GOOGLE OR NIGERIAN GRAINS: MONOPOLY’S THE DRIVE

If Larry Page had his way we would live in a world where we used chromebooks to send gmails about the latest posts on YouTube. In this world of his, we would not need to stray too far to know when our friends’ birthdays are because Google calendar would sync that information from our Google+ account; then Google maps would direct us to the closest gift store. And yes, we would only make calls with Android-enabled Google smartphones. Larry Page, co-founder and chief executive officer of Google, would not just rock our world, he would rule it!

Some may call it entrepreneurial genius but with that graphic description of how a monopolistic technology industry would look like I can exclaim with free-market pride, “Thank God for competition!” In truth, however, I am not really bothered about the economics and dynamics of Google’s ravenous disposition. Even though I had to cross-check several facts in this article by googling – Microsoft Office join the times: ‘google’ is now a verb! – as a free-lancer living in Africa’s most populous nation, namely Nigeria, the most immediate concern I have about monopolistic tendencies is that currently held by the Dangote Group of Companies. Often heralded as the beacon of entrepreneurial success in Africa, the Dangote Group has business concerns in a number of industries ranging from oil and gas to agricultural products. Unconfirmed Wikileak reports in 2007 show that the group got the exclusive rights to import cement, sugar and rice into Nigeria, a country known for its culture of consumerism. This import-driven business sense has been tagged as a laudable entrepreneurial manoeuvre. While that accolade reeks of controversy, a clear indicator of how well Dangote group is doing is seen in the personal fortune of the president and chief executive officer, Alhaji Aiiko Dangote. Forbes Magazine recently tagged him as the richest man in Africa. His wealth, how it was acquired and how he expends it has been exhaustively covered in the media, most famously in that glittering MTV interview on YouTube where he tells of buying a $50 million private jet, referring to it as a toy. In fairness to Mr Dangote, in this same interview he told the bevy of young panellists that he worked 18 hours a day!

What’s particularly fascinating about Aliko Dangote’s business acumen is how he handles the craft of business in an economically-hostile terrain where others have tried and failed. Not a keen politician, he is, however, never out of the political picture completely, courting political rapport explicitly, like when he made huge donations to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s library project; and, implicitly, like he did when he was recently made the co-chairman of the National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation and made a N200 million donation to the victims. Passive lookers-on have described this as a well-meaning gesture by the man famously described as Africa’s Richard Branson while cynics reckon this is just a façade, a front to his exploitative intentions. An online commentator responded to that with the quip, ‘One man’s meat is another’s poison.’

For the most part, I reckon Dangote and his company may have genuine interests in helping victims of the floods. The Dangote group is renowned for its donations to charities and other CSR acts. Still, the conspiracy theory making the rounds that the company only intends to benefit from the impending food shortage following the massive destruction of several hectares of farmlands in the floods may not be far-fetched. Some days ago Reuter’s news agency reported the assertion by Nigeria’s president, Mr Goodluck Jonathan that the country had “enough grains in our reserves.” The country’s minister of Agriculture has corroborated this report but therein lays the fan for the rumour mill. Enough grains in our reserves?  Really? I am just a netizen who knows little about Nigerian agricultural stock but living in a country where measures taken by government are almost always reactionary and hardly ever pre-emptive, I am forced to regard the claim with the minutest pinch of salt. One would have been a little placated if the president had given details of where these reserves are rather than just smile lopsidedly as he patronised gullible Nigerians.

For now I choose to keep an open mind. Perhaps somewhere in Abuja, or Kano or Calabar there are pyramids of grains waiting to be deployed to the markets. If that is not true then it may just be a credible hunch that our president is fiddling with some businessmen to exploit the misfortune of Nigerians. If that is the case, then perhaps the reserves being referred to are container-load of grains to be imported from some neighbouring countries. Perhaps, Dangote group, firm of the kindly donor, Aliko Dangote, may be awarded the monopolistic contract to make such importation. The key words are ‘perhaps’ and ‘monopolistic’ but even Google’s Larry Page would agree that would be exploitation not entrepreneurship.

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