Adenuga at 63: The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth, By Omot Sule
Social Media punditry in Nigeria rose by several decibels recently as the raucous cyber commentariat gorged itself on a steaming hot new serving from its already overflowing buffet of the sensational and the salacious.
The feast was a photo showing celebrated multi-billionaire oil and telecoms mogul, Otunba Mike Adenuga, in a deeply reverent bow as he shook hands with President Muhammadu Buhari during a reception at the palace of The Awujale of Ijebuland. The photo caught fire as it were, going viral with a furious velocity that made that one image perhaps the most trended item within Nigeria’s digital space for several days.
Why this one photo should elicit such frenzied chatter is not far-fetched. There is a cultural context and there are the residual perceptual values attendant upon the towering image of the eminent personality who was captured doing the bowing.
The cultural frame bares examining in some detail. Especially, in this case, as it relates to how even men of far lesser stature than this admittedly maverick mega tycoon might have approached a to be treasured meet-and-greet presidential photo op in full glare of a sensation hunting paparazzi.
In our notoriously materialistic culture, cherished values such as humility, temperance, respect and good natured self-deprecation are increasingly disdained in favour of a particularly rankling pseudo machismo.
Against the back drop of such prevailing artificiality, where a perennial dueling of deformed egos dictate that everyone must outshine everyone else in a gathering, ‘swagger’ is incorrectly defined as you wearing your aggravated sense of self-importance on the stiffly starched sleeves of your overflowing babanriga. Should you belong to the minimalist faction of the new fashionista, swag is a ludicrous affectation of Hollywood cool as you strut into view in your own discomfitingly slim fitted interpretation of haute couture, chest thrust out with praetorian tautness – age, rank or eminence of the to be greeted party be damned.
Viewed within the jaundiced mediation of such a festering value system, it’s little wonder that Dr. Mike Adenuga – who by every indicator salient has been globally acclaimed as an A list member of the world’s wealthiest elite – got a culturally atrophying nation completely dazed by his reflexed act of obeisance to Nigeria’s number one citizen and indeed, Africa’s pre-eminent leader, if you have by some chance begun to comprehend the continental import of Muhammadu Buhari’s historic mission.
Indeed, given the common frailty of our human frame, it can be argued that many who have achieved a fraction of Dr. Adenuga’s monumental business success and financial accomplishments have been known to be susceptible to the intoxication and self-absorption which success can bring. It is this tendency – common to all races, sexes and faith persuasions, to become irredeemably swollen headed following even a modicum of success – that throws the multi-billionaire’s oft cited humble disposition into especially graphic relief.
But we should perhaps put universal paradigms aside for a moment. The significance of the lesson to be learnt from this intriguing photo and from the uncanny humility of Otunba Michael Adenuga in the face of phenomenal success, must be seen within the dynamics of our recent socio economic past.
Discernible, especially in the epoch beginning in the mid-2000s, was an insidious final derogation of all that dignified our public life, which had begun to seep into the very marrows of our nationhood. A decade long sleaze fest played out its own patented and tragically predictable template. It was a template in which the sundry lout who gets appointed or elected into even the tiniest position of influence soon pockets appropriated funds wholesale. And, with odious impunity, begins to paint the town red with his own peculiarly comical variant of bigmanism. In this sordid theatre of the absurd, courtesy, deference, much less reverence such as was seen displayed here by the iconic Dr. Adenuga are painfully absent. The reason is simple enough. If you were an empty barrel ‘big man’ wanna be, fixated all day every day on your own self-aggrandisement, intoxicated by a few miserable millions you never sweated for, such chivalrous attitudinal mores could not sync with your obsessive need to posture steely manliness.
To be sure, any serious student of history will agree that Nigeria’s seeming hurtling into the yawning abyss has been an age old foreboding. But the rapacious ethos which seemed to have found especially fertile ground in our national space in the decade immediately preceding Muhammadu Buhari’s coming certainly exacerbated the already endemic dysfunctions in our public and corporate sectors.
In consequence, a heavy pall of cynicism descended on our society. In somewhat nihilistic fashion, the seeming inevitability of rut in public life served to harden our collective psyche into acquiescing to the noise-some emergence of a new shadowy class of the suddenly ‘wealthy.’
In a nation whose primordial contradictions essentially revolve around primitive resource competition, where classical fault lines of economic and class contentions invariably take on distorting ethnocentric hues, a supra ethnic new fraternity of the rent-seeking pseudo successful arose. Perched ominously atop a fragile new Naija cosmopolis, this emergent class of nebulous wheelers and dealers is as rootless as it’s ruthless and as clueless as it’s classless. Visionless and faceless, loud and lewd, it is a consumption crazed prodigal band with zero organic linkage to the real productive base of society.
