■ Why Buhari must listen to them
By Emeka Okoroanyanwu, Beifoh Osewele, CHIDI OBINECHE, Enyeribe Ejiogu, Cosmas Omegoh, OMONIYI SALAUDEEN, Olakunle Olafioye, Onyedika Agbedo
there are men and there are men. Some come with messianic instincts and proven mass of self- worth, while others fill in the gaps. They litter every landscape and tongue. They may be hard to find like picking hay in a hay stack. But visioners, purpose-driven men of power imbued with penetrating insight can find them. They come handy in times of crises. They take up space in times of challenges.
In 1898, after the outbreak of the Spanish – American war, Theodore Roosevelt organized the first US Volunteer Calvary (Rough Riders) that ultimately reversed the equation for US victory and catapulted him to the White House in 1901. Amidst the economic depression of the 30’s in the US, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not walk alone. He created the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) that took the chestnut out of the fire and fired up economic improvements.
All over the world, men use men to ride out the downtimes. Jesus envisioned a new kingdom, and his disciples drove the vision, even after his death. Martin Luther King, Jnr, envisioned a colour- blind society and his army of supporters worked in frenzy to force a more racially balanced world. In Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and other countries across South America that have faced economic recession, neo-liberal and Keynesian policies adopted have miserably failed to reverse the downslide. The fall of the Asian Tigers was largely because the governments were too slow to admit that their policies were flawed and possibly take the plunge in creating new models and approaches (even if homegrown). Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s prime minister played out the ostrich while alarm bells were sounding.
Suggestions and criticisms were pedantically outlawed, sometimes quite forcefully. In Thailand, the research boss of a foreign bank who had issued a scathing economic report and the way forward was sent the severed head of a dog through the post. With listening ears stuffed tightly, a reversal of the crash became an ordeal. In Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala, Aliko Dangote, are the triumph of economic statesmanship. In the dizzying world of economics and business, they make things happen. They talk and the world listens. In Tony Elumelu, Orji Uzor Kalu, Akinwumi Adesina, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, and Charles Soludo, they have the weapons of charm. They are hotshots who manipulate and waltz through the minds of men through charisma, persuasive words and a smooth and friendly voice. Some charmers have personalities that intimidate; they manipulate people and events with threatening glares or destructive words. Not these men. We have men like Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar, Umar Mutallab who are bold and fearless about asserting their principles; who in their own rights are embodiments of the skill to manipulate decision making processes behind the scenes, dispense favours and largesse, build coalitions and cut backroom deals. These leaders don’t wield the power of leadership. The power of leadership wields them. They do not wind up in the corner office, perhaps whining or at the head of a parade or on the platform in front of cheering crowds. Their power comes from the grey matter in their heads, the mass of healthy net worth, the value of their reach. And the world throbs with them. Intrinsic in their overall bogey value are the never-say-die spirit and a flowering bond with the vast majority of the people. They have the stimulus of the good shepherd, and the mental toughness to ride the storm.
It was the bold commitment to vision and steadiness of purpose in former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher that pushed her into admonishing a wavering George Bush after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to sit up because “this is no time to go wobbly.” Together they confronted the storm, won the war and liberated the people of Kuwait.
Deployment of the finest men and materials can create the finest moment in a defined, refined and reinvigorated economic Eldorado. And the result will resonate in history. In the words of Martin Luther King Jnr, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
Without a doubt, former vice president Atiku Abubakar is a political colossus whose voice cannot be ignored in any national discourse, especially as it relates to Nigeria’s socio-economic life.
His foray into politics began in the early 1980s, when he met Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, during the military regime, when General Olusegun Obasanjo was the Head of State, between 1976 and 1979.
After his retirement as Customs director in April 1989, he took a full plunge into business and politics. He ran for the governorship of the then Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba States) in 1991, and for the Presidency in 1993, placing third after MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) primaries.
