Dangote Is Buhari's Bestie Why big business is a government's best friend

Like all corporations and governments around the world, it is a relationship built on money, power and very little else.

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Alhaji Aliko Dangote play

Alhaji Aliko Dangote

(Forbes)
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On one fine busy Monday in June 2016, the richest black man in the world, Aliko Dangote lashed out at Nigeria's federal government while teaching students at the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies.

He took the time to blame them for a number of things, including making bad decisions and ensuring that the majority of Nigeria's businesses continue to treat electricity like gold dust.

According to him, they had sucked the life out of the power sector by selling the power companies; in his words, "what government did was to privatise, but they privatised wrongly. People who wanted to buy all these plants thought that this was another opportunity like mobile phones...".

This government in question was the Goodluck Jonathan-led government that left power in 2015, not the Buhari Presidency that was in office when he made the comments. But Dangote made no distinctions.

This is typical, but it is very funny for a big reason.

In January 2016, one very important picture was taken. It had Aliko Dangote on one part and the governor of the Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele on the other.

play Aliko Dangote and Godwin Emefiele (Vanguard)

 

Governor Godwin looked very pleased with himself as he stood in his trademark dark suit and glasses, beaming like a Christmas Tree on the 25th of December, but it was not him who should have been smiling with such enthusiasm.

The smiles belonged to Dangote, who had just convinced the government to give his company foreign exchange aka dollars for his company's 17 billion dollar refinery in Lagos.

That agreement is the biggest concession made by the Nigerian government since Independence, and it happened during a recession that started because of a shortage of foreign exchange.

Over the next weeks and months, Dangote Group got a dollar at the rate of 199 naira while we, regular people had to find between 300 and 500 naira for the same amount.

Naturally, not everyone was happy with the arrangement. Especially, twitter people. Because God forbid that one entrepreneur is getting bonuses from the government while the rest of us have to fight and line up to get dollars at disturbing prices.

Dangote may not have portrayed Buhari in a good light at his speech in June last year but his relationship with the government is better than a new couple on wedding night.

Why? Because companies like Dangote Group help the government do its job, which is exactly why some will tell you that the refinery deal is one of the best decisions that the Buhari administration has made in its 20 months.

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Big businesses - or large companies like the Dangote Group contribute jobs to the economy by just being present. Where the average small company may employ between 10-100 people, corporations can give a livelihood to hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.

The Dangote refinery, which should go online in late 2018, will create 130,000 direct jobs in Lagos and its environs. That's not counting 100,000 extra indirect jobs that will also show up in that time. That's very good news for you or anyone, but the government is ecstatic about it.

play Dangote's oil refinery covers a massive area in Lekki, Lagos. (Ventures Africa)

 

Remember all those jobs they promised you on the campaign trail? Someone else is creating them on their behalf.

There's also the matter of GDP. Whatever a company makes in a year will form part of its country's gross domestic product, which is sort of the value of the goods and services that it has produced in that period.

Big businesses earn in the billions and trillions of dollars annually - and that money forms part of the country's GDP and helps it look very good on paper.

A country's GDP is important because it is the biggest indicator of its performance, how big a market it is and its rate of growth.

The government understands this better than anyone else, so it does its best to help big businesses grow as much as it can because when they grow, it grows too.

You may be getting the feeling that this relationship is all about money. That's because it is.

play President and Businessman: a friendship built on circumstance and mutual benefit (Council on foreign affairs)

 

Times change, presidents come and go, economic policies are scrapped and brought back again in the name of being "re-developed" but money remains - always as valuable as the day before.

That is why the resources that big businesses bring to the table do not come as freely as you may be inclined to think.

Let's use a good example; the same one we've been using. Dangote.

Remember when the billionaire seemed like Jonathan's soul brother - those days when his name was part of every speech and interview, when he thanked him for creating policies that were favourable to his company.

All that love got a very fast manual reset when everyone began to whisper about the 2015 elections.

play Jonathan, a group of influential people and Aliko Dangote (Information Online)

 

For big business to survive, especially where they rely heavily on the country's natural and human resources, it is very important for them to remain friends with the government in power.

But no-one really knows who will win elections, so, sometimes, they play both sides.

It is not uncommon for corporations to finance two candidates vying for the same post; by providing much-needed funds, and staying as invisible as they can, they can have the support of whoever gets the votes.

Which is why it took Dangote very little time to appear beside Muhammadu Buhari just as soon as the results began to suggest that Jonathan would no longer be president.

play Buhari, a group of influential people and Dangote (Guardian)

 

Big business lives for profit, and the government wants that profit to be a part of its story - the alliance continues for as long as those interests are met.

So Buhari may be Dangote's best friend - but like all corporations and governments around the world, it is a friendship based on money and power and very little else.

You should check back in 2019 if you have any doubts.

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