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Inspiring tales of Nigeria’s billionaires

-Plus, our top 10 billionaires on Forbes Africa 50

Admittedly, tertiary education empowers one with the tools to handle life’s many challenges and excel, but it is not a prerequisite for financial success!

Four of the world’s 20 richest persons do not have university degrees. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and went to build Microsoft, Larry Ellison dropped out of college twice but he went on to build Oracle,

Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s youngest billionaire, dropped out of Harvard, and Li Ka Shing, billionaire owner of Hutchinson Whampoa, one of the largest conglomerates in Hong Kong, Japan dropped out of school at15.

Outside the top 20 are the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Michael Dell, Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA), Ted Turner (CNN founder), Giorgio Armani, Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder), Ralph Lauren and a host of others.

Back home in Nigeria, it is a similar story as many of the country’s billionaires are either school dropouts, or never went to any tertiary institution. And many had very humble and tough childhood.

ENCOMIUM Weekly profiles some of them…


THEOPHILUS DANJUMA (South Atlantic Petroleum)

Net worth: $750 million

Theophilus Danjuma

Theophilus Danjuma

Theophilus Danjuma, a former defense minister, is the founder of oil exploration company, South Atlantic Petroleum, which owns upstream assets in Nigeria and other neighbouring countries. He serves as the company’s chairman; his wife, Daisy, as vice chairman. He also owns real estate plus a stake in Notore Chemical Industries, a manufacturer of urea fertilizer, as well as a stake in NALComet, one of Nigeria’s largest shipping companies.

Danjuma started his education at St Bartholomew’s Primary School in Wusasa and moved onto the Benue Provincial Secondary School in Katsina-Ala, where he was the captain of the school cricket 1st XI team. He received his Higher School Certificate in 1958. In 1959, he enrolled at the Nigerian College of Arts Science and Technology in Zaria (Ahmadu Bello University) to study History on a Northern Nigeria Scholarship. However, by the end of 1960, Danjuma had left university to enroll with the Nigerian Army.


ORJI UZOR KALU , (Slok Group, The Sun, Daily Telegraph, First International Bank Ltd

Net worth: $330 million

Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu

Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu

The former governor of Abia state and one-time presidential aspirant is a testament to making the best of what life throws at you!

Kalu attended Christ the King School, Aba and Government College, Umuahia, both in Abia state. After studying at Barewa College, Zaria, he enrolled in the University of Maiduguri to study political science.

During his time at the university, he became a student activist, and participated in the Ali Must Go riots against the education minister which resulted in his suspension; but rather than throw a pity party, he decided to do something with his time. The school authority later granted him amnesty but he rejected the offer and chose to do business, growing it into a conglomerate today.

This year, he made Forbes’ list of the world’s richest with a net worth of $1 billion!

He once alluded to business sense as the key to financial success, rather than anything else; in his words, “a good businessman must have nose for business the same way a journalist has nose for news. Once your eyes, ears, nose, heart and brain are trained on business, you sniff business opportunities everywhere”.

He owns one of the Nigeria’s most widely read newspapers, The Sun; he also owns Daily Telegraph, First International Bank Limited and is the chairman of Slok Holding.


RASAQ AKANNI OKOYA (Eleganza Group of Companies)

Chief Rasaq Okoya

Chief Rasaq Okoya

The Aare of Lagos, born January 12, 1940, had his only formal education at Ansar-Un-Deen Primary School, Oke popo, Lagos. He was introduced to business when he worked with his father’s tailoring business which also included the sales of tailoring accessories. That experience made him to start mini tailoring activities on his own. He saved every penny he made until he had 20 pounds, his mother gave him an extra 50 pounds, and with the blessings of his father, he needed to start importing and trading goods from Japan.

Today, he has grown the business into an empire called Eleganza Group, one of the biggest homegrown conglomerates in Nigeria with over six factories, producing a wide range of household items and utensils

including cutlery, collieries, food warmers, ice chest, electric fan, cosmetics and ballpoint pen.

He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award as Business Entrepreneur of Our Time from Thisday Newspapers.

He once remarked how he was influenced to choose business: “In school, I could see my teacher in shabby clothes and at the same time, I could see the well-dressed businessmen of Dosunmu Street, the heart of business in Lagos then. It was easy for me to choose business life.”

He also famously said, “I have nothing against education. But at times, education gives people false confidence. It makes people relax, trusting in the power of their certificates rather than in working hard.”