At the advent of the present democratic dispensation, he served as the second elected vice-president of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with ex-president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Atiku’s story is particularly more intriguing, on the business front. He started out in the real estate business with a N31,000 loan he obtained in 1974 to build his first house in Yola, which he put up for rent. From the proceeds of the rent, he built a sizeable portfolio of property in Yola, the Adamawa State capital.
He ran into immense wealth when an Italian businessman in Nigeria, Gabrielle Volpi, told him to set up Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES), a logistics company operating within the ports. Since then, his sprawling business empire has continued to grow in leaps and bounds. Among other things, he is a co-founder of Intels, an oil servicing business with extensive operations in Nigeria and abroad. He is also the founder of Adama Beverages Limited and the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, which is renowned for its active involvement in human capacity building. He also owns an animal feed production company.
He has often been criticized for his involvement in NICOTES, while he was a serving Customs officer with supervisory authority. However, Atiku has defended the decision, saying his involvement was limited to the ownership of shares (which is permitted by government rules), and he was not involved in the day-to-day running of the business. NICOTES would later be re-branded as INTELS.
Other critics have also scored him low on his supervisory role in the sale of several poorly managed public enterprises by the National Council on Privatization, which he presided over as vice president. In spite of this, Atiku’s contributions to the growth of the Nigerian economy cannot be quantified. Besides being one of the largest employers of labour, some of his firms remain a steady source of foreign exchange earning for the country.
Atiku Abubakar was sworn in as vice president of Nigeria on May 29, 1999. He has been given credit for attracting several technocrats, including Malam Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna State governor) and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Those technocrats helped to shape and implement the economic policies of the Obasanjo administration. Against this background, the present government would no doubt benefit from his immense experience as a successful businessman, if carried along in policy formulation.
Dr Akinwumi Adesina:
Akinwumi Adesina is the current President, Africa Development Bank. It is very significant that he was nominated for the position by President Muhammadu Buhari on account of his outstanding performance as minister of agriculture and rural development in the administration of his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
For the innovation he brought into the agricultural sector, Adesina was named Forbes African Man of the Year. This followed the transparency he introduced to the fertiliser supply chain.
Since he began his tenure of office on September 1, 2015, as ADB president, Adesina has further proved his mettle by introducing an African growth strategy based on energy, agriculture, industrialization, regional integration, with sole aim of improving the lives of Africans, which has been approved by the Board of Executive Directors of the development bank. Prior to his appointment, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon had selected Dr. Adesina as one of the 17 global leaders helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
With his work experience traversing diverse spheres, including development finance, agriculture, rural economy, public policy, research, investments, resource mobilization, and public-private partnerships, Adesina, therefore, represents a repository of knowledge which the Nigerian government can easily tap into for policy formulation, especially the diversification policy of the present administration.
More than ever before, the agricultural sector is critical to Nigeria’s economy, if the diversification drive of the Buhari administration is to achieve the desired result. Having lived and worked in 15 African countries – including 10 years in francophone nations with a track record of executing bold and innovative ideas that have positively transformed the lives of millions across Africa, Nigeria would no doubt benefit immensely from his skills and vast experience to transform the economic landscape of this country through agricultural revolution.
By engaging him in policy formulation, Adesina could lead the drive for economic diversification by designing and implementing programmes that would unleash a fresh wave of inclusive growth for the economy. He had done it before and he can still do it. While in government, Adesina had successfully changed the perception of agriculture in Nigeria from that of subsistence to “Agriculture as a Business”, an approach that attracted $5.6 billion in private sector investment commitments. He also led financing initiatives to support youth engagement in agriculture as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Under his leadership, Nigeria’s food production expanded by 21 million metric tonnes, surpassing the 20 million metric tonnes target set out at the start of his tenure.
With the same level of support, more could certainly be achieved by the present government. Already, Adesina has facilitated a loan of $1 billion from the Africa Development Bank to the Nigerian government to overcome the slump in government revenue caused by decline in international market price of crude oil. According to him, Nigeria could borrow up to $4 billion in the next two years, adding that ADB would soon approve the proposal.
