By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
Nigerian billionaire, Femi Otedola is a self-effacing businessman who prefers to tread the quiet side of life, and walks the business promenade with less noise, skirting the fringes of limelight, while naturally avoiding its hug. He has made good for himself as a business man making him one of Africa’s richest.
Much as he loves to walk the lonely path undisturbed by paparazzi, he has not been able to wade off the burden of success, which most often, comes with some controversy, borne of variables that accompany successful people. Thus, in 2012, Femi Otedola was reported by the media to have given bribe to Boniface Emenalo and Farouk Lawan who was then, the Chairman of the House Committee on Fuel Subsidy Regime, “Integrity group” a sum of $620,000.
The reason reported by witnesses as pertains the actions of Femi Otedola was that he wanted the name of his company removed from the list of firms indicted by Farouk Lawan’s committee for abusing the fuel subsidy regime in 2012. Farouk Lawan and Boniface Emenalo were at risk of going to prison if found guilty of receiving money from Femi Otedola as receiving of bribe by a government official is an offense punishable by Imprisonment.
In February 2, 2013, both individuals Farouk Lawan and Boniface Emenalo were charged to court by Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Commission (ICPC) and their trial was at the Capital Territory High Court in Abuja to face a seven-count charge of bribery, an offense that violates Section 10 (a) (ii) of ICPC Act, 2000 and punishable under Section 10 of that same Act.
Farouk Lawan pleaded not guilty, and initially so did Boniface Emenalo; however, events at the court of law took an unforeseen turn as Boniface Emenalo eventually admitted he was guilty and, in fact, had received several bribes on behalf of Farouk Lawan. Be that as it may, new evidence provided by the persecution was very concrete as Lawan was caught red-handed in a video receiving money from Otedola reported the matter to the police.
It subsequently emerged that Otedola had previously reported Lawan’s harassment and demands for bribes to the State Security Services, who had orchestrated a sting operation. Lawan was charged with corruption in February 2013.
Over the years, Otedola has displayed the palpable humanitarian streak in him, and in this way has touched many lives. Otedola has recently been involved in a number of commendable interventions for ailing former Nigerian international players, including 1980 AFCON winning team –captain Christian Chukwu and goalkeeper Peter Fregene. Billionaire businessman has reportedly taken up the medical expenses of ailing Nollywood actor, Sadiq Daba.
In a recent statement, Otedola said he was sad to hear that the veteran actor had fallen ill again. In 2017, Sadiq Daba, who had been battling leukaemia and prostate cancer for the past few years, returned to Nigeria from the UK where he went for medical treatment. The ace broadcaster also revealed that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2017. This was barely months after he was hospitalised due to leukaemia.
A few weeks back, a popular journalist, AzukaJebose, announced that the actor has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD.
Reacting to the actor’s ill health, Mr Otedola said, “I heard about Mr. Sadiq Daba’s health condition when it was brought to my attention through an online news story I read two days ago,” he said.
“I was saddened to hear that he had taken ill again after overcoming his challenges from prostate cancer just two years ago. From the news report, I gathered that he was rushed to the Emergency Unit of LUTH after being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
“I must say that even though I don’t know Mr. Daba personally, he is a face I am familiar with through the old TV drama production ‘Cock Crow at Dawn’ which I used to watch while growing up.
“I was moved by a sense of nostalgia and concern when I read of his medical situation recently and decided to take over his medical bills. He has been visited and arrangements are being made to support him.
“In other climes, the likes of Sadiq Daba and other such actors who more or less paved the way for the entertainment industry and the Nollywood industry in Nigeria (which is touted as the 3rd largest movie industry in the world) would be celebrated as icons and due recognition would be accorded to them.
“For me, taking care of Sadiq’s medical expenses is my little way of showing appreciation and gratitude for the good memories he created for me and others in the past.”
In April, the business tycoon had offered to foot the medical bills of Christian Chukwu, former Super Eagles’ captain and coach. He also footed the medical bills of Peter Fregene, former international goalkeeper, and Victor Olaotan, the veteran actor, who was treated in Turkey.
Otedola has made several donations to the Michael Otedola University Scholarship Scheme, which was established in 1985 to give underprivileged students in Lagos State access to higher education. In 2005 Zenon donated N200 million to the scheme’s fund. Since its inception the scheme has benefited more than 1,000 students.
In 2005, Otedola made a N300 million personal donation to the completion of the National Ecumenical Centre—Nigeria’s primary place of Christian worship—in Abuja.
In 2007 he was among a group of donors who gave N200 million to the State Security Trust Fund in a drive to reduce crime in Lagos State. Later that year he donated N100 million to the Otedola College of Primary Education in Noforija, Epe. In 2008 he donated N80 million to the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Port Harcourt.
As a child Otedola wanted to be a Reverend Father but his business instinct started quite early. Otedola said: “I had my first business at the age of six. It was called FEMCO. I would offer to groom my parents’ guests’ nails. Then, write a receipt and charge them for my service. They paid me too. I always had an interest in business.”
In 2003, having identified an opportunity in the fuel retail market, Otedola secured the finance to set up Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd, a petroleum products marketing and distribution company. As owner and chairman of Zenon, in 2004 he invested N15 billion in downstream infrastructure development and acquired storage depots at Ibafon, Apapa as well as four cargo vessels, amounting to a combined total storage capacity of 147,000 metric tonnes. The same year he acquired a fleet of 100 DAF fuel-tanker trucks for N1.4 billion.
