From a Taxi driver and Security Guard to a Telecom Multi-billionaire: The Mike Adenuga’s story

Mike Adenuga is the second richest man in Nigeria, with an estimated net worth of $5.8 billion dollars in 2017 according to Forbes. This also makes him the 3rd richest man in Africa.
Dr. Michael Adeniyi Ishola Adenuga Jr. (CON) was born in 1953, in the ancient city of Ibadan, into the family of Chief Mike Adenuga Snr., a school teacher and Madam Oyindamola Adenuga, a successful trader and Yeyeoba of Ijebuland. Adenuga is a native of Ijebu Igbo in Ogun State of Nigeria.
Mike Adenuga’s mother, Madam Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga was a very successful dressmaker. Although she got married at the tender age of 17 years to a school teacher, she didn’t sit back as a house wife, but learnt sewing and became very successful at it.

This enterprising spirit paved way for young Mike Adenuga to attend the famous Ibadan Grammar School (IGS) before jetting out to the US to read Business Administration with a focus on Marketing.
“Hey Taxi, take me to the tube station down the road.” In his worn out jeans and faded T-Shirt, Mike gets down from the taxi and picks up his passenger’s suit cases, drops them in the booth of the taxi, opens the back door for the passenger, all the time saying “Yes Sir.”

Mike Adenuga was a student and he needed every dollar he could earn to support his rather expensive education. He has left his parents back home in Nigeria. His father was a poor school teacher while his mother was into the wood business, operating a saw mill. There was no way both of them could sponsor his relatively expensive education in the US. His parents had to empty their savings to enable him travel.

The rich are careful to befriend powerful and rich people or at least people with potential, while the poor are careless about the kind of friends they keep.

Now that he is here, he was determined to ensure that he went back home with the certificate that he hoped will give him a chance to earn a living in Nigeria. In the night, Mike doubled as a security guard. In the cold of winter, this man from Ibadan in Nigeria will defy the biting cold to work as a night guard in a bid to earn his first degree.
He was studying for a degree in business administration from Northwestern University, Oklahoma. Through hard work and determination, he eventually bagged his degree. Unlike most of his mates, staying back in the US was not an option he considered very viable.


He came back to Nigeria seeing opportunities that few at his age could see. But life was not easy in Nigeria in his early days back home. Unable to get a job, he joined his mother’s Saw Mill business. The struggles of running a Saw Mill did not however blind him to emerging opportunities in Nigeria.

The story of how Mike made the transition from running a Saw Mill to running an oil and gas business is not very clear. He, however, seem to have made some good friends in the military and was favoured when the government decided to award Nigerians oil prospecting licenses to increase local participation in Nigeria’s foreign dominated oil industry. At the young age of 36, he was one of those favoured with an oil license from the then regime of General Babagida in 1990.

On a trip to New york, he spotted another opportunity, This was how he narrated the encounter to Newswatch,
“I went on a trip to New York and when I was coming back, I missed my flight, being on British Airways, so I had to fly Swiss Air and I sat next to the owner of one of the biggest lace manufacturing factories in Austria. So, we were talking and he got me interested in importing laces, and all sorts of things.” That was how he started importing lace materials.
By the age of 22, Mike Adenuga has delved into the business of commodities, general merchandise, construction, importation (of mainly sawmill equipment, tomato paste, wines, beer and textile materials (especially lace made in Austria).
Mike Adenuga was not an overnight success, but whenever someone succeeds massively, people tend to think it was done overnight. Actually he started building his empire from the 1970’s as a very young man, when he took over his mother’s business. He also began to make powerful friends.

Take note of this, the rich are careful to befriend powerful and rich people or at least people with potential, while the poor are careless about the kind of friends they keep. In fact, the poor don’t choose their friends. They simply accept anybody that comes into their life. The rich on the other hand, guard themselves jealously, they know the value of their time and their life, and will never waste it with wrong associations. They actively seek out and select who their friends will be.

