Between Dangote and Chamscity By Akin Osuntokun

Photo copyright Eric Miller / World Economic Forum 2008 Africa Summit, Cape Town, 3 - 6 June 2008 emiller@iafrica.com Aliko Dangonte
Photo copyright Eric Miller / World Economic Forum 2008
Africa Summit, Cape Town, 3 – 6 June 2008
emiller@iafrica.com
Aliko Dangonte

First the good news: “It was a little over four years ago, precisely on the 28th of July 2011, that we gathered here to witness the groundbreaking ceremony of this cement plant. I am excited that we are back here today in Maisaiti district, Ndola, this time to commission our new state-of-the-art integrated cement plant, with a capacity of 1.5 million metric tonnes per annum, along with a 30 megawatts of coal-fired plant. This is our sixth integrated cement plant outside Nigeria. The others are located in Senegal, Cameroun, Tanzania, South Africa and Ethiopia… it might interest you to know that only on the 4th of June, this year, and that is exactly two months ago, we also commissioned a 2.5million metric tonnes per annum cement plant in Mugher district in Ethiopia. We hope to commission three other cement plants in Senegal, Cameroun and Tanzania, before the end of this year.

“Though this is a significant milestone for us as a company, we are also excited by the fact that it is an African company that is spearheading this economic revolution in a sister African country. This shows that Africa is gradually taking its destiny in its own hands rather than continue to wait for investors from outside the continent, as has been the case in the past. We are strong advocates of ‘Africans investing in Africa,’ and we are for now, using the cement sector, which is a key indicator of the state of economic development on the continent, as our launch pad. In due course, we will consider investing in other key sectors of the African economy. We believe this is the only way that Africa can achieve the much desired double digit growth rates, which will enable us to catch up with the rest of the world.

Dangote Cement in Zambia and thirteen other African countries are all children of Dangote Cement Nigeria, the mother company. Dangote Cement Nigeria is herself a product of the progressive policies of the governments of Nigeria that not only encouraged but also created the enabling environment with incentives and when necessary, protection for Nigerians to manufacture essential products, especially those where Nigeria had comparative advantage like cement, in order to replace imports of same products.  As a result of these policies today, Dangote Industries Limited has helped Nigeria become not only self-sufficient, but indeed a net exporter of cement and by the time we complete our projects in agriculture and the petroleum sectors, we will also expect Nigeria to become not only self-sufficient but also a net exporter of rice, sugar and refined petroleum products. Over the next five years, our target is to expand installed cement manufacturing capacity in Africa outside Nigeria to 40 mtpa at par with Nigeria during the same period.”

And then the bad news: “A nation that kills its own. Today is a sad day for entrepreneurship\innovation as we close down the last of the 4 ChamsCities at Ikeja that got Nigeria into the Guinness book of records because my government could not protect Chams PLC from the onslaught of NIMC management on National ID. Shareholders’ N9.2billion wasted for pecuniary interests of converting a concession to contracts. May God help Nigeria, we tried, we begged, we did our best….Obasanjo gave us the National ID concession in May 2007 for us to implement using our own funds and issue cards to qualified Nigerians by 2009. Based on that we started implementation in 2007 by building the 4 ChamCities in Abuja, Lagos, Benin and Port Harcourt out of the scheduled 29 round the country. The ChamCities each had 1000 computers minimum so Nigerians can register for their National ID conveniently  as we had a 10-year concession. We also designed mini ChamCities for all Local governments. We also built Africa’s largest Card plant in Abuja to do 1.75million cards a day because we were to produce 100million cards. We built a transaction switch, ChamsSwitch chaired by Chief JO Sanusi former CBN governor. NIMC did not sign the concession agreement until July 23rd 2010, deliberately frustrating us. By 2012 they collected N30billion from the government saying we cannot implement. Then they stole my Card design, stole my technical partners and staff. Because we ran out of cash as we were not making money, we started closing down the card plant, ChamsSwitch and ChamsCities”

All my friends very well know that for me there is one Nigerian who can do no wrong. Oga please we cannot entertain any comment from you on this issue…..we already know you are incapable of being objective where Aliko Dangote is concerned’ retorted a friend a fortnight ago. My inflexibility is founded on a principled and intellectual premise. Both Karl Marx and Max Webber, the theoretically divergent Marxists and Capitalists school of thought are agreed as to the precursor and causation of capitalist development; the former negatively so and the latter positively. The Marxists assert that progression to capitalist development is necessarily preceded by the utilisation of the proceeds of ‘primitive accumulation of capital’ to birth and grow industrialisation.

