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Unmasking Adenuga

This is an explosive blow by blow account written in free flowing style by two adventurous journalists and profilers. It rips across big business and the inherent risks, intrigues, love and sadness, death, and escape from the jaws of death, disappointments and finally the big catch – the telecommunications giant -Globacom that thrusts Michael Adenuga into the league of global business, as told by Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe. Nduka Nwosu reports

Mike Adenuga’s story remains a writer’s delight any day. Add Africa’s richest man – by Forbes magazine’s estimates – Aliko Dangote to it, and your pay day is made in the art of profiling. More importantly, they are prodigious subjects for reporters in search of redemption. Why? Because a writer once described journalists as writers who fell by the wayside. Put in simple language, they are chroniclers in a hurry.

But every once in a while, a journalist emerges as a writer, wins a double crown and reclaims his or her birth right. This perhaps defines the present incarnation of Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe, both parading till date five titles including two business best sellers: 50 Nigeria’s Corporate Strategists: Top CEO’s Share Their Experiences in Managing Companies in Nigeria and Nigeria’s Marketing Memoirs: 50 Case Studies, and now Mike Adenuga, Africa’s Business Guru.

The Nigerian scene is replete with such writers. Tony Momoh in the 80s penned his Simple Strokes, a reporter’s notebook based on a holiday in Britain, Naiwo Osahon’s novel Sex is a Nigger’s Game and Ben Okri, who worked as a reporter in Uche Chukwumerije’s Afriscope when the hope of a university education was not forthcoming, are a few examples.

In The Famished Road, Okri’s world like Adenuga’s, sets the pace for the journey to the unknown, the unauthorised biography Awoyinfa and Igwe set sail to chronicle. “In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world… a dream can be the highest point of life”.

This dream in biographical sketches became real right from the day Awoyinfa and Igwe tendered their resignation in the National Concord rather than be deployed to the editorial board. Before that, however, they had brought to the bookstands the best sellers that built their Taj Mahal, which according to Awoyinfa was supervised by Igwe from joint resources.

Critics may argue that the twins of two worlds – the multicultural art of writing and reporting may have opted for the material dollar at this time, gripped by the buccaneering spirit. No, they were only worthy evangelists in the fine art of writing – good ambassadors of a genial, vanishing culture.

The preface sets the stage: “In this gripping book, Mike Adenuga: Africa’s Business Guru, money, power, politics, high-wire intrigues, betrayals and bloody escapes from the jaws of death, blend into an explosive alchemy as award winning journalists, Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe, unmask the mystery of the enigmatic African billionaire, Dr Mike Adenuga, Jr., the first man in the world to single-handedly float a mass consumer telecommunications company, Globacom.

“This riveting book is a product of five years of investigative efforts by two of Africa’s most tenacious writers. The story of Mike Adenuga is an inspiring and an unorthodox entrepreneurial manual drawn from the long-concealed secrets of Africa’s most elusive personality and certainly one of the richest black men in the world”

In the opening chapter, what initially looked like an assassination attempt, a stunning, blood-chilling rehash of an armed robbery attack unfolds: “Around him, there was blood, blood, everywhere. Blood oozing from the ruptured arteries of his fleshy body. Precious blood wasting on the floor, like a vandalised oil pipe ruptured by some rampaging fuel thieves. And amidst the splatter and blotches of blood on the floor lay Mike Adenuga groaning. He had just been shot. Shot point-blank in the sanctity of his home, his castle… An argument had ensued between them, with the rebel robber saying adamantly: “Let’s finish the job. We have to finish this job. We must kill him. We must kill him.”

In one fatal moment of unprovoked madness, he pulled the trigger and bang! Shot point blank. It’s lights out for Adenuga!

Beyond this mild beat, Awoyinfa and Igwe present the image of addicts of the gutsy adventure story of crime and criminals, where action rips along in a series of explosions, what another writer described as a blood and cyclone adventure saga full of action, where menace mingles with violence and horror with mystery stashed on mystery, death on brutal death.

