(Ecofin Agency) – Now 6e African fortune and 3e fortune of Nigeria, Abdul Samad Rabiu, the founder of BUA Group still does not manage to emerge from the shadow of his rival and friend Aliko Dangote, the first fortune of the continent whose enormous media exposure seems unsurpassable. And yet, if we only had to take Nigeria into account, Abdul Samad Rabiu is certainly his friend’s only real rival.
Recently, Abdul Samad Rabiu has been increasing philanthropic works. Through his Abdul Samad Rabiu Africa Initiative (ASR Africa Initiative), he offered around $ 12 million to Akwa Ibom State for the construction of a teaching hospital, just days after donating 2, $ 4 million to Maiduguri University. For evil tongues, this new attraction for philanthropy has the sole objective of competing with the founding of Aliko Dangote. In Nigeria, the media and the population are used to this storytelling between Abdul Samad Rabiu and the country’s first fortune.
Abdul Samad Rabiu: “He protects his business, and I try to take market share from him.”
Surprisingly, the two men are present in the same sectors of activity where they engage in fierce competition. Yet the two billionaires, originally from Kano, have many things in common, including a furious desire to dominate any activity in which they are involved.
A predestined rivalry?
When one questions Abdul Samad Rabiu on the existence of a rivalry between Aliko Dangote and him, the boss of BUA Group does not deny the competition which exists between them. “But I wouldn’t use the term rivalry, rather competition. Aliko is a businessman, like me. He is a good man and a friend. But Aliko is also a capitalist who protects her interests as much as she can. Friend or not, it’s business first. Each of us understands this very well. He protects his business, and I try to take market share from him. This is all normal. We manage to remain friends, because we do not make a fuss of the heart. There is nothing passionate about it, and it always has been ”, he explains. Indeed, despite some tensions related to their activities, the two men seem to live well the competition that binds them. Perhaps because they could not escape it, it is so genetic. The opposition between these two businessmen could indeed find its origin in their family pasts.
“He is a good man and a friend. But Aliko is also a capitalist who protects her interests as much as she can. Friend or not, it’s business first. “
Indeed, Aliko Dangote comes from a famous line of wealthy merchants in the commercial city of Kano. Her maternal grandparents made a fortune in importing and exporting food. It is on the family fortune that they have amassed that Aliko Dangote will base herself on to launch herself in business after her studies.
“We have known each other since childhood.”
Abdul Samad Rabiu was also born with a silver spoon in his mouth on August 4, 1960 in Kano. His father, Isyaku Rabiu, was a renowned merchant and industrialist in the state during the 1970s and 1980s. His family, also one of the wealthiest in Kano, was therefore naturally compared to the Dangotes and their fortunes, knowing that both families rubbed shoulders in the rice and sugar trade.
“We are both (Aliko Dangote and Abdul Samad Rabiu, Editor’s note) from Kano and our parents were doing more or less the same kind of business, so we grew up in a commercial environment. My father had been dealing with rice, sugar and edible oil for a very long time. Aliko’s great-uncle, Sanusi Dantata, was at one time the largest import trader in Kano State. We have known each other since childhood. Although people seem to think that we are doing the same kind of business as Aliko, I keep telling them that these are areas in which my family was involved before Aliko even started ”, confides the founder of BUA Group.
“We’re both originally from Kano and our parents were doing more or less the same kind of business, so we grew up in a commercial environment.
Only, a military coup will destroy, in 1983, the success story of the head of the empire Rabiu, the father of Abdul Samad. Ironically, it is the current president Muhammadu Buhari who then takes power after the putsch.
In 1983, Muhammadu Buhari throws Abdul Samad Rabiu’s father in prison.
He blames Isyaku Rabiu for not having paid for the rice imports and has him arrested. The decision also has political roots, as the businessman has been one of the ruling party’s main funders since 1979, when civilians took power from the military. Abdul Samad Rabiu, who is currently studying in the United States, then felt compelled to return to Nigeria in 1984 and take charge of family affairs.
The creation of BUA Group
At 24, Abdul Samad Rabiu took the head of the family empire in place of his father, still held by the local administration. “It was very difficult. Our father was not there. There was a great void, because of his personality. He developed the business, he did everything, everyone was accountable to him, and then he was no longer there. So at a very young age I was in charge of so many things. I had to make a lot of important decisions. At the time, government agencies tried to seize the goods. So we unloaded three ships. The goods were still seized and we had to fight to get them back. It was really difficult ”, confides the businessman. The young man nevertheless succeeds in making the round back until the release of his father. The latter congratulates his son who, for his part, enjoyed the experience as a manager. When in 1988, Abdul Samad Rabiu decided to start his own BUA group, he received the blessing and support of his father.
