BEVERLY HILLS, May 03, (THEWILL) – How can one possibly be shy and bold at the same time? some people may wonder. That is a contradiction, isn’t it?
But that’s probably one of the attributes that makes Mike Adenuga Jnr such an enigmatic figure.
Before delving into his bold initiatives in the world of commerce and industry , let’s first dwell on his somewhat shy, and some would add ,reclusive tendencies that critics refer to as anti-social trait for the simple reason that he is hardly seen at social events.
The truth is that what the telecoms czar lacks by shying away from being physically present in public events, he makes up by embarking on bold ventures that positively disrupt the traditional norms in industries in favor of the masses. Take, for instance, his launch of GLO cellphone service and his innovative introduction of per second billing which disrupted per minute billing hitherto operated by competitors like MTN and Econet (now Airtel).
By that singular action, GLO founder, Mike Adenuga Jnr demonstrated unequivocally that he is on the side of Nigerian masses that before then had been under the yoke of not so pocket friendly per minute billing.
Admittedly, most invitations extended to the ljebu-Igbo, Ogun state-born serial entrepreneur, to social gatherings are usually turned down. That’s because attending parties and even hosting one is not his cherished predilection. And that proclivity, which indeed appears like an oddity, is jejune. But Adenuga, makes up for that shortcoming with the milk of human kindness that flows freely in him through personal philanthropy which he spreads freely amongst friends and the needy.
The assertion above is underscored by the fact that, typically , a tycoon of Adenuga’s calibre, especially of ljebu heritage (a tribe whose knack for parties is legendary) should be a constant personality at the high octane shindigs that frequently hold across Yoruba land, from Lagos to Ibadan, Abeokuta and Ijebu-Ode amongst others.
But unfortunately for his burgeoning crowd of admirers who would like to see their idol hugging friends and shaking hands at social gatherings, (pre-COVID-19 pandemic) such pastime is not Adenuga’s idea of socializing. And those who know him well can attest to the fact that demurring from hobnobbing at parties does not make the founder of GLO, who is also an oil/gas and banking services mogul in light of the fact that he is the chairman of Conoil; a leading petroleum exploration/ downstream fuel retailing company; and a major share holder in Firstbank, less of a personable and humble man that he truly is.
My contention is that, through his highly impactful business ventures in telecoms, oil/gas and financial services sectors of Nigerian economy and indeed that of a handful of African countries, Adenuga touches the lives of folks from the top of the social ladder to the bottom rung by providing them employment and decent livelihoods.
So in that sense, Adenuga’s influence and affinity to the hoi polloi can be said to be staggering.
His love for the masses is also evidenced by his massive sponsorship of sports in Nigeria, a record that’s second only to that of M K O Abiola, the acclaimed pillar of sports in Africa before his demise.
That’s not all because, Adenuga also remains one of the greatest supporters of the full panoply of Nigeria’s performing artists-musicians, movie actors and standup comedians-most of whom are brand ambassadors of GLO, his giant telecoms enterprise.
Even as Adenuga is generally known to be shy, it only belies his hard fighting spirit. When it comes to business, his associates would affirm that he is as tough as nails and just as he can also be as ferocious as a charging bull.
A poignant reminder of how tenacious Adenuga can be is the cold shoulder he initially received from the government of then President Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ which in 2001, owing to an unresolved technical issue denied him a GSM license when he first made a bid for it in his quest to be the first indigenous cellphone service provider in Nigeria.
But rather than be cowed or deterred by the monumental setback, especially as his humongous investment was stranded in government coffers ($20m USD nonrefundable deposit); a misfortune that could have upended a lily-livered investor, Adenuga manifested a rare chutzpah and grit.
As opposed to being despaired, he was bold enough to put up a fierce fight for the license until OBJ capitulated and awarded him, not just the GSM license that he coveted and failed to obtain initially, but he was also rewarded with a national carrier license which competitors such as MTN and Airtel(then Econet), that had moved ahead of GLO in the course of its set back , had been eying .
Such is the tough mettle that Adenuga, a sort of alchemist is made of, although he spots a charming look and even exhibits a soft mien accentuated by his engaging personality.