Mike Adenuga is extremely careful about who sees him and who he sees. He will only get across to you when there is the need for it, but you cannot get across to him. And when he wants to get across to you, he does everything possible to track you down. And so just as he was building up his business, he was also building up a list of small but powerful friends.
It was not by accident that he became friends with Ibrahim Babangida in the early 1980’s, long before he became the Military president. Some people ascribe Mike Adenuga’s success to his association with the General, but I beg to disagree. But let’s even look at it this way, if you are a youth today, look around you and tell me the kind of friends you are keeping, and I will tell you what you are, or what you are becoming. Don’t forget that Mike Adenuga was already doing well while
Babangida was nowhere near becoming the President as at that time. But those that knew young Babangida, knew that he was a very serious, highly intelligent and ambitious army officer. This was the kind of people Adenuga allowed into his inner circle of friendship. This is not the place to talk about the power of networking, but if you don’t understand the power of friends over your life, let me just tell you this: 90% of your success or failure, will come as a result of your “reference group”.
In February 1990, he made a bold entry into the banking industry. He floated Equatorial Trust Bank (ETB). Earlier in 1989, he had also floated Devcom Mechant bank and merged both institutions in 2005 adopting the name Equitorial Trust Bank (ETB) as part of Nigeria’s banking consolidation exercise. The management of ETB was taken over in 2009 and eventually merged with Sterling Bank Plc in 2010.

General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida

In the same 1990, Babangida’s oil minister, Professor Jubril Aminu came up with a policy to grant licenses to individuals and encourage private sector participation in oil exploration and exploitation. Otunba was one of the first beneficiaries of the Petroleum Act.

Mike Adenuga’s mother was against his son investing any money in this risky venture, but Mike had to go against her will. It is very important to note that Mike Adenuga was fiercely loyal to his mother. He will never disobey his mother and the late matriarch had enormous influence over her son. He only went against her mother’s will on two occasions, on both occasions, he felt it was destiny, and went on against her mother.

The first time Mike Adenuga went against her mother’s will was when he wanted to travel abroad. His mother was strongly against this and wanted him to join his brother at the University of Ibadan, where he was studying Biochemistry. I wonder if there would have been a GLOBACOM today, if Mike has agreed to study biochemistry at University of Ibadan. Mike’s mother even reported him to a commissioner of police in Oyo state. It was the police officer that calmed her down, and encouraged her to let him go.

The second time Mike went against her mother’s will, was when he decided to take advantage of the oil prospecting license and search for oil. As at that time, no individual in Nigeria has successfully drilled oil on his own. His mother thought this was a senseless gamble, but again Mike’s mind was made up, and like an entrepreneur, he opted to risk everything and drill for oil.
An incorrigible risk taker, he had hired an oil rig for $5 million BUT he recruited only Nigerian oil specialists to do the job (he has always been a patriotic man). Show me a successful entrepreneur, and I will show you a risk taker. We are conditioned by fear, not to take enough risk, but every successful Entrepreneur must learn to increase his/her risk tolerance.
Upon getting his oil bloc prospecting license (OPL 113), Adenuga went straight to work in the South Western Niger Delta Region and in less than a year on 24th December, 1991, he struck oil in the shallow (offshore) waters of Ondo State in his first oil well (named Bella-1) becoming the first indigenous oil firm to do so. Other Nigerians could not take the risk, and had sold off their licences to expatriates in 1991. Many of these people are not known in Nigeria today, so you see that getting the License was not a gateway to automatic wealth.

With money now pouring in from the oil business, Otunba started looking for another opportunity. Long before GSM came into Nigeria, Mike Adenuga has already seen the need and potential in telecommunication. So he formed CIL (Communication Investments Limited) to pursue this new opportunity.

Under the General Sani Abacha regime, his Communication Investment Limited (CIL) was given a conditional licence and frequencies to operate. Obasanjo would later cancel all the approvals given to him by previous governments. He suffered many setbacks under the Obasanjo administration, who simply did not like the man. Infact Obasanjo vowed not to give him license despite his many please.

