A prodigiously wealthy and luxuriantly blessed human, Aliko Dangote said that it took him 30 tortuous years to become a billionaire but youths of today want to become a gazillionaire faster than Usain Bolt. Many Nigerian youths are bitter (like bitterness will make one better), pointing accusing fingers at people like Dangote, Adenuga and generally seeing nothing good in what others do, believing the world is against them. For those, I leave you with the immutable words of JK Rowling, writer of the Harry Potter series: “There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.” That is not all. The legendary French writer and philosopher who rejected the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre also said: “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give life a meaning.” But perhaps, the most poignant advice of all is from the Wise One of China, Confucius, who stated thousands of years ago: “Attack the evil that is within yourself, rather than attacking the evil that is in others.”
In a nation like Nigeria where there is so much negativity emanating right from independence till date, Aliko Mohammad Dangote, the Kano-born billionaire with the Midas touch is a man who must be appreciated and celebrated -for good reasons.
Young Aliko was born in the ancient city of Kano of the famed groundnut pyramids. Kano has been a commercial center for centuries with it being a focal point for all kinds of economic activities ranging from the sale of slaves in exchange for salt to the trade in spices, kolanuts, leather, cotton, sugar and gold. Alhassan Abdullahi Dantata (named for Tata, the nurse who raised him, Dantata means ‘the son of Tata’) was his maternal great grandfather and he also learnt the art of business and making money from his own father.
By 1913, he was the largest exporter of kolanuts in West Africa. The coming of the colonial masters with the railway was too good an opportunity for him as he took advantage of the rails to move his kolanuts along the Lagos-Kano route. With time, he became the sole distributor for the Lever Brothers (later Unilever) and add the profits of the groundnut boom, he was already super-rich, the richest in Nigeria, and by 1955 when he died, he was clearly the richest in West Africa.
The children of the late polygamous merchant swore to an oath by the Holy Qu’ran with their father on the deathbed to work together and not split the family’s business empire. Till today, the Dantatas run things in Nigeria -without any noise. Groundnut trader, Sanusi Alhassan Dantata, Nigeria’s first millionaire, was the eldest of the siblings and was the overseer of the family’s business activities.
Dangote grew up in the loving care of his maternal grandfather, Sanusi who took Aliko, his first grandson, into his care after the untimely death of his father. Sanusi transformed the family business even beyond the wildest dreams of their late dad. This grand old rich man died in 1997, and left many children, one of whom is Mariya, his eldest daughter and Umm Aliko (the mother of Aliko).
Rewind back to the 1950s and we meet a man named Mohammed Dangote, a businessman, fellow Qadirriya sect member and ally of Sanusi Dantata. This man would later ko-enu-ife-si (‘toast’) Mariya, the daughter of his friend, through her father and his business associate, Sanusi Dantata. Mohammed Dangote dabbled into politics and was even a Member, Northern House of Assembly and belonged to the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. By the mid-50s, the two lovebirds were joined together in holy matrimony in Kano. That was the fusing point of the Dantatas and the Dangotes.
EARLY DAYS & GROWING UP
On the 10th of April, 1957, a bouncing baby boy weighing just a little above three kilogrammes was born in Kano. The radiant mother was Mariya and the small baby boy of that day is the reason you are reading this. A week after, he was named after his father while his overjoyed grandfather, Sanusi Dantata gave him the name ‘Aliko’ which means ‘The Victorious One Who Defends Humanity’.
From his own mother’s side, Dangote has three siblings: Sani, Bello and a younger brother who died in an air crash in Kano with Ibrahim Abacha in 1996. Dangote’s mother, who became a widow in 1965 is still very much alive, was honoured with a degree by the Bayero University, Kano (BUK), runs one of the largest charities in Nigeria but is protected from the public eye. When Dangote bought his recreational boat, he named it after his Abiyamo (Mother), calling it Mariya.
For someone who grew up in Kano, a city of knowledge, it was no surprise that Dangote took to educating himself. Like many of his peers growing up under the great influence of Islamic scholars of the old city, he took off to one of the oldest universities on earth, Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.
-1964: Kano Capital Elementary School (during break time in the high-brow primary school with other schoolkids who wanted sweets, Aliko would bring out a handful and told his jolly good friends that they could have one for a dime. He was that sharp.)
