• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Elumelu: Celebrating Africapitalism’s chief proponent at 60


Tony Elumelu, Africa’s leading investor and doyen of Africapitalism, a concept predicated on the belief that Africa’s private sector can and must play a leading role in the continent’s development, is 60 today. Having successfully positioned the private sector, and most importantly entrepreneurs as the catalyst for the social and economic development of the African continent, his outstanding feats, impact and inspiration are remembered and celebrated today writes, KEMI AJUMOBI, Associate Editor at BusinessDay.


Tony O. Elumelu, C.O.N.

Tony O. Elumelu is one of Africa’s leading investors and philanthropists. He is the Founder and Chairman of Heirs Holdings, his family owned investment company, committed to improving lives and transforming Africa, through long-term investments in strategic sectors of the African economy, including financial services, hospitality, power, energy, technology and healthcare.

Tony is the Chairman of pan-African financial services group, the United Bank for Africa (UBA), which operates in 20 countries across Africa, the United Kingdom, France, the UAE, and is the only African bank with a commercial deposit taking presence in the United States.

UBA provides corporate, commercial, SME and consumer banking services to more than 35 million customers globally. He also chairs Nigeria’s largest quoted conglomerate, Transcorp, whose subsidiaries include Transcorp Power, one of the leading producers of electricity in Nigeria and Transcorp Hotels Plc, Nigeria’s foremost hospitality brand.

He is the Founder and Chairman of Heirs Oil & Gas, an upstream oil and gas company, whose assets include Nigerian oil block OML17, with a current production capacity of 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day and 2P reserves of 1.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent, with an additional 1 billion barrels of oil equivalent resources of further exploration potential. Heirs Oil & Gas is committed to creating resource based added value on the African continent. Tony is the most prominent champion of entrepreneurship in Africa.

In 2010, he created The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), the leading philanthropy empowering a new generation of African entrepreneurs, catalysing economic growth, driving poverty eradication and driving job creation across all 54 African countries.

Since inception, the Foundation’s flagship programme has identified and catalysed nearly 16,000 entrepreneurs and created a digital ecosystem of over one million Africans, as part of a ten year US$100m commitment to fund, mentor and train young Africans.

The Foundation is increasingly sharing its unique ability to identify and access young entrepreneurs across Africa, with institutions such as the European Commission, United Nations Development Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other global development agencies, implementing thematic programmes that have focused on women and fragile regions.

His 3 businesses and the Foundation are inspired by Tony’s economic philosophy of Africapitalism, which positions the private sector, and most importantly entrepreneurs, as the catalyst for the social and economic development of the African continent.

Tony sits on a number of public and social sector boards, including the World Economic Forum Community of Chairmen and the Global Leadership Council of UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited. In 2020, in recognition of his business leadership and economic empowerment of young African entrepreneurs, he was named in the Time100 Most Influential People in the World, and recognised with Belgium’s oldest and highest royal order.

In 2022, TIME again recognised Tony with its inaugural TIME100 Impact list, honouring him alongside six global leaders who have gone over and beyond to move their industries – and the world – forward.



Nigeria is blessed with not only natural resources but also human resources. Anytime I engage with people on the international scene and I am asked to reference outstanding Nigerians, men and women, there are some names that always come up. Tony Elumelu is one such person. He makes it easier for me, so I subtly brag and say “He is just a Google away”. They would sometimes struggle to pronounce his surname and are often in the “potato” or “potahto” idiomatic situation; nevertheless, it is often that they know him or know of him; either way, his name rings a bell, and that truth cannot be ignored…period!

In the course of my career, people whom I have spoken to often agree that he is big on excellence, and once he sees that you have potential, he never ceases to nudge you to aim higher, even when you do not see yourself reaching the level he believes you can reach.

Sometimes, it is as little as “well done”. I remember while in New York on a Fellowship programme in 2013, and I was in the Bloomberg building. We were given the programme of an event, and boom, I saw his name there.

Firstly, there was a smile on my face. “Again, he is flying the flag high globally,” I said to myself. The journalist in me knew I was certainly going to do a story on it. For me, like I love to, it was again another opportunity to celebrate one of our own. I put pen to paper, sent it to Nigeria, and it was published. “Well done, Kemi,” he said, in his usual manner of appreciating people for a job well done.

I also remember that at the 10th edition of the Inspiring Woman Series, we honoured him with the ‘He4She’ Award for supporting courses that have to do with women, including entrepreneurship and workplace placements for qualified females in his Holdings and UBA Group.

I remember the words of some of his top female executives who celebrated him for the award, and again, it brought to the forefront what he has always been known for: excellence and inspiration.

“It is an honour today to celebrate Mr. Tony, a woman’s man. I have worked with TOE for over 13 years, and I have played various roles, from being his HR Advisor to where I am today as President/Group CEO of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria. TOE, we appreciate the role that you play in encouraging women to take their place at the table. You don’t just talk about it; you put your words into action. When we look at Heirs Holdings as a whole, we see women in leadership roles who are making a difference. It is about how you actively support gender inclusion in the workplace.” Owen Omogiafo, President/Group CEO of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria, stated.

Dupe Olusola, MD/CEO, Transcorp Hotels Plc: “I met Mr. Tony Elumelu about 14 years ago; the very interesting thing about him is how he encourages everyone to find the best of themselves. He helps you find the inner strength to help you deliver, to achieve excellence, and know yourself better. Everything he does is about excellence, it is what I see in him. It is also about the time he puts into his relationship with his daughters, it is about how he challenges and pushes them to do more.” She said.

Dupe wasn’t alone on this; even Somachi Chris-Asoluka, CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, had her accolades for Tony Elumelu.

