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Sunday, 30 April 2023 06:45

[OPINION] Mike Adenuga at 70: A Tribute to the Grandmaster - Reuben Abati


I have no reservations whatsoever in joining many others at home and abroad today, Saturday, April 29, to celebrate the birthday of the man popularly known as Otunba, Dr. Mike Adenuga on the occasion of his attainment of the landmark age of three scores and ten. It is trite knowledge that 70 is the Biblical age. The average time of longevity in Nigeria is 54, a country bedevilled by many existential crises and issues. Living up to the age of 70, in a country where death is cheap, poverty is rife, political leaders are not trusted, the road lies in wait to grab harvests on a daily basis - is in itself an achievement.   It is therefore fit and proper to celebrate Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga Jr. on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Born on April 29, 1935, he is seventy today, and he truly deserves our applause.  

In the past week, I have seen a surfeit of tributes and announcements. One particularly notable one was posted by Aare Dele Momodu, one of Otunba Adenuga’s many proteges and beneficiaries, on his social media pages. Aare Momodu tells us that today, to be precise, there will be no loud parties… Otunba Adenuga has chosen to be at home with his family to reflect on an unprecedented trajectory; thanking God for seventy years of abundant grace, (2) that those who wish to celebrate with him should do so in modesty and simplicity which reflect his own reclusive personality; (3) that he would be delighted to have the younger generation read about his epic battles for success and imbibe some of the extraordinary attributes that catapulted him to being one of the most enigmatic icons on planet earth; (4) Dele Momodu says  Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr has dominated the business space in the last four decades with investments in commodity trading, real estate, banking, oil and gas, telecommunications, manufacturing and construction. … and (5) he adds that Mike Adenuga is a most generous giver and a silent donor to worthy causes…” I concur. Seventy years of achievement. Seventy years of glory. 

The only part of this advisory that I think will not fly is the build-up story that Otunba Mike Adenuga is going to spend his special day, today, ensconced with family, reflecting on his 70 years, in line with the virtues of modesty and simplicity and a reclusive personality. Yes, I know, that Otunba. Mike Adenuga is a self-effacing personality. With all his accomplishments, you won’t find him making noise at social events, throwing money around or trying to prove that he is a big man, as Nigerians say. But come off it, he is 70 today. He deserves to stage a dance, and sing a song. Where I come from, every birthday has what I call implications because birthdays are not for dying, they are for celebrations not monastic ruminations and hibernation. Otunba Adenuga’s aides should be told to urge their boss to celebrate. God has been kind to him. Adenuga at 70 is an occasion for pepper soup and jollof rice, and let no one tell him to restrict the feast to his family. The other day when Tony Elumelu, Chairman of United Bank of Africa (UBA) turned 60, I was quietly in my house when they sent me jollof rice and other gift items which I received and consumed with relish. When, a few years earlier, Nduka Obaigbena, the publisher of this newspaper, turned 60 we all went to Eko Hotel, the rooftop oh, not any small space, where we all had fun and took photographs. I ate and I took something home! 

Can someone please drag out Otunba Mike Adenuga, today and let him have fun, as we all join his friends and family to wish him a happy birthday, because he is indeed a jolly good fellow, an icon, a role model, a man with a good heart and a dependable guy. He is one of those persons that President Muhammadu Buhari referred to the other year when he talked about diamonds that make Nigeria great. Mike Adenuga is indeed a fine representation of the Nigerian dream, one of those who give hope to younger generations that it is possible to achieve, excel in whatever you put your mind and energy to, and surpass your dreams. Michael Adenuga is identified with two major animals as totems of signification: the first is the Bull. The Bull is the second sign of the Zodiac sign: Taurus, an earth sign relating to persons born between April 20 and May 20. Persons born under this sign are cosmic oxens, steadfast, loyal and ready to roll up their sleeves and get results. Apart from Otunba Mike Adenuga, one other Nigerian, in fact the only other one that I know who goes by the epithet “the Bull” is Daniel Amokachi, the ace footballer and legend.  Daniel Amokachi even in retirement is one of the best that ever played football. There are men and there are persons. I submit that our subject in this commentary is a man. It is not for nothing that Otunba Mike Adenuga is portrayed in other representations as a lion. The lion is the king of animals.   In his many expeditions in the course of seven decades, Mike Adenuga has indeed proven himself to be a king. I mean this in the literal sense without prejudice to the fact that he is the son of a princess of Ijebu Ode, who married an Ijebu-Igbo man, whose burial is recorded as one of the most befitting and colourful in contemporary times, nor the fact that Mike Adenuga is a first cousin of the Ogbagba II, paramount ruler of Ijebu Kingdom, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, one of the longest living monarchs in Nigeria having spent more than 60 years on the throne.  My point is that Adenuga had royal blood in him, but he became king not in the palace, but on the streets of struggle and self-realization.  Despite his privileged background with noble connections, he actually sent himself to school in the United States. 