In the cultural origins of capitalism, Webber argues that capitalism is rooted in the cultural mentality that deems wealth creation as a vocation, a calling and specifically, the protestant ethic. In general terms and in my understanding, the human agent of capitalism is (in the idiom of post-modernism) the professional investor-who, beyond the material gratification of business returns, finds ultimate satisfaction in creating wealth as an end in itself. The positive Nigeria that is struggling to be born is that in which the many contemporaries of Dangote (who likewise acquire considerable resources from the primitive accumulation stage of Nigeria’s capitalist development) should equally embark on profitably ploughing back the accumulated capital into Nigeria’s economy. Dangote is, in this respect and in regard of his massive industrialisation of Nigeria and Africa, black Africa’s ultimate textbook capitalist.

The proprietor of CHAMS PLC, Demola Aladekomo, was my college brother four decades ago and the first (extra biological family) positive influence on my life. It was from him I learnt how to fast and pray before attaining teenage. As the fast bites hardest in the hours preceding 6pm, he initiated the tactic of palliating the stomach wrenching hunger and running down the clock by hauling me on a stroll round the expansive school compound. I followed his precedence by sitting for the (School certificate examination) demystifying GCE ‘O’ levels when I was in form Four. It was from him I derive a hardy and visionary attitude towards life.

Aladekomo is the only peer I know who never had any employer, he finished his MBA and started CHAMS and not surprisingly grew it to a foremost computer ware associated Nigerian  conglomerate. On the occasion of his 50th birthday celebration, Professor Oye Ibidapo Obe concisely captured his unique capability and competence ‘as one of those rare breed who grow an empire from nothing’. After fairly stabilising the Nigerian economy and in a patriarchal visionary streak, President Olusegun Obasanjo tasked us to search out to Nigerian entrepreneurial achievers across the economic spectrum — agriculture, ICT, industry, services et al — to whom the task of driving the Nigerian economy can be deliberately entrusted. I don’t think many people would have quarrelled with the nomination of Aladekomo for the ICT category.

Within the context of a presidential system of government and the quite problematic nature of the task of Nigerian nation building, the ideal role of the Nigerian president is that of a patriarch and visionary. This is why America tended to remember and celebrate George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy more than other American presidents. I agree with the priority mission of killing corruption before corruption kills Nigeria but the ultimately successful supreme commander is he who knows how to reconcile tactics with strategy and does not muddle the two. I have zeroed in on these two Nigerian role models, in their triumph and tribulation, as a departure point for urging the role of patriarch and visionary on President Muhammadu Buhari. Fighting corruption is an unpleasant task that should not be promoted as a substitute and ennobled over inspirational leadership.

The morality tale of the two testimonies is that the urgent need for system reformation and rectitude should not becloud the resilient success stories of triumph over incredible odds, which, more or less, has been the Nigerian story. My understanding of the logic of candidate Buhari’s reasoning to the effect that he was going to draw a line on the past is not that he would turn a blind eye on past misdeeds-it is that, in apprehending corruption, he would blindside any tendency for negative sensationalism-towards which populism courting regimes are prone.

I think the point that was been made by Bishop Hassan Kukah the other day is that we have not strategically consolidated on the positive momentum that the transition at the presidential and party level gifted this nation; that the new era can be better managed in a less conflictual and reflexive manner and in a more patriarchal and visionary bent. The Nigerian consensus is that Buhari has no need to impress us with incessant media by lines on how he would not be cowed into throwing in the towel on anti-corruption drive. We already knew that of him. A tiger (according to Wole Soyinka) has no need mouthing his tigritude. And once this propensity is spotted, Nigerians, mostly of antithetical motives, are quick to cotton on to it and would sooner prove the nemesis of the leader.

And typically so — contrary to the briefing of the permanent secretary, ministry of transport and on which basis the president was misled into public gaffe — it was categorically stated that “there is no truth in the allegation reportedly made by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Alhaji Mohammed Bashar, that a substantial part of a $1 billion loan obtained from the China-EximBank by the Goodluck Jonathan administration for a Kano-Lagos rail project was diverted to other projects. Anyone who is interested can crosscheck with the China-EximBank or the Chinese Embassy… The alleged diversion has no substance for the simple reason that the Kano-Lagos project was not even among the projects presented for funding by the China Exim Bank for several strategic infrastructural projects across the country.”

THISDAY