-1964: Sheikh Ali Kumasi Madrasa (Arabic School): He attended the Quranic school when he returned from the primary school, a pattern that is common with many Nigerian Muslims.
-1970s: Capital High School, Kano.
-1970s: School of Economics & Business, Al Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt, where he bagged a degree in business studies and administration. In addition to all these forms of formal education, he also got a great deal of informal education from his grandfather, which he makes use of till this day. Hear him: ‘All my business acumen and instincts I inherited from my maternal grandfather. As his first grandson, he poured his business wizardry into me. I would not have been where I am today without him; a very great man, loving and caring.’
LOVE, HEARTBREAKS, CHILDREN, MARRIAGE & DIVORCES
In any continent of the world, there are some ladies who would dump their wretched husbands in a microsecond and follow a moneybag like billionaire Dangote without hesitation. The poor husband will only console himself with Chief Ebenezer Obey’s Sisi kojale, a lo ba millionaire lo…lol! Handsome, dashing, calm and stupendously wealthy, it is no surprise that not a few women cannot resist the charm of Dangote. Like other men on earth, he also has his own share of the romantic sagas and Cupid-induced high blood pressure..lol. A serial monogamist, Aliko Dangote has 15 children even though three from his current marriage (Halima, Fatima and Sadia) are officially listed. His children include:
-ZAYNAB (F) -named for her mum.
-SALMA (F) (meaning peace).
Alhaji Aliko Dangote has been married and divorced three times before his current marriage. He was not engaged in polygamy at any point but took one wife at a time. In May 1977, his family selected his first wife for him and the union was consummated without delay. Aliko had just turned 20. Fast forward to 2009, Dangote fell in love with the young daughter of the late Nigerian President, Nafisat Yar’adua (now the wife of the Bauchi State Governor, Alhaji Isa Yuguda). Nafisat turned down Dangote’s advances for one reason: she was friends with Halima, Dangote’s daughter. Nafisat, at the age of 21, became Governor Yuguda’s fourth wife in 2009.
Like any other man, his ego was hurt. You will get a better picture of the scenario when you realize the fact that one of the former wives of Dangote (Hajia Mariya A.D Rufai, see below) was married to Governor Yuguda (although he later divorced her in June 2010 after 10 years of marriage over irreconcilable differences but some of the reasons alluded to was that she was absent at President Yar’adua’s (Yuguda’s in-law) burial, allegedly leaking sensitive state secrets to Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, then Secretary to the Federal Government and the final straw that enraged the Governor was the fact that she congratulated Alhaji Bala Mohammed, the new minister of the Federal Capital Territory, who was a bitter enemy of the Governor who was desperate to get a second term and felt he could spoil his chances). But calmly and gracefully, Dangote took all life threw at him and when you see his charming and disarming smiles, you’d never guess he was once heartbroken.
After he divorced his first wife that his family got for him, he married Mariya A. D Muhammad Rufai, a Senator’s daughter and former Bauchi State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Human Services (see pictures). After he divorced her, he married two other women but the marriages collapsed.
Some other women have also been romantically linked to the billionaire. These include the Director and Secretary of his United Kingdom subsidiary, Dangote Global Services, Miss Oluwatosin Coker while another is the late Ondo-born business executive, sugar merchant and reverend with the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Rev. Chief (Mrs.) Josephine Oluwadamilola Kuteyi, with whom he dragged the purchase of the Bacita Sugar Factory. A divorcee mother of four sons (Saheed, Ganiyu, Ahmed and Rasaq), she died in a helicopter crash in Osun State in 2011 while on her way to her Bacita sugar company in Kwara State. The helicopter plunged from a height of 2,500 feet, killing all the occupants.
HOW HE STARTED
When he left for Lagos as a 20-year-old in 1977, Nigeria was enjoying stupendous oil profits and the military government of the day decided to ruin some of it on FESTAC’77. There was massive construction going on in various parts of the country and it was at that moment Dangote went to his beloved grandfather to ask for a loan so he could import cement which will be used for some of the FESTAC buildings. He narrates: ‘For me, I started small as a trader in cement. Then I left cement around 1978. Because there was this armada and cement was difficult to get at that time. I had my own money which my grandfather gave me free, but then he gave me also an additional loan of N500,000 (about $3,000) which was big money in those days. At that time (1978), you could purchase ten Mercedes Benz cars with that amount as each was sold for N5,000 while a Volkswagen Beetle went for N900 to N1,000. The money was quite a substantial amount then. The loan was supposed to be paid back whenever I was okay-maybe after three or four years. But I paid the loan back within six months.’