OLOROGUN MICHAEL IBRU (Patriarch of the legendary Ibru dynasty)



The Ibru family is one of the wealthiest in the land, and it’s all thanks to Chief Michael Ibru. With the help of the Urhobo, Delta man, the family has dominated different areas of endeavour. His brothers, Alex Ibru (founded The Guardian newspapers and was former minister of Internal Affairs (1993 to 1995); Goodie Ibru became president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange and was Chairman of Ikeja Hotels; while Felix Ibru became governor of Delta State in 1992.

Chief Ibru is the head of Ibru Organisation, a multi-billion dollar business started in 1956 with interests including shipping, agriculture, aviation, banking, oil and gas; and employing over 15,000 people.

He never attended university or tertiary institution, but acquired a school certificate in 1951 from Igbobi College, Lagos.


COSMAS MADUKA (Coscharis Group)

Dr. Cosmos Maduka

Dr. Cosmos Maduka

Net worth: $200 million

To say it was a tough and rocky climb to the top for Cosmas Maduka is an understatement. He has showered in the street, scrapped with his brother, was fired by his uncle and more.

Cosmas was born to the family of Peter and Rose Maduka in Jos, Plateau on Christmas eve, 1958, but lost his father at age four, and with six children to cater, his mom couldn’t cope. He then had to drop out of school at age nine while in primary three; and along with his brother helped out by hawking bean cake (better known as akara).

Cosmas recalls his early days in business, “Although I left school at primary three, I tried to do some research and to find out how I could take some parts from a Volkswagen car and fix into a Honda. I was always curious to know which automobile parts could work on another brand.”

Today, he owns Coscharis Group, with subsidiaries like Coscharis Motors (the sole distributor of BMW and Land Rover vehicles in West Africa).


TONY EZENNA (Orange Drugs)

Tony-Ezenna-orange-drugs1After working in his family-owned chemist shop (Eastern Industrial Chemist) for 13 years, Anthony Ifeanyichukwu Ezenna went on to establish his own pharmaceutical company, Orange Drugs Limited (ODL) leveraging leadership and managerial skills he acquired from his experience in 1988 in Owerri, Imo. Born April 21, 1957 in Port Harcourt, Rivers state to late Mr. Ernest and Comfort Ezenna, he started his career after acquiring his Higher school certificate. The philanthropist was so bright he was to head for the university, but difficult family circumstances and fortune forced him to take to enterprise.


VINCENT OBIANODO (Young Shall GrowGroup of Companies)


Vincent Obianodo

Vincent Obianodo

Chief Vincent Obianodo is the brain behind YSG Group of Companies, a private Nigerian conglomerate with subsidiaries in the transport, hospitality, real estate, oil and gas, dredging and quarry, and rural market development sectors.

The philanthropist hails from Umueze, Nnewi in Anambra state and is married to Ifeoma, and their union is blessed with five children.

Vincent lived the larger part of his early years in Kano where he worked hard to make ends meet. Among the numerous menial jobs he did was repairing punctured tyres, which he allegedly became popular with. He was also said to have been a bus conductor but later set up his own inter state transport business which is currently the biggest in Nigeria with over 150 luxury buses which transverses all of Nigeria and parts of West Africa.


LADI DELANO (Bakrie Delano Africa)



Regarded as one of the youngest billionaires around, 33-year-old Ladi Delano is a man with laser-like focus! He is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bakrie Delano Africa (BDA)  a $1 billion joint venture with the $15 billion (market cap) Bakrie Group of Indonesia. The firm is responsible for identifying investment opportunities in mining, agriculture and oil & gas and executing them.

The young America returnee dropped out of university where he was studying Political Science in his second year. For him, academic education is not meant for everyone. He once told Forbes Africa, speaking on his struggles in university, “It became quite clear that I didn’t have a passion for my course. I think that led to me being easily distracted and that, ultimately, culminated in me thinking that rather than flogging a dead horse, it would make more sense to do something I was more comfortable with. There are two types of education and each form of education is equally as valuable. The academic approach to education is vital, no business can operate and be successful without those who have spent the time to understand the academic side of anything. However, that approach to education is not necessarily for everybody. And in my case it wasn’t. So, I decided to withdraw from university.” Delano began his journey to mega bucks as a liquor entrepreneur while in China. In 2004, he founded Solidarnosc Asia, a Chinese alcoholic beverage company that made Solid XS, a premium brand of vodka.


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