People to Watch

Posted on Monday, 21 September 2009 15:20

From Funke Opeke to Aliko Dangote and oil to newspapers, our round-up of the business people to watch in Nigeria.

Wale Tinubu ?
CEO of Oando, a major oil products distribution company

Since 2001, Tinubu has built Oando into one of Nigeria’s biggest indigenous companies. Started in 1994, the company has grown from importing petroleum products to being a diversified oil and gas junior with sights on being the continent’s biggest homegrown oil and gas company. Tinubu’s father, Kamaru Oluwole, was a police commissioner in the old Western State, and his uncle, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was the previous governor of Lagos State. Tinubu is also a co-founder of the Action Congress, an opposition party. He earned law degrees from the University of Liverpool and London School of Economics before he joined the family law firm. In 1994 he struck out with two partners, Omamofe Boyo and Paul Okoloko, to start Ocean and Oil. In 2000, the Obasanjo government began privatisations, and Tinubu led the company to take over Unipetrol and then, in 2002, the Agip distribution network.

Jimoh Ibrahim
Chairman, Global Fleet Group

Jimoh Ibrahim bought a 70% stake in NICON, Nigeria’s biggest insurance company, in 2005. A buying spree in the next four months included hotels in Abuja and Lagos, a majority stake in Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation and an airline. All this in addition to his Global Fleet Company, an oil marketing firm with over 250 filling stations, and a furniture-making company he owns in Lagos. He was not born to wealth. One of 18 children of a bricklayer father and a food-seller mother, he first made money while a university student in the early 1990s. He ran seminars on taxation for local governments. An early reputation for prompt repayment helped him fund his many acquisitions.

Funke Opeke?
Chief executive of Main Street Technologies

Funke Opeke is one of Nigeria’s most visible examples of a reverse ‘brain drain’. After almost 25 years abroad, she returned in 2005 to join MTN as chief technical officer. She left MTN a short time later to advise on Transcorp’s successful (but later reversed) bid to buy Nitel, the state-owned telecoms company. She served briefly as chief operating officer of Nitel before leaving to start Main Street Technologies. Before her return to Nigeria, Opeke worked at Verizon Communications, America’s leading mobile telecoms company, rising through the ranks to become an executive director. In 2007, Main Street announced plans to build a $300m undersea fibre optic cable system connecting 12 African countries. Opeke has engineering degrees from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria and Columbia University in the US.

Aliko Dangote?
Chairman and CEO of Dangote Group

The Dangote Group trades and/or produces various commodities, including cement, sugar, flour and petroleum products. Aliko Dangote’s lift into the ranks of the super-rich came in 2007 when his sugar importing and manufacturing company was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). In March 2008, Dangote became the first Nigerian ever to make Forbes annual list of billionaires. His net worth was given as $3.3bn. Although he was already running very successful businesses, Dangote flourished through his close relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Dangote garnered lucrative concessions and contracts. In 2007, the incoming government of President Umaru Yar’Adua reversed Obasanjo’s last-minute sale of two state-owned oil refineries to a combination of Dangote’s interests and those of Femi Otedola’s Zenon, since when he has concentrated more on expanding his cement business. Until then, Otedola and Dangote had been on good terms but fell out during bidding for Chevron Nigeria’s fuel marketing business. The disagreement centred on who was responsible for a fall in the share price of AP, a company Otedola controls. Dangote sued Otedola for N2bn, alleging libel, but reconciliation is in the air. Although Dangote remains the subject of a senate inquiry, he has been absolved by the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the country’s stock market watchdog. In August this year, Dangote was elected 17th president of the NSE. The vote was unanimous, the first time such a clear result has ever been achieved in the history of the exchange.