Following his per second billing strategy which was the masterstroke with which he made cellphone call cost more friendly to the pockets of users in Nigeria, Adenuga and his brand GLO became endeared to and enamored with Nigerians who were beside themselves with joy after being unshackled from the unbridled mercantilism of foreign-owned cellphone service providers that had pioneered the service in Nigeria.
By manifesting the two extreme tendencies of being shy and bold at the same time, it’s not surprising that some observers would refer to him as a maverick. However, I would argue that rather than being a negative trait, being bold and shy at the same time reflects the fecundity of the mind of the grandmaster of telecoms in Nigeria.
Apart from being the first to receive the highest honor bestowed on any individual who is not, and has not been the Vice President of Nigeria or Chief Justice of the Federation, ‘Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON’, Mike Adenuga has also had the privilege of being the only Nigerian to have received France’s highest national honor ‘Commander of the Legion of Honor’.
That prestigious honor was conferred on him by no less a personality than the president of France – the affable globalist, Emmanuel Macron, who jetted across many oceans, from Paris to Lagos, during his maiden visit to Nigeria as President of France, to accord Mike Adenuga the privilege of personally placing the Medal of Honor and garland around his neck.
Being a man of immense wealth who is friends to some of the most powerful people in the top echelon of public and private sectors of Nigeria and across the globe, such as president Macron of France, (a country renowns for high culinary culture, etiquette and finesse) one might assume that Adenuga, would not wash his bare hands to relish the meal of Banga-palm kernel soup and eegun-mashed plantain (an Itsekiri tribe delicacy) with friends.
But that is what he often does whenever he is able to escape the drudgery of work to spend time with friends.
In the course of the meal, he shares his vast knowledge of Nigeria’s socioeconomic intelligence and foibles with friends at the table, even as he also feels the pulse of our country and the world via the informal, yet incisive views and comments of others in the gathering.
How can a multi billionaire in dollars who often wines and dines with friends, some of whom are rich and powerful like him , as well as ordinary folks like yours truly , be referred to as elusive? Such mischaracterization by the folks who don’t know him well, and thus sometimes erroneously interpret his shyness as elusiveness, is a public perception deficit that often gets corrected as soon as observers get close enough to know him better.
Talking about elusiveness.
Has anyone really been able to truly determine Mike Adenuga’s financial net worth? Not really.
And that’s probably simply because most of his investments, especially in oil&gas and telecoms are not quoted on the bourse -Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE.
Not many people are also aware that the man nicknamed ‘The Bull’ by his admirers, apart from his huge stakes in oil/gas and telecoms sectors, also owns a substantial chunk of shares in first and a second generation banks, just as he also has major interest in a five star construction firm in Nigeria.
The opaqueness of his financial worth is the reason various wealth evaluators, depending on the template used, often tag him as the second richest man in Nigeria,so on and so forth .
For all that the self-effacing yet enigmatic businessman par excellence has contributed to our country, the economy of France and indeed the world , the epithet-Mike Adenuga Jnr Centre is now etched in gold on an edifice seating next to a French cultural monument -Alliance Francais which has just sprouted at his behest, at the intersection of Osborne Road and Alfred Rewane Road (old Kingsway Road) in Ikoyi, Lagos.
As it is usual of the man his friends like to call the grand master of telecoms , the location of the French Cultural centre-Alliance Francais which is one of the swankiest neighborhoods in the ever bustling city of Lagos, where Adenuga’s coterie of businesses are headquartered is significant.
In what appears like another trace of contradiction, Alliance Francais which is actually a learning centre for the ordinary Nigerian folks who may be keen on drinking from the rich fountain of French language and culture is located in an exclusive neighborhood. And guess what? The property is not in any way burlesque, but rather it is decked out in a baroque style with ornate interior.
So in a quintessential Mike Adenuga manner of ensuring that the average Nigerian gets a window into the domain of the opulent , he has made it happen that an enclave for the masses, lavishly constructed had to be ensconced in the sanctuary of the high and mighty.
As Mike Adenuga Jnr clocked 68 years on planet earth on April 28, the question in my mind is: would age slow him down from literarily pulling more rabbits out of his entrepreneurial hat? I think not. So my fingers are crossed.
Magnus Onyibe, entrepreneur, author and a development strategist, an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA as well as a former commissioner in Delta state government sent this piece from Lagos.