By Tunde Obidele
The fraudulent Nigerian Forbes billionaires are Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola, who also happen to be the largest economic saboteurs of the Nigerian economy.
It is an irony that these two billionaires who always struggle to be on the Forbes list of richest billionaires year after year, who strive to be the most celebrated Nigerian businessmen, are the most fraudulent, vicious and bigget economic saboteurs of the Nigerian economy.
President Buhari’s investigative searchlight should be directed at these two businessmen, the duo that is bleeding Nigeria’s economy dry.
Aliko Dangote used to be known as Aliko Gote, or “Aliko powder”. His mother was a daughter of the famously wealthy Kano merchant Dantata. His father was Alhaji Gote. He seems to have started off as a dealer in powder before suddenly moving to America. As a young dealer, he had sports cars, lived in an expensive house and lots of cash. His import-export business seems to have revolved between Brazil and the United States.
However, his ostentatious lifestyle soon caught the eyes of the American authorities — he received information that there was an interception of his consignment — so he blamed it on his junior brother Sani Gote and fled back to Nigeria.
Femi Otedola at this time was a notorious loan shark and gambler based in Surulere Lagos who started life in business by lending money at interest rates of 20–30 percent per month, knowing that debtors could never repay him. He would then confiscate and sell their collaterals at a premium.
Femi’s classmates from secondary school had all entered university, were working or had started some form of legitimate business, but Femi chose the ways of Shylock, extorting astronomous interest rates from victims and quickly moving on to sell their collaterals at the slightest delay, causing misery and financial damage to so many victims.
Their first billions
Aliko Gote, now living in Nigeria and running away from the laws of America, ran back to Nigeria and changed his name to Alhaji Aliko Dangote, adding the title Alhaji and adding Dan to Gote like his cousins, the Dantatas.
Femi Otedola, who seemed to have joined the Ogboni cult, now started wearing only white clothes and ran back to his father for cover, as many whose lives were ruined from his loan shark business were now after him.
In 1999, the Nigerian military handed over power to former General Olsegun Obasanjo, who had just emerged from prison. This moment became the duo’s golden moment. They became so close to Obasanjo that they became like his sons. A pact was reached between the three gladiators, to control the commodity business of Nigeria, and Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola became Obasanjo’s fronts for this purpose. Aliko Dangote was to control cement, sugar, salt and rice, while Femi Otedola was to control the importation of refined petroleum products.
To make this arrangement into a cash machine for the three, the four Nigerian refineries that had a capacity of 445,000 barrels a day were totally neglected and left to rot. The power sector was purposely neglected so that 180 Nigerians would have to keep buying petrol and diesel to power their generators.
Enter the Nigerian customs and waivers
The duo of Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola now put the top of the customs in their pockets. Moreover, presidential orders from above now stated that that the pair’s vessels should receive preferential treatment in docking and discharging goods while competitors’ vessels were to be delayed until any profits of the latter group were wiped out.
The next important instrument they used was pioneer tax status, whereby the duo was given tax-free status for so many years. During the same period, competitors’ applications were flatly rejected. The third advantagethey got was the privatisation of state assets, which were sold to them at approximately 10 cents to the dollar. Aliko Dangote acquired Benue State Cement, Terminals, Nigerian Textiles, Nigerian Salt Company, a state-owned sugar company, Oshogbo Steel Mill and the NEPA fiber-optic transmission network. Femi Otedola acquired African Petroleum.
The duo then claimed to turn around these assets, but they did nothing other than call in auditors to ascertain the real value of these assets before calling Forbes to debut as the first Nigerian billionaires to grace the magazine’s rich list.
However, Aliko Dangote was one step ahead and moved to become the African king of waivers and duties. Nobody in African history has been given more waivers than Aliko Dangote and the single act of not paying custom duties made him not only the richest Nigerian but the riches African. Some conservative estimates put the custom import duties that were waived for Aliko Dangote at between $12–15 billion since 1999. There are cries of millions of Nigerians that Aliko Dangote should be made to return this money, as it is one of the biggest cases of corporate fraud in Nigeria and Africa.
President Buhari will need to open a special investigative panel to scrutinize Aliko Dangote’s businesses, as Nigeria can recover between $12 and $15 billion of waivers and unpaid taxes from this man alone.
One of President Obasanjo’s last acts of office of was to sell Nigeria’s largest refinery to the duo of Aliko Dangote and Feli Otedola for $761 million, approximately 10% of its real value. One of President Yar’Adua’s first acts of office was to cancel this fraudulent deal.
Upon learning the facts of the case, President Yar’Adua was reportedly filled with rage. Not only were the duo the biggest economic saboteurs in Nigeria, but they were paying PR consultants to build their image as intelligent and progressive businessmen in the Western media. Yar’Adua used the economic intelligence reports at hand to reverse many illegalities. He found out that Dangote had a monopoly in cement, sugar and pasta, claiming to be producing all these commodities locally, when, in reality, he was importing everything, fraudulently collecting import duty waivers and simply re-bagging the goods. At this point, President Yar’Adua lost any respect he had for Dangote.
The economic intelligence reports also showed how Feli Otedola and Aliko Dangote crushed their competitors by illegally using government agents to shut down the latter’s operations. They pressured banks to call in their competitors’ loans, used customs to delay the competitors’ consignments, underpay for state assets, avoided paying duties and taxes through their “pioneer” tax status, and even created their own “anti-corruption unit” to lock up business foes and friends who had fallen out of their favour.