The belief of many stakeholders is that, if Adesina is effectively engaged by the present government, Nigeria would soon walk out of the recession, using agriculture as a leeway.
A Nigerian trained economist, Mr. Tony Elumelu is a quintessential banker, visionary entrepreneur and philanthropist whose varied and broad experience in the corporate world could be tapped into as the country continues to search for measures to rescue the economy from recession. An alumnus of the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Programme, Elumelu is the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, a privately held investment firm, and Nigeria’s largest quoted conglomerate, Transcorp. He is also the Chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Elumelu’s distinction as an economic guru and entrepreneur began to manifest when he extensively used information communication technology to build the defunct Standard Trust Bank into one of the top five players in Nigeria’s banking industry. The bank later merged with UBA in 2005 in a deal that was considered as the largest merger in the banking sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. Within five years, Elumelu transformed UBA from being a Nigerian bank into a pan-African financial institution with presence in 19 African countries.
He retired from UBA in 2010 and founded Heirs Holdings, which invests in the financial services, energy, real estate and hospitality, agribusiness and healthcare sectors. In the same year, he established the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an Africa-based and African-funded philanthropic organisation. The Foundation is dedicated to the promotion of excellence in business leadership and entrepreneurship. The Foundation also seeks to enhance the competitiveness of the private sector across Africa and has seeded $100 million to champion entrepreneurship across Africa over the next 10 years through the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.
Listed in 2011 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Africa by New African magazine, and as one of “Africa’s 20 Most Powerful People in 2012” by Forbes magazine, Elumelu has the capacity to attract foreign investors that can jump-start the economy from recession. Besides, he invests heavily across Africa and would expectedly be interested to invest even more in Nigeria, where he has been awarded the national honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), even under the present economic circumstance. His philosophy of Africapitalism – the belief that the private sector can lead Africa’s economic renaissance and that investment should create both economic prosperity and social wealth – makes this even more plausible.
A former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi is reputed for his prudence and frugality in the management of the state’s resources while in office. A banker of no mean repute and go-getter, Obi had played very active roles in the Nigerian financial services sector before delving into politics. He was chairman of Fidelity Bank Plc and had prior to that held several executive positions in blue chip companies in Nigeria.
Throughout his two terms of eight years as governor of Anambra State from March 2006 to March 2014, Obi, a technocrat and an alumnus of Harvard Business School and London School of Economics and Political Science, maintained the frugal lifestyle and left office without borrowing a kobo amid solid achievements. In fact, he left N75 billion in (cash and stocks) in the coffers of the state at the end of his tenure. Recently at The Platform, an annual event packaged by the Covenant Christian Centre to mark the country’s independence anniversary, Obi recalled the feat and gave details of how he was able to achieve it.
Some of the cost-cutting measures he listed to have initiated include jettisoning the unconstitutional office of the First Lady, visiting people by himself if the need arose instead of inviting them to the government house; drastic reduction in the number of cars in the governor’s convoy and ensuring the cars were fueled only in his presence; travelling with few personal aides or alone to Abuja and even abroad; and flying in the Economy instead of Business class of airlines when travelling, among many others.
Although many have argued that he was more of a businessman than a politician while in office, the fact remains that his prudence paid off as Anambra was able to meet its obligations to its people in terms of regular payments of salaries and allowances of both serving and retired civil servants, creation of employment opportunities for indigenes and investments in infrastructure.
Therefore, at this time when the economy is experiencing recession, and requires urgent stimulation, Obi might just have a blueprint on how to curb bureaucratic corruption and waste, and ensure that every kobo of public fund counts, and is used to deliver real value to Nigerians.
Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi:
“I’m a friend of this administration but if they decide to run Nigeria aground, I will become the opposition.” That’s Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Emir of Kano and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Brash. Forthright. Controversial. Indeed, he means different things to different persons. While some see him as a rebel with a cause, others see him as a mere irritant or attention seeker who enjoys playing to the gallery. But one thing is certain: SLS, as he is fondly called, cannot be ignored. Moreso, as he can always be trusted to speak his mind without mincing words.
