• Wed. Mar 29th, 2023


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69-year-old petty trader who rose from ”the trenches” to become Nigeria’s admirable billionaire

Apr 29, 2022

When you mention Mike Adenuga today, the mind of an average Nigerian quickly pictures the “billionaire owner of Globacom”.


Yes, Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga is a billionaire and Nigeria’s third-richest man, according to Forbes. And he also owns Globacom, Nigeria’s indigenous telecom company.


But his story did not start here. It started from “the trenches”.


About 69 years ago, specifically 29th of April, 1953, Adenuga was born in the ancient city of Ibadan to the family of Micheal Agbolade and Omoba Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga.


He’s an alumnus of the popular Ibadan Grammar School, Ibadan and had his tertiary education at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.


Adenuga also got an MBA at Pace University in New York.


To fund his education in the US and fend for himself, the billionaire businessman worked as a taxi driver.


Don’t get it wrong, Adenuga’s parents were successful in their own right; his father was a teacher, and his mother, a successful trader.


However, the Globacom owner didn’t fit into the archetype of a child born with a silver spoon.


To make ends meet, Adenuga hustled hard in the trenches. At some point, he sold lace materials and distributed drinks. And he proved himself a dogged entrepreneur, making his first million in 1979 at the age of 26.


Since then, he hasn’t stopped. From oil and gas to telecommunications, he ventured into various businesses and made good fortunes from them.


Doing business with a difference: The story of Glo


When Nigerians lament the ineffective privatisation of the power sector, they imagine what could have happened if the success recorded in (the privatisation of) the telecom sector could also be replicated there.


Yes, the privatisation of the telecom sector is the backbone of its success. But what sustains the success is the daring steps taken by Adenuga and some other stakeholders.


Any report about the success of the telecom sector in Nigeria without mentioning Adenuga’s input is certainly incomplete.


In the early days of the private telecom providers, two things, apart from mobile phones, were extremely unaffordable for Nigerians: airtime and SIM cards.


With his business ingenuity and selfless commitment to making the lives of Nigerians better, Adenuga solved these problems with Globacom, the company he established in 2003.


At a time when other operators thought it was impossible, Adenuga’s Globacom introduced per-second billing in Nigeria.


The customer-centric move by the telecom company endeared it to many Nigerians and its subscriber base grew exponentially.


Today, Globacom has 55 million subscribers.


Also, as part of its efforts to deepen telecommunication penetration in Nigeria, Globacom demystified the SIM card acquisition.


At a time when SIM cards were not only expensive but also a big deal, Glo distributed them FREE OF CHARGE to customers.


Under the able leadership of the trailblazing Adenuga, Globacom also made history as the first telecom company to build a high-capacity submarine fibre-optic cable, popularly known as Glo-1, the first successful submarine cable from the United Kingdom to Nigeria; with the attendant high increases in internet speeds and download rates with resultant significant improvements in online technologies.


Never say die: The untold story of Adenuga’s exploits in the oil industry


Many Gen Z Nigerians (1997 and 2012) only know Adenuga as the billionaire owner of Globacom.


They don’t know that before Globacom, there was the Consolidated Oil Limited which Adenuga established in 1984.


Through the oil firm, Adenuga made history as the first Nigerian to find oil in commercial quantity. He found oil in a place even experts thought was impossible!


“Late November 1991, Consolidated Oil spotted an oil well in an unusual place, 50 to 60 kilometres north-east of Okitipupa in Ondo State.


“Nobody thought a place like that could produce oil in commercial quantity. From the beginning, all the experts wrote off the place as not being attractive for oil prospecting. In the language of the experts, it was a “heavy oil” zone, meaning that the possibility of finding oil there was non-existent. But Adenuga’s intuition and research suggested otherwise. Something inside was telling the man they call “The Guru” that that was the oil well to prospect for. The oil well was OPL 113 or Oil Prospecting Lease 113. It was located on shallow waters offshore Ondo State,” the great Nigerian journalist, Mike Awoyinfa, wrote about Adenuga’s exploit.


When asked to explain what made him stick to the oil well when even the experts were not sure, Adenuga said:


“It takes God to strike oil. The man who knows never tells you where the oil and gas are. Even God doesn’t tell you. You must make the effort to find it. That is the challenge. You must look for it. God has put it there but you must use technology, you must use everything you can to get it. When you get it, you are lucky. If you don’t get it, you go back and you sharpen your pencil again. In oil and gas, you never say die.”


Today, Consolidated Oil Nigeria Limited, now named Conoil Producing Limited, operates six highly prospective blocks in the Niger Delta.


Mike Adenuga: The hands that keep giving


With billions of dollars in net worth, Adenuga, the Otunba Apesin of the Ijebu clan, has continued to demonstrate in practical terms what philanthropy truly means.


In 2020, the Mike Adenuga Foundation (MAF), a non-profit organisation established by the selfless founder of Globacom, donated N1.5 billion to the federal government to help in the fight against coronavirus in Nigeria.


With MAF, Adenuga, a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON),

actively helps people out of life’s difficulties.


Nigerians rise in Unisom to wish this living legend, 69 golden cheers. He surely is a good fellow.




Anthony Eshemokhai writes from Lagos, Nigeria.