Interview of Barrister Musa Danjuma, Chairman, Comet Group of Companies.
UNDERSTANDING MUSA DANJUMA...
“ I don’t want to point to leaders... but as I said corruption is in all facets of the economy, public and private sectors.” – Musa Danjuma.
The Nigerian maritime scene highly reckons with the Comet Group of companies because it has managed to position its services strategically in the nation’s sea trade. One of the major architects of the Comet Group is Mr Musa Danjuma. A barrister by calling, he bestrides the Comet Group, ably taking over from where his brother, retired General T.Y. Danjuma, left off in the management of the companies. But how did the younger sibling grow into this role as the manager of men and resources to build such a formidable small empire…one that currently spans many sectors of the economy? And not just Lilliputian sectors but lucrative ones like oil and gas, electricity, blue-chips stocks and computing solutions; not to talk of the starting points of shipping and allied marine industries. How did this venture which started from a second floor office space at Commercial Road Apapa Lagos in 1984 reposition itself in Nigeria’s corporate world beginning from the marine sector? The latest conspicuous addition to the corporate family is Fivestar Logistics Ltd.
The magazine (www.ddhmag.com) has tried to capture the story of Comet Group’s enlargement and growth by interacting with the key players of the household: the chairman, Barrister Musa Danjuma and the managing director, Mr. P. Luigi Carodanno, and the exclusive interviews are interesting and diverse, ranging from business to pleasure to politics and even hints of their social and family life. Their views reveal the huge, unquantifiable, potentials abounding in the Nigerian commonwealth but a lot of work still needs to be done to transform them into the dreams of a better society and the advanced nation she should be. Excerpts:
DDH: How do you view your relationship with your senior brother, General T.Y. Danjuma?
Barrister Danjuma: My brother…I would actually say is my father because he is my mentor, he is my father per se. He has such a huge landmark that for me to attempt to be like him is like a child wearing his father’s shoes. He can only drag it. So, I tried as much as possible to cultivate my life to emulate him. He is the patriarch of my family.
DDH: He didn’t try to drag you into the army?
Barrister Danjuma: No, no, no. He did not. We are only two in the family. There’s a huge gap between us in age; in fact, he says I was an accident. Because he was already in college, he came home on holidays and found that his mother was pregnant. (General laughter). He had thought he was the only child. So, I feel biologically as his brother but he looks at me as a son; treats me the same.
DDH: So, in terms of following one’s footsteps, one would wonder how you veered into the legal profession?
Barrister Danjuma: The person that inspired me to read law was the late (Ken) Saro Wiwa. My brother then was the GOC of 3 rd Division in Port Harcourt after the war. He was acting Governor. Diette Spiff was the Governor and went on leave. My brother then was the Governor. Saro Wiwa was a commissioner in River State government. So he came to see my brother; I had then come after finishing my high school preparing to go to university. I wanted to read political science. Saro Wiwa said go and read law; with law, the discipline exposes you to all professions. It makes you self reliant… if you are a lawyer, you can be a politician, if you are a lawyer you can be an administrator. My brother said okay fine go and read law. And this is how the thing came about.
DDH: But Saro Wiwa wasn’t a lawyer, was he?
Barrister Danjuma: He wasn’t but he respected the profession.
DDH: So you went to Zaria?
Barrister Danjuma: Yeah, I went to ABU (Ahmadu Bello University Zaria), got my law degree and …
DDH: Did you go to law school?
Barrister Danjuma: Oh yeah, I went to law school.
DDH: Did you practice?
Barrister Danjuma: I practiced. I was legal adviser to the Customs and Excise (Department), I practiced. And then I went also to Lagos Business School. We were in the first programme for chief executives, the pioneers. And we also went to Spain, to Barcelona as part of the programme. It also enlightens you about business in Nigerian environment and makes you more articulate in how to manage businesses.
DDH: By that time you had started venturing out in the business world?
Barrister Danjuma: Of course, yes. Right now we have about nine companies from shipping, fishing, activities in the oil industry, maintenance of oil rigs, supply of chemicals and drilling mud and maintenance of (oilfield) equipment. We also have trading companies and of course, port operations.
DDH: Did the Lagos Business School experience help you for expertise in managing these outfits?
Barrister Danjuma: Sure because, it makes you articulate and to know your directions in taking decisions on how to move the businesses forward.
DDH: Does it help for executives to actually go through a course like this to know what to do in the workplace?
Barrister Danjuma: Absolutely. I have sent a lot of my managers to the course, you know. I recommend it for Nigerians, there’s no point to go abroad because course like these are programmed for the country, which is quite commendable.
DDH: Taking you back to your businesses, how was the transition from the start to the present times?
Barrister Danjuma: My brother, again, started the shipping line and also the agency. Of course, they say a tree must have branches. Then, I joined him as executive director. And we have a lot of expatriates. The expatriates are very dedicated. The difference between the expatriate and the Nigerian is that he is dedicated. Even if there is stealing, the expatriate will steal and make sure he makes profit for you for the business to continue. You may not know that he is stealing. (General laughter). But the Nigerian will steal the capital and kill the company (More laughter). So this is the difference.