By 2005, Zenon controlled a major share of the Nigerian diesel market, supplying fuel to most of the major manufacturers in the country including Dangote Group, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Nigerian Breweries, MTN, Unilever, Nestle and Guinness.
In March 2007, it was announced that ten banks had approved a syndicated loan of US$1.5 billion (N193.5 billion) to Zenon as working capital to build the largest premium motor spirit storage facility in Africa. Later that year, Zenon acquired a 28.7 per cent stake in African Petroleum, one of Nigeria’s largest fuel marketers. Zenon also invested across the financial sector, becoming the largest shareholder in a number of Nigerian banks including Zenith Bank and United Bank for Africa (UBA). As well as diesel, Zenon also became an important player in the kerosene market.
In 2007, Otedola was appointed chairman and chief executive of Africa Petroleum through the acquisition of a controlling stake in the business. In December that year he personally acquired a further 29.3 per cent of the company for N40 billion. A merger of this personal holding with Zenon’s brought Otedola’s total stake to 55.3 per cent.
Following Otedola’s entry into the company African Petroleum’s share price rose sharply, increasing the market capitalisation from N36 billion to N217 billion in six months. In 2008, in response to public concerns over the availability and pricing of kerosene, African Petroleum launched an initiative to saturate the market and sell fuel at N50 per litre from more than 500 service stations across Nigeria.
In March 2009, Otedola became the second Nigerian after Aliko Dangote to appear on the Forbes list of dollar-denominated billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion. In October 2009, Otedola announced a move to upgrade African Petroleum’s liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage terminals in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt. Difficult economic conditions caused by the slump in world oil prices and credit squeeze of 2008–09 led African Petroleum to record a loss in 2009.
In December 2010, African Petroleum rebranded, changing its name to Forte Oil PLC. Otedola carried out a restructuring of the business, focusing on technology and improved corporate governance. Forte Oil returned to profit in 2012. In 2013, as part of the Federal Government’s push to liberalise Nigeria’s ailing power sector, Otedola financed 57% of Forte Oil subsidiary Amperion Ltd, which acquired the 414 MW Geregu Power Plant for $132 million.
Forte’s improved financial position and diversification into power generation resulted in a 1,321 per cent rise in its share price during 2013. The first half of 2014 saw the company’s pre-tax profit more than double year-on-year to N4.19 billion $25.7 million). Revenue growth for the whole year was 33 per cent. In November 2014, Otedola returned to the Forbes rich list having dropped off it following the fall in share price during 2009.
In September 2015 Forte Oil sold 17 per cent of its equity to Swiss commodity trader Mercuria Energy Group, giving Forte access to global commodity markets. The deal was thought to have given Otedola an estimated $200 million.
In 1994, Otedola established CentreForce Ltd, specialising in finance, investments and trading. Otedola is also the owner of Swift Insurance.
Otedola is chief executive and president of SeaForce Shipping Company Ltd and was at one point Nigeria’s largest ship owner after extending control over the distribution of diesel products. One of his ships, a flat bottomed bunker vessel with a storage capacity of 16,000 metric tonnes, was the first of its kind in Africa.
In January 2006, Otedola was appointed a non-executive director of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc, a multi-sectoral conglomerate established in 2004 by then-President Obasanjo to respond to market opportunities requiring heavy capital investment in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa. He held this post until February 2011.
Otedola has made a number of real estate investments, including a N2.3 billion acquisition in February 2007 by Zenon of Stallion House in Victoria Island in Lagos, from the Federal Government. The following month he was appointed chairman of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja and tasked with driving its expansion and upgrade to a seven star faciility. He is the owner of FO Properties Ltd.
Otedola has been reported to be a financier of the People’s Democratic Party and is said to have contributed N100 million to President Obasanjo’s re-election expenses in 2003. He was a close ally of President Goodluck Jonathan. He has served as a member of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) since 2004, and the same year was appointed to a committee tasked with developing commercial relations with South Africa. In 2011, Femi Otedola was appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan to Nigeria’s National Economic Management Team.
Recently, he divested off Forte Oil, and now concentrates on his huge investments in power sector.
Ambrose Omordion, chief research officer at Investa and financial analyst said “Otedola is one of the big five in Nigeria’s big business, he has paid his due, but largely have benefitted from government patronage. His latest foray into humanitarian activity as in helping the needy is a way of paying back to society for his success. ”
” I think the man is on right course, you can make such enormous money from the opportunity the society has given you without giving back part of it to the vulnerable members. It is good that he has helped people like Christian Chukwu and actor Daba among others”, said Ayodele Owotunsi, a banker.
On his own, Dr. Wasiu Ajibade, an economist and financial analyst noted that “Otedola is one of few Nigerians that benefitted from government patronage. Obasanjo and successive administrations really patronised businessmen like Dangote, Otedola and others. So, what he (Otedola) is now doing in the area of philanthropy and humanitarian activity is expected, given the enormous opportunity the society has given him.”
He was born on 4 November 1962 in Ibadan, but his familial background is Epe, Lagos State. His father, late Michael Otedola was former governor of Lagos State from 1992 to 1993. Odetola’s chain of businesses spans shipping, real estate finance and now power. He was a major importer of fuel products.