When ‘African angels’ rocked France…Moment of Pride as Billionaire Extraordinaire, Mike Adenuga, Partners EutelSat in Multibillion dollar deal

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When ‘African angels’ rocked France…Moment of Pride as Billionaire Extraordinaire, Mike Adenuga, Partners EutelSat in Multibillion dollar deal

October 05
06:10 2021
Herbert Wigwe bags license to establish Access Bank in France

Why French President hosted Nigeria’s billionaire magnates to a dinner in Paris

They are Africa’s business angels – Macron

The Elysée Palace, official residence of the President of the French Republic, listed and careened on its hinges through the final hours of the Africa2020 cultural season. The picturesque edifice pulsed and poured with artistry like an opera house plugged in a Handelian mist. 

It was the 30th day in September, and the French President was hosting a select audience of business, arts, and political titans, who gawked with unabashed delight as the cultural fest winded to a glorious end.

To mark the end of the event, Lagos was the guest of honour on September 30.

The coastal city was represented by certified heavyweights: Nigerian captains of industry and economic juggernauts including Mike Adenuga (Globacom chairman), Abdul Samad Rabiu (chairman of BUA Group), Tony Elumelu (UBA chairman), Herbert Wigwe (MD of Access Bank), and Aliko Dangote (Dangote Group chairman).

The Nigerian delegation was completed by Gilbert Chagoury, a Lagos property tycoon, whose Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury Foundation was the chief fundraiser for the Africa2020 season.

Though it was fondly viewed through the prism of performance as a creative flowering of arts, commerce and politics, the event clearly manifested as a dazzling scene of international diplomacy in a series of masterful strokes of diplomatic hustle by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron.

By hosting the event, Macron sought to blend old-fashioned economic diplomacy with a sweeping goal to fix France’s frayed relationship with the African continent; through restitution of looted artworks, the Africa2020 cultural season, and a France-Africa summit in Montpellier on October 8, intended to put young people in the spotlight.

At the culmination of the Africa2020 cultural season, for instance, the yellow Danfo, a taxi bus ubiquitous in Lagos, Nigeria was strategically parked in the

courtyard of the Elysée Palace as an installation piece by Nigerian artist, Emeka Ogboh. The artifact pulsed with a soundscape of taxi touts yelling their destinations, Lagos-style, from speakers hidden around the grounds.

The event was the right way to build bridges with the French economy, President Macron told The Africa Report. “This is a huge opportunity both for Nigeria and France, and I think Nigeria is involved in very new challenges, in finance, in fintech, in digital, but also in culture, with movies and so on,” he says. “This ecosystem is very inventive and we have a lot of cooperation to build on.”

One resonant statement by the French President, however, was his admission that several Nigerian businessmen, including those in attendance, are becoming new African ‘business angels,’ which complements his decision to invest in youth entrepreneurship on the continent.

Macron clearly identified Adenuga, Rabiu, and company as visionary builders and creators, shrewd investors, and merchants of industry, whose daring exploits had contributed in no small measure to Nigeria’s flourishing economic system and a flowering African marketplace of ideas.

Nations that ignore or stifle such innovators are often left behind in the industrial trail. They fail to attract capital investment and become unsuitable partners for technology transfers. They have neither savings nor entrepreneurial culture to pass on to their citizenry.

Knowing this, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, has set out to woo these Nigerian billionaires. Having spent a considerable period building commercial bridges between his country and Nigeria, Macron invited Adenuga, Rabiu, Dangote, and co to France, and hosted them to a sumptuous dinner at his Presidential Palace in Paris.

Back in late June, as part of the Business France summit at Versailles, Macron invited the six Nigerian business heavyweights to a private session, bringing together top-level French CEOs to the table too.

The delegation included Adenuga (Globacom chairman), Rabiu (chairman of BUA Group), and Dangote (Dangote Group chairman), among others.

The event was part of a multi-year campaign to land big contracts in anglophone Africa by Macron’s administration. In time, the strategy started yielding fruits as the French petrochemical group, Axens, inked a multi-billion dollar contract to provide the technology for Rabiu’s BUA refinery.

President Macron’s yardstick for success is signed deals. Building on the accords signed in September 2020, BUA Group signed a deal with Axens for the second phase of its refinery project.