The cultural corollary to the ascendancy of this parasitic, non-productive new kind of money men is corrosive in the extreme and is directly antithetical to the kind of enduring values of hard work, wide spread economic empowerment, self-restraint and inclination to a humble, self-effacing lifestyle associated with Dr. Mike Adenuga.
With no discernible value addition beyond heating up the economy with an artificial sense of buoyancy that nevertheless leaves the scorched millions in their perennially impoverished state, the ubiquitous pseudo big boys or ‘bigz girlz’ of the new rent seeker elite assail our sensibilities with a flash in the pan exhibitionism that starkly contrasts with the quiet seminality evident in the Mike Adenuga phenomenon. Clouds without rain, mysteriously fattened trees without one hint of edible fruit, that pilfering, glutinous class is a cancerous bump in the womb of mother Nigeria.
Juxtapose such heart-breaking sterility with the intrinsic reproductive capacity, the sturdy rootedness, robust organic integration, and overall, profound development catalysing impact which Dr. Mike Adenuga’s epic strides, and to be said, a handful similar, have had and continue to have on the broadest spectrum of the nation’s economic value chain.
As family, friends, fans and associates continue to celebrate this trail blazing entrepreneur extraordinaire at 63, it is beneficial to a nation in the throes of rebirth for us to take a deeper look at the saliency of the Mike Adenuga model; the kind of hard edged value creation and broad based national edification which he has brought to the table with his inimitable, unyielding and implacably feisty entrepreneurial fire.
Now, writing about the reputedly reclusive chairman of Globacom has not been the easiest of tasks for the sundry commentator who has attempted a decoding of this extraordinarily accomplished Nigerian. Famously self-effacing, famously vanishing ‘spirit man’ as one eminent admirer describes him, the business mogul’s dogged commitment to media fasting betrays uncanny self-discipline and a rugged constitution that defies the seductions of public adulation. This has aided a flourishing of often speculative psycho analytical attempts in which some of the weirdest constructs of the Adenuga persona routinely titillate the itchy ears of an awe struck public.
Throw into the mix a certain disconcerting mystique that seems to define, for the uninitiated, solely the mercurial reputation of a hard driving business leader whose towering physicality coordinates unnervingly with a fiery passion that manifests in tempestuous torrents.
As someone who has had the rare privilege of encountering this extra ordinary human being at close, personal level, one can truthfully say that Dr. Michael Adeniyi Ishola Adenuga is a unique revelation of the mystifying, multiplex, unfathomably deep, yet awe inspiring and faith building glory of God.
That’s no idle sophistry. And yes, the mega achieving Ijebu high chief who is renowned for his fiercely competitive bullishness in business is not your Pentecostal merchant of faith. Yet, if you are the contemplative type, if you would tap into that internal antenna by which every human can connect to the special purpose and special presence of God in any given phenomenon, you cannot but feel the fiery fire, the gripping, edifying immanence of the higher power in the mind boggling bundle of humanity that you come to confront in Mike Adenuga.
A formidable imperial presence that is wont to relieve otherwise lion hearted men of their ego and swagger and their often misguided overconfidence co-exists seamlessly in one man with an incredibly earthy humanity and unexpected approachability, when you get to know him. An addictive, irrepressible inclination to generosity and philanthropy, at possibly a level unmatched by anyone else on the continent, combines with an almost manic abstinence from public acknowledgement of his mind numbing depth of giving. A hard-nosed, bring it on dare devilry in entrepreneurship that has braved monumental odds in relentless pursuit of one global scale endeavour after another, combines with astonishing levels of compassion, of empathy, loyalty and sacrificial attention when Adenuga senses that there is a real need in anyone on his surprisingly large network of friends, associates and dependents.
You have heard about the incredible amount of hard work he puts in, but you don’t quite get it until you have witnessed for yourself how this stupendously wealthy man whose fortune now ranks him among the planet’s top 100 according to Forbes, immerses himself in the trenches with stoic patience and finicky attention to gritty details, like he is just another unit supervisor. That is when you are struck with some sense of how much hard work this one man puts in, every single day, to create so much value for his business, for his country, for the thousands and thousands and tens of thousands, nay millions, whose lives and livelihoods are daily touched by his sprawling network of businesses.