Son of Muhammad Lamido Sanusi, career diplomat and technocrat that served as the Nigerian ambassador to Belgium, China and Canada and permanent secretary of Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he is a thoroughbred financial expert with deep insight and understanding of Nigeria’s economy.
Recently, he took on the Buhari-led government and lambasted its economic policy, especially foreign exchange management. That was even before the Federal Government formally announced that the nation had slipped into technical recession.
“There is nothing happening today that we didn’t forecast years ago because all actions have consequences,” he said.
“We created billionaires from oil subsidies in the past. We are making the same mistake with forex subsidies. As an Emir, I can seat in my garden and make phone calls to access $10 million at N197 per dollar and then sell it off at nothing less than N300. With just a phone call, I’m making a profit of over one billion naira. That is what people are doing now.
“Any system that allows you sit in your garden and make a billion naira without investing a kobo is a wrong system. We created the recession we are in now and I hope the President won’t make the mistakes Jonathan made,” the Emir said.
He also waged a relentless war against fuel subsidy. Before then, as CBN governor and an insider in government, he openly talked about problems in the economy when he alleged missing government funds.
Appointed as helmsman of the apex bank on June 3, 2009 for a five-year term, he was relieved of his duty by President Goodluck Jonathan on February 20, 2014.
Sanusi believed he was fired from the CBN because he went public with charges that $20 billion was missing from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) under Diezani Alison-Madueke’s management. But Alison-Madueke said Sanusi made the allegations to settle scores after she refused to help him secure the presidency of the African Development Bank (AfDB).
It is also on record that as CBN governor, he introduced stricter controls in the banking sector. He plunged into the task not minding the blackmail, insults, accusation and threats.
The extensive reform dubbed by some, as the “Sanusi tsunami” is believed to have put the sector on a sound footing and restored customers’ confidence. Analysts said it saved 24 banks on the brink of collapse.
For that effort, The Banker magazine recognised him as the Central Bank Governor of the Year 2010.
However, some believe he had a personal vendetta against some of the bank chief executives while others point to proof of mismanagement of funds by some of them.
Before his appointment by former president Umaru Yar’Adua, Sanusi was the group managing director/chief executive officer of First Bank Plc, Nigeria’s oldest bank. Prior to becoming the CEO, he was the executive director, Risk and Management Control.
With his pedigree, if the government desires credible advice on how to pull the economy out of the present precarious state, his advice can be trusted.
Prof Chukwuma Soludo
Professor Chukwuma Soludo, politician, academician and first-class economist, has this reputation for fashioning homegrown, turnaround strategies. A star-like scholar with far-reaching contacts, he was appointed in 2003 to strengthen the economic team of former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, whom he served as chief economic adviser, doubling as the chief executive of the National Planning Commission.
With three straight degrees in Economics from University of Nigeria Nsukka, (UNN), specialising in macroeconomics, Prof Soludo is a man of academic excellence who won prizes as the best graduating student, from his first degree all the way to his doctorate.
He earned a deserved professorial cap at his alma mater before going to prove his worth in gold, by becoming a visiting scholar at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and visiting professor at the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford; he also taught at the University of Warwick, UK and Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA. An author, he has consulted for the World Bank, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the United Nations Development Programme.
On May 29, 2004, Prof Soludo was appointed governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria where he engineered some revolutionary policies that earned him the alias, “generalissimo.”
His New Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) policies 1 and 2, were intended to stimulate growth, create employment and alleviate poverty. As part of his currency reform, he pushed for the re-denomination of the Naira, focusing at re-valuing the currency by one decimal place backwards to fight inflation and engender the use of coins but this was rejected.
Prof Soludo was the progenitor of the 2005 banking reform that totally reshaped the sector, forcing all commercial banks to increase their minimum share capital to N25billion. Termed the “Soludo Solution,” it ushered in mergers, consolidation and liquidation of banks, leading to loss of investments and thousands of jobs. His tenure saw to the printing of the Naira polymer notes currently in circulation, an exercise tainted by allegations of corruption.
