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Nigeria’s billionaire Femi Otedola: Hot investor and cool dad

By Temitayo Lawal

Posted on June 7, 2023 14:30

 © Femi Otedola (photo: faceboook)
Femi Otedola (photo: faceboook)

Playing in the investment fiefdom that has come to be his forte over the years, Femi Otedola, the Nigerian billionaire and former owner and chairman of Forte Oil, an oil and gas marketing giant, has been in the news recently for acquiring equity in Transcorp Group, a Nigerian conglomerate with tentacles in hospitality, energy and power.

In April, he first acquired over 2.2 billion units of the shares or 5.52% of the conglomerate. He later consolidated this by upping his stake up to 6.3%, essentially taking over from Tony Elumelu – the company’s chairman and the chairman of United Bank for Africa, one of Nigeria’s biggest financial institutions – to become the largest individual shareholder in the holding company. His total investment was N6.3bn ($13.2m) before he later exited.

He owes his wealth to his years of bold investments, grit and hard work. His username on social media and his signature remain written as Femi Ote$, a double entendre showing his surname, Otedola, and his status as a dollar billionaire.

A senior energy analyst who prefers not to be named because Otedola sits on the board of his company tells The Africa Report that the billionaire is good for the Nigerian market.

“I think he has very smart people working for him because it appears that what he has been about in the past couple of years is looking for upsides or opportunities where assets are mispriced to bring out the value,” the analyst says.

“He is willing to take risks – he has taken it a few times, he has been burnt sometimes and he has absolutely killed it on many occasions,” he adds.

Hot investor

His Transcorp Group foray affirms his bold investment appetite. Many wonder why he was interested in Transcorp’s power generation companies since he currently owns a valued power generation company, Geregu Power Plc, which he took over in 2020.

“Transcorp is a very good lobbying tool. They run Transcorp Hotels, Abuja’s most cherished hotel as of today because of the calibre of top politicians and HNIs who frequent the place.”

“Transcorp also gives its owner some diplomatic leverage because it is the go-to hotel for many foreign ambassadors and investors. So, the political and diplomatic capital that it confers on the owner is huge,” the analyst says.

Some other analysts have speculated that it may just be a race to benefit from the incoming administration’s programmes, suggesting that there may be a laser focus on power development. While he admits that the power generation plants under Transcorp are attractive, the analyst says he doesn’t need them to benefit from whatever will happen to power generation and besides, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), has already kickstarted a process to sell several national power generation plants and Otedola is positioned to get from them.

But Transcorp is just one of his numerous investments or acquisitions. Otedola has had a bullish investment history.

  • In an attempt to control a majority stake, he acquired shares worth N30bn or 5.07% in Nigeria’s oldest and biggest financial institution by assets, First Bank of Nigeria Holdings, in October 2021. He bought at least 2.5% additional equity in the company to take his total equity to 7.57% after claims by the company’s chairman, Tunde Hassan-Odukale, that he held 5.56% (more than Otedola’s) raised some controversies.
  • In 2003, he established an oil products marketing and distribution company, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, to take advantage of the burgeoning fuel retail market in Nigeria. Years later in 2007, he pursued his ambitions to run a leading oil marketing giant in the country by first acquiring through Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, a 28.7% stake in one of Nigeria’s biggest fuel marketers at the time, African Petroleum (AP), which was formerly British Petroleum until it was nationalised by the Nigerian government in July 1979.
  • By the end of 2007, he spent N40bn to buy 29.3% of the company’s shares for himself, making the total equity he controlled (in addition to one owned by his company) 55.3%. This allowed him to become AP’s chairman and CEO, overseeing the geometric growth of the company’s market capitalisation from N36bn to N217bn in six months. Two years later, he made the Forbes dollar-denominated billionaires list. He fell off the list the same year due to the oil price crash from $146 per barrel to $36 while his “one million barrels of oil” were still on the seas.
  • He rebranded Africa Petroleum to Forte Oil in 2010, paid his $900m debt and invested in the financial industry, making him the second largest shareholder in Zenith Bank, the single largest shareholder at the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and so on. He then returned to the Forbes Billionaires list in 2014.
  • He acquired the Geregu power plant, a power generation asset, for $132m by financing 57% of Amperion Limited, a subsidiary of Forte Oil, his company, when the federal government moved to liberalise the power sector in 2013. He sold his remaining 75% stake in Forte Oil in 2019 to focus on the changing and potentially prosperous power sector which the government was only just opening up to significant private participation after decades of government control.
  • Geregu Power Plc became the first power generation company to list on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in October last year, demonstrating to stakeholders in the sector how they can fix financing and make profits sustainably. The company’s market capitalisation is now N726.75bn and the share price now N290.70 from the 2.5 billion shares that were listed at N100 each (N250bn) last year.

