… there is Aliko Dangote – a man who has created more wealth, expanded more economic spaces, pushed more entrepreneurial envelopes and cumulatively through his inescapable brands, touched more Nigerian lives directly than any one single individual in the country.
If there is any one Nigerian who has been decorated extensively in the country and across the globe, it certainly has to be Aliko Dangote, the first non-politician or soldier to have achieved the nation’s high honour as Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger.
Since Forbes named him the richest man in Africa in 2011, and with the subsequent captivation that Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has directed his way, it is impossible to ignore or escape the vast influence and impact that Dangote has had on his country. Hence, our reluctance to fall into a cliché and announce him as the winner of this distinguished honour.
Added to this, we were priviledged to find many strong contenders this year. Obiageli Ezekwesili has established herself as a rare role model in a country which leaders are defined by the extent of either their corruption or their influence in government, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has gone farther as a Nigerian professional internationally than any of her compatriots, and Tunde Bakare’s bully pulpit over the past year has been crucial in giving focus to the opposition.
The younger people have also been impressive – Omoyemi Akerele is almost single-handedly holding up the Nigerian fashion industry globally, Davido is leading for music even as he is barely 20, and the duo of D’banj and Don Jazzy are building competing but ultimately mutually beneficial visions of the Nigerian entertainment industry, and The Nigerian impressing us soon after our clarion call in our last editorial of 2011 with the explosion of patriotism and social action in January of this year and after.
But, then there is Aliko Dangote – a man who has created more wealth, expanded more economic spaces, pushed more entrepreneurial envelopes and cumulatively through his inescapable brands, touched more Nigerian lives directly than any one single individual in the country.
With a knack for seeing opportunity that appears to be invisible to others, in the past year, the two-time top of the Forbes’ African Billionaire list has made a fortune trading in sugar (Dangote Sugar Refinery owns more than 70% market share and is the continent’s largest refinery), salt, flour and cement. The bulk of that wealth has come from the visionary Dangote Cement, which now operates in 14 countries in Africa.
He has also proven his business savvy in real estate, textiles, transportation, and oil and gas, employing over 12,000 in his businesses and solidifying a position as the sub-region’s largest employer of labour and its biggest industrial conglomerate.
But we don’t just select the 55-year-old genius because of what he has accumulated, not least of which his last estimated worth of $12 billion – we select him because of how he has done it, who he is, and what he has come to symbolise.
We select him because of his vision, and because of his character.
For one, in an environment where contemporaries have focused on gaming the easy, inchoate system, Dangote has distinguished himself by the identifying of opportunity where no one else is really looking. A made-in-Nigeria entrepreneur we can proudly hold up to Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, he has proven the imagination and creativity that would prove the mettle of any iconic entrepreneur across the world.
Added to this relentless, razor-sharp focus on creating wealth and expanding opportunities, we find ourselves also impressed to no small measure by his aversion to filth.
Indeed, in a nation where stories of wealth and success are often mixed up with graft and deception, we marvel at Dangote’s singular capacity to avoid scandal, corruption, or illegality. In him, we see a man who has no use for roguery, no space for blemish, and no propensity for the lavish, obscene, mostly offensive, displays that characterise his billionaire peers.
He might have been uniquely placed by pedigree and politics, but here is a man whose wealth can be traced, whose books appear to have been interrogated, whose story – despite his lack of the ability to rouse a room with speech – can inspire.
All of this underlined by a remarkable disinterest in vain-glory – demonstrated in his distinctly reluctant attempts over the past year to assume the table that the Forbes reveal has placed before him, in that process transforming him from a place of national impact, to one of global significance.
Of course, we are aware of course that an aversion for the spotlight is not of itself a virtue, but in a clime when it is rare and where those whose wealth is lucre and whose resources are slothful have no hesitation in blowing their trumpets, it most certainly makes for an appealing definition of character.
The president of the Dangote Group has his string of what some might call flaws, of that there is no doubt – a disinterest in active citizenship and a reluctant investment in social and philanthropic causes being one, but as far as iconic entrepreneurs go, none of this is out of character – not in the continent, and not globally.
And they are, after all is said and done, altogether irrelevant to the course of wealth and opportunities for which he has dedicated his life. Some have chosen to change the world, others (like Dangote reluctant to fight the system) to do the best with what they find in that same world. The one thing we request of both is that they do what they have chosen well.
Speaking earlier this month as his boss was announced the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Knut Ulvmoen, the Dangote Group group managing director for cement operations was perhaps trying to earn his pay, but his statement encapsulates perfectly why we overcame our initial reluctance to add this laurel to Dangote’s desk.
“No one else in the world has done what we have done in the last few years,” he said. “We have created jobs and more industries than anyone else. We have done a lot in Dangote but this is just the beginning. We are going to do more in fertiliser, petrochemicals, infrastructure building, and we will continue moving into Africa and also outside Africa. We want to show the world Africa can do it.”
The fact that we not only believe this, but indeed are looking forward to it, like many Nigerians, is the primary reason that we enthusiastically announce today, that Aliko Dangote is the very first person to be selected the YNaija Person of the Year.
He makes us proud to be Nigerian. He makes us so proud.
*There will be no award or ceremony for the YNaija Person of the Year 2012.
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