Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Heir Holdings, Mr. Tony Elumelu is one of the remarkably successful Nigerian entrepreneurs.However, it is not just about making money, as Elumelu now devotes a considerable part of his resources to help the youth across Africa with the launch of a $100million Entrepreneurial. In this exclusive interview, Elumelu shared his thoughts with BANKOLE SHAKIRUDEEN ADESHINA of CITY VOICE and David Smith of The Guardian (UK). Excerpts…
What is the motivation behind your recently launched $100million Entrepreneurial Funds for African Youths?
First of all, I believe that the development of our great continent would not be done by anyone but us. I believe that we have very huge populations that are not fully engaged on the continent. And I believe that we can have a much more inclusive growth in the continent with some efforts. If we do not deal with these issues today, they could actually snowball into bigger challenges for all of us tomorrow.
Poverty anywhere, to me, is a big threat to mankind development. And at this stage of one’s life, having being born, schooled and worked all my entire life—had all my investments– here on the African soil, I feel obliged to do something.
At some point, you start asking yourself, what next? And for me, what is next is all about building legacy and impact. And how does one get this done and makes it felt? I looked at my own past—from lower middleclass and middle class, where one was raised. What I could attribute one’s achievement to see was the goodness of Africa, one’s little entrepreneurial efforts and some little bit of luck.
Then, it behooves of me the responsibility to commit a portion of my wealth towards making profound impact on the continent.
And since the selection of the 1000 people (the first set of the beneficiaries of his $100millione Entrepreneurial Fund), everyday has being like Christmas for me. You know, Christmas, when we were growing up, used to be moments of happiness and joy. And I have been very happy seen the inspiring effects of how the little money I set aside has brought profound joy and hope to the people.
Hence, the foundation for me is more like the fulfillment of my aspiration in life, with reference to the loads of joy and hopes derived from it my many people and their several dependents. The experience is quite inspiring and humbling.
How do you drive such an initiative when Africa is perceived as unstable due to wide long years of despotic and corrupt leadership?
The truth is that the social inequality thing has not percolated deeply into the entire fabrics of the society. And the good thing is that we have seen the emergence of a formidable finance targeted at Africa. In fact, I am one of them. And this is being consolidated with the new mindset, philosophy and approach we now have and exhibit to our economic endeavors.
And so, I personally, I’m the proponent of Africapitalism, which is the intercession of Economic Prosperity and Socio World. So, while we (investors) make money, we also try and think about the socio good.
So, you see today in Africa, people with this kind of mindset coming up and investing in sectors that a huge backlog of destabilized growth.
When we investment in the Power Plant Industry, we did so to make money, accepted. But more importantly, we wanted to bridge the electricity deficiency on the continent. And if you bridge electricity deficiency on the continent, you are likely to empower many and make them more involved in the evolving economic growth and prosperity of the continent.
And by doing the $100million Endowment Fund in Africa, one is actually playing his own role as an individual, helping to bridge that worrying gap of economic inequality existing between the rich and the poor.
The issue for me, it’s more like a call to action. We do know that this problem exists. And rather than harp on it, let seat down and provide proper solution. And for me, we have mapped out plans to achieve this. We have given ourselves timeframe to achieving our set target on this campaign.
Can your intervention be likened to an emergency rescue mission after, for instance, government and or state’s outright failure and lack of willingness to close the poverty gap?
I think the world we live in today is no longer a world of blame game. Even the United Nation on its Millennium Development Goal is now involving the Private Sector to drive it successfully. I was a guest of the Secretary General of UN, Ban Ki-Moon last week (earlier than the date of the interview), at a gathering of private sector players across the globe. The parley was on how to achieving the millennium development goal and setting a new one.
So, all inclusive growth is no longer about the case of failure of government. In the new world we live in, requires intense efforts from the government, the private sector and the international communities for us to create a kind of social world and economic prosperity that would be all inclusive for the people. All these three must work together to help the youth gets onboard every segment of their dream.
What we are doing through the entrepreneurship programme that my foundation has launched, is a private sector initiative, but it’s one elaborate one that engages 10,000 Africans. And each of this 10,000 people could create certain number of jobs. Our target is to create one million jobs for African youths at the end of the day.
And if you pull one million unemployed youths into a gainful employment, that is some effort, some impact. So, we need to creatively encourage the private and public sector synergy in this anti-poverty and economic inequality campaign.
How do you intend to create these one million jobs?
We want to create a million jobs on the continent and we also want to improve the economic prosperity and opportunities for Africans, not just by creating jobs, but by improving and increasing the revenues of our investment companies to like $10billion in this period. It’s possible!
When you look around Nigeria now, do you think the gaps between the rich and the poor is too great; do you think this may constitute a time bomb for the nation?
Like I have said before, the economic inequality challenge is there across Africa, including in Nigeria. And the point for me is not so much about the fact that this social problem exists. It’s about us beginning to do something to address the problem.
And I think that a couple of Nigerian private sector leaders and the government have realized this challenge and are currently working together on how to address it. The current administration (under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan), for instance, has come up with the SURE-P and YOU WIN Programmes.
And I think the initiatives are primarily geared towards the economic engagement of the youth. And once there is hope, these youths can more positively galvanise and harness their talent than using it to create problems for the society.
Were you worried that the general elections in the country could bring about new leadership, perhaps destabilize business and undermine what you are trying to do?
On the contrary, I’m one of the people that think that election is good for governance. And governance is good for private sector business.
So, instead of being worried, we should embrace it as a positive development. It has become a tradition in our society now that every four years, you have the opportunity to re appraise the government and make an affirmative statement, action and or change.
In the private sector, our own is done every year. Every year, the shareholders come up to end a reign and put another leadership in place.
Did you envisage any post-election crisis in Nigeria?
I think elections come and go. And in a day or two, everything is back to normal in the country. That is the kind of people we are. And I don’t foresee anything different in this edition of the elections.
On the international media, there is an understanding that Boko Haram is waging a brutal war across Nigeria. But Lagos seems too distant from it, based on the relative peace and tranquility on ground. How do you see this?
Security threat anywhere should be a concern for everyone. Wherever it exists, even if it’s far away from the country, we should all be worried.
And for the private sector, we need a stable environment to be able to do your businesses. You don’t want to be worried about security challenges while trying to put your businesses together.
Are you one of the incurable optimists about positive economic equality turnaround in Nigeria and the entire African continent?
Of course I’m extremely optimistic about the future of Nigeria and Africa. I continue to remain here and make tremendous investments across the continent because I strongly believe in its future. And I would continue to do this.
I just finished a meeting not long ago, which is about some investment decisions we have had to make. I do this because I have confidence in the economic opportunities and investment potentials in this environment. Also, I do this because nowhere else do I get the kind of returns on my investment than what I am making here in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
I also do this because our economy here in the country is sort of stagnating and stunted in terms of growth. And in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, we would continue on the average growth of 6% GDP progress, which is a very good economic indicator for investment.
And if you look at the income per capital of Nigeria and some other African countries, you will see that there is a trend of positive change permeating across all sectors.
How much of a threat does corruption pose to economic prosperity and efforts to rescue the large junk of unemployed?
Corruption remains an issue for Nigeria and as you have in other developed countries too. The issue is that we should continue to make progress in stemming it, and wiping it out of the system; because it works against the economic prosperity of the country.
But I think sincerely that we are making some progress in stemming the menace. And we would drive more economic prosperity and inclusive growth if we are able to solve the problem of corruption once and for all in the country.
As we improve in good governance, corruption would gradually die a natural death. .