But a relentless fighter that he is, he told his men: “Let’s go into this thing. Let us forget going to court and all that. Let’s go under the new system and fight for the licence. We must fight with everything we have to get the licence.”
Consequently, he formed another company GLOBACOM, and made a second deposit of $20 million for Globacom licence. Many scoffed at him and he was told to stop chasing shadows. His brother, Demola says of those dark days: “Mike lost $20 million, but he never lost hope. He never gave up.

hope. He kept hope alive; that is one thing about my brother: he is an eternal optimist. Something kept propelling him not to give up on the matter. He pursued it and he eventually got the licence.”
For those that still remember, the coming of GLO was a blessing to Nigeria in many ways. For the first time, the masses witnessed the business sagacity of Mike Adenuga combined with a desire to alleviate suffering.
You will remember that in the early days of GSM, MTN was reigning supreme, while ECONET was struggling in the murky waters of Nigerian politics, and kept changing names. MTN was selling Sim card for a whopping N20,000 then (I remember that I bought my current line for N17,800). Worst of all, they told Nigerians that we could not have per second billing for at least the next 10 years. When you make a call then, even if the network was bad, which was common, and you spend less than 5 seconds, you still have to pay for one full minute. Within a year, MTN was “thanking” Nigerians.

GLO came a bit late, but Otunba Mike Adenuga was quick to set things straight, he quickly crashed the cost of sim cards, but the best thing he did for Nigerians, was the introduction of per second billing. It wasn’t long before he overtook Dr Strive Masiyiwa’s Econet to become the second largest network in Nigeria (although Dr Strive had already pulled out by then). MTN only continued to surpass GLO because of their first mover advantage.

Glo was also the first to embark on the ambitious project of laying a submarine cable connecting Nigeria to United Kingdom.
Glo has also gone beyond the shores of Nigeria with operations in Benin Republic, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. Glo also raised competition in the broad band space when it wholly financed and sponsored Glo-1, the 9,800 kilometere-long submarine cable laid from Bude in the UK to land in Alpha Beach in Lagos.

President Goodluck Jonathan (left) decorates Chairman, Globacom Limited, Mike Adenuga Jnr with the Grand Commander of the Niger

Mike Adenuga has a national award GCON, the second highest national honours conferred by the Nigerian government on any Nigerian.
He is a strong supporter of the Nigeria local football league and also the Nigerian entertainment industry where his patronage has turned many Nollywood stars into multi-millionaires.
Close friends and relatives of Otunba Mike Adenuga, gives us more insight into the character of the Ijebu man.

On his elusiveness, Wole Soyinka has this to say, “I can’t remember when last I saw him or spoke to him. Adenuga has a vanishing habit. He would just disappear.” At a time, there was supposed to be a meeting with the Bull in London but Wole Soyinka never saw him and so left in anger. Soyinka continues: “All I know is that I see Globacom advertisement everywhere. I also know that Adenuga supports sports, especially football. I wish he could do more for the arts. I have sat him down once. I told him: ‘Listen, you have the money and the enthusiasm, but we have the ideas. Let’s sit down and work together and let us do more for the arts. He would agree, but I said, he would then disappear. He has this vanishing habit. My wish for Globacom is that they would do more for the arts. I feel envious about the amount Globacom is committing to sports. I wish I could get his attention sufficiently to do even half for the arts. If Adenuga is reading this, he should stop running away. He should come and sit down with me so that we can do something for the arts.” Otunba later apologized and they made up.

Prof. Wole Soyinka with Otunba Mike Adenuga

Stanley Ebochukwu, Editor-in-Chief of BusinessDay says: “Adenuga is somebody one would call an enigma. You can’t see him, if you want to see him. If you call him, he can’t take your calls. But if he wants to see you, he would see you. And if he wants you to see him, you would see him.”

On another occasion, Wole Soyinka said of Otunba, ‘He is a young entrepreneur I have come to admire. I like his drive. He sought me out when he was to begin his Globacom business. I thereafter
made enquiries about him. I was actually told by somebody whose judgment I respect that Mike Adenuga is somebody with enormous drive and ideas. And he said I should give him as much help as I could. I checked him out and I discovered that he likes challenges. He has the drive to deliver.’

