Meet five Nigerian oil and gas billionaires who started small

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On the hot sunny Sunday afternoon of January 15, 1956, something remarkable happened in Nigeria; oil was discovered in commercial quantity at Oloibiri, a small swamp 45 miles away from Port Harcourt.

There were almost no Nigerians on that expedition and the regulatory environment was bare. Two decades later, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was established to better guide activities in the sector and currently, there are efforts to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill that will give the industry further direction.

For more than two and half decades after oil was discovered in Nigeria, no major Nigerian oil company operated in the country. The industry was dominated by International Oil Companies (IOCs). However, things have changed so much in the last 20-30 years. More Nigerian entrepreneurs are now successfully handling complex aspects of the industry’s operations.

Here are five who have done quite well.

  1. Aliko Dangote

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Arguably the most influential businessman in Africa and Nigeria, Dangote started out as a small trader in 1977. It took him 30 years of relentless struggle to build the profile he now has.

As of today, the 60-year-old is estimated by Forbes as the 67th richest individual in the world, and the richest in Africa. His area of expertise is not oil and gas but he has made a remarkable inroad into the industry.

He is building a refinery which is clearly going to be a game changer. According to the business mogul, “12,000MW of power generation can be added to the grid with the additional gas from our system. We will be creating about 4,000 direct and 145,000 indirect jobs. We will save over $7.5billion for Nigeria annually and generate an additional $5.5billion for the country.”

What’s interesting about Dangote is that he creatively explored the potential of the little things that many Nigerians take for granted and spurned big businesses out of them.

Dangote admitted that he faced a lot of challenges on his journey in business. These are common to all businesses, he said, at an event put together by a foremost business school to encourage its young graduates. What matters is how resilient you are.

 

  1. Folorunso Alakija

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In 2015, when Ngozi Okonji-Iweala was listed as the most powerful woman in Africa, Mrs. Alakija was rated the second most powerful. The reason is simple: she dabbled into an industry dominated by men and succeeded.

In May 1993, Folorunsho applied for the allocation of an Oil Prospecting License (OPL) —the license to explore for oil on a 617,000-acre block, now referred to as OPL 216— and it was granted to her company, Famfa Limited.

However, before becoming an oil tycoon, she was an executive secretary, a fashion designer, a corporate promoter, printer, banker, real estate owner, among others. The 66-year-old businesswoman started small, but through sheer hard work, persistence, focus, passion and a relentless desire to breakthrough, she earned her current position.

“I never went to university, but I think I have done well,” she told a gathering of young student at a university in western Nigeria recently.

Speaking about the travails of the business environment in Nigeria, Alakija says “distractions will come, challenges will come but if you are focussed right from the beginning and if it comes from your heart that you want to be this or that, including becoming an entrepreneur, you will achieve it.”

Born to the family of Chief L. A. Ogbara in Ikorodu, Lagos, Alakija moved to the United Kingdom for primary education. Later in life, she attended Pitman’s Central College, London and the American College, London and the Central School of Fashion.

  1. Benedict Peters

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Like the stuff of legend, Mr. Peters started from the bottom. He studied Geography and Town Planning at the University of Benin before working with the founders of Ocean and Oil, the entity now known as Oando Nigeria Plc. He worked with the likes of Adewale Tinubu, Mofe Boyo and Onajite Okoloko.

Peters moved to MRS Oil Nigeria Plc as Group Executive Director, leaving as its Managing Director in 1999 to establish his own company, Sigmund Communecci. In 2017, Mr Peters said of the oil industry: “politicians and businesspeople both know that progress is something to be earned, not bought.”

Indeed, he did not buy the success which Aiteo, the company which he founded in February 2008 has attained. Those who know him say he is a relentless, and boisterous entrepreneur who believes that nothing is impossible.

Aiteo’s vision has always been to create the most sustainable energy solutions to power growth on the African continent. The company has proven to the world that indigenous oil companies are competent to participate alongside international oil majors in the exploration and development of Nigeria’s hydrocarbon resources.

In a masterstroke that saw the company attain its current size, an indigenous consortium led by Aiteo successfully bid for and acquired Shell’s OML29 and Nembe Creek Trunk Line for $2.7 billion in 2014. Mr. Peters himself is estimated to be worth $2.7 billion.

 

  1. Uduimo Itsueli

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When Dr. Uduimo Itsueli started Dubril Oil in 1987, he was armed with history and several years of experience spanning at least 25 years in the oil and gas industry. But there were remarkable days of preparation and moments that saw him overcome challenges to achieving his dream.

Beginning from his days at Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, his years at the University of Ibadan and European universities, Dr. Itsueli always had the desire to start a business in Nigeria.

Naturally, his exposure to the oil and gas industry made him pour his energy into that space. Before establishing Dubril Oil, Dr. Itsueli had worked for companies including Phillips Petroleum Company and the NNPC.

Highlighting the challenges business owners face in Nigeria, he is reputed to have told the FT that “Gunmen would suddenly block the river, seize your barge and take it away. It was rough,” but those experiences with militants in the Niger Delta which he described to the FT were not enough to deter him from building Dubril Oil.

Arguably the oldest indigenous oil and gas company in Nigeria,  Dubril Oil has been involved in a broad spectrum of activities in the industry. Dr. Itsueli chairs its board.

 

  1. Femi Otedola

Fifty-five-year-old Femi Otedola was born to a former governor of Lagos State, Micheal Otedola. He braved the challenges of businesses in Nigeria when he ran his family’s printing business in the 1980s.

Like Issac Newton, who asked the famous question, “why did the apple drop,” Otedola was preoccupied with the issue of bridging the diesel supply gap in Nigeria in the early 2000s.

He, therefore, founded Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd in 2003 to meet this need. A year later he secured finance to invest 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.

By 2007, he was made Chairman of Africa Petroleum after acquiring a controlling stake in the business. Three years later in 2010, the company’s name was changed to Forte Oil.

But things were not always rosy. Speaking on the challenges of doing business in Nigeria, he told Hyde Park on the Forbes Africa Television network that, at some point “I had two options – commit suicide or to weather the storm.”

His net worth was put at $550 million in 2016 by Forbes magazine.

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