As the saying goes, there is a time to live and there is also a time to leave! Such is the story of every human being. When I received the sad news of the passing away of a dear friend and boss, it was to say the least devastating, painful and indeed extremely difficult to come to terms with. However, as Muslims, we say From Him, Allah, we all came and to Him we shall all return! I also remembered the adage stated above.
It was in 1987, while working with a merchant bank, that I came to know Alhaji Sani Dangote as a customer of the bank. He and his two brothers, Alhaji Aliko and the late Alhaji Bello, were running the then family business and were coming to transact business with the bank. As a young banker, I was saddled with the responsibility of managing the relationship as an account officer.
The relationship between the bank and the customers involved funding of export (cocoa, gum arabic, cotton lint, etc.) and import (sugar, flour, salt, etc.). It was an excellent relationship as the customer was regular in timely repayment of facilities extended. As the business expanded, the relationship became even more personal, going beyond banker-customer one.
Sani Gote, as he was foundly called by friends and associates, would come to the bank full of energy, dynamism and passion. He made meticulous presentation of transactions requiring either financial support or simply advise. In most instances we seldom had little, very little indeed, to add to the ideas and thought processes he brought. The level of intellectual pedigree, the research of materials on subject matter and the support documents he usually prepared and submitted amazed many.
Sani, although by any standards a silver spoon personality, moved about with gentleness, humbleness and esteem. He moved with grace, poise, humility and dignity. Yet he would greet everyone he came across irrespective of age or knowledge of the person. He would wave or say hello to all persons, even those he didn’t know if he came across them on his way! Pomposity? Nope, never, certainly not from Sani Gote. Even his enemies, if at all he had any, would attest to this fact.
Sani couldn’t walk into any gathering without being noticed despite his being quiet, humble and soft-spoken. The aura and the magnificence of the way he walked gave one the chance to see class, taste, opulence and quintessence in the man. Sani electrified any environment with his appearance. Honestly, even Presidents bowed for Sani, and that was God-given!
Alhaji Sani was a devout Muslim, consummate family man, bridge-builder, a glue that stitched ties and a peacemaker at all times.
He never engaged in unnecessary arguments. You would have discussions with Sani but not arguement. He would insist on his viewpoint with reasons and never yielded ground until you saw reason with his position. Such was Alhaji Sani’s way of life.
Oftentimes, in the face of superior position of facts, he yielded only after sufficiently being convinced about the reasons adduced. His way of reasoning can best be described as that of an inquisitive researcher or natural/pure science expert.
Methodological, persuasive, somewhat an introvert of a sort, Sani seldom raised his voice. Kind-hearted and tolerant, he was extremely tolerant indeed.
I can claim to be one of the few subordinates of Alhaji Sani that he listened to often. I had a measure of influence on him as my suggestions were almost always considered by him, some times even against his wish because of the respect I earned from him over the years.
We related extremely well, fairly close when I was with the bank and even after I left banking. A transaction that brought us even closer was when I was assigned the responsibility to sell a delinquent asset (a textile factory) and I suggested to the family to buy the textile company located in Kano that was distressed.
After several efforts to convince the brother Alhaji Aliko Dangote to buy the company (he was happy with his trading business then!) and venture into industrial production, the family agreed to buy the plant, which signalled their foray into manufacturing business. Alhaji Aliko, the elder brother and Zion of the business empire, left the running of the textile firm to Alhaji Sani and he was coming regularly for one thing or another to the bank.
This transaction and the running of the textile factory brought us so close that we were seeing almost daily! We were visiting Kano regularly and this afforded us an opportunity to visit his mum often together and as such I became an “adopted member” of the family.
Somehow, in 2002, after several efforts to get me work for their company, I agreed to work for Dangote Group. He was elated and happy that although I didn’t join them earlier on after a couple of offers either in the company or in Liberty Bank, a bank they used to own, I finally joined the family to add my bit to the development of an African giant.
A few years after joining the Group, there was a need to post me to his office as Special Adviser/Assistant. While in that capacity, I helped raise funds to set up Dansa Juice, Alsan Insurance Brokerage Company and a host of other factories. I also enjoyed his benovolence as Alhaji Sani made me a Member of the Board of Directors invsome of these companies, such as Alsan Insurance Brokers, Nasal Insurance, etc.
Alhaji Sani, a true Nigerian, detribalised, international and intercontinental, touched several lives by his way of dealing with individuals. Sani was always ready to help.
He listened to people, offered alternative solutions and views, interrogated issues and formed opinion. Sani intervened in matters relating to family, business, government and anything that might be brought to his attention.
When it came to loyalty, respect and obedience, Alhaji Sani was a shining example and a role model. He respected elders and the level of obedience he gave might not be common these days even among our children.