Also at the June event, Herbert Wigwe announced the negotiation of a French banking licence for Access Bank, which will allow him to open a full-service bank in Paris, not just a representative office.

The Versailles summit also allowed for the high-level networking that France minister of exterior commerce, Frank Riester, had been pushing for; this resonated decisively in favour of Globacom chairman, Mike Adenuga, whose initial introduction to French satellite communications group, EutelSat, has borne luscious fruit: with a partnership signed at the Elysée event on   September 30.

The partnership between the two companies should see the deployment of 500 Wi-Fi relay stations to far-flung rural areas, for connection to a EutelSat satellite.

According to the multi-billionaire, his franchise’s relationship with the French telecoms giant has been a long and extremely beneficial one. He said, “The genesis and bedrock of that relationship was the energy team at the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) Paris office, led by Guillaume Leenhardt. A great deal of our early success can be attributed to the professionalism, customer orientation and creativity of that team.”

The Globacom chairman enthused, “We worked extremely hard and well together to meet some ridiculously tight deadlines – working through the night till 6 am only to resume work again at 8 am after a quick nap and shower! Those are days I remember with a lot of fondness.

“Soon after the award of our telecommunications license in 2003, our relationship with another prominent French company, Alcatel, led at the time by Serge Tchuruk, enabled us to fast-track the roll-out of our infrastructure and close the gap on the competition, which had had a 15-month head start.”

Interestingly, however, back in 2017, the French government, in homage to Adenuga’s humanity and relentless strides at rewriting the African business narrative, invested him with a Knight of the Legion of Honour (Chevalier de la Legion d Honneur), the highest French decoration and one of the most famous in the world.

Dr. Adenuga is the only and first-ever Nigerian to have received the award since inception. He was honoured for his “remarkable contribution to the development of the French-Nigerian relations and appreciation of the French culture.”

And while Adenuga basks in the euphoria of his lucrative deal with EutelSat, the French group, Vocalcom, which already manages the software for his Glo Telecom’s call centres in Nigeria, is hoping to cement a new deal in the mobile-money sphere with Glo.

At the backdrop of these achievements, Tony Elumelu’s Heirs Holdings is reportedly pushing to transform its Paris representative office into a full banking licence.

A perfunctory glance at the past and trajectory of these billionaire magnates whom Macron dubbed the African business angels, reveals how they rose through toilsome beginnings fraught by challenges, to attain the enviable heights they currently inhabit.

Many of them started out from humble beginnings, rising through the fog and fire of enterprise to command chains of businesses and industry. Having survived the odds of the cutthroat business world, they grew to become champions of trade and national treasures of the sort.

There is no gainsaying their entrepreneurial depth and forays exert far-reaching impact on local economies, politics and drive industrial enclaves to unprecedented growth.

There is no gainsaying the French President seeks a more productive relationship with Nigeria through its business-leading lights. Thus his aggressive drive to build bridges between his country and Nigeria.

Besides pushing reformist economic diplomacy, he is also wooing Nigerian magnates as part of his strategy to rid his country of its perceived timidity at making forays into the global market space.

Macron vigorously advocates France’s international commerce penetration beyond its comfort zones, into the Nigerian business space. And if he could bring Nigeria into France, that’d be a gracious boon too.

In a recent interview with The Africa Report, he noted that 40 years ago, France occupied a prominent position in Nigeria. “Major French companies occupied leading positions in the construction, manufacturing, and logistics industries. More than 10,000 French nationals used to live in Nigeria at that time,” he said.

But, in the early 2000s, challenged by newcomers, French companies lost their way. Michelin and Peugeot, for example, had iconic factories in Port Harcourt and Kaduna respectively – both have since closed. Today, there are not even a thousand French citizens registered at the embassy in Abuja. “The irony is that many successful foreign [non-French] companies employ French nationals in Nigeria today,” said Macron.

Ultimately, the French President seeks to establish between Nigeria and France, a platform through which they can penetrate and mutually grow each other’s markets.

Beyond the imagery and fine print of his recent hosting of the Globacom chairman, Adenuga, Rabiu, Dangote, among others, Macron seeks to affirm the French socioeconomic space as a viable destination for French and Nigerian business giants.



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