am the state. Napoleon Bonaparte, at the height of his power, considered himself invincible. When Adolf Hitler consolidated his power base, he dreamt of running the world.

I am of the opinion that it is perilous to allow the concentration of a nation’s critical sectors in the hands of an individual. No serious country allows a company to dominate an industry, not to talk of a sector or the economy.

Is it good for businesses to prosper? Yes. Is it right for individuals and organizations to take advantage of opportunities in an economy? Sure. Is it proper to tie a nation to a person’s apron string? No.

It is not Dangote’s fault that our refineries were badly managed. It is not his making that the roads were allowed to go bad and the government had to scamper to him to help with fixing them. But unless the issue is properly addressed, Nigeria may end up as Dangote’s farm.

Countries have addressed this issue through the anti-trust law. Nigeria should start thinking of enacting its own version of the anti-trust law before it gets too late. This is not to stop any individual; it is to save the country.

 

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