Femi Otedola?
Chairman of African Petroleum and Zenon Petroleum and Gas

In March, with a net worth of $1.2bn, Otedola became the second Nigerian to make Forbes annual list of the world’s billionaires. The son of a former Lagos state governor, Otedola launched Zenon to import diesel in 1999, selling to manufacturers and industries needing sources of power other than the only intermittent electricity grid’s supply. In 2008, he used a majority stake in publicly-traded African Petroleum (AP) to be appointed chief executive of the company and its retail network of over 500 filling and service stations. The resulting valuation made it possible for him to feature on the Forbes list. An ensuing feud between Otedola and billionaire Aliko Dangote, an earlier entrant on the Forbes list, had Otedola accusing his former friend of manipulating a fall in AP’s share prices. AP has had other troubles: in July, it was described as ‘unable to pay its debts’ by its bankers who asked that it be ‘wound up’. Otedola countered that the failure to pay the $35m in dispute was due to the banks’ request that it be paid in dollars, not in naira. Attempts at reconciliation appear now to have succeeded, both with the bankers and Dangote. While it is likely that AP’s bumpy ride could have caused Otedola to fall below billionaire status, he still owns (the privately-held) Zenon, which is Nigeria’s leading importer of the diesel that keeps many millions of industrial and domestic generators pulsing, and its massive transport fleets moving on the roads.

Ladi Balogun
Managing director ?and CEO of FCMB

A scion of one of Nigeria’s leading business dynasties, Balogun is third of the four sons of the First City Monument Bank original founder, Otunba Subomi Balogun, who was for many years a titan in banking and business. Balogun worked as an investment banker at Morgan Grenfell in London and Citibank in New York. He left on study leave in 1998 and returned in 2000 with an MBA from Harvard. FCMB was one of the few family-owned banks to survive the consolidation exercise of 2005.

Emeka Onwuka
Managing director, Diamond Bank

On 10 January 2009, Onwuka rang the bell to signal the start of trading on the floor of the London Stock Exchange (LSE). On that day, Diamond Bank, the bank he joined in 1992 and has run since 2005, became the first Nigerian bank to be listed on the LSE. Several Nigerian banks quickly followed in a dash for the prestige and access to capital. The offer raised his bank $500m in new capital and established it as a leader in the middle tier of Nigerian banks.

Florence Seriki?
CEO Omatek Computers

Called the ‘African Bill Gates’ but more like Michael Dell, Seriki’s company was the first in Africa to locally assemble computer cases, speakers, keyboards and mice. In June 2008, 21 years after she founded it, Omatek became the first computer company to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. She was much helped by a federal government decision to purchase all IT equipment from domestic providers.

Dele Olojede
Founder and publisher of Next newspaper

Pulitzer Prize winning Olojede’s Next newspaper has become known for hard-hitting investigative journalism in less than a year of publication. Feeling journalism in Nigeria was characterised by bad writing, low and irregular pay, and appalling technical quality, Olojede wanted a paper that would operate differently. They picked 55 trainee journalists from 13,000 applicants to work for what is a digital news organisation and a newspaper. Based at a purpose-built complex in Lagos and employing the best talent available, Next came online in December 2008 and started to appear in its print version in January 2009. It has since been responsible for a string of exposés: it reported legislators in Nigeria have passed higher pay packages for themselves than exist for legislators in any country in the entire world, with members of the lower house earning more even than the US president. It was also the first newspaper to list the names (and amounts involved) of top Nigerian officials implicated in the Halliburton bribery case. Olojede joined Newsday as a summer intern in 1988 having left Nigeria the previous year when he received a $26,000 Ford Foundation Scholars’ grant to earn a master’s degree at New York’s Columbia University. He worked through Newsday’s foreign news department to become the paper’s correspondent in Johannesburg, covering the demise of apartheid and the victory of Nelson Mandela in South Africa’s first free election. Then, Olojede went to Beijing as China correspondent, returning to New York to take over as foreign editor. After a groundbreaking report on the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, Olojede was awarded a Pulitzer prize. After two decades away from Nigeria, Olojede and his journalist wife Amma Ogan, returned to launch a different type of news organisation, a decision which he says required a “leap of faith”.

Osaze Osifo?
CEO Travant Capital Partners, private equity firm in Lagos

Representing a new generation of private equity finance in Nigeria, Osifo founded Travant Capital. It raised over $100m for its first closing in May 2008, with plans to achieve a total fund size of $300m. Before starting Travant, Osifo was CEO of Ocean and Oil Holdings, then the holding company of Oando. While there, he organised the acquisition of a 60% stake in Agip Nigeria and his company’s secondary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Osifo had earlier moved to Nigeria from HSBC in London, where he helped arrange financing for Econet Nigeria’s successful bid for a GSM licence. Osifo has a BSc in engineering from the University of Lagos and masters’ degrees from the University of Warwick and the London Business School.

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