His other investments straddle shipping, trading and investment, real estate, transportation and insurance.

Cool dad

He once said in an interview that his family while growing up was close-knit and fun. His dad, Michael Otedola, returned to Nigeria in 1959 and worked in the media, oil sector and then established a printing press after which he became Lagos state governor in 1992. Femi Otedola once expressed how his experience running his father’s printing press while studying at Obafemi Awolowo University in the 1980s formed the foundation of his business appetite and entrepreneurial grit.

He is the second of his parents’ four boys who grew up in a close family in Ibadan, where they were born, and then later to Lagos, although their father is an indigene of Epe Town in Lagos State. This upbringing definitely rubbed off on his relationship with his wife and children.

“My family remains the centre of my world and I am proud of the strides each member is taking in their chosen career. I remain supportive of their goals and continue to wish them well,” Otedola said in an interview.

He has a wife, Nana Otedola, and four children – Tolani, a singer and songwriter whom he had with his ex-wife; Florence aka DJ Cuppy, a popular disk jockey and producer; Temi who is an actress and design and luxury blogger; and Fewa, his only son. Recently, he celebrated his 60th birthday on a super luxury yacht, Christina O, owned by the late Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis, for $3.2m, spending three weeks with his wife, children, and popular Afrobeats star Mr Eazi – the fiance of his daughter Temi.

In 2017 he attended Tolani’s music showcase in Lagos; in 2019, he donated N5bn to DJ Cuppy Foundation’s humanitarian fundraiser, ‘Save the Children in the Northeast’; and in 2020, he surprised Temi after he visited her on the set of Citation, a movie she was acting in at the time.

In 2022, he bought a Ferrari Portofino, which cost over $200,000, each for his three daughters, an event that went viral and broke the internet in Nigeria. Last year, he bought a country house for £5m for DJ Cuppy to celebrate her 30th birthday.

“I don’t talk about this much; but on mornings like this, waking up at our penthouse in Monaco, my heart is filled with so much gratitude. I am honoured and blessed to have a father as hardworking as mine,” DJ Cuppy posted on Twitter in 2021.

Corporate controversies

For a businessman operating in the volatile Nigerian business climate, he has had his fair share of public controversies.

In 2012, he was caught in the midst of a bribery scandal with the Nigerian legislature, which had claimed that Otedola’s company was involved in a $1.4m subsidy scam. Unbeknownst to the legislator in charge of the probe Farouk Lawan, Otedola had reported him to the country’s secret service and Farouk was caught on camera collecting a bribe from Otedola. The lawmaker was jailed.

In 2009, his company Africa Petroleum ran ads in the media accusing his now close friend, Aliko Dangote, of using his companies to run down his company’s stock by 80% in weeks through “certain unwholesome and unethical activities.” The move which dipped Otedola’s net worth from $1.2bn to $500m was seen as a personal attack on him by Dangote who had outbid him by $800m to acquire Chevron Nigeria’s portfolio (Texaco) in 2008.

Looking at Otedola’s long history of investment in Nigeria’s business environment, the analyst concludes, “For me, we need more Otedolas, that is, more people that are willing to make the Nigerian bourse and business environment more vibrant and exciting”.

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