On a humorous note, however, they are glad the man survived the bullets of the black angels of the night to give themselves a self appointed assignment. They continue: “If he had died at that point in December 1982, perhaps the story would have ended there. If he had died, we wouldn’t be embarking on this long, arduous, literary epic, a journey to unmask this enigmatic, shy, evasive and reclusive business colossus, who shares some character traits with the Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich. Abramovich, the Russian Oligarch who had quietly amassed immense wealth and was living his life unobtrusively, until he bought a top football team in the English Premiership called Chelsea. Then the Pandora box of global media glare exposed him to all the troubles it contains.”

Traumatised by Obasanjo

Like a fellow writer Brian Moore whom the lucid and celebrated Graham Greene extolled the way he brought his subtle sensibilities into several varieties of genre fiction, in Awoyinfa and Igwe’s new book, what they excitedly described as their Opus Magnus, “Stale old forces embrace fresh new spirits.” Example: “Okay, I would show you that I am playing God and kuku destroy you once and for all” to which the frightened and weather beaten Adenuga replies President Obasanjo, with his knees crawling on the floors of Aso Rock, his palms stretched full length in the charged, steamy atmosphere: “Sir, I am your son. Please don’t be angry with me.” Obasanjo: “I shouldn’t be angry? Why shouldn’t I be angry? See you now. You would come and prostrate and when you leave here, tomorrow, you would go and be publishing your adverts, abusing me. No be so (Is that not true)?”

Again in Africa’s Business Guru, bedraggled characters turn what should have been a sweet farewell into a bitter retreat. Another example: “Their discussion progressed on a cordial note until IBB brought up the issue of restoring Adenuga’s licence. Obasanjo pointedly accused IBB of hiding behind Adenuga to play in the telecoms market without the courtesy of disclosing his vested interests to him. Babangida refuted this charge, declaring he was not in partnership with Adenuga.

“Obasanjo said there was a full security report on the matter, but Babangida dismissed (the) so called security report as fiction concocted by his EFCC boys. The discussion soon degenerated into acrimony. Presidential Villa insiders said that an enraged Obasanjo bullied and practically chased IBB out. Obasanjo was shouting, ‘Get out, just go!’ to a retreating IBB.”

The book reveals how generous the businessman was to Obasanjo donating a multi-million library to Obasanjo’s Bell University, yet the man bluntly refused to grant his licence. At the launch of the Obasanjo Library, this is the account of story behind the library’s launch: “Adenuga had gone to Abeokuta with Dr. Yemi Ogunbuyi for the occasion and the duo had decided to go to greet Baba first. But they were intercepted by a man in a white Kaftan robe who turned out to be Obasanjo’s cousin. The cousin politely said Baba wanted to know how much Adenuga was going to donate. Incidentally, Adenuga had raised this question with Ogunbiyi on their way coming. ‘How much do you think I should donate to this thing?’

‘I don’t really know may be N100 million,’ Ogunbiyi suggested.
‘That’s exactly how much I have in mind,’ declared Adenuga.
“Now the question from Obasanjo’s emissary was curious and unusual, he thought, but nevertheless, he had no choice but to inform the man that he planned to donate N100 million, thinking the man would be very impressed. Wrong. Obasanjo’s cousin brought out a piece of paper and handed it to Adenuga. ‘Sorry sir, but Baba says you can’t donate less than that amount,’ the man had written.

“Inside the piece of paper was the sum of N250 million scribbled in Obasanjo’s handwriting with a red pen. ‘No problem,’ Adenuga told the emissary, wondering if others were subjected to the same experience, but also knowing he dared not ask anybody, lest he be betrayed. He later showed Ogunbiyi the piece of paper. ‘I’ll give anything he wants,’ he told Ogunbiyi. ‘I’m afraid of that man o. N250 million is about the price of an oil well,’ Adenuga added.”

