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How Mike Adenuga Joined the Forbes List of Billionaires

The story of Otunba Michael Adeniyi Ishola Adenuga, founder of Globacom Nigeria, Consolidated oil and Gas (Conoil) and Equatorial Trust Bank is one of the most inspiring stories I have ever come across. He is being tagged Nigeria’s number one come back kid; the proverbial cat with nine lives who started with nothing, built a conglomerate and went on to become one of the richest men in Africa.

On the 9th of March 2011, Forbes Magazine declared Mike Adenuga the second richest Nigerian billionaire. Now how did Mike Adenuga make it to the Forbes list of billionaires? How did he emerge the second richest man in Nigeria and one of the richest black billionaires?

How best will you describe a man who started as a cab driver, lost two telecom licenses, lost a bank, fled into exile and still went on to become one of the richest black men in the world. His wealth is estimated to equal that of Aliko Dangote; the richest black man in the world. Sit back and learn how to keep going when the going gets tough.

Mike Adenuga was born on April 29, 1953 in Ibadan, Oyo State Nigeria. But he hails from Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State. His father, Chief Mike Adenuga Senior was a school teacher and the mother, Chief Mrs. Onyindamola Adenuga was a successful businesswoman in Ibadan. Mike grew up under the great influence of his mother and some observers have traced his business acumen to his late mother.

Mike Adenuga is not on our list of school drop out billionaires because he attended Ibadan Grammar School, obtained a degree in business administration from Northwestern University, Alva, Oklahoma, and an MBA, majoring in marketing from Peace University, New York, both in United States of America. He also has an honorary doctorate degree from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye Ogun State. While schooling in the United States of America, Mike Adenuga worked as a cab driver and security guard to pay his tuition fees.

How Mike Adenuga Started Business

When he returned from United States, he took over the running of his father’s sawmill business. Mike later ventured into commodity trading in 1970. At the age of 22, Mike observed that the issue of stolen car stereos was becoming a chronic problem so he started importing car stereos and lace from the United States of America and Austria respectively. At the age of 26, Mike Adenuga made his first million.

How Mike Adenuga Joined the Forbes List of Billionaires

After the liberalization of the banking sector in the late 1980s by the government, Mike Adenuga obtained a banking license and incorporated his bank, Devcom Bank on June 9, 1989. The bank commenced operation that same year. Mike Adenuga later obtained another banking license and incorporated Equatorial Trust Bank. Few years later, both banks later merged into a mega Bank with the name Equatorial Trust Bank.

Mike Adenuga also acquired some oil blocks in the late 1980s and Consolidated Oil (Conoil) was born. Back in those days, indigenous firms shy away from the risk of oil exploration so they sell their oil licenses to expatriates. But Mike Adenuga went against the norm by choosing to drill for oil instead of selling out the license. Not minding the risk involved, Mike Adenuga followed his instincts and explored for oil.  He successfully stuck oil in 1991 and became a major player in the oil and gas sector.

All seem to be going well until late 1998, when Mike Adenuga decided to expand his business empire by obtaining a GSM license. After obtaining the license and entering into strategic partnership with Alcatel of Germany, everything was put in place to get the business rolling. The lunch date was set to September 1, 1999. But suddenly, the new government cancelled all GSM licenses issued out claiming due process wasn’t followed. Instead of grumbling and lamenting over his predicament, Mike Adenuga went after another license.

Mike Adenuga won the bid to a GSM license with a massive sum of $285 million, which he raised from Bank Paribas of Paris. Mike Adenuga’s love for his business and his firm belief that business and politics do not mix incurred the wrath of the government. The result was the cancellation of his second GSM license. Along with the GSM license also went his $20million application fee.

Mike Adenuga admits that the cancellation of his second GSM license was one of the most trying periods of his life. Down but not out, Mike Adenuga kept hope alive and pressed on. He applied all legal strategy within his reach and after a long tussle; he regained his GSM license back. With his GSM license back, Mike Adenuga founded the second national telecom operator, Global Communication Limited.

Still not satisfied, the government unleashed the Anti-graft agencies on him. In fear for his life, he fled the country and returned when a new government took over. Early 2009, during the banking reform in Nigeria, Mike Adenuga was stripped of his bank, Equatorial Trust Bank.

But like a come back kid, he regained control of his bank in the month of December 2009 after he was proven innocent of all fraudulent and sharp practices charges leveled against him by the Central Bank. Despite all the trials and challenges he has passed through, Mike Adenuga continue to soar higher like an eagle. Every challenge he faced and solved seems to take him to a higher level in life and business.

His company Globacom was the first to introduce per second billing system after other major operators said it was something they were only considering in the future. In its first year of operation, Glo Mobile became the fastest growing GSM network in Africa, achieving a record one million subscribers and covering over 87 towns in just nine months. The network has extended to other parts of Africa and is seeking to connect other parts of the world soon. The company in 2007 won the National Operator of the Year while Glo Mobile received the Mobile Company of the Year.

Mike Adenuga is a holder of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), was awarded CEO of the year by Thisday in 2004, named African Entrepreneur of The Year at the maiden African Telecoms Awards (ATA) on August 15, 2007 and the Nigerian Information Technology and Telecommunication (NITTA) in the same year awarded him the Man of the Year for his contributions to the growth of telecommunication in Africa. The” Confederation of African Football (CAF) during CAF General Assembly in Khartoum in 2007 conferred Mike Adenuga with the Pillar of Sports title.

In sports, Mike Adenuga also has made a name for himself. He has been at the fore front of supporting not only the Nigerian league, the national team and the supporters club but other sports as well. March 17, 2005 at the historic Ritz Hotel, Paris, France, marked the dawn of a new era for Nigerian football. On that fateful day, Mike Adenuga leading Globacom officials signed a contract with the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) vesting the title and marketing rights on the nation’s national carrier for the CAF awards. Mike Adenuga was awarded the coveted Silverbird man of the year in January 2010 and by March 2010; he was voted the most outstanding business personality in the last 50 years.

Such is the story of Mike Adenuga, Nigeria’s No 1 come back kid. It is a story of brevity, courage and persistence. Had Mike Adenuga given up after the first or second cancellation of his license; had he failed to take the risk and drill for oil, his name might have been lost in the sands of time and he wouldn’t have made the Forbes list of billionaires.

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