He believes that the country’s current woes are “self-inflicted,” and, therefore, advocates a “restructuring of the economy from consumption-driven to production-based and consistency in micro-economic policies.” In spite of his shortcomings, he consistently underlines the imperative that he is a man to be listened to.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala:
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not new to Nigerians. She was a two-time minister of Finance, minister of Foreign Affairs and co-ordinating minister for the Economy, first under former president Olusegun Obasanjo and later former president Goodluck Jonathan.
Okonjo-Iweala is remembered by many Nigerians for introducing fiscal discipline to the nation’s finances.
Her trademark headgear, which she popularised among Nigerian women, coupled with her credentials gave her diminutive stature an imposing presence that always made her stand out. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is one Nigerian many think can help President Muhammadu Buhari steer the country out of the present economic recession.
Her credentials speak volumes about her capabilities. She is experienced, knowledgeable, patriotic and transparent; virtues that have endeared her to both local and international financial experts and organisations. Many point to her international exposure as a one-time managing director of the World Bank as a key advantage, which could be exploited positively to secure needed finances to re-float the economy.
Ngozi’s international clout is not in doubt as she maintains very close relationship with the movers and shakers of world economy. Her international connection was put to use in 2005 when as finance minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo she arranged the cancellation of US$18 billion of Nigeria’s debt to the Paris Club, a group of creditor nations. The remaining $12 billion debt was paid the following year (2006) with money saved in budget reforms she initiated. About $30 billion of Nigeria’s debts were wiped out under her watch then.
At the same time, she attacked corruption and accelerated privatization and liberalization of the economy. She equally initiated efforts to improve Nigeria’s macroeconomic management. On her watch, Nigeria’s inflation rate crashed to more than half, bringing it to a commendable single digit.
One area that Dr Okonjo-Iweala carved her name in gold was the establishment of the Excess Crude Account by which the country was able to withstand the early shocks of global crude oil crash. She initiated policies to save part of Nigeria’s oil revenue for the rainy day with the creation of the account, which assisted in reducing macroeconomic volatility. This, however, brought her into direct collision with politicians, especially state governors who took the Federal Government to court over the policy. It was only when they were allowed to share the funds that her traducers backed off.
She also introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria in the newspapers. This action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance. With the support of the World Bank and the IMF, she helped build an electronic financial management platform – the Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System (GIFMIS), under which the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) were created, thus helping to curtail corruption in the process. As at December 31, 2014, the IPPIS platform was recorded to have eliminated 62,893 ghost workers from the system and saved the Nigerian government about $1.25 billion in the process. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was also instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s in 2006.
Before coming home to serve as a minister in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala had spent the first 21 years of her career as a development economist at the World Bank and later became the managing director in 2007. As the managing director, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. She spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008-2009 food crisis and later during the financial crisis. In 2010, she was chair of the International Development Association (IDA) replenishment – the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.
Okonjo-Iweala’s legacies under President Goodluck Jonathan include strengthening Nigeria’s public financial systems, stimulating the housing sector with the establishment of the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC). She also empowered Nigeria’s women and youths with the youth programme tagged, YouWIN, a highly acclaimed programme to support entrepreneurs that created thousands of jobs.
The programme was evaluated by the World Bank as one of the most effective programmes of its kind globally. Under her leadership, the National Bureau of Statistics carried out a rebasing of the Nigerian economy, the first in 24 years, which saw Nigeria emerge as the largest economy in Africa.
However, critics of Dr Okonjo-Iweala had pointed to her not doing much while politicians looted the nation’s treasury under the Jonathan administration. They said for seeing nothing and doing nothing, she should be blamed for the monumental corruption recorded during that administration, and for this reason, many are of the opinion that she should not be allowed back in government. This view, however, does not remove the fact that Okonjo-Iweala is a first class economist, highly respected and an influential global leader, policy maker and deep thinker on finance and economic development. For five consecutive years, Okonjo-Iweala has been listed by Forbes magazine as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World and one of the 50 Greatest World Leaders by Fortune.