The wickidness of this duo knew no limits and every real or perceived competitor was to be liquidated, their businesses shut down, thousands of workers were to lose their jobs and all the while Dangote and Otedola avoided paying billions of dollars worth of taxes and import duties.
The quarrel between the duo
President Obasanjo asked the duo to help raise money for elections and a deal was struck. The government’s oil earmarked for Nigerian industry was delivered to the oligarchs at extremely cheap rates and then sold at the prevailing world market price. Three million metric tons of fuel was sold to the duo at $59 and sold on at $350. The duo thus made a profit of $299/mt or $873,000,000. Needless to say, Nigerian industry never received the cheap fuel that the government promised them and the state was robbed of $873 million.
Aliko Dangote did not have a house in Abuja and was found sleeping in Femi Otedola’s residence. His passion was sleeping with other people’s wives but, unknown to him, Femi’s passion was to secretly videotape others and use these tapes at the right time to blackmail his victims.
However, Aliko did not trust Femi and requested that their illegal profit of 873 billion be paid to his younger brother, Sayyu Dantata’s, account. The money was paid into an MRS account of BNP Paribas.
Femi now wanted some gas stations of his own and told Aliko Dangote that Chevron was planning to sell its gas stations in West Africa, under the Texaco banner, and that he would bid $200 million for the assets.
Aliko then instructed his younger brother to overbid for the gas stations, using up the entire $872 million plus taking out a loan to make it look as if he had borrowed the money, but secretly splitting the proceeds of the sale with the sellers in an illegal kickbacks scheme.
Femi Otedola was outfoxed by Aliko Dangote and Femi went mad. The quarrel became one of the nastiest in Nigeria. Rarely had so much dirty linen been washed in public, forcing well-meaning Nigerians to intervene between the two as marriages were breaking up due to the revelations and circulations of video tapes of whose wives they were sleeping with.
In the wilderness
These were the facts observed by President Yar’Adua, which led him to immediately cancel many of the illegalities, such as the purchase of the refinery, reopening competitors’ factories, issuing import licenses to others and ordering an investigation into how many billions the duo owed in unpaid taxes and duties.
In addition to this, the duo was found to be Nigeria’s biggest debtors, owing banks billiosn of dollars. As Aliko Dangote did not want to pay the banks back, he pushed the business on his brother Sani Dangote, who took the heat for defaults (e.g. Dansa Juice).
Femi Otedola became the biggest defaulter of loans in Nigeria and his loans were passed on to AMCON as he could not repay back his loans. It was no longer business as usual for the former loan shark.
Femi rebranded his company from ZENON to FORTE OIL and went public, whilst Aliko Dangote also listed and went public. PR experts were hired to rewrite their stories and make them look good. In the stories, they were made to look like Western billionaires but, in reality, they were sinking in debt as they no longer had the ear of the President. Worse, the Head of State was preparing to reveal to Nigerians that the two were the countries’ biggest economic enemies.
The duo found themselves in the political wilderness and Femi Otedola even admitted that he contemplated suicide as a way out. As they could no longer manipulate the President, they found a gentleman in the Vice Presidency who would listen to them.
Then President Yar’Adua died and Goodluck Jonathan became President… and the duo sprang back to life once again.
Debt written off, waivers resuscitated
Femi Otedola now threw himself at the new President Goodluck Jonathan and pretended to be one of his best friends, but Jonathan has now realized that he had a Judas on his hands, as Dangote betrayed him at the last possible moment when he heard that the incumbent President had lost the elections to Muhammadu Buhari.
The Managing Director of AMCON was called by President Jonathan to write off most of Femi Otedola’s loans from Nigerian banks. In theory, Nigerian taxpayers’ money was used to pay back banks for private loans that Femi took and $1 billion was written off for Mr. Otedola in total. Immediately after this happened, Femi called his PR agents and had them relist him on the Forbes billionaires list and even went on to by the GEREGU power station.
Mr. Dangote once again became the king of import duty waivers and unpaid taxes, and now started using the billions of dollars of waivers and unpaid taxes as equity to take even more loans. Soon, he was announcing projects all over Africa ranging from cement plants to a refinery to a fertilizer plant.
In his typical fashion of wanting to monopolize all commodities, he announced projects that covered the entire national demand of Nigeria, getting the Minister of Trade to bans all imports from competitors. As a result, Dangote effectively supplied all the cement, sugar, salt, rice, petrol, diesel kerosene and pasta of Nigeria. What Nigerians did not realise was that his equity contribution for all these projects was simply the waivers for the import of these commodities that he was enjoying and the rest were loans that he took.
Aliko Dangote has not hidden his ambition that he wants to be the richest man in the world by 2017, when he turns 60 years old.
Given the way he robs Nigeria of billions of dollars of unpaid taxes each year, then uses this cash to monopolise commodity markets and push out any potential competitors, he could be in decent shape to reach this target if he manages to do the same in other African countries, where there is a general lack of strong antitrust laws.
Nevertheless, there is one man that has the power to stop Dangote in his tracks and this is President Buhari, following in the footsteps of the late President Yar’Adua.
There is hope for Nigeria if President Buhari investigates these two Nigerians, makes them repay the billions they stole from Nigeria and creates a level playing field for all Nigerians to succeed in business.