It was a poser I hadn’t thought of. Yes, his name rings a bell. Even his business ambition is as tall as the Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain standing majestically at 19,340 ft above sea level in Tanzania. Coincidentally here I was in Tanzania, actually in Mgao, a coast-line village located in Mtwara district of the East African country.
The event was the commissioning of a 3 million metric tonne Dangote Cement plant, the second largest in Africa and the largest in the East and Central Africa. Aliko Dangote was at the epicenter of the event and the cynosure of all eyes last Saturday.
The title of this piece is a poser from a British-born Tanzanian with whom I sat on Table 22 under the gigantic canopy used for the event.
“Is that Dangote?”, my friend enquired in a hush tone, as if calling out the name would attract a penalty. I looked in the direction he was gazing at, I sipped some sparkling table water to first quench my thirst as the scorching sun had just begun to radiate the serene environment. “No, that’s Femi Otedola, Dangote’s closest buddy”, I responded, adding, “He owns Forte Oil Plc, one of Nigeria’s leading petroleum companies.”
To his friends, he’s simply Aliko. And among the populace, he is widely and fondly called Dangote. Whether you call him Aliko or Dangote, the fact remains that Africa’s richest man cannot be ignored wherever he shows up.
He had somehow entered the venue unannounced. But his presence was immediately acknowledged by a coterie of photographers and cameramen who had cleverly positioned themselves at the entrances.
Suddenly there was shuffling around the guest table where he first stopped to exchange pleasantries with guests. He shook hands with everyone on the table, had a brisk chat with some guests, granted a group photo opportunity to the guests and moved to the next table. He did the same there, and with a suppressed smile, he moved to the next table. I reckoned there were about 60 dinner tables under the canopy. I’m not sure if he covered all. But after about 30 minutes of exchanging pleasantries all over, I was up close with Aliko Dangote.
I shook his hand firmly as if to test the strength of the stamina with which he is running his multi-billion dollars business empire. He smiled at me familiarly but I knew we have not met. I had seen him at close range only twice, and both this year in Lagos and Abuja. I quickly mentioned my name as representing Kabiru Yusuf, the Chairman/CEO of DAILY TRUST. His face brightened up. “How is he?” he enquired. We took our turns for the hand-shake and cap with it with a group photograph.
For instance, the trip to and fro Mgao was an exciting experience, if you love flying. By the time I returned home Sunday morning, I had done six flights of about 15 hours in a barely 48 hours trip from Abuja to Lagos to Dar es Salam to Mtwara and back in reverse order.
The manner by which Dangote gave attention to the guests was truly inspiring and enough to evoke emotion. I had thought Africa should be grateful to him for achieving on the economic front what the leaders have tried to achieve politically. In addition to this $600 million cement plant in Tanzania, he has already committed about $45 billion to setting up cement plants in 10 other African countries.
As Nigeria-bound guests boarded the chartered Boeing 737-500 series, we had no inkling of his coming on board to bid us farewell. While we waited for the crew to complete their statutory checks and documentation, I heard shouts of Dangote! Dangote!! Dangote!!! Here again, I’m up close with the man, the generalissimo of business in Africa. He went round the cabin, shook hands with everyone and wished us a safe trip back home. “I’m heading to South Africa”, he disclosed, as we all hailed him for this exceptional display of goodwill.
Akoshile is Associate Director, Business, DAILY TRUST