Elumelu’s sprinter speed

Broad Street’s iconic buildings and its history make it a phenomenon. One of the iconic buildings on the financial hub of Lagos is the UBA House. The house commands global attention. When UBA is mentioned anywhere in the world, a name comes to mind: Tony Elumelu. He is the bank’s chairman.

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday presented Elumelu with the National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) “in recognition of your high productivity, hard work and excellence”. The president also honoured Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, Oba Otudeko, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.) and my poetic-prose stylist boss Sam Omatseye.

What Elumelu, Microsoft chief Bill Gates, Dangote, Geregu Power Plc chief Femi Otedola and TY Danjuma do with their wealth makes them exceptional and deserving of the accolades. They are all preserving the world for the future generation in their way.

Year in, year out, Nigerian universities push out graduates in various fields with no one to employ them. The unemployment statistics are scary. The curricula run by these universities are so outdated and are not entrepreneurship-focused. This is where Elumelu comes in. Since 2010, he has chosen to lift young entrepreneurs who are the future of any nation that does not want to die.

Elumelu is running the race to preserve the future for the next generation with sprinter speed. It is not that Elumelu has spike shoes like Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who holds the world record in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4 × 100 metres relay; his speed is in his economic model, Africapilatism, designed to move beyond a charitable aid model for combating poverty by stimulating the creative prowess of young Africans to create sustainable economic enterprises that lead to self-sufficiency.

The first time I took notice of Elumelu was when he was running Standard Trust Bank (STB). At that time I found myself on journalistic trips from Anambra to Kogi to Borno to Yobe and other states in the country. And everywhere I went, STB was there for my cash needs. I could deposit and withdraw money from any of its branches. This was at a time when banking in Nigeria was still at its knees technology-wise. To carry out transactions in other banks at the time, you had to rely on only the branch where you opened your account. Other branches of your bank in the same town could not help you, not to talk of those in other states. STB broke all that and many loved it for that and opened accounts with it.

I had not quite gotten over the STB wonder when the then Keem Belo-Osagie-led United Bank for Africa (UBA) ran into troubled waters. It needed rescue and I had thought some foreign banks and, perhaps, the like of First Bank, would give the needed help by acquiring it. But the opposite happened; UBA was acquired by Elumelu’s STB. It was a rude shock to me and many others. It was like the dwarf backing the giant. But events over the years have shown the dwarf carry the giant successfully and effortlessly. Or what other way is there to describe the turning of a single-country bank into a truly Africa bank with more than seven million customers in about 20 African countries? Its operations are also in London, New York and Paris.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) at a point came up with a policy, which saw Elumelu handing over the day-to-day running of the UBA. He was less than fifty at the time. He still had the energy to give more. Heirs Holdings and the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) came in handy, but it is with the TEF that he is doing what I like the most: Helping those who are hungry to start their businesses in mineral-rich but struggling Africa, the home of the youngest population in the world. He sees these young entrepreneurs as “the lifeblood of Africa’s rise”.

His charity and entrepreneurial drives have ensured that from Kenya to Uganda to the United States and the United Kingdom, Elumelu has listening ears. The other time when he espoused on his Africapitalism concept, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta smothered him with applause. “By lifting budding entrepreneurs with cash and counselling, Elumelu is doing a good job for Africa’s growth,” Kenyatta said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni revered Elumelu for his forthrightness and commitment to Africa. “Thank you for the financial support extended to the Ugandan youths,” he said.

Elumelu has pleaded the cause of the young people at relevant forums. He once urged policymakers at the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington DC not to see youths in Africa as lazy and laidback.

With TEF’s 10-year $100 million Entrepreneurship Programme, Elumelu has made many young people with start-up ideas across Africa jump for joy. Seed capital, capacity building, mentorship and networking have helped no less than 7,500 African entrepreneurs change their fortunes.

Nigeria’s Ndubuisi Eze and Sierra Leone’s Edmond Nonie now manufacture drones to help farmers in rural areas map sites. All thanks to TEF, their start-ups have soared.

Eze, a 2016 Tony Elumelu entrepreneur, became a manufacturer after realising that the drones he was importing from China were not meeting the needs of the African farmers his firm was serving.

Zimbabwe young entrepreneur Robin Chaibva said of Elumelu: “He has given me hope for Africa despite the feeling that Zimbabwe is not in an economically viable state. Instead of asking my government to give jobs, I realised that I can build a network of enterprises to employ Zimbabweans while lifting communities. Thanks for investing your wisdom and experience with us.”

Rwanda’s Yvette Ishimwe of Clean Water Delivery start-up said: “Tony Elumelu gave us unique skills that every early entrepreneur would need to build their business idea. This is what is exceptional from many other initiatives. Of course, the money is not small as it helps you expand the idea or the business.”

Ex-United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said Elumelu is one leader driving change throughout Africa. “Tony is an extraordinary partner. His kind of leadership is indispensable for our partnership,” she said. It was not surprising that when the Barrack Obama administration needed help with its Power Africa initiative Elumelu was one of those called on. His Transcorp Power supported Power Africa initiative with a $2.5 billion commitment.

My final take: Unlike those who blow their cash on booze, hard drugs and women, Elumelu has Nigeria’s Ndubuisi Eze, Zimbabwe’s Robin Chaibva, Rwanda’s Yvette Ishimwe, Sierra Leone’s Edmond Nonie and thousands of others to point at as those he has taken care of and will be eternally grateful. In our little corners, we must work for a situation where someone somewhere can point at us as change-makers.

Written by in Korede Yishau, first published on TheNation