Homeboy and The American Dream

A rose is still a rose, sang Aretha Franklin in her sweet epiphanous ballad. Roses dominate the prose of Awoyinfa and Igwe as they present themselves as the good ambassadors of a genial cause. In a breezy shakedown cruise spanning 682 pages, their poignant narrative opens with another familiar note: “This book started as a journey, actually in Springfield Illinois while on an international visitors programme – a long tortuous journey to unravel the mystique of a great Nigerian, an African business leader we have come to know, study and admire for his courage, tenacity and indomitable spirit of enterprise, outsized dreams and vision, leadership, can-do spirit, competitive and winner-takes-it all mentality, his legendary generosity and for so many other things you will come to discover in this book. But as they say, there is also perhaps, the dark side of the moon.”

Writing the Mike Adenuga story for Awoyinfa and Igwe was like finding a Byzantine treasure trove, and this deserves to be chronicled in prairie, prosaic, language. The investigative skills came to play as the elusive businessman extraordinaire became his famous self – the Scarlet Pimpernel with the magical powers of appearance and disappearance, one moment he is here, as the master wordsmith and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka would put it, the next moment he melts into mystery land.
The duo treat the book the way a hunter treats a wild beast with a reporter’s superego, the type of game that awakens a lion from the den to make his kill for the day.

Awoyinfa and Igwe must have absorbed a popular saying among the people of Western Samoa, that from the direction of the wind, you can tell a story from the beginning. And so Adenuga himself sets the stage for the great voyage: “Essentially running a business is similar to leading a military operation or orchestrating a political campaign, or performing as a great athlete. The fundamental principles are the same. The over-riding objective is to out-manoeuvre the opposing forces; to outsmart the other party; to outperform the competition; to outwit the other guy-to achieve. This may sound harsh. But that’s the way it is.”

The young Adenuga, we are told, sold once goat feed courtesy of his entrepreneurial mother who early in life pushed her children to hawk primarily to acquire street wisdom and that explains how excited Adenuga was to announce to Mrs. Oyin Adenuga: ‘Mama, we have found oil,’ when his upstream exploration company struck one. In the American dream, it is clear Adenuga admired his university slogan, Ride with Pride at the North Western Oklahoma State University, Alva, and transformed it into ‘Glo with Pride’, when he launched the mobile network – Glo.

The American sojourn, wrote the chroniclers, transformed Adenuga into a cab driver. “It was as a cabbie that Mike Adenuga met the assassinated Nigerian journalist, Dele Giwa, who was also a cab driver in New York. Life as a black cab driver in New York was as risky as it is today. You could easily get killed. But they did it because they needed to survive. And they made good money. They were not regular taxi drivers who had their taxis painted yellow and black. They were gypsies. You found them around the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island, whereas the official yellow cabs were found mainly in Manhattan.”

We are also moved into Adenuga’s world of business, his arrest and flight into exile where his business empire flourishes, his family life and his divorce from his first wife Fola who still speaks passionately of the golden years of bejeweled diamonds and jet set lifestyle, her devastation by the court that gave the husband custody of her children including the child in the womb. Fola, we are told, is restored as a member of the Adenuga family by her children and the matter of divorce is left behind without necessarily returning to the house.

Big Bosoms and Backsides

At Devcom Merchant Bank, the writers unveil Adenuga’s second wife to be, Titi Adewale who came for a job and transfixed the boss into another world with her God-given curves. “Chief Orji Uzor Kalu is one of Adenuga’s friends of the early years. They were into merchandising, arms deals, crude oil selling and government contractors. They were the Babangida boys. Kalu remembers that in those days he and Adenuga used to have slang for a woman endowed with heavy breasts and big buttocks. The slang was ‘Burkina Faso’. ‘Burkina’ (for the big breasts) and ‘Faso’ (for the big buttocks).

“In an unequal world we live, a woman could have Burkina and not necessarily have Faso. But Adenuga prefers his women to have the full complements of Burkina and Faso in their figure. As for Miss Adewale, she was a fully endowed lady. And once Adenuga set his eyes on her, he never removed them. Like her name, Titi titillated Adenuga in no small measure.”

This is Adenuga unveiled. The story is told in beautiful prose that will make banner headlines and best sellers.

