By Olusegun Adeniyi
Globacom Chairman, Dr Mike Adenuga Jr is 68 today. Anybody familiar with the story of Nigeria’s telecoms industry cannot but salute his doggedness even when very few gave him a chance at the beginning of his adventure. In an environment that has become suffocating for entrepreneurship, where industry is no longer encouraged by government’s penchant to create bubble jobs that can only worsen our economic problems in the long run, we need to interrogate the value of men like Adenuga. Especially at a time like this.
I have known Adenuga for more than two decades. Yet I cannot recall a time I could directly reach him. Certainly not as THISDAY editor. Nor as presidential spokesman. Or even as THISDAY editorial board chairman. The last time I had any direct contact with him was in June 2010. That was at the Bloemfontein stadium during the World Cup in South Africa which I attended as a member of the presidential task force. Then on 18th January last year (2020), I received a call from a regular Glo number which I didn’t have in my contacts. So I didn’t pick. The person then sent a text message: ‘My Bros, MA Jr called.’ Despite a strong feeling as to who the caller could be, I was not prepared for anybody to scam me so early in a new year so I ignored the message. When on 27th February 2020, I received a similar message, I decided to call the number. The moment Adenuga picked, I couldn’t mistake his distinctive voice in the roaring laughter. What followed was a long conversation after which he said we should continue to keep in touch. In the course of one of our interactions, he specifically thanked me for the support I gave him when he was fighting for a telecoms license two decades ago. I found that quite touching.
During the GSM license bid round in 2001, there was an attempt to muscle out Adenuga. The then NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Dr Ernest Ndukwe was very fair and transparent in the manner he handled the exercise. But powerful forces within the political establishment were bent on frustrating Adenuga from securing a telecoms license. Persuaded that we need Nigerian players in the sector, I argued in a few columns that since Adenuga had expressed interest, he ought to receive a license.
In April 2002, at the instance of his late spokesman, Mr Tunji Oseni, I had a breakfast audience with then President Olusegun Obasanjo in Ota during Easter. Three of us were invited: Bashorun Akin Osuntokun, Dr Reuben Abati and myself. Only Osuntokun and myself turned up for the breakfast session that lasted about two hours. As we ate, President Obasanjo asked me, “Segun, please tell me. How much is Adenuga paying you and other journalists for the media campaign you people are doing for him on this telecom license?”
The conversation that followed the attack was interesting. Although Obasanjo gave the official version of the account as to why Adenuga missed out on the licensing round, it appeared to me that there might be a personal issue between them. A dogged fighter, Adenuga refused to give up. He eventually secured the license in August 2003. And he changed the game with per second billing, which the more established companies had said was impossible but were then forced to adopt.
Despite Adenuga’s initial disadvantage of having to operate in the same space with MTN and Econet (now Airtel) with their head-starts in Nigeria and elsewhere as well as their experience in the sector, he has built a solid company that is a clear leader in Nigeria. It also has footprints outside the country. Though he has a foothold in the oil sector and banking, it is in the telecoms sector (where he was almost denied) that Adenuga’s company flies the flag of our country and should be a source of pride to all Nigerians. The massive support that Glo has given to our domestic sports and the entertainment industry is the kind that can only be offered by someone with a true commitment to their country.
I know from my experience in government that Nigerian big men like to obtain these special licenses and permits in order to sell them. Many prefer to be commission agents and middle men who add little or no value to the economy. That is why we have so many idle billionaires with no real source of livelihood. And as I have also pointed out in the past, most of them employ no more than drivers, cooks, stewards etc.—domestic workers who minister to their personal indulgence and that of their pampered families. With Glo, Adenuga took a big gamble that has paid off for him. In the process, he has also taught us numerous lessons about the depth of our economy and the resilience of our people.
As a nation, Nigeria has never been more challenged than it is today. In whichever area one looks, the statistics are terribly frightening. More worrisome is that the majority of our young people are roaming the streets with no clear future. In the process, many are taking up arms and becoming bandits, kidnappers and robbers. What ails us therefore requires strategic thinking on how we can empower these people to be productively engaged. That will happen if we create an environment for the private sector and come up with smart regulations and necessary incentives.
Tradermoni, Marketmoni, Farmermoni, Special Public Works Programme in the 774 local governments may have their use, especially in a society where there is no safety net for the poor, but that will not bring the much needed prosperity for our country or lift the majority of Nigerians from poverty. The surest path for that is through the private sector. By stepping up to be bold and daring, Adenuga has been able to restore our national pride in the telecoms sector. Even more importantly, what his example has also shown, as we have seen with the way our nationals are appointed into critical positions abroad, is that we have game-changers in all aspects of our national life. We just need the government to unleash their creative energies.
As he clocks 68 today, I wish Dr Mike Adenuga Jr happy birthday, long life and good health!