He was unashamedly proud to flaunt and speak about his obedience and loyalty to his elders even at public functions. Sani did speak truth to power whenever there was a need to do so!
I can claim to be one of the few subordinates of Alhaji Sani that he listened to often. I had a measure of influence on him as my suggestions were almost always considered by him, some times even against his wish because of the respect I earned from him over the years
To family members and friends, Sani was loyal to a fault. He provided support, assistance and accommodation whenever and wherever possible and or he was requested, sometimes even at his discomfort.
Sani could hand-deliver a business idea he conceived, nurtured and developed to a relation and move on without any ill-feelings. In fact, he was an encyclopedia of business ideas! He could allow a family member to take over his staff without rancour or any acrimony because he cherished family bond. In all these, Sani would neither look back nor expect anything in return from the relation!
He often interceded between persons (workplace colleagues) and his brothers (particularly the younger ones) or amongst family members because of the respect he commanded within the family as a result of being just, fair and equitable.
He had listening ears to all, the powerful, mighty and the not so mighty or powerful as long you had the chance to meet him.
Sani could be stopped and approached for assistance while on the road and he would wait to listen to the complain or the request. Yet he did not listen to gossips or tolerate and encourage side talks from any quarters. Yet he encouraged people to speak out their mind.
Sani’s attention to detail was extraordinary despite being busy, very busy indeed. He was organised, structured and process-driven. This earned him the nickname of “Bakin Bature” or “Nasara”, meaning English man. Such qualities are extremely rare and in short supply today, at least not from people of his calibre.
Even after I left the services of Dangote Group, we remained close and on several occasions he would invite me for discussion on issues pertaining to business and other matters.
I served as a technical person when Alhaji Sani, together with Mr Emmanuel Ijewere, midwife the setting up of Nigeria Agri Business Group (NABG), which served as adviser to governments on agricultural issues. This underscored his desire, passion and enthusiasm for Nigeria to feed itself.
I recall when Dr Adewumi Adesina, the then Minister of Agriculture, wanted a decent and competent person to be appointed as Managing Director of Bank of Agriculture, he requested Alhaji Sani Dangote to help source the candidate. Alhaji Sani reached out to me to help with the head hunting exercise. I got candidates and Alhaji Sani, without seeing or speaking with any of the candidates, gave the names to the Honourable Minister. He never asked me where the candidates were from, the language they spoke or the religion they practised! One of them got the job.
Several months after the appointment, the person neither called nor paid a visit to Alhaji Sani as a mark of appreciation. Yet when I met Alhaji Sani and the matter was brought up, I inquired if the person called or visited him; he said no, he didn’t and he felt that it was not necessary that the person should do so. He said to me, “My concern is that he is happy with the job and that he is delivering as expected.” Such was the life of Alhaji Sani Dangote – expecting nothing from anyone, not even a thank you!
In this regard and in so many ways, Sani was a role model, a mentor and a coach in business and sport such as polo, which he loved and cherished most.
As an entrepreneur, Sani’s foray into so many businesses was a testimony of his business acumen. Sani and I once went to Ghana to explore a tomato puree business. We went to Guinea Bissau for oil-related businesses. He sent us to Sudan in 2008 to explore the possibility of setting up a cement plant in there! Niger Republic, Togo and Benin Republic, to mention but a few, all enjoyed Sani’s business acumen in one way or another. One can write a book on this matter alone!
The death of Alhaji Sani Dangote is a personal loss to me. It is certainly not a loss to his immediate family alone but a loss to mankind, nay humanity. We never brought death so near even with the ailment he suffered for years. I spoke to him a few weeks to his demise and we were full of hope as one of the companies under his management had a change of directors and he retained me as one of the directors!
It has taken me such a long time to write these few lines because everytime I sat by my computer, I would feel down and in pains for our loss! We have lost a rare gem, a peacemaker, a pillar and supporter of the family.
No doubt, many misunderstood Sani, mistook him for what he was not and treated him unfairly. He persevered in the face of torrents from several quarters and yet he never held grudges as even we had cause to discuss people’s actions towards him, he would say leave them with their thoughts! He knew people who refused to see reason with his position despite obvious facts, yet he would never say something negative, talk less of making a move against them.
He also did realise and recognise mischievous persons around him and his brother, yet Sani would rather leave the sleeping dogs to sleep well! His network of friends and associates was diverse and wide, local and international, etc. Such was the life of Alhaji Sani Dangote.
May Allah in His infinite mercies forgive Alhaji Sani Dangote all his sins and grant him Aljannah Firdaus, amen. Sani, I will forever pray for your eternal rest in perfect peace, amen.
* Alhaji Shu’aibu Idris Miqati, mni, is a Lagos-based businessman and politician