Journalism in the service of society

Adenuga: Chairman, guru and spirit of Africa 

WHAT sort of man is Mike Adenuga Jr (MAJr)? Does it sound like a million-dollar question? Don’t worry, let’s get down to it. In answering the question, a biographical account would be appropriate. Indeed, some great story tellers have produced inspiring pen-portraits on him. In 2011, Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe wrote a book on Adenuga who was born 70 years ago on April 29, 1953.

For a man who is very private and publicity-shy, there’s little he can do in the age of digital technology because information on his family, wealth and fame are available with just a touch of the digital button. A simple Google search will reveal that MAJr is Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga Jr., CSG, GCON; a Nigerian billionaire businessman and the sixth richest person in Africa. He is also a husband and father.

No matter how much he tries to hide himself, MAJr knows he is a gold fish and he loves everything golden. He has the Midas touch, and his entire life’s history and success story are matters of public scrutiny. Today, he stands tall at 70 years and he must be feeling truly fulfilled and thankful to God because of his long list of accomplishments.

MAJr is an exceptional human being and he means different things to different people. He hardly socialises but he loves the good life. However, he believes in the humanity that thrives which explains why the story is often told of his immense generosity. Givers never lack and the hand of the giver is always on top, according to the popular clichés. 

Sometimes, you can become rich when you are fortunate to be blessed with a family inheritance or when you win a lottery. In MAJr’s case, he did not win any lottery; he built his wealth from the ground floor up through hardwork. Rich and successful people will remind you that when preparation meets luck and opportunity, you can be sure of making your way to the top.

Long before MAJr made his fortune in telecoms and oil (he was the first Nigerian to strike oil in commercial quantities), he was already into real estate and merchandising (import and export business) and he had warehouses all over Nigeria. He would forever be grateful and loyal to former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), his close confidant, mentor and benefactor.

For some strange reasons, Mike Adenuga was caught in a needless political crossfire between former president Olusegun Obasanjo and IBB. What Obasanjo did was to test Mike Adenuga’s loyalty to IBB and he passed the test graciously.

I don’t know what IBB will write this time, but 10 years ago when MAJr marked his Diamond Jubilee, IBB congratulated the Globacom chairman and his message was instructive: “The fact that you treasure the virtue of true friendship and loyalty to any cause you believe in gives you the cutting edge. I am eternally grateful for all the troubles you had to go through because of me in the hands of a regime that tried to derail our friendship and relationship.

“Even when you came under severe pressure by the same regime which I helped to nurture to blackmail me in order to hang me, you remained eternally loyal and steadfast. Only a businessman of character, sound upbringing and virtue could choose friendship instead of his economic empire.”

IBB did not mince words in the message because he felt grateful to MAJr, his loyal friend of so many seasons. Obasanjo actually wanted to use MAJr to frame IBB for “economic crimes” that did not exist and on that occasion, Baba Iyabo failed spectacularly. 

On the instruction of Nuhu Ribadu, chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and at Obasanjo’s behest, the home and offices of the Globacom chairman were invaded; they searched in vain for documents linking IBB as the “owner” of Globacom.

MAJr was in Paris at the time and returned to Nigeria only when it was safe to do so. For those who know IBB, he is very loyal to his friends and he has so many of them – in and outside the military circle.

About 17 years ago, our company was invited to make a presentation on Glo Football Academy. I recall that Segun Odegbami, the popular Nigerian footballer and writer and Modele Sarafa-Yusuf, former sports presenter at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), were in the presentation room at the Victoria Island head office of Glo. Odegbami and Sarafa-Yusuf worked for Globacom at the time.

Who else was there? It was Mike Adenuga, the chairman himself; he sat and listened to the entire presentation which he described as “good music to his ears.” It was the first time I was meeting the chairman of Glo but remarkably, he mentioned my name in full before introductions were made. I was surprised because we had never met face-to-face before that day.

Building a formidable network that comes with goodwill is another reason most people succeed in life. If there’s one man that I know is close to Mike Adenuga, he is Otunba Dele Momodu, the publisher of Ovation magazine, who is also my friend and brother.

Many years ago, Momodu gave me a note addressed to MAJr’s secretary. They had spoken and he wanted me to meet her so that she could link me up to work in communications department of Equitorial Trust Bank (ETB) and Devcom Merchant Bank.

Mike Adenuga was the owner of both banks and he was in his 30s when he floated them. In 2006, ETB successfully merged with Devcom Bank while on August 11, 2011, ETB merged with Sterling Bank. It meant I would have met Adenuga to discuss my possible employment. I knew a long time ago that letters cannot be hand-delivered at any of his offices; no staff will sign for them.

Nine times out of ten (some would say 10 out of 10), MAJr sits at the interview sessions of mostly senior and junior management staff. It shows the extent of his micro-management ability which some people regard as a weakness but he does not care. His micro-management trait comes from not being able to sufficiently trust people around him.