You have heard about the man’s equally astonishing humility. And yes, you could be forgiven for missing your step a bit on hearing that word, having witnessed the volcanic eruption that chewed up a sloppy staffer who thought that this furnace of productivity is one rumba dance party venue. Until you catch the big man unawares, again and again and yet again, in his elemental off work moment. That is when you witness, again and again and yet again, the habitual differential courtesy and deep reverence with which this business colossus relates to his own elders.
If Mike Adenuga ever gets to visit your home, he will for sure not greet your gateman with quite as deep reverence as he greeted our president in that national museum worthy photograph, but I can stake my life on the fact that on reflex, he will greet that hapless one manning your gate with an involuntary bow of his head. Having had the privilege of his acquaintance many times at home and abroad, silently watching this powerful man engage with the widest cross section of demographies, I have come to realise that humility, in some mysterious way, is at the very core of his being. Totally contradictory for an otherwise fearsome combatant entrepreneur.
In time, I came to realise that when Chairman Adenuga greets the lowliest person he meets with his patented head bow and addresses them with a ‘yes sir’ or ‘yes ma’am’, this unfathomably deep man is not being condescending nor is he grandstanding. He is simply reverencing God. He is simply acknowledging the sanctity of that individual’s human person. He is simply recognising that in that stiffly standing job candidate, who is struggling so clumsily to keep his composure in the presence of the venerated Chairman, might yet be the next generation Forbes listed multi-billionaire.
You have got to catch Chairman Adenuga at some discreet joint on a night out with the boys – the boys not referring to fellow mega billionaires, but regular, base level folks drawn from across the group – amidst a superfluity of drinks and chops and rib cracking humour in which the chairman himself leads with unabashedly self-deprecating wit, for you to begin to get some sense of the earthy humanity of this leader of leaders. Ask anyone who has caught any real glimpse of the business mogul, including those with whom he might have now fallen out – resultant usually from some brawling over ideas – and they will tell you that in the kind of humility you find in Dr. Michael Adeniyi Ishola Adenuga, your own very life is challenged.
Yet, and now you are back to that mystifying, unfathomable glory of God, yet, here is a man whose business accomplishments are of such monstrous scale that even a globally rated business magazine, not ordinarily known for sloppiness, would choke on its own rating of Mike Adenuga’s net worth, and in rather flustered manner, hurriedly issue a rebasing addendum which added several more billion dollars to its estimation of his fortune. That is, even as his admirers shake their heads in amusement at what they consider a pitiful effort to quantify, to the last exact drop, the immeasurable waters and unfathomable depths of the Atlantic Ocean!
None of the foregoing, it needs be said, relieves any credible commentator of the burden of acknowledging that, like any other human being, Dr. Michael Adenuga must necessarily have his own flaws. To a man who is so given to spontaneity and whose searing intelligence sees through every nuance of a matter, it actually insults the eminence of his person and the dignity of his matchless life story for anyone to say otherwise. Think up any number of great achievers, from Winston Churchill to Steve Jobs, from Uthman Dan Fodio to Enoch Adeboye, from Obafemi Awolowo to Bill Gates, who have impacted our world as profoundly as their stories indicate, who didn’t exhibit this same essential humanity that can sometimes gore even ardent admirers sore.
Relatedly, various writers, no doubt well meaning, have sought to humanise the larger than life Adenuga story by reminding readers of how this man once paid his way through college in America by driving taxi cabs and moonlighting as a security guard. Inspiring story to anyone’s ears except an irredeemable cynic looser. But perhaps much more instructive in de-constructing the humanity of this towering enigma, indeed much more needful as a much traumatised nation tries to navigate its way to a sustainable model for true development, is for all and sundry to have a clear grasp of what this prodigiously accomplished man did in pursuit of wealth, what he has done and is doing to sustain and grow the wealth, what he is doing with the wealth, and what kind of man he has chosen to be in spite of the wealth.
In pursuit of success, and as liberally attested to by so many who were used by God to play some part in this man’s epic journey to destined greatness, Mike Adenuga combined unyielding ambition with obsessive hard work and displayed unparalleled humility that endeared him to destiny helpers. When with dogged determination, his big break finally came, Mike Adenuga only doubled down on the hard work and committed his heart and soul to daily creating palpable economic value and social equity for a nation that gave him so much. This sustained authenticity, the deeply ingrained sense of responsibility that daily drives him to continually multiply the value to the greatest benefit of the widest sections of society, is what truly marks Dr. Mike Adenuga out. In his dogged demonstration that real growth comes to a nation, not by the slothful indulgence of those who have privileged access to our common wealth but through concerted focus on real value creation, is the real lesson in Mike Adenuga’s yet unparalleled story.