Friday, December 8, 2017

How Rich Are The Super-Rich In Nigeria?

By Dan Amor
I think it was John Paul Getty, the American-born British billionaire, philanthropist and heir to oil industry fortune, who quipped, when asked how rich he was: “No one is really rich if he can count his money.” In Getty's days, anyone with one million British pounds (or even one million dollars) was rated as “rich” and anyone with more than five million pounds was “very rich”.
*Adenuga and Dangote
Above that and you were in the “super rich” category, and when you got above the fifty million pounds level, you rated as a “can't count”. Nelson Bunker Hunt, who with his brother inherited a fortune even greater than Getty's, was a “can't count” man before he tried to corner the silver market. Asked by a Senate Committee how much he was worth, he snapped, “Hell, if I knew that, I wouldn't be worth very much”.

In the United States, for many years Forbes Magazine and Fortune, among others, have published lists of the very wealthy which have been eagerly awaited events in a society where wealth is a macho symbol, to be boasted about rather than hidden. In Great Britain, however, wealth is something best not talked about, and it has never been easy to establish authoritatively just who owns what, and what they are worth. Most of the stupendous wealth in Britain as in Nigeria, had been shrouded in secrecy.
Yet, in 1989, the Sunday Times of London broke with tradition by publishing the first real guide to Britain's wealthy, causing a considerable amount of unease among those who hated being on it. In 1990, the Sunday Times repeated the exercise, adding a further 70 names to the list and raising the stake to £70 million. Both the 1989 and 1990 lists which occupied most of one entire colour magazine, have since been widely discussed and copied by the rest of Fleet Street.
They have also been used as ammunition by both sides of the Old Britain versus New Britain, quoted on the one hand to show how even in the Thatcher years old money had reinforced its power, and on the other hand, to record the rise and rise of the new rich at the expense of the old in Britain. When the Sunday Times published the first list in 1989, the paper commented editorially on its own study, mourning the fact that, after a decade of Thatcherism, old money still dominated and paternalism appeared to be making a comeback. Others, of course, took an entirely different view of the list, expressing astonishment at the amount of new money, at the relative decline of old wealth, and the degree of egalitarianism which had crept in. It generated a debate which still goes on more than two decades after the publication.
It is against this backdrop that President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo must go back and effect a proper public declaration of their assets and urge his appointees and even state governors to do the same in other to prick the conscience of the rich in the country. By so doing, the President would ineluctably have raised the bar against dubious entrepreneurs, treasury looters and seedy politicians who have had the illusion that government property is no one's property. This would also help to engender transparency in the on-going war on corruption. But there is a consensus among Nigerians that accurate and detailed information on Nigeria's very wealthy is long overdue. There is, indeed, a positive correlation between great wealth and influence, and therefore, a need to know who actually "owns" Nigeria, on the ground that it may well tell something about who really "runs" it. Also, there are obviously a handful of honest and hardworking Nigerians whose wealth and their sources would help trigger the spirit of enterprise among the younger generation of Nigerians. For instance, when the British musician, Reginald Dwight popularly known as Elton John who started work as a tea boy in Denmark Street and suddenly became a work superstar with stupendous wealth of over one hundred million pounds was listed among the super-rich in Britain, this sharpened the vision of younger Britons to develop their talents.
Again, Leonard Geert the multi-millionaire management consultant did not succeed until he left the top accountancy firm where he worked for several years to manage his father's company that specializes in the sale of foodstuffs. There and then, he hit the mark as one of the richest fruit sellers in the world with a total asset of $72 million and in the "very rich" bracket. Nigerians hardly believe that publishers can be very rich people. Yet, no one in the English-speaking world would forget Paul Hamlyn the publisher of Peter Wright's book, Spycatcher. Hamlyn, the son of a Jewish pediatrician who fled to London to escape Hitler's tyranny in 1933, opted out of school at the age of 16 to become an office boy at Country Life Magazine and began the career as bookseller that was to broaden his interest in publishing. Today, he is among the British super rich worth over £165 million.
There is a high moral obligation for leaders and the wealthy in society to declare their assets. Wealth is a constantly moving feast. As stock markets and the price of gold, diamonds and other art treasures and land fluctuate quite sharply at times, so would the list of rich people vary accordingly. Fortunes have been won or lost when millionaires sell their firms or, in their quest for growth, over-extend themselves. But there will always be new blood coming along, whether rising business stars, sportsmen and women at the peak of their careers, or pop and film stars.
For example, how many Nigerians know the net worth of our Nollywood stars amidst the huge revenue they are raking in? How many know the exact worth of our multi-billionaires scattered all over the place? We constantly talk about the Dangotes, the Rabius, the Alakijas, the Adenugas, the Otedolas, the Abiolas, the Ilodibes, the Odogwus, the Ojukwus, the Odegbes, the Akandes, etcetera, as those who constitute less than one per cent of our population but ironically controlling ninety-eight per cent of our national wealth, and yet we hardly know how much they are worth or how much tax they pay to contribute to the growth of the economy.
What is more! Another intriguing task is to ascertain the net worth of the custodians of our traditional institutions. For example, putting a value on the wealth of the British Royal Family is not only difficult, but to some extent, pointless. There are art treasures and jewels in the Queen's collection which are priceless and will certainly never be sold. Queen Elizabeth II is the 63rd monarch in a line going back 1,000 years, each one of whom has added to the collection. In 1971, the Royal Chamberlain told a parliamentary committee set up to look into the Queen's finances that Her Majesty was concerned by the astronomical figures bandied about in some quarters suggesting that the Queen may not have been stupendously rich as speculated in the media. But in the end, it was established that Queen Elizabeth II the richest woman in the world is worth £6,700million. Yet, the question that may be asked is: how rich are Nigeria's traditional rulers most of whom are even richer than politicians?
Do we also need to know how wealthy are Nigeria's super-rich pastors who own more private jets than our business moguls? How rich are the Nigerian rich? The people are entitled to know.
*Dan Amor, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja (danamor641@gmail.com)

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