“So at a very young age I was in charge of so many things.”
He embarked, as in the family tradition, in the importation of rice, sugar and edible oils. A few weeks after its launch, it also began importing iron and steel bars. In 1990, a friend informed him of an opportunity concerning a public steel company. In fact, the production of the Delta Steel Company was in decline because of the Nigerian government’s decision to cut subsidies. The company planned to call on the private sector to finance the purchase of raw materials. Abdul Samad Rabiu then concludes an extraordinary agreement. “We imported their raw materials at 25,000 to 30,000 tonnes per month, and instead of paying us back in cash, they gave us the processed products. We didn’t want to collect money because, at the time, it happened that we never got it ”, confides the businessman. This method allows Abdul Samad Rabiu to obtain, through an agreement with Delta Steel Company, for 6.30 dollars, products which cost 90 dollars on the open market. It was enough to resell them to make a fortune. Thanks to this model, BUA is making a lot of money.
This method allows Abdul Samad Rabiu to obtain, through an agreement with Delta Steel Company, for 6.30 dollars, products which cost 90 dollars on the open market. It was enough to resell them to make a fortune. Thanks to this model, BUA is making a lot of money.
In 1992, a change of regime put an end to the agreement. Abdul Samad Rabiu acquires a majority stake in Tropic Commercial Bank, which operated in Nigeria. He nevertheless remains close to traditional products of his family such as oil and flour. In 1995, his group acquired Nigeria Oil Mills, a peanut processing company in Kano, for more than $ 20 million. Two years later, the first BUA Flour Mills milling plant was established in Lagos. The group then launched a flour factory in Kano in 1998. In 2006, BUA turned to logistics. In 2008, the group set up a sugar refinery in Lagos. With a capacity of 2000 metric tons per day, it is the second largest sugar refinery in West Africa, after that of Dangote Sugar, breaking the latter’s monopoly on the market.
Installed in the landscape of African billionaires
It is from his foray into the cement sector that many consider that Abdul Samad Rabiu started hunting on the land of Aliko Dangote. For him, people don’t understand the real nature of their relationships. “Aliko is like my brother, and we often talk […] You know, Aliko is someone who loves a monopoly. If you try to get into his business, he will do everything in his power to protect his business. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean he’ll hate you. Aliko is like that. Whether you are his friend, cousin, brother or daughter it doesn’t matter, he will defend his interests the same. It is made like that. It’s in his blood. You can compete with him with all your might, he will still hug you when you meet him, and he will even be the first to call you to congratulate you and say: OK. 1-0 for you “.
“If you try to get into his business, he will do everything in his power to protect his business. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean he’ll hate you. Aliko is like that. ”
Thus in 2007, like his friend and far from the traditional family business, Abdul Samad Rabiu launched into the cement sector. For 10 years, he made a series of investments in this sector where he became Dangote’s main competitor in Nigeria. By increasing his cement production capacity in the north, mainly in Sokoto state (north-west), the businessman has even earned the nickname “king of the north”. Holding more than a quarter of the production capacity in Nigeria, Abdul Samad Rabiu is now the main threat for Aliko Dangote in this sector in the country.
“What you need on a daily basis is not that important”
In 2013, like his friend, Abdul Samad Rabiu entered the magazine’s dollar billionaire list Forbes. The following year it is presented as the 27e fortune of the continent. However, he left the millionaire list in 2015, according to him, because of the fall in the value of the naira. He will return to the list in 2018. “It’s a good feeling to be on this list. But the most important thing is not how much money you are making, but the impact you are having. Touching people’s lives is more important because money is a number. What you need on a daily basis is not that important ”, he comments. Since January 2021, he is with $ 5.5 billion the 6e Africa’s fortune to just over 6 billion from its rival who still prances to 12.1 billion dollars at the top of the ranking even if the gap has narrowed considerably between the two men. Recently Abdul Samad Rabiu decided to hunt a little more on the lands of his friend, especially in the field of hydrocarbons. In the last quarter of 2020, BUA Group signed an agreement with the French group Axens (specialist in industrial, chemical and petrochemical technologies and infrastructure) to develop a refinery. Scheduled to be operational in 2024, the infrastructure, with a production capacity of 200,000 barrels per day, may allow Abdul Samad Rabiu to reduce his gap over Aliko Dangote, or even to match this friend in the long term. in whose shadow the founder of the BUA Group has been for so many years.