MAJr puts his money where his mouth is. Once he gives you an assignment, according to insiders, he will be on your case 24/7 to deliver and failure is definitely not an option. Some former employees confessed to resigning because the “pressure from chairman to perform was always too much.”

These are pressures that may affect your health but it does not mean MAJr is heartless. He works round the clock himself; he leads by example and he is not called “The Guru” for nothing. He praises his own his brilliance which is evident in his business decisions and like a good chess player, he calculates his moves very well.

Mike Adenuga is a risk taker and he is blessed with the ability to craft a vision and get the brightest people in the world to buy into that vision. He also has the skill and network to mobilise resources to back the vision and make it work.

The billionaire entrepreneur and second richest man in Nigeria after Alhaji Aliko Dangote reads voraciously. Apart from being a marketing strategist, he is also a researcher and he equips himself with relevant information and knowledge on his businesses and projects all the time.  

When Adenuga launched Glo, he positioned it as the authentic Nigerian telecoms brand. Clearly, he had the financial ability to make Glo successful and he will, as usual, fly over every obstacle, no matter what it takes.

The Glo per second billing was his launch strategy. On top of that, he was able to convince three eminent Nigerians representing the three major tribes – Prof Wole Soyinka, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Alhaji Maitama Sule – to serve as the faces of the Glo brand. It was not easy convincing the pioneer “Glo Brand Ambassadors” but you can ask The Guru how he pulled it off. That was truly a masterstroke by a genius. 

If MAJr has to wake you up in the middle of the night to attend a business meeting outside Nigeria, be ready to head to the airport and jump into the plane. He will tell you that’s what you signed for; you cannot complain.

Our birthday celebrant, “Baba 70”, has a sharp memory and he relies heavily on his instincts. People like him do not forget things easily. It is difficult to reach him as would be expected of rich people; they ring-fence themselves with numerous aides but Adenuga would see you when he wants to. He would simply send for you, or he could even surprise you with a phone call.

MAJr is loyal to his friends just like his mentor, IBB, and he does not forget them. Constant feedback is important to Mike Adenuga. If he turns his back on you, it means something terrible – perhaps unforgiveable – has happened. He dislikes people who take his goodwill and generosity for granted; he will rebuke his own children for a similar transgression. 

When you are self-driven and result-oriented, Adenuga will be fond of you and it will be obvious to everyone in the organisation. You will receive gifts that may include a brand new car, cash or even a house. His mood is also important when he makes those decisions. 

He is often accused of having an “extreme and dual nature” and “love-hate relationships.” It is another way of saying that he can be ruthless or that you cannot place him. Those expressions also mean he uses and dump his friends and employees. I cannot prove these allegations but one thing I know for sure is that MAJr can keep you waiting for long hours before you can see him – even for a confirmed appointment. Sometimes, you could wait for the whole day and maybe into the night. This behaviour is described by some people as “weird, wicked and mysterious.” But remember that he is a “lion” and you cannot dare him in his den. 

There are also allegations that Adenuga arm-twists his suppliers to their disadvantage and would go as far as re-negotiating contracts already signed or even outrightly refusing to honour such agreements. The suppliers hardly complain because of reprisal attacks due to Adenuga’s brand power, influence and connections.

When dealing with Baba 70, you have to be extremely patient. What more can I say? Mike Adenuga is also human after all; he has his own fair share of mistakes. With his investment in some sectors of the economy, you can be sure that the Spirit of Africa is not about to retire any time soon as he clocks 70 years.

He has supported sports – especially football – and entertainment events around Africa. Most Nigerian musicians who are now highly sought after and Nollywood celebrities will always remember his Glo endorsements that gave them fame and fortune. 

CNN’s long-running series, African Voices Change Makers, is sponsored by Glo in a long-term partnership. He had also provided sponsorship support for Nigerian football and the national teams, as well as CAF Awards – recognising football stars and administrators on the African stage.

There was a time a rival telecoms company was ready to go into a lucrative sponsorship deal with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) but the deal was turned down because of MAJr. I knew at the time that NFF officials wanted the deal badly but their hands were tied. 

Now, here’s my Billionaire Challenge Nigeria (BCN) to him: come up with a solution model to fix at least one basic social or economic problem in his home state. The concept of BCN is that every state has at least one successful billionaire who should be able to “pull resources together” and drive the initiative of solving basic social and economic problems in their respective states.

One more thing, Mike Adenuga should consider writing his memoirs as soon as possible. His success secrets will inspire millions of African youth and they will be glad to drink from his fountain of wisdom and learn from a genius and great mind like him.  

Here’s wishing Mike Adenuga Jr more grace and impactful accomplishments in the years ahead. Happy birthday sir!

Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (

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