“When I think of one man who epitomises the “he for she” concept and actually demonstrates it, I can think of no other but him. Thank you for inspiring so many of us. When I think of all the things that you have pushed, propelled, and motivated me to do, I am literally in awe. Thank you for being that one person who is always in our corner,” she said.

Obviously not done, Somachi adds, “Because of you, yes, we can. Thank you for inspiring various entrepreneurs across the continent and even the people at the Tony Elumelu Foundation. Thank you for being the greatest dad to your five remarkable daughters. Thanks for inspiring us all at Heirs and UBA to become all that we can be. We will be here cheering you on as you achieve all your heart sets out to achieve.”

It is also about impact for Tony. Through TEF, several lives have been transformed, and several businesses have soared. One of them is Mamamoni.

Microlending by MamaMoni provides micro business loans to underserved and low-income women in rural and urban areas of Nigeria. They cater to those who ordinarily cannot be captured by the formal credit system, and offer them fast and simple loans that enable them to build, grow, and sustain their businesses.

“Mamamoni has been supported since 2015. TOE is so passionate about empowering women. I am saying a big thank you to TOE for your support. Since our inception, we have been able to impact 10,000 women.” Nkem Okocha, founder of Mamamoni, said.

As I reminisce on the words of these women, it tells me that only a life of impact is worth living for.

“Well done, Kemi; what you are doing is a wonderful initiative, and you have led it very well. Interestingly, people actually talk about it.” He said to me when my team and I went to present the “He4She” award to him. Coming from him? That meant a lot to me, and it inspired me to do more and aim higher; the next edition of the conference was a notch higher. Indeed, words are powerful.

Apparently, Arunma Oteh was the first to send him the publication we wrote about him and why he got the award. Talk about women supporting women (a story for another day). “I shared it on my group chat so everyone on it could see it and be inspired,” he said, and he continued, “I asked Arunma where she got it because she wasn’t in Nigeria. I was amazed that someone from London sent it to me here in Nigeria even before I saw it.”

He further shared with us how people around the world often hear about TEF and do research about them, recognise them, and commend what they do. He affirmed what many have often said: that Tony is looking for someone who can deliver on the job and would give it to women or men who qualify. “I am not a sentimental person; if someone doesn’t deserve something, they do not get it, if women deserve it, they get it; if men deserve it, they get it; but I dedicate this award to the women of Heirs Holdings.”

I share these stories and commendations from people on his team and a beneficiary of his foundation because today we are celebrating a man of honour, guts, and zeal. Indeed a treasure to Africa and an inspiration to all, evidently and consistently through the years, he has imprinted his mark in the sands of time and is being celebrated globally for this feat.

Today, the Africapitalism guru and business magnate, Tony Elumelu, is 60!

Who would have thought that the young man, while at 20 years of age on the university campus, thinking of parties and academic course work rather than thinking of entrepreneurship, would become the phenomenon that he has become today? In his words, “Let’s just say that my life has been filled with a lot of interesting experiences”.

The Economics graduate grew up around his parents and the other influences around him. He always felt that he would end up in the business world. His mother was a big influence on Tony. She owned a restaurant, and during the holidays, he would stay there and help. He nursed the idea of his mother expanding on a larger scale so she could get more customers and make more profits. Indeed, there is something about mothers that makes us all want to meet their needs. It is the positive impact they have on us and how they nurture us to fulfill purpose, sacrificing their all so we can see our dreams come to fruition.

Born in the month of celebration of women and the same month as Mother’s Day? Perhaps it’s okay to say that Tony is special and dear to his mother’s heart and therefore understands the value of women and what they bring to the table.

His mother’s love for him was once again recently expressed on Mother’s Day. Mom, at 95, shopped and then prepared bitter-leaf soup for him. He laughed at the idea of the strength she has at 95 to still be preparing food for him. Let’s just say that soup looked delicious, but we, the viewers, could only partake in the ‘viewing’. I am still salivating. There is something about eating the meals prepared by the elderly; they certainly taste different. Oh!, I miss my grandma… Okay, back to the celebrant.

At his young age of 20, Tony’s desire was to finish his first degree in Economics, do his masters, and work in a bank. He wanted to dress like the power dressers in the banking sector—wear suspenders, brogue shoes, the whole outfit. “I liked the lifestyle!” he said, and certainly, he embraced that goal because today, when you see him step out in any outfit, you can easily tell he is intentional about his appearance, and trust me when I say, we have never seen a bad one; he is always on point.

Tony understands the patterns of successful entrepreneurs. He recognizes that there will be good and bad times. According to him, “Successful entrepreneurs expect challenges because overcoming challenges provides opportunities.”

He therefore admonishes budding young entrepreneurs to be hardworking, never be scared to dream, but know that dreaming is less than 1% of the equation because the other 99% is about translating your dream into action, turning your dream into reality. “That is what makes the difference.” Elumelu advises.

Elumelu’s experience as a banker and CEO has shown that with consistency and hard work, the results will show. Through his experience as CEO of the United Bank for Africa, he worked hard to expand UBA from a Nigerian bank to one that now has subsidiaries in 20 additional African countries.

“Now Chairman of the Bank, this experience showed me the commercial benefit of investing across Africa as well as the broader economic and even social impact the private sector can make, which was the origin of the philosophy I call Africapitalism.”

Tony Elumelu believes that governments in Africa can do more. He believes that the future of Africa truly belongs to the young ones and that our government must create an enabling environment.

As you turn 60 today, here is wishing you a healthier, happier, more fulfilling life filled with impact, greater influence, and higher heights!

So, where’s the party, sir? Or should we assemble at Grandma’s house? Grandmothers always come through; we trust she will sort us out.

Happy 60th birthday, Mr. Africapitalism! The world is blessed because you are here!