“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
These are the famous words of President John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961. Words that inspired his nation and galvanized the world into acts of patriotism, philanthropy and voluntary service to one’s country. Mike Adenuga was seven when Kennedy captivated the world with his can-do words, spirit and attitude. Today, at 68, Adenuga has done more than enough for his country to be awarded GCON. And he is not tired of giving to his fatherland. How many can one count?
I interviewed the Obi of Onitsha while writing my bestselling “Boardroom Leaders” book and along the way, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe CFR paid glowing tribute to Adenuga as an “exceptional character passionate in whatever he gets involved in. Adenuga is committed to grooming Ofala to the highest level until Ofala becomes a cultural icon for Nigeria. He is a great supporter of causes and people he believes in. And he is a man of strong conviction. If you convince him, he backs you up. And knowing what he is doing to support culture and tradition in terms of festivals in Ijebuland, his own domain, you know what he has done there with the Awujale’s Ojude Oba Festival. Then there is the Lisabi Festival in Abeokuta and Oke’Badan in Ibadan. And I know they are talking to Ife, so he is taking iconic festivals around the county, giving them support. For me, that is the mark of patriotism. He loves his country, the people and the culture. In fact, one can write a book on the role of Mike Adenuga supporting Nigerian festivals.”
Another anecdote: Adenuga could not understand why his trusted friend and clearing agent for many years, Rafiu Ladipo, the President-General of the Nigerian Football Supporters’ Club, worships football fanatically. So Adenuga tested him with a brand new SUV and ten million naira—if only he would give up football. But Ladipo rejected the offers. From then on, Adenuga was inspired to become more committed to the development of football, a national passion. Today, Adenuga’s billions have gone into supporting football in Nigeria, Ghana and Africa. He funded the Nigerian League and supported the Nigerian Football Supporters’ Club, chartering planes for them to go and watch the Super Eagles play. The same for Ghana’s Football Supporters’ Club whose activities he bankrolled. The then President John Dramani Mahama conferred on Adenuga Ghana’s highest national award, The Companion of the Star of Ghana (CSG) “in recognition of your unique and outstanding contributions to business enterprise both in Ghana and the continent of Africa at large…Through your creative business exertions, you have touched many lives in Ghana. You have provided employment for our teeming youths, artists, footballers and many more.”
Nigeria was looking for a foreign technical adviser for the Super Eagles. The NFA said there was no money but Adenuga hired one for Nigeria and paid him in dollars. Adenuga’s other contribution to African soccer is through the annual Glo CAF Award which honours the best African footballer on the planet. “Mike Adenuga’s legend is a book waiting to be written. Not just one book. So many books from different dimensions,” Rafiu Ladipo tells me. A case of preaching to the converted.
As you drive into Ikoyi on 9, Osborne Road, you cannot miss the exquisite Mike Adenuga Alliance Francaise de Lagos, a cultural “Taj Mahal” declared open by President Emmanuel Macron who conferred on the Gallophile Adenuga French highest national honour: Commander of French Legion. The centre is a testimony to Adenuga’s foresight, leadership, philanthropy, deep pockets and adroit vision of cementing the cultural and literary bond between Nigeria and France. It has everything: cinema, theatre, art gallery, media library, language courses, French bakery, restaurant and home to an eclectic mix of Nigerians, expatriates, Francophones and Francophiles. My pride and joy is that my entrepreneurial son Kehinde Awoyinfa, CEO and co-founder of Triangle Audiovisual imported and installed the state-of-the-art theatres, acoustics and audiovisuals at the centre—all without my input.
Just as global philanthropic icons like Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffets, George Soros and others whose foundations have impacted humanity, the Mike Adenuga Foundation was formally inaugurated on January 2, 2009. In keeping with Adenuga’s style the foundation operates silently, recently donating N1.5 billion towards fighting COVID-19. In 2012, it donated N500 million to flood victims in Bayelsa. One cannot forget Adenuga’s contributions to education through endowments of professorial chairs and donation of computer labs to several institutions, including Ibadan Grammar School, his alma mater. Then he makes quiet donations to things of God, good causes and people in need—strangers and friends alike. When it comes to giving, Adenuga’s milk of human kindness overflows.
For a man who hardly grants interviews, I stumbled on some rare quotes explaining his philanthropy: “I have worked hard most of my life and I believe I have been fortunate, although I must say I am a great believer in the man who said, ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get.’ My good luck has put me in a position where I can now give something back in the country where I was born, as well as the continent of Africa. This is where I come from. This is my home, and this is where I would like to make a real difference by helping to create a better and more equitable future, supporting initiatives that will enhance socio-economic development. The idea of a foundation is something I have been considering for a long time…The aim is to find visionaries of tomorrow. To find and nurture young people with ideas and drive to make a difference in Africa, in a really hands-on way. This is the legacy I would like to leave behind. Therefore, a great deal of the energy of the Mike Adenuga Foundation will be devoted to entrepreneurship.”
Most biographers agree that when you write someone’s biography, the person becomes part of you. As I wish my biographee a happy 68th birthday, let me end with the Guardian On Sunday profile of July 21, 1991, celebrating the real whiz-kid Mike Adenuga who in his thirties owned two banks and was already a corporate colossus: “He was not born with a silver spoon; hard work is simply the trick, the other being that he is a dreamer of great proportions to whom the greater lesson is the Yiddish proverb that if you want your dream to come true, you don’t have to sleep. An epitaph of him later in life when all divine wish is accomplished could as well read: ‘He combined a rare business acumen, determination, hard work, foresight and brilliance to be of use to others.’”
So, why does Mike Adenuga give? The answer is in Proverbs 11 v 25: “The generous soul will be made rich. And he who waters will also be watered himself.” My journalism mentor Ray Ekpu puts it this way in his piece on Mary Daniel, the fortunate amputee water vendor now trending: “Philanthropy is a philosophy that is a winner any day. It benefits the benefactor and the beneficiary in uncountable ways.”