Born in 1954, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala studied economics at Harvard University, United States of America, graduating with a first class degree and later earned a PhD in regional economics and development from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1981. She received an international fellowship from American Association of University.
Alhaji Aliko Dangote:
Alhaji Aliko Dangote, founder and chairman, Dangote Group and Africa’s richest man is a businessman with unparallel business sagacity. From his humble beginning in 1977 when he made his foray into the world business, the scion of famed Dantata family has risen to the apogee in the business world where he has not only successfully built one of the most thriving business conglomerate on the African continent, but also has continued to remain a metaphor of business success.
Dangote group is today a multi-trillion naira business conglomerate with interests in several areas including food processing, cement manufacturing and freight. Dangote Group owns salt factories and flour mills and is a major importer of rice, fish, pasta, cement and fertiliser. The company also exports cotton, cashew nuts, cocoa, sesame seed and ginger to several countries. It also has major investments in real estate, banking, transport, textiles and oil and gas.
Dangote is bringing massive hope of relief to Nigeria with the Dangote Lekki Refinery, a private sector investment after years of government’s inability to build modern refineries as solution to the perennial fuel scarcity in the country. His latest addition, refining business, though seen by some as an audacious business move in view of government’s inability to effectively and efficiently manage the nations refineries, many analysts are of the opinion that the Kano-born businessman is poised, going by this bold initiative, to correct the erroneous impression that the fortune of most of the nation’s ailing parastatals cannot be revived and repositioned for efficiency. This conviction has continued to fuel the calls that the current administration must seek and welcome input from him on the possible ways of getting Nigeria out of economic recession.
An investor with Midas touch, Dangote has demonstrated his shrewd managerial acumen with his chain of thriving investments across the African continent with over 26,000 employees on his payroll. He is seen by many as one of few Nigerians who possess the magic wand to lead the nation on the path of massive job creation for the teeming unemployed population.
His recent suggestion to the Federal Government on the option of selling some national assets to finance the 2016 budget, although sparked criticisms from many who considered the suggestion unworthy, Dangote, indeed, needs nothing else to prove to underscore the fact that as an astute manager of both human and material resources, he has the requisite knowledge to bail Nigeria out of recession. This incontrovertible fact has made Dangote a major talking point as far as discussion on the nation’s economy is concerned in the recent weeks and not a few analyst has expressed the view that Dangote remains a major voice that must be listened to if Nigeria is to make a quick getaway out of the current recession.
Dr Orji Uzor Kalu
He is an affable, suave, savvy, strategic thinker with a pragmatic approach to problems. So it is no surprise that years ago, he got dubbed as the Master Strategist, in a book with the same title written by Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe, the pioneer managing director and deputy managing director of The Sun Publishing Limited, respectively, in the run-up to the 2003 general election, when he sought a second term as the governor of Abia State.
Orji Uzor Kalu, known more to friends and associates by the initials OUK, elicits a mixture of awe, acclaim, respect and disdain, but this depends on who is talking about him at the material time. The sweet thing is that the number of people who hold him in high esteem is a million compared to the few tens that circle his name with the word ‘disdain.’
The man who in November 2015, was listed as the 49th richest person in Africa by Forbes with an estimated worth of $330 million had a very humble beginning. Born on April 21, 1960, OUK is the chairman of SLOK Holdings, a corporate octopus with tentacles in publishing, aviation, shipping, oil and gas, energy and trading. His operational corporate entities include Ojialex Furniture Company, SLOK Nigeria Limited, SLOK United Kingdom Limited, Adamawa Publishers Limited, SLOK Vegetable Oil, Aba, SLOK Paper Factory, Aba, SLOK United States Incorporated, SLOK subsidiaries in Ghana, Togo, Cotonou, Guinea, South Africa, Liberia, Botswana and SLOK Korea, Supreme Oil Limited, SLOK Airlines, The Sun Publishing Limited, Daily Telegraph Publishing Company Limited and First International Bank Limited, Gambia. In this age of digital telephony, he has planted a footprint on the GSM landscape with SLOK mobile phone.