Business schools teach case studies, and the models can be organizational or individual-specific. I once sat in classes where the subject was about CEOs – what makes them tick, how they think, how they are made, and why they do what they do. Mike Adenuga would prove to be a classic case study, and a source of lessons for the younger generation. Some of his critics, and I am sure there would be many out there, are likely to say that he is a lucky guy, who managed or happened to be in the right place at the right time. Afterall, he attended Ibadan Grammar School. Founded in March 1913, Ibadan Grammar School was one of those top elite schools in Ibadan, of Anglican Church extraction.  This was the school that Mike Adenuga attended. The school also had on its alumni list, Justice Franklin O.M. Atake, a distinguished jurist, Chief Ayo Rosij, lawyer, politician, former Minister; Chief Michael Omolewa, the industrialist; my late boss, mentor, benefactor and employer, Mr.Alex Ibru, founder of The Guardian Newspapers and the Sheraton Hotels, Dr Olusegun Agagu, former Governor of Ondo State,  and Chief Bola Ige, lawyer, politicians, author and former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.. The school also had the reputation of having had as principal and founder, the late Pa Bishop Alexander Babatunde Akinyele who brought much distinguished glory to the school. 

We had a lecturer, Mr. Sonny Samson-Akpan, in Calabar in those days who never failed to remind us that he attended Ibadan Grammar School. If we wanted to prod him, we would point out that Ibadan also had Government College, Ibadan (GCI) which had an even more glowing story. The truth is that once upon a time in this country, alumni and alumna of different schools used to compete for glory. They were proud of their alma mater. But that is another story entirely. After Ibadan Grammar School, Mike Adenuga went to Comprehensive High School Aiyetoro for his A’Levels as it is called. “Compro,” as that school was popularly known was one of the best schools in Nigeria’s Western Region. It had excellent teachers, offering American-styled education. It provided a truly comprehensive education across disciplines and subjects. Products of the school, from that era, even till today, still go about as if they are on stilts, although the school like many others of that glorious season has changed form, content and substance.   

The Adenuga story is that he later went on to the United States for further education, and there, working as a taxi driver, he sent himself through college, getting a first degree from Northwestern Oklahoma State University and a graduate degree from Pace University, New York, majoring in Business Administration. The man we are celebrating today is that taxi driver, I think they call a taxi driver, a cabbie in the US, who is now 70 and is known as one of the most accomplished men on the African continent. He became an entrepreneur quite early, buying and selling. He was already a millionaire by the age of 26. He sold lace and soft drinks. By 1990, he had diversified into many areas of enterprise and industry, banking, oil and gas, entrepreneurship. In 1990, his company, Consolidated Oil and Gas, (CONOIL) had struck oil in commercial quantities in the shallow waters of South Western states of Nigeria. He also founded a bank, now defunct - the Equatorial Trust Bank (ETB). He is also today, the Chairman and Founder of Globacom, the second largest telecom operator in Nigeria, with significant presence in other African countries including Ghana and Benin Republic. Adenuga is regarded by Forbes and other wealth-watching groups as the second richest man in Nigeria. Adenuga is the second richest man in Nigeria and the sixth richest in Africa. To bring that to the level of the common man, each time you make a call on the Globacom network just to say “Hello My Neighbour. How are you today?”. Mike Adenuga makes money. He mints money.  

I have been attending classes in International Political Economy taught by Professor D. K. Ologbenla who has been treating such subjects as the Theories of Capitalism, the definitions, scope and essence of political economy the Tenets of Capitalism, International Aid, Multinational Corporations, IMF/World Bank, and in all this he talks about the capitalist as an agent for wealth production/creation, property acquisition, job creation and value addition. In other words, whether you view capitalism from the laissez faire, neo-liberal perspective or the communist conception, capitalism ultimately adds value, and it is better to have a balanced perspective of the various propositions.  Otunba Mike Adenuga is one of those capitalist agents involved in trade and industry and one of the most impactful in Africa, promoting prosperity and economic growth.  It is instructive that he has been honored by his own country, Nigeria, as a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), the second highest honour in Nigeria. He has also received high honours from Ghana, and France where in 2018, President Emmanuel Macron conferred on him the prestigious Commander of the Legion d’Honneur. In Ijebuland, he is Otunba Apesin. He is also one of the top-most influential Africans alive today. But the key thing is his promotion of welfare capitalism, his commitment to charity and community (the three Cs), philanthropy, and the manner in which he constantly gives back and helps to recreate society. I have read quite a number of tributes in the last week, from persons who have given testimonies of how they have benefitted directly from his generosity. As someone who has known him since I was a young, very angry, activist, journalist, I have been a beneficiary of his many acts of generosity. I don’t intend to tell those stories here today. I would rather reserve my “Adenuga and I stories” till another date. Most of our people are too envious. I don’t want to put anybody under unnecessary pressure as in: hen hen, is it Reuben Abati alone? I don’t want to attract the attention of you people who put eyes and mouths in other people’s matter. This is about Otunba Michael Adenuga: his humanism, his accomplishments, his heroism. 

He has done so much for the land of his birth: creating wealth, prosperity, opportunities and building lives. As he turns 70 today, I urge you to charge your glasses and let’s propose a toast to this great son of Ijebuland, Ogun State, Nigeria, Africa, and a global, bridge builder across the world as he turns 70. Is Bella reading this? Bella Adenuga (now Mrs Disu) is Otunba Adenuga’s daughter, if you are there, please bell me. I will tell you my address, for the onward transportation of my own Birthday mende-mende as they say in Yoruba language. Even the great Michael Adenuga must know that it is not fair for him to hide on his birthday today. Happy birthday sir. Many Happy Returns. Cheers.


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