In summary, the billionaire philanthropist is summrised in the epilogue as he leaves his legacy to young businessmen in the making, on the Path to Guru: 50 Entrepreneurship Lessons, what the writers call “some nuggets of the business philosophies and timeless principles that have worked for Mike Adenuga not only as captured in this book but also espoused by Adenuga’s personal credo.”
The 50th and last credo reads: “Like all mavericks, the strength and secret of the Guru is the ability to think out of the box, the ability to act in unconventional ways that have brought about paradigm shifts. Unconventional ideas provide the keys to innovation, to differentiation. It is the magic sesame that opens the door leading to the path to the Guru.”

From Concord to Corporate Biographers

In spite of the fact that Brian Moore was described as a writer who lacked an appreciative audience with minimal black ink support from paying customers, “he had profoundly marked his time with over 20 novels, swimming the current like an arch-angel flying through the heavens.” Unlike the lucid Moore, Awoyinfa and Igwe with less than a dozen of similar efforts, are already celebrants, swimming the current like arch-angels as well, and the secret according to Igwe, whom Awoyinfa generously and respectfully defers to, the image making skills of their outfit – Corporate Biographers, is that “Mike has his head on the clouds and I have my feet on the ground.”
You would have imagined that having distinguished themselves as grandmasters in casting screaming headlines for the tabloid right from the Weekend Concord to The Sun, the inseparable twins of the pen would have embraced the art of sleaze journalism with” lurid voyeurism”, Far from it; they warn in the opening invocation in Africa’s Business Guru: “This story of Adenuga, we are told, is not a hagiography. If it is, then we have failed as journalists whose role is to present the good and the bad sides of our subject. As you will discover in this book, we delved too deeply into Mike Adenuga’s life to ferret out his strength(s) and weaknesses, his positives and negatives, including some of the things he might not normally like to be published. We didn’t set out to hurt him, but just to do our job, the way journalism is done all over the world.”

So the question is: how did this seasonal monsoon rain of profiling drench Awoyinfa and Igwe such that their ship refused to slip its mooring in the newsroom? And as the saying goes, how did their muse pour inky rain on their pens? The simple answer is that Awoyinfa and Igwe belong to the genre of ambitious journalism.
They maximised their input as creative writers when they joined forces with businessman and lover of journalism Orji Uzor Kalu to float The Sun newspapers, a successful tabloid and if you like a re-incarnation of the Weekend Concord, which till date recorded the highest print run ever in print journalism with 500,000 copies at a time weekend titles were hardly a good sale except perhaps the Sunday Times in the then Daily Times Group.

Recalling those early beginnings, Awoyinfa had been posted to the north as a staff writer and Dele Giwa impressed with his style of reporting, created a Reporter’s Notebook for him as a weekly column after his brilliant script on an illiterate reporter who worked for a Hausa title under the New Nigerian Newspaper Group. “I was not keen on reporting,” Awoyinfa recalls, “I was more impressed with creative writing and after leaving the Mass Communication Department with a degree, I had my idea of what I wanted to be, a columnist working under Giwa.”

‘Awoyinfa in Britain’ was another scintillating column that appeared in the Sunday Concord for three months as a Harry Britton Fellow and as assistant editor. Awoyinfa was attached to the Sunday Sun in Newcastle in the United Kingdom, and while there he developed a deep passion for tabloid journalism and according to him, “My confidence level grew. I was creating headlines and like Nigerian soldiers who returned from Burma after the Second World War, to discover things were no longer at ease, I was no longer content being an assistant editor. I wanted to edit a title.”
Igwe, on the other hand, was fast forwarded into his dream profession after a diploma programme at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. He was freelancing for Sunday Concord and no one had seen him. Then the break: a story on the ordeals of school children who left home early to be at school on time, was given a human angle touch. Then destiny brought him to Sunday Concord on a day everyone screamed Eureka: “We have found him.”

Igwe confessed he admired Awoyinfa’s writings from a distance. When they eventually met, a strange chemistry struck and after two decades plus, the corporate biographers and profilers are still waxing strong.

Culled from Thisaday.


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