Leading by Example – Tony Elumelu; BY KEEM ABDUL
“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” – Nelson Mandela
When the vast expanse of the African continent is examined, only a few men can unarguably be seen demonstrating the qualities that Nelson Mandela listed as quoted above. One of those rare men is Tony Elumelu, the successful Nigerian businessman, economist and philanthropist who is helping many of Africa’s emerging leaders fulfill their dreams. It is not often we see a wealthy man with a good head, a good heart and a literate tongue or pen alongside his wealth so Mr. Elumelu’s case is noteworthy.
Rising from his modest beginnings, he ascended to the pinnacle of banking in Nigeria and has significant investments in the energy, hospitality, agribusiness, healthcare and real estate sectors. His net worth is estimated to be in the region of 700 million US Dollars. His Tony Elumelu Foundation reaches across Africa to stimulate Africa’s economic development by enhancing the competitiveness of the African private sector. Where many lack funding and access to education that enhances entrepreneurial pursuits, his Foundation provides both and indeed much more for an increasing number of Africans. He is respected across the world and when he talks, his voice influences millions to the extent that in 2012 Forbes ranked him among the top 20 most influential Africans.
Wielding his considerable influence and his literate pen, armed with his good heart and good head, Tony Elumelu has addressed the sad, recurring and ongoing cases of xenophobia in South Africa by black South Africans targeting foreign nationals. In a heartfelt missive that has gone viral, he started by reiterating his belief that Africa is a beautiful and blessed continent, and that we Africans are our greatest resource. He however noted that the greatest threat to Africans is not our fellow African brothers and sisters but Poverty! Paraphrasing a Martin Luther King Jr quote, Mr. Elumelu (or “Chairman” as he is lovingly called by his followers) said as he has often said: “Poverty anywhere is a threat to all of us everywhere.”
In his own words, “Let’s not lose sight of our shared destiny. We need to stop attacking each other but rather embrace one another and work together to uplift our continent and be our brother’s and sister’s protectors wherever we may find ourselves. This is the only way to our economic liberation and prosperity.”
He shared the story of how in his early days, even though banks were still heavily focused on metropolitan areas, his desire to give opportunities to everyone and access to financial services to people all over the country drove him to ensure that Standard Trust Bank expanded all over Nigeria. When he became CEO of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) in 2005, from being a one-country operation at the time, he was able to expand in Africa to 20 countries delivering excellence in financial services before he stepped down from the ubiquitous bank’s helm of affairs. With his sights set on Africa at that point, he founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation and today it empowers young African men and women in all 54 countries across the continent. His reason being that he believes in Africa and in Africans.
Condemning the xenophobic attacks, he stated: “I am disheartened by the videos and stories floating around social media around these xenophobic attacks! They are despicable and pure madness! We must say no to barbarism and savagery. Violently mutilating and killing our brothers and raping our sisters; looting and destroying their livelihoods is evil and un-African and it dehumanizes us all. Instead, we must always seek to elevate, protect and help one another.”
It is hoped that his message will reach the hearts of those South Africans who have been brainwashed into hating their fellow Africans. As Nelson Mandela wrote in his book “A Long Walk to Freedom”, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” South Africans, from their leaders down to even the youngest citizens must be taught to love, accept and tolerate their neighbours and visitors in order not to tarnish the stellar legacy of their national hero Nelson Mandela. Until this happens, the nation cannot truly be said to be free of the dark days of apartheid, for as Madiba also did say, “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.