QUINTESSENTIAL COLUMNIST,LOUIS ODION GREETS ALIKO DANGOTE @ 60
Listening to Alhaji Aliko Dangote speak at a colloquium held penultimate Tuesday in Lagos to mark Asiwaju's 65th birthday, one could again not help feeling the magnitude of the Nigerian tragedy inflicted by leadership deficit.He did not feature in the original programme. But who is better qualified to speak authoritatively at a ceremony where entrepreneurship is broached than someone who started humbly as a merchant in his native Kano with loan from an uncle as capital and, forty years later, is now rated the richest black man on earth?Though impromptu, Dangote spoke with the depth and clarity of a professor. His facility with statistics is remarkable indeed. His prescriptions: entrepreneurs in Nigeria will do better with stable power supply on the one hand, and policy consistency/coherence on the other.
A doer himself, he has walked the talk in the cement sector. From being world's second biggest importer of cement a decade ago, Dangote has helped his fatherland achieve not just self-sufficiency in the commodity but also pushed her to becoming a big cement exporter, thereby earning the much needed forex.Obviously a pathfinder, Dangote has since shifted his luminous lights towards crude refining. Denied in 2007 the custody of Port Harcourt Refinery he earlier acquired with his friend, Femi Otedola, through privatization, Dangote thereafter chose a more tortuous path to make the loudest statement.He is currently building from the scratch a brand refinery already rated Africa's biggest with the capacity to refine a whopping 650,000 bpd and the largest single train of its kind in the world. (The combined capacity of all Nigeria's refineries is less than 450,000 bpd with actual utilization today less than a miserly 10 percent, despite billions of dollars splurged on them over the years in the name of Turn-And-Maintenance.)To pull this through, he has had to substantially tap international lenders to raise a colossal $12b for the project.The good news is that, just as we no longer waste forex on cement import, Dangote Refinery located in swampy Lekki, Lagos will, beginning from 2019, ensure that Nigeria no longer wastes forex on importation of petrol, diesel and kerosene, thereby helping to conserving at least $10b yearly. That way, Dangote would, at least, have helped end Nigeria's shame by lifting the old curse of "a nation importing what it already has".
The emerging Dangote Refinery will not only save Nigeria N10b annually, it will also create 250,000 fresh jobs for Nigerians.Already, fables and gossips are fast mushrooming around the gargantuan plant currently under construction day and night. The most widespread being that it occupies a land mass (2,200 hectares) that is six times the size of the upscale Victoria Island in Lagos.However, my own take-away is different. To power the humongous plant, Dangote has had to build an independent power plant, just like he did for the Cement factory in Obajana, Kogi State. From records now made public, it costs him an average of $400,000 to build one mega watt. But wait for the figure often quoted by the Federal Government for the same item - $2m!What makes it doubly tragic is that with $400,000, Dangote delivers mega watt that brings real electricity. Nigeria squanders $2m to generate pitch darkness.Under Obasanjo, not less than $16b, according to House of Reps reports in 2008, was spent on power projects. A decade later, that colossal expenditure has not translated to a marked improvement in energy generation. Fifty-six years after independence, power generation still oscillates around 4,000.Back in the 70s, a national committee chaired by Chief Olu Falae had projected the nation's energy need to be 10,000 mega watts by 2000. Sadly, with a population of less than 100m in 1988, official records indicated NEPA's generation capacity was 4,000 mega watts.When Obasanjo left office ten years ago, power generation had fallen to 3,000 mega watts. Ten years later, and with population now around 180 million, we are back to generating 4,000 mega watts.However, with $16b, Dangote would have produced mega watts in excess of 6,000.Is anyone still wondering why Nigeria remains poor infra-structurally today despite hundreds of billions of dollars received through oil sale and squandered in the last fifty years.On the mega watt alone, Aliko has, perhaps unwittingly, exposed Nigeria's culture of waste and systemic theft. Entrepreneurs with depth and creativity like Aliko and Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr are few.
Theirs is real production and wealth-creation ultimately, not rent-seeking. In their daily grind of turning raw materials to finished good, they send a clear message that the country has no business with poverty; that much more could be attained with far less. Indeed, if any progress has been made in the national economy at all in the last decade, the credit substantially belongs to the patriotic tenacity of a few like them.All said, the new Lagos Refinery is a monument to vision, courage and tenacity of one man - Aliko, whose 60th birthday is, by the way, next Monday. There can't be a better time to salute a Nigerian patriot, a truly deserving Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).