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By Aliko Dangote, February 13, 2016
Aliko DangoteI am honoured to have been chosen to deliver the 38th Pre-Convocation Lecture of this great citadel of academic excellence, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, named after one of Nigeria’s revered patriots, the Sardauna of Sokoto and former Premier of the defunct Northern Region, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello. I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the Chancellor, His Majesty, Nnaemeka Alfred Ugochukwu Achebe, CFR, mni, Obi of Onitsha, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ibrahim Garba, the Senate and the Council of Ahmadu Bello University for giving me this opportunity.

It is a privilege to deliver this lecture, considering the rich history of ABU, which is one of the leading universities not only in Nigeria but also in Africa. Right from its establishment on October 4, 1962, Ahmadu Bello University has been offering students all over Nigeria and beyond, world-class education that has made it stand out among its peers. Indeed, ABU alumni have continued to excel ahead of their contemporaries from other institutions, producing reputable leaders in both the public and private sectors, including I must add, our respected Chairman of today’s lecture, His Royal Highness the Emir of Kano, and the Executive Governor of Kaduna state.
Renowned intellectuals have also found ABU a fertile ground for breeding ideas that have re-defined our socio-political ethos.
In the spirit of the times and with an eye to the future needs of our newly independent country, from inception Ahmadu Bello University focused on Agriculture and Engineering in recognition of the vast expanse of arable land in the country and the need to accelerate industrialization of the national economy.
Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy; with palm produce the main revenue earner for the Eastern Region, cocoa in the Western Region, and groundnut and cotton in the Northern Region. However, the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in the early 1970s, resulted in a rent-seeking national economic orientation and consequently agriculture began to decline as the principal source of Federal Government revenue and foreign exchange earnings.
Relatively easy oil money, boosted by geo-political tensions in the Middle East, flowed into the Nigerian economy, resulting in an explosive appetite for imports and short-term spending at the expense of investment in agriculture, manufacturing and processing capacity. Booms in global oil prices were followed by sharp declines, which rocked the Nigerian economy through the past five decades until today.
This has brought us full circle as the search for alternative sources of foreign exchange earnings has brought agriculture back into focus in the National conscience.
I will discuss my journey as an entrepreneur over the past 38 years and our humble attempts at Dangote Industries to tackle and provide solutions to the challenging national economic development issues facing us today. In this process, I will highlight our current key operations and future ambitions and share practical experiences, a view from the trenches, that some of you may find useful as you embark on your own entrepreneurial journeys.
Before I go into the story of the Dangote Group, permit me to share some global perspectives on entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is known to be a leading vehicle of job creation and economic growth all over the world. As such, countries pay special attention to the needs of entrepreneurs by creating strong infrastructural frameworks, conducive policy and regulatory environments, and strong legal protections, improving access to capital, and protecting intellectual property rights and infant industries and technologies from unfair competition.
Looking at the economic development of America, one cannot but admire the vision, courage and impacts of the so-called “Men Who Built America”. Cornelius Vanderbilt in railroads; John D. Rockefeller in oil and pipelines; Andrew Carnegie in steel; J.P. Morgan in finance and electric power; and Henry Ford in cars; names that represent industrial enterprise and big business in America.
In Asia, the story is not much different today even though the business environment may be. Jack Ma of Alibaba, Wang Jianlin of Dalian Wanda and Liu Chuanzhi of Lenovo lead the way in a centrally planned economy. And in India, you have a string of successful family inspired entrepreneurs including the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and the Mittals.
I believe that in Nigeria, and indeed in Africa, a few good men and women can replicate and surpass these models and set the country firmly on the path of economic diversification, industrialization and self-sufficiency in food and other basic commodities, while also supporting millions of smaller entrepreneurs, service providers and innovators.
In the last decade, as most of the rest of the world’s economies have struggled, Africa has experienced on the average considerable economic growth. The fact that Africa offers one of the highest rates of returns on investment in the world is a key driver of this growth.
However, African economies need to secure these fledgling growth gains and accelerate them to catch up with the rest of the world as well as spread the growth further across all economies through a diversified economic base grounded in an established entrepreneurial class.
One of the areas we need to address to fast track entrepreneurship in Africa, is the issue of visa regimes to promote the ease of movement of labour, and by extension goods and services. The Dangote Group, for instance, has operations in 18 African countries. To a Nigerian, only 28 of 54 African countries offer visa-free or visa on arrival entry. Of these, 15 are in the ECOWAS region. This poses a serious obstacle to the much hyped economic integration of the continent. Free flow of talent across Africa’s borders is a critical enabler of Africa’s growth and development. Happily, several countries are already taking steps to amend their visa and immigration requirements.
Coming closer home to Nigeria, the story is exciting for budding entrepreneurs in my view. The largely young population provides great incentives for manufacturers and service providers. The telecoms sector is often cited as a case study because the number of Nigerians with access to telephone lines increased from 500,000 in 2001 to about 98 million in 2011 with massive positive externalities across the national economy!
There is also a growing middle class with greater purchasing power. In addition, Nigeria has abundant human and natural resources and offers one of the highest returns on investment in the world.
However, Nigeria demographics indicate a growing unemployment problem endangering the state and the economy. Some of the identified major causes of unemployment in Nigeria include inadequate infrastructure (particularly epileptic power supply), lack of access to finance, shortage of technical skills and difficult regulatory environment. And accordingly, the National Committee on Job Creation, which I Chaired, was set up by the Federal Government to address these identified problems. The committee hopes to create jobs in the SMEs sector by linking large and small enterprises, through industry clusters, improved access to finance, and capacity building initiatives.
Specifically, the successful Nnewi automotive cluster in Anambra State and the Otigba Computer Village in Lagos State are examples of how cluster arrangement and linkages can trigger growth of SMEs.
Closer to home is Kano city; the commercial capital of the North, which was once famous for its groundnut pyramids, oil mills, ginnery, cotton, leather industry, and textiles among others from pre-colonial times through to the 1960s and ’70s.
However, the difficult operating environment in the country in the 1980s, oil dependency and our penchant for imported goods led to the demise of many of the businesses in these sectors not just in Kano, but Kaduna and elsewhere in the region. This discouraged a whole generation of potential entrepreneurs.
Let me now share my personal experiences living through these structural changes in the Nigerian economy.
The Dangote Group is Nigeria’s foremost conglomerate with interests in cement, sugar, salt, flour, pasta, noodles, poly products, real estate, agriculture, logistics, telecommunications, steel, oil and gas, and beverages among others. Simply put, our mission is to “touch the lives of people by providing their basic needs”.
Today, we have three subsidiaries listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). Dangote Cement Plc, Dangote Sugar Refinery Plc, and NASCON Plc. Together they account for about 25% of the market capitalization on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

Dangote, GCON, President/Chief Executive, The Dangote Group presented the paper at the 38th Pre-Convocation Lecture of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Season Greetings



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