A sudden political change occurred recently when an international businessman, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa emerged the new South African President. He has impacted positively on the life of his people through Shanduka Group, a company he founded with investments in the energy sector, real estate, banking, insurance, and telecoms (SEACOM). He is also chairman of Bidvest Group and MTN among others. He is one of South Africa’s richest men with an estimated wealth of over $550 million.
I am a believer in individuals who have invested and deployed their skills in wealth creation than wealth sharing. Public office can also be run as a serious business for stability and profitability in serving the interest of the stakeholders and the public. Nigeria has distinguished citizens like Ramaphosa of South Africa, who have deployed their businesses for wealth and job creation; promote and unite the citizens, and improve the economy without being in politics or in government.
Nigeria’s current political atmosphere is undoubtedly charged after a bombshell letter from former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari asking the latter not to recontest election in 2019. Obasanjo recommended a ‘Coalition’ for Nigeria to rescue the country from its present political and economic brouhaha. The Third-Force, according to Obasanjo should be “a movement to break new ground in building a united country, a socially cohesive and moderately prosperous society with equity, equality of opportunity, justice and a dynamic and progressive economy that is self-reliant and takes an active part in the global division of labour and international decision-making.”
The tension-soaked letter has elicited diverse debates with series of meetings being held, alliances formed, apart from several alignments and realignments which have even caused President Buhari to hurriedly constitute a Presidential Reconciliatory Committee for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), headed by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. As I write, there is a head-on collision between Tinubu and his party chairman Odigie Oyegun.
In this intense period, some are mooting the idea of encouraging non-partisan, business savvy individuals who have demonstrated leadership qualities and touched the lives of many Nigerians from their private ventures to vie for top electoral offices.
In Nigeria, we had the likes of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola, a successful businessman who was elected the country’s President in 1993 but the election was annulled by the military junta. Meanwhile in contemporary Nigerian history, the likely name synonymous with that of Chief Abiola in terms of stupendous wealth, philanthropy, international networks, political connections and iconic brand is Aliko Dangote. While Abiola was considered the richest Nigerian of his time before he died in custody in 1998, Aliko Dangote is currently not only the richest African but one of the richest men in the world.
MKO Abiola was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State on August 24, 1937. He acquired entrepreneurial talents at a tender age when he sold firewood every morning before attending classes in primary school. As a teenager and talented music player, he performed at private parties in exchange for food and earned some monies in sponsoring himself to secondary school. At Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta where he was the Editor of the school magazine, young Olusegun Obasanjo was his Deputy Editor.
Aliko Dangote was born on 10 April 1957 into a wealthy family. He is the great-grandson of Alhassan Dantata, the richest African at the time of his death in 1955. When he was in primary school, Dangote collected cartons of sweets [candy] on loan and sold them just to make money. Dangote was educated at the Sheikh Ali Kumasi Madrasa and Capital High School, Kano.
After a stint with a financial institution in Nigeria, MKO Abiola attended Glasgow University and obtained a first class degree in Accountancy. He joined some institutions in the public and private sectors before he became vice-president, ITT Corporation, a giant telecommunication firm. He had personal investments in farming, bookshops, radio communications, bakeries, publishing, airlines business, oil exploration, banking, sports amongst others.
On his side, Dangote obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Studies and Administration from Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt. After his graduation, he worked for his uncle, Abdulkadir Sanusi Dantata, from whom he borrowed money to start commodity trading, cement and building materials import business in Kano in 1977. Gradually, he expanded the business and relocated to Lagos, where he began importing cars and cement needed for Nigeria’s economic expansion. He has diversified into various economic sectors producing food, building materials, household items among others with factories scattered mostly in southern parts of the country than the North where he comes from.
Abiola’s immeasurable generosity had earned him numerous titles and awards for philanthropic activities that were felt in schools, worship centres, cultural events, community developments and supports for the less privileged in the society. His philanthropism cuts across the diverse ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, apart from receiving one of the highest awards of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), Dangote has bagged several local and international awards for philanthropy and entrepreneurship. Through the Dangote Foundation, he contributes millions of dollars annually to medical advancements, educational endowments, humanitarian gestures among others across all geopolitical zones in the country.
On the political front, Abiola’s attempts to vie for political office were thwarted in the late 70s and early 80s when he was betrayed by associates. He was reported to have withdrawn into his shell and faced his business after a powerful Shagari minister, Umaru Dikko told him point-blank that the presidential ticket of the then ruling party was not for sale.
In the same vein and probably for the fear of betrayal at last hour, Dangote has ruled out the possibility of joining partisan politics. In an interview with Bloomberg, he declared that he is not cut out for politics but values his freedom and business. He said: “I’m not interested in active politics… the little freedom I have, politics would take away. I am not ready to give that up. There are businessmen who are interested in politics. I’m not one of them.”
Meanwhile, after shunning partisan politics for about a decade, Abiola was cajoled to contest for the presidency in 1992 in an election organised by the administration of President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB). After accepting the nomination, MKO Abiola was eventually elected President of Nigeria on June 12, 1993. His election was influenced by his brilliant “Hope 93 Farewell to Poverty” Campaign, and his record of service to humanity across the ethnic, tribal and religious divide and through his huge investment in the economy. He even defeated his opponent, Bashir Tofa in his home state, Kano. The annulment of that election by IBB was one of the genesis of subsequent political and economic crises in Nigeria.
Since Dangote has denied any interest in electoral office at a period when most political parties and politicians have outlived their usefulness, what should be the way out? Can we commence a search for an illustrious Nigerian, untiring philanthropist, quintessential business mogul, conscientious and detribalised personality to salvage the country in 2019 through a Third-Force? Is there any alternative in sight among those that haven’t served in the political offices?
–Shuaib is the author, An Encounter with the Spymaster.
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