There is a tycoon in Africa. His name is Aliko Dangote and he does more or less what all tycoons do: think big. It doesn’t do it for free, of course. On the contrary: generally the biggest thing he thinks about are his earnings but, since he is not an entrepreneur, but, in fact, a tycoon, to replenish his current accounts, he usually devises gigantic and visionary systems.
In the case of Alinko Dangote, whom the Financial Times met and interviewed (without too much enthusiasm, indeed, since he described his appearance as that of a “modestly successful encyclopedias salesman”) on his yacht in Lagos, the idea is to build the largest refinery in the world in Nigeria, a giant capable of covering 2,500 hectares of marshes and costing 12 billion dollars, with the aim of making Nigeria the largest exporter of petroleum products from Africa, churning out 650,000 barrels of oil a day and producing plastic for Nigeria’s 190 million inhabitants and more than 3 million tons of fertilizer per year.
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A pharaonic project for which problems are not lacking: “No port in Nigeria – writes the Financial Times – is large enough to take over the massive equipment, which includes a distillation tower the height of a 30-storey building, and no road is strong enough to bear the brunt of it. Dangote had to build both, including a pier for which he dredged the seabed for 65 cubic meters of sand. There is not enough industrial gas in the whole country to weld everything together, so Dangote will build his own industrial gas plant. There aren’t enough trucks, so it’s producing them in a joint venture with a Chinese company. The plant will need 480 megawatts of energy, about a tenth of the total that electricity-starved Nigeria can muster. ”
Not bad for an orphan who wanted to transform first into a Chinese food wholesaler, then into a cement entrepreneur, then into the 100th richest person in the world according to Forbes and, finally, into a tycoon capable of making half Nigeria dream and making people come nightmares to the other half. Yes, because a large part of Nigeria is living, in a more or less legal way, between major or minor corruption, on the gigantic business of importing refined oil.
“For years – writes the British newspaper – Nigeria has exported all its oil as crude oil and then re-imported refined oil, such as gasoline and benzene, creating huge profits for intermediaries who deal with import contracts and who invent ways to defraud a system distorted by subsidies “.
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For this Dangote has a lot of enemies. For this reason, thousands of them would like their mega-refinery to never see the light. But he knows it and doesn’t care too much: “You can’t just come and take the food off their table and think they’re going to watch you do it,” he said. “They’ll try all kinds of tricks. This is a very, very tough company. Only the toughest of tough survives here. “