His elder brother, Otunba Demola Adenuga says of him:
“Mike is the star of the family. Not just our family but the whole of Nigeria. I see him as my benefactor. I should not be ashamed to say that. He has helped me in all facets of life.”
In another piece written by Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe , they narrate the words of one of Adenuga’s closest associates, Dr. Rafiu Ladipo: “He takes risks and he is ready to stick it to the end. He never gives up. Is there anything he touches that doesn’t turn into gold? He is such a determined person. He is always charging like a bull. When he wakes up in the morning, he thinks about his business and nothing but his business. He is not a socialite. You can never catch him attending
parties. He works Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday…He goes on and on like that facing his business.”

Orji Uzor Kalu says of him: “We have been friends from a long time. I became Aliko’s friend right in the early ‘80s when I was a student at the University of Maiduguri. With Mike, our friendship started when he was living close to me on 6A Adeleke Adedoyin Street in Victoria Island, Lagos. This is where all of us came to become friends. Dangote and Mike were not close, but I was close to both of them. I was a kind of bridge between two of them.”
Remember what I said earlier about friendship. Is it by accident that these three young friends Dangote, Adenuga and Kalu are now billionaires? Do you think they were going for parties every weekend, drinking and taking hard drugs? I doubt. Birds of the same feathers flock together.

And so goes the story of Otunba Mike Adenuga, I believe his story will continue, as he keeps jetting all over the world in his N8 billion Dassault Falcon 7X Private jet.

In December 1982, armed robbers attacked him in his residence and he sustained some bullet wounds. In a confused and tense atmosphere, an argument broke out among the robbers, with Adenuga still groaning on the floor and moaning in the pool of his own blood. A defiant robber said:
“Let’s finish the job. We have to finish this job. We must kill him. We must kill him.” Then he pulled the trigger. God saved him that day. But this left a lasting impact on the young man. Today, he is the most heavily guarded billionaire in Nigeria. What a gem Nigeria would have lost!

Mike Adenuga is a highly private person and it is not certain anyone really has his whole story since he hardly grants media interviews or talk about himself. His true wealth is estimated with some speculating, he could actually be the richest man in Africa instead of Aliko Dangote. What is not in doubt about him is that Mike Adenuga is one of the few Africans who have been able to ride on the opportunities on the African continent to make wealth for himself and many other Africans who now work in the many companies he has built.

Ghana gives Adenuga highest honour in 2016: Mike Adenuga and Ex President John Mahama

Finally, let us hear the bull himself,

“I have worked hard most of my life and I believe I have been very fortunate; although I must say I am a great believer in the man who said “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” ‘Africa has a real wealth of opportunity. And who better to explore that opportunity than young Africans themselves? ‘. He continues: ‘But if there is one thing that I have learnt in business, it is that it never pays to make your targets too small. There will be problems and roadblocks, but we will deal with
them in the same way as we have dealt every business challenge we have ever faced. With a mind open to all possibilities, and with clear focused determination.”

Otunba Mike Adenuga is a great Nigerian, and someone we should be proud of. Young people should emulate the enterprising spirit of this billionaire. Nigerian graduates think that their certificate give them right to get work from the government, look at a man with foreign degrees, that still came back and went into small business before growing it big.
Stop looking for work and start creating wealth. You want to succeed ? Take a leaf from the BULL, and find the bull in yourself. Charge forward like our dear Otunba, and don’t give any excuse for your failure.
With Hardwork, God and some luck, you will succeed.

Remember what Otunba said, “The harder you work, the luckier you get”.
Maybe you do not have business training like Mike Adenuga, but you have the opportunity today, to join the no 1 online entrepreneurship training in Nigeria, THE MILLIONAIRES ACADEMY, visit

There is a lot of work to be done in Africa. Every challenge you see today in Nigeria or Ghana, is an opportunity waiting for someone like Mike Adenuga to find a solution for, and make billions. So one way of looking at our challenges in Nigeria, is also to recognize that they are opportunities you can exploit. If you run to America, what do you think you can offer them ? Nothing. They have everything. Do you think Mike Adenuga would have succeeded if he launched GLO in America ? I doubt.
I hope you learnt something from the story of this great man.







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