The real genius of Dangote is his ability to transform that seed money of yesterday into the billions of dollars today. The crux of the matter here is not that he got a helping hand from his rich grandfather but what he did with the assistance.
Throughout the Obasanjo regime down to Shagari, Buhari and IBB, there were vast construction projects: estates, federal universities (like UNILORIN) and so on. And cement was obviously needed. Obasanjo and Dangote, who was still working with his uncle, first met in the 1970s when he was the federal commissioner (minister) of transport. Also, while he was in Lagos, he learnt a lot from his uncle, Usman who had already formed solid ties with the military governments and got rice importation deals in 1970 at the end of the 30-month Nigerian Civil War. When their fellow Kano man, the late Murtala Mohammed came to power, his 27-year-old uncle was one of those contracted to decongest the Nigerian seaports in Lagos and made huge fortunes. With time, Aliko was brought on board, following them to business meetings in the dead of the night. It was during this time in Lagos he began to learn how to speak the Yoruba language.
While working with his uncle in Lagos, ‘squatting in his office’, he learnt a lot. He said of those times: ‘I started with the business of cement, which was giving us a lot of money because at that time, Nigeria was making so much money and we were doing a lot of constructions. On a vehicle which I normally get from my uncle, I was making about N1,350 to N1,400 per day, and I had an allocation of about 3-4 trucks including Saturdays and Sundays. Later , I realized I was making a lot of money though then I didn’t have a lot of ideas of what to do. It was only cement business that I knew and I was stuck to it up till 1980, when I started knowing Lagos, becoming a Lagosian, understanding where to go and finding people to buy import licenses from. Within three months, I paid my grandfather back because I had no further need of his money.’
BECOMING A BILLIONAIRE
It took Dangote three decades to amass one billion US dollars. His journey is a very interesting one, showing all the features of luck, opportunity, hardwork and divine providence. Under the Shagari regime, there was an unprecedented importation of essential commodities and products. Dangote’s company, then named Alco Company was one of the major importers. He also supplied huge tonnage of cement to the governments at different levels embarking on construction of vast housing projects.
When the Shagari government decided to also pay more attention to the construction of Abuja, the proposed new Federal Capital Territory, Dangote’s cement was also on point. When General Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 1983, he clamped down on all the importation and dirty deals of the Shagari regime.
Businessmen and tycoons like Dangote were not too happy with the new draconian regime but he played it calm and quickly adapted. If you cannot adapt to changes in this world and keep blaming all kinds of external forces, your chances of survival are seriously limited. Being the smart dude that he is, while other businessmen were complaining and groaning under the iron fists of Buhari and Idiagbon, his Ilorin-born no-nonsense deputy, Dangote veered and formed Dangote General Textiles Products Enterprises and focused on what the government of the day wanted: exportation of local products such as gum arabic, cotton, millet, cocoa, leather products, cotton and cashew nuts.
Amazing Quotes from Dangote:
‘I don’t like to boast, but let me tell you something. I was born into money. Both my father’s -from my mother’s side and also from father’s side -they have always had money. So, it’s not that I just came and picked up something from this thing. But it does not mean also in the family that everybody would be rich. I don’t know any of my family members -both from my mother’s side and my father’s side -that has ever had a deal with anybody in the government.’ (Not many people agree with this assertion).
How can agro-industrial businesses modernise?
Aliko Dangote: There is no way you can develop agriculture at 20% interest rates anywhere, even if you grow gold. So the government needs to bring interest rates down to single-digit figures for farmers….you also have to develop storage and give people guaranteed pricing. If there is no guaranteed pricing, you are not encouraging the farmer to grow. …..Dangote is trying to produce 700,000 tonnes of sugar annually over the next four years. We may employ at least 45,000 people to reach this target. That is the only way to create jobs.
-In 1978, before I started making money, the first car I bought was a Mercedes 200 for N5,100, and that time, there was no power steering (general laughter). -While giving a motivational lecture at the Pan African University, Lagos Business School (LBS).