Between May 29, 1999 and May 29, 2007, OUK served as the governor of Abia State, Nigeria. Much earlier he had been the chairman of the Borno Water Board and the chairman of Cooperative and Commerce Bank Limited at different times. In the heat of the alleged Third Term Agenda of then president Olusegun Obasanjo, OUK was forced out of the Peoples Democratic Party. This well-known perfidy of the ex-president drove OUK to collaborate with like minds to register the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), which provided him a platform to run for president in the April 2007 general election.
Notwithstanding the electoral success that saw him become the Abia State governor in 1999 and win re-election in 2003, critics believe that politics is not OUK’s forte. They argue that he would have done a whole lot better and attained even more successes if he had focused on the business terrain which he understands like the back of his hand. They say that he operates in the business environment with a Midas touch as easily as fish swims in water – its natural habitat.
However, his numerous admirers hold the contrary view that OUK’s political strategy that won him the governorship in the first place was clear evidence of his being skillful in political manoeuvring as he was able to rout the formidable opposition, which swore that over their dead political bodies would “the boy from Igbere” get to government house, Umuahia. Well, they bit the dust and OUK coasted home to victory.
A man imbued with entrepreneurial skills, OUK began the hard, dogged fight to build the successful conglomerate atop which he sits today after he was rusticated from the University of Maiduguri as a student union leader, during the tenure of Senator Jibril Aminu, a professor of Medicine, as the vice chancellor. Though he was later granted pardon by Aminu and urged to return to the institution, the bug of business had bitten him real hard, and he had gone too far and successful to reverse the hand of the clock. So he continued in the forward drive to build his business enterprise that was later incorporated as SLOK Holdings into a highly respected corporate entity with a global reach and respected by foreign governments, multinational companies and international financial institutions.
As astute investor who is very passionate about Nigeria’s economic growth, he has consistently used his global connections to attract investors to the oil and gas as well as the power subsectors of the country. And still rearing to do more. He has the ears of government leaders across West Africa, the United States, Europe and Asia, where he has thriving investments in banking, aviation and trading.
With his wide reach and easy access to notable personalities across the globe, OUK, can do so much to help the Muhammadu Buhari administration realise the economic goals of the government. With a degree from Abia State University, a Certificate in Business Administration from Harvard University and honorary doctorates from the universities of Maiduguri and Abia State he is easily a role model whose sense of enterprise the next generation can emulate. His advice would be useful to the government.
Dr. Umaru Mutallab
Dr. Umaru Mutallab is one of Nigeria’s old warhorses whose rich profile both in public service and private business has continued to resonate in the consciousness of concerned Nigerians desirous of true and positive change in the country.
Dr. Mutallab, a former federal commissioner of economic development in 1975, parades a robust résumé in Nigeria’s banking industry where he served for two decades (first as Vice chairman of United Bank of Africa, 1978-1988; and later chairman, First Bank of Nigeria, 1999-2009). This consideration, many economic analysts have argued, put the Katsina State born banker in good stead to provide the managers of the nation’s economy with information that may help to steer the ship of the Nigeria’s economy from the tempest of recession.
His vast experience in the nation’s public service where he served in several government parastatals including the defunct National Electric Power Authority, NEPA; Nigeria Agriculture and Cooperative Bank Limited, Nigerian Communication Commission; Nigeria Agip Oil and Cement Company of Northern Nigeria as well as Arewa Textile Limited, only gives further impetus to the argument about the suitability of this businessman of high repute for this onerous task.
Although critics, particularly those averse to the involvement of senior citizens in the affairs of the nation may be quick to dismiss the call for the input of this 76-year-old banker in a bid to take the country out of recession, Dr. Mutallab, others insist, is the proverbial old broom which, unlike the new broom that sweeps the house clean, knows the corner of the house.