“Hey Taxi, take me to the tube station down the road.” In his worn out jeans and faded T-Shirt, Mike gets down from the taxi and picks up his passenger’s suit cases, drops them in the booth of the taxi, opens the back door for the passenger, all the time saying “Yes Sir.”
He was a student and he needed every dollar he could earn to support his rather expensive education. He has left his parents back home in Nigeria. His father was a poor school teacher while his mother was into the wood business, operating a saw mill. There was no way both of them could sponsor his relatively expensive education in the US. His parents had to empty their savings to enable him travel.
Now that he is here, he was determined to ensure that he went back home with the certificate that he hoped will give him a chance to earn a living in Nigeria. In the night, Mike doubled as a security guard. In the cold of winter, this man from Ibadan in Nigeria will defy the biting cold to work as a night guard in a bid to earn his first degree.
He was studying for a degree in business administration from Northwestern University, Oklahoma. Through hard work and determination, he eventually bagged his degree. Unlike most of his mates, staying back in the US was not an option he considered very viable.
He came back to Nigeria seeing opportunities that few at his age could see. But life was not easy in Nigeria in his early days back home. Unable to get a job, he joined his mother’s Saw Mill business. The struggles of running a Saw Mill did not however blind him to emerging opportunities in Nigeria.
The story of how Mike made the transition from running a Saw Mill to running an oil and gas business is not very clear. He, however, seem to have made some good friends in the military and was favoured when the government decided to award Nigerians oil prospecting licenses to increase local participation in Nigeria’s foreign dominated oil industry. At the young age of 36, he was one of those favoured with an oil license from the then regime of General Babagida in 1990.
One year later, in 1991, he attracted global attention at the young age of 37, becoming the first indigenous Nigerian oil company to strike oil in commercial quantity and produce it. This immediately raised the prospects of his company, Consolidated Oil Limited as it became one of Nigeria’s most profitable companies within a year of acquiring the oil block.
Not long after getting an oil company, the Nigerian Federal Government put up for sale government owned National Oil, under its privatisaton programme. Adenuga emerged winner of the bid to buy the poor performing oil company renaming it Conoil Producing Limited and growing it into a leading indigenous oil and gas exploration and producing company in Africa with both an upstream component engaged in oil exploration and a downstream component-Conoil Nigeria Plc, a leading oil marketing firm with several retail outlets in Nigeria listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).
In February 1990, he made a bold entry into the banking industry. He floated Equatorial Trust Bank (ETB). Earlier in 1989, he had also floated Devcom Mechant bank and merged both institutions in 2005 adopting the name Equitorial Trust Bank (ETB) as part of Nigeria’s banking consolidation exercise. The management of ETB was taken over in 2009 and eventually merged with Sterling Bank Plc in 2010.
In 1998, Mike decided to go into telecommunication when the then military regime opened the telecom sector to Nigerians. He was one of the lucky ones to obtain a license and went into strategic partnership with Alcatel of Germany to commence operations on September 1, 1999. However, the new civilian regime cancelled the whole exercise claiming irregularities in the process of award of the license.
A new licensing round opened in 2000 in which Adenuga decided to participate in again bidding with his firm Comunications Investments Limited (CIL), the only indigenous Nigerian firm winning a bid along with MTN from South Africa and Econet from Zimbabwe.
Sadly, CIL after paying the initial $20 million deposit was unable to pay the balance of $285 million bid with the 14 days set by the government. He lost his deposit and license.
That however, did not discourage him as in 2002, a second national operator license was put up for sale by the Nigerian Federal Government. He bid and won becoming Nigeria’s second national carrier. This gave him an opportunity to provide both GSM services and fixed line services. His competitors in the GSM space-MTN and Econet had already gained much ground.
Glo entered the Nigerian GSM market like a bull and immediately changed the shape of competition in the industry with the introduction of per second billing, which the existing operators had initially been claiming was impossible to provide. This per-second price move changed the shape of competition in the telecom space as all other operators rushed to match Glo’s per second billing. He also began a price war, crashing prices in a bid to gain market share from his already established competitors. This worked as soon Glo became one of the fastest growing telecom companies in the country and is now ranked second behind MTN despite its late entry in the industry.
Glo has also gone beyond the shores of Nigeria with operations in Benin Republic, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. Glo also raised competition in the broad band space when it wholly financed and sponsored Glo-1, the 9,800 kilometere-long submarine cable laid from Bude in the UK to land in Alpha Beach in Lagos.
Mike Adenuga has a national award GCON, the second highest national honours conferred by the Nigerian government on any Nigerian.
He is a strong supporter of the Nigeria local football league and also the Nigerian entertainment industry where his patronage has turned many Nollywood stars into multi-millioniares.
Mike Adenuga is a highly private person and it is not certain anyone really has his whole story since he hardly grants media interviews or talk about himself. His true wealth is estimated with some speculating, he could actually be the richest man in Africa instead of Aliko Dangote. What is not in doubt veabout him is that Mike Adenuga is one of the few Africans who have been able to ride on the opportunities on the African continent to make wealth for himself and many other Africans who now work in the many companies he has built.