He is there, quiet, unobtrusive, self-effacing. But he’s also there like a bull. Powerful, forceful, effective, high-octane. Sometimes you see him, most times, you don’t.
That is Mike Adenuga Jnr for you, the illustrious son of Nigeria, Africa, and the world, who turns 70 on Saturday, April 29.
He means different things to different people, and many things to many people. An investor, huge one, with tremendous national and global recognition. A czar of the oil and gas industry. Telecommunications. Real estate. Banking. Construction. Hospitality. Entertainment. Sports. And many others.
But to me, the greatest defining aspect of the Adenuga persona is that he’s a real human being, one with a heart for men. From his lofty height, where he keenly watches what is going on around him, and around the world, he sees human frailty, human needs, and intervenes as necessary. His philanthropy is legendary, done without fuss, without aggrandizement or preferment. He just strikes like lightning, and then vanishes. He does it for all men. High, low, known, unknown. Sportsmen and women, people in entertainment, arts and culture, all sectors.
Peter Fregene was the Nigerian goalkeeper of my boyhood. He manned the posts for the Green Eagles, as well as ECN and Stationery Stores Football Club, from the mid-1960s, to the early 80s. He was so very athletic, and did daring things to keep the ball from getting into his net.
Fregene retired, as we must all inevitably do, and bad days came for him. He retired into penury, as happens with most of our sports heroes and heroines. He was living from hand to mouth.
And fate dealt him a further blow. He went down with stroke. That agile flying cat, kicking, jumping, prancing, could no longer move his hands, nor his legs. Sad, very sad.
You know that in our country, when you are in such state, you are on your own. Strictly. Unless God shows up. And He did for Fregene, through a man called Mike Adenuga Jnr.
One day, emissaries from Globacom, one of the many conglomerates owned by Adenuga, turned up at Fregene’s dingy abode. They brought him succor. Money, food, change of clothes, and many other goodies.
When you are sick, and also poor, you feel sicker. At death’s door. But let there be an intervention, like Fregene had from Adenuga, and life flows back into you, gloriously. Even if you eventually die (no man has power over that eventuality), you die a happy man. Thankful, rejoicing.
And you know what? After Adenuga’s emissaries saw Fregene, they didn’t want it publicized. Mum was the word, till it leaked out. A good leakage. And how many of such interventions have been made? Hundreds. Thousands. Innumerable. Quietly. Big Brother watches, and acts, inconspicuously. What your left hand does, don’t let the right know. This Adenuga!
President Buhari loves men like Adenuga. When he was emerging as possible President in the build up to the 2015 election, there were jitters in many sectors, including the business community. Would this staid, almost ascetic man from Daura let us be? Or would he come after us like an avenging angel? Won’t he come back with draconian laws of his military days, which would send us scampering for cover?
But Buhari assured. If you are wealthy, and it is by fair means, your wealth would be protected under me. Eight years later, the promise has been kept. To the letter. The Adenugas, Dangotes, Abdulsamad Rabius, Jim Ovias, Tony Elumelus, blessed and wealthy people, have grown bigger and bigger. And not at the expense of the system. Government just provided the enabling environment, and they thrived in it.
Adenuga has a way of looking for you. Out of the blues. You wonder how a man who is so big, with tentacles everywhere, remembers the minutest details, the smallest person.
When I met him at close quarters for the first time, as editor of Daily Sun, almost 20 years ago, he pumped my hands cheerfully, and said; Femi, bawo ni? In a filled hall, he knew who I was. And asked how I was doing. From that moment, he got me. I became an Adenuga fan. And every Christmas, without fail, I got his season’s goodwill message. Some people say a friend in government is a friend lost. Not with Adenuga. When my address changed to the Presidential Villa in Abuja, his goodwill messages followed me there. What a man!
I have a Globacom line, courtesy Adenuga. I’ve used it since about 2005. And you know what? I don’t pay a dime on it. Every month, the line gets automatically recharged, not minding that I’d been in government even for 8 years. Never seen such a large heart.
What do you do for such a man at 70, other than to garland him in your own way? He has many National Honours. OON (Officer of the Order of the Niger). CON (Commander of the Order of Niger). And GCON (Grand Commander of the Niger), the highest available to a non-President or head of state in our country.
And from across the borders, he is The Companion of the Star of Ghana, and Commander of the Legion of Honour, awarded by French President, Emmanuel Macron, among many others. And in his hometown? He is Otunba Apesin of Ijebuland.
As Mike Adenuga Jnr turns 70, I just asked myself: imagine if there was no Adenuga? Then thousands and thousands of jobs across different sectors would not be available. Our youths, men, women, would just be pounding the streets. Miserable, suicidal, prone to all sorts of criminalities.
There would be no Globacom, which saved us from the slave market of heavy phone charges. We used to pay through our noses to make calls. Even if you spoke for ten seconds, you got billed for a whole minute, which was not cheap then. The existing networks told us that per second billing was not possible, and we had to live with it, or get the hell out. Till Adenuga came with per second billing through Globacom, and all the other networks had to shape up, or ship out. Thanks to the man often called The Bull. A Bull with a difference. Gentle even in a china shop.
Imagine if there was no Adenuga. No Conoil. No Equitorial Trust Bank of those days. No Globacom. And philanthropy would have been short of a kind soul, and the world a poorer place.
Happy birthday to the mystery man, but who shows his hands in diverse, positive ways. May you live longer, and continue to be a blessing. Amen.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity