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THE KING OF AFRICAN Oil: The Rise (and Rise) of Wale Tinubu, CON By Keem Abdul

Read Time:10 Minute, 15 Second

Someone once said that success – especially in business – happens when ideas meet opportunity. A caveat to that truism, however, is that there is nothing inevitable about success – not even with the most fortuitous of meetings. Because there’s always the added element of risk. So, perhaps one should remake that truism to say that when ideas (powered by the courage to challenge the odds, whatever they may be) meet opportunity, success – more often than not – is the result. 

There’s no denying that the business of oil and gas is fraught with all manner of risk. Oando Plc has, however, become adept over the years in managing the risks inherent in its line of business, as well as maximizing its opportunities, with a combination of expertise, creativity and courage. A Nigerian multinational energy company operating in the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of the country’s energy industry, Oando Plc trades in commodities such as fuel oil (also known as heavy oil); naphtha; crude oil; bitumen (also known as asphalt); premium motor spirit (also known as gasoline or petrol); gasoil (or diesel), and boasts a current estimated production output of over 40,000 barrels per day. Over the years, its revenues have ballooned to the point where its net income now stands in excess of N13 billion. With a staff strength of about 300, Oando Plc serves the West African sub-region as its primary market. 

The same expertise and experience in the field, coupled with an instinctive eye for opportunities and the courage to pursue and maximize them, has led Oando Plc into a number of innovative ventures across the energy value chain in partnership with major industry players from within Nigeria and around the globe – among them the Vitol Group, the world’s largest independent trader of energy commodities, and Helios Investment Partner, an Africa-focused private investment firm. Since its earliest incarnation in the mid-1950s, the industry juggernaut now known as Oando Plc has undergone a series of metamorphoses – from being a subsidiary of America’s Exxon Corporation;  to its rebranding as Unipetrol following the Nigerian government’s purchase of a controlling stake in Exxon in the mid-1970s as part of its privatisation campaign; to Unipetrol’s official listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and its subsequent acquisition of a 40% stake in the gas utility company, Gaslink Nigeria Ltd.; to the acquisition in 2000 of a 30% (later 42%) controlling interest in Unipetrol by Ocean & Oil, a private investment company led by Adewale Jubril Tinubu and Omamofe Boyo; to Unipetrol’s acquisition of a 60% stake in the petroleum marketing company, Agip Nigeria Plc.; to the subsequent merger with Agip that became known as Oando Plc., making Oando the largest downstream petroleum marketing company in Nigeria. It is an evolution which has continued to expand in scope and momentum since then. Oando’s more recent moves to transition to cleaner and sustainable energy sources – as contained in its ground-breaking  ‘PRE-FEASIBILITY ASSESSMENT of Renewable Energy in Nigeria’ a wide-ranging manifesto and rigorous programme of action in line with global net-zero emission targets – is the latest in the conglomerate’s forward-looking developmental strategy which, along with its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects and initiatives, aims to align the company’s strategic priorities with its commitments to the people and communities in its catchment areas, and the natural environment.

To a great extent, this record of exponential growth, pragmatic partnerships and an appetite for innovative action, and indeed Oando Plc’s business model in general – is driven by a dedicated led by a trio of leaders, namely, the aforementioned Tinubu (who serves as the Group Chief Executive); and Boyo (the Deputy Group Chief Executive); as well as Ainojie Alex Irune (the Group’s Executive Director). 

To an even greater extent, the company’s essential character, its unique combination of resilience, expertise and penchant for bold, decisive investment decisions, is embodied by its Group Chief Executive, Adewale Tinubu (popularly referred to simply as Wale). Known in industry circles as ‘The King of African Oil’, Wale Tinubu’s life journey and his professional and business trajectory have been likened by many to the ascension of the mighty oak tree from its beginning as a tiny mustard seed – seemingly predestined, but not always a given, considering the challenges he has had to surmount on his journey to the top of Africa’s energy totem pole. A lawyer by training, he has parlayed an uncommon drive with instinctive business acumen to become one of Africa’s leading young entrepreneurs. Tinubu, who began his career in the early 1990s as an attorney specialising in corporate and petroleum law, has gone on to become a glittering star in the global business firmament. 

Born Adewale Jubril Tinubu in Lagos on March 26, 1967, Wale happens to be the nephew of Nigeria’s incoming President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He had his early education at the Federal Government College, Odogbolu in Ogun State, from where he proceeded to the University of Liverpool and the London School of Economics (both in the United Kingdom), bagging undergraduate and advanced degrees in Law as well as a Master in Business Administration (MBA), before returning to Nigeria to attend the Nigerian Law School. Called to the Nigerian Bar in 1990, he began his career as an attorney at his family law firm, K. O. Tinubu and Co. Four years later, he co-founded Ocean and Oil Limited, a company specialising in corporate and petroleum law assignments, and guided its strategic development from an oil trading and shipping company to its aforementioned acquisition of stakes in Unipetrol – and to Unipetrol’s merger with Agip Nigeria to form Oando Plc. As a result of these bold strides, Tinubu has rightfully acquired a reputation as a builder of successful businesses across the energy value chain, as well as an enviable place among Nigeria’s most astute dealmakers.  Under his leadership, Oando Plc has transited from a petroleum marketing company to one of Africa’s leading indigenous integrated energy solutions providers. Apart from being listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Oando Plc is the first African company to have a cross-border inward listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in South Africa.  Needless to say, therefore, the strength of the Oando brand name and its subsidiaries is no longer in doubt, especially after its 2016 strategic partnerships in downstream and midstream businesses, which brought in $300 million in capital investment into Nigeria’s overall economy.

Under Wale’s leadership, Oando Plc now has 6 subsidiaries, namely, Oando Production and Development Company; Oando Refinery; Oando Trading Company; Oando Marketing; Oando Power Company; and Oando Energy Services. Oando Marketing, the group’s downstream subsidiary, is today the largest marketer and distributor of refined petroleum products, boasting over 600 service stations strategically located across Nigeria and other West African countries such as Ghana, Togo and Sierra Leone. The group also owns deep offshore exploration assets, and power generation interests, and is currently managing the development of a ‘greenfield’ refinery with the capacity to produce about 240,000 barrels per day. 

Another testament to Wale Tinubu’s talent, his seemingly inexhaustive well of good ideas, and his willingness and readiness to explore the outer limits of possibility, is his intervention in the emerging world of clean energy, especially as it impacts the profile and fortunes of the transportation sector in Nigeria – and Lagos State in particular, where transportation is such a hot-button issue and a top priority, along with effective traffic management, for successive administrations in the state. In furtherance of his desire to see combustible mass transit buses in the state phased out and replaced with electric vehicles, the versatile entrepreneur established the Oando Clean Energy Limited (the clean energy arm of Oando Plc), which has so far made significant inroads into the sector, with its acquisition of a number of electric vehicles from a Chinese carmaker and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Lagos State Government via LAMATA (the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority) in April 2022. Under the terms of the MoU, Oando envisages the rollout of 12,000 electric mass transit buses and the activation of strategically-placed and environmentally sustainable charging infrastructure and service centres. 

A dedicated social entrepreneur, Wale Tinubu has also displayed his knack for innovation in areas outside the energy value chain as well. Education and the development of human capital, in particular, is one long-standing area of intervention in which he has shown considerable passion. In line with his oft-stated mission to bridge Nigeria’s unacceptable educational gap and build the next generation of change-makers, Tinubu established the Oando Foundation back in 2011 as an independent charity with the overarching vision of improving the learning environment in primary schools by holistically creating world-class basic education systems in grassroots communities. The Foundation’s primary focus in this regard is to drive a sustainable basic educational system for the Nigerian child through its signature programme, the ‘Adopt-A-School Initiative’ (AASI). Under the AASI, the Foundation has, to date, adopted over 80 public primary schools across the country, supporting over 500,000 students as well as enrolling over 60,000 ‘Out of School’ children, and training more than 3,000 teachers. Since 2011, the Oando Foundation has also embarked on massive infrastructural rehabilitation, both of physical and digital educational assets, including solar-powered digital learning centers. 

Another aspect of the Foundation’s work is a scheme known as Inspired Hands, which has held a series of career talks, book drives, and school rehabilitations over the years, as well as donated 1500 educational aids, awarded and sponsored over 200 scholarships to students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Inspired Hands has also supported the professional development of almost 30 thousand teachers and Head Teachers in the nitty-gritty of modern instruction and educational management. 

In his capacity, Wale Tinubu has also made substantial donations to other institutions across the nation – civic, inter-governmental and religious alike. 

“Have you seen a man who is diligent in his work?” a wise man asked rhetorically, thousands of years ago. “He shall stand before Kings; he shall not stand before ordinary men.” Needless to say, it is only natural that such a robust record of accomplishments on the part of a man dedicated not just to doing well in his line of work, but also doing good for his fellowman (and especially his less-fortunate compatriots) must be recognized in the most rarefied and influential of professional and other circles. A man almost universally revered for his wide horizons and deep intentions, Wale Tinubu is the proud recipient of a plethora of awards and other recognitions. In 2007, he was named a ‘Global Young Leader’ by the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, as one of the world’s leading executives under the age of 41. In recognition of his contributions to the development of the African oil and gas industry, Wale was, in 2010, presented with the African Business Leader of the Year award by both the African Business Magazine and the Commonwealth Business Council. The following year, he was presented with the African Business Leader of the Year award by Africa Investor. In June 2015, he was named the ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ in West Africa by Ernst & Young. ASKMEN named him ‘One of the Top 10 CEOs in the World.’ 

The sobriquet ‘The King of African Oil”, by which he is popularly referred to in industry circles today, was conferred on him by no less than the prestigious international business and financial magazine, Forbes. 

Closer to home, Wale Tinubu received the Leadership Newspaper’s ‘Business Person of the Year‘ award in 2014, and the Oil Council’s ‘Africa Executive of the Year’ award the following year. Earlier in 2023, he was recognised by Vanguard Newspapers as its ‘Private Sector Icon of the Year.’ Last year (2022), Tinubu was conferred with the national honour of ‘Commander of the Order of the Niger’ (CON) by Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari.

Wale, who also sits on the board of various up-market companies – is married to Mrs . Bola Tinubu (a successful corporate lawyer and child advocate), and the couple is blessed with 5 children. 

Ideas, opportunity – and tons of courage – are the critical ingredients that make up the inspirational success story of Wale Tinubu. 




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