DDH: How did you learn this?
Barrister Danjuma: By working with them. They are very dedicated; I have managers that work day and night. I have Italians, Germans, Indians, Pakistanis, Polish, they are very dedicated. They are expensive but they earn their pay, in the sense that they deserve the dollar they earn. And business is their life. The Nigerians…we have a long way with our attitude to work in the sense that a lot of our managers are complacent. Some are even indifferent, you know; you have to push them, you have to motivate them, etc…And it all goes back to the values we have imbibed even right from school. Today, we blame our leaders about corruption. But you have corruption even in the private sector. You remember the failed banks, the collapse of the shipping lines. I think we should look inwards at ourselves instead of passing the buck, and not say, 'oh politicians are corrupt’ and so on and so forth. And you find that each time we have new crop of leaders, they are the same. We had said we wanted new generation of leaders, you know, the old have been there and they run the country down, and you found they were even worse. So, there’s something wrong in us as a people.
DDH: Is it our education?
Barrister Danjuma: I think so, the values, in fact. You find somebody finishing school, even while in school, we look beyond our means. You are thinking of what kind of car you are going to buy. You are looking at people who have acquired wealth, you don’t care how they acquired that. So you find that we have false sense of values.
DDH: So this leads to the corruption?
Barrister Danjuma: Yes, and you find that those that acquired wealth through illegal means, we easily forget, we just praise them for what they are, nothing happens to them; in fact, they are given awards for corruption.
DDH: We know that you have businesses in critical sectors like shipping, oil and gas, etc. These are sectors that earn most of the money for the nation and you are a major player. How has it been for you in recent times?
Barrister Danjuma: It’s been pretty difficult; I mean look at the ( Niger) Delta problem.
DDH: Everybody thinks if you are in oil and gas business, you make millions…?
Barrister Danjuma: It’s not possible…it’s a concept. You still have to work extra hard. Nigeria is a hostile environment, look at the Delta problem. We have supply boats, boats that go out to maintain oil rigs midstream. The boats were attacked by militants. The crew were beaten up and so on and so forth… That’s my experience. We have fishing boats. Sea pirates attacked them several times, seized their catch, seized their money and injured a couple of the crew. This is what happens in our environment. In Port Harcourt, we have had threats from hooligans. They are taking advantage of the problems there, threatening that they will burn down our offices otherwise, if we don’t pay royalties to them, N3m. We’ve had our expatriate staff kidnapped, at a nightclub in Port Harcourt. The former Governor of River State, (Dr Peter Odili), negotiated for his release; he was kept for two weeks. So, this is what you deal with; it’s not been rosy as such. But you still have to work hard. You see, it is much more difficult to sustain an empire than to build it. You will find that most icons who built empires, that the empires died as soon as they passed away because they were not properly sustained. I don’t sit back and say, well, my mentor is there, he is a general, or we are so wealthy and therefore, I should just sit down and enjoy it. So the empire has to be sustained and it requires continuous hard work.
DDH: The Niger Delta problem has affected your business in terms of earnings, etc?
Barrister Danjuma: Absolutely.
DDH: Do you see it as a lull in your fortunes?
Barrister Danjuma: Not really because we have business in various sectors of the economy. Therefore we don’t have all our eggs in one basket. We are still doing well in shipping. The terminal (Fivestar Logistics Ltd), we have invested a lot of money, over $20m to renovate the terminal, build warehouses, and create spaces for putting containers, you know containers are very heavy. So, we have invested a lot there, we are pretty busy.
DDH: With your knowledge about the Niger Delta and as an operator, how do you think you can get out of that situation?
Barrister Danjuma: It’s a political problem and requires a political solution. They (Delta peoples) have a case. Pilferage, pollution, and underdevelopment. But their leaders too, especially, the Governors, must account and apply the funds they receive and also it requires the federal government massive investment there. In fact, the President should declare an emergency there. Maybe create a ministry that should give account of what they are doing. And when all these things are done, it will become a criminal offence for militants to riot because they will have no case. At the moment they have a case. You will not find solution by sending troops there to kill everybody, etc. It will be foolhardy. And I am glad that the President has made it one of his priorities because oil is the base of our economy.
DDH: Looking at our economy, what new sectors will you suggest or how would you go about growing it?
Barrister Danjuma: My concern is the dependence on oil. Look at other countries. Tourism, you find many other countries that have nothing and you see how they have prospered, you know. Our environment is very hostile, nobody comes in here as a tourist, you know. Nigerians now go to Ghana for holidays. Nigerians send their children to Ghana to school. Some years ago we had Ghana must go, I believe that the Ghanaians will now be saying that Nigerians must go. You see, our infrastructure have collapsed. NEPA (PHCN)… In Ghana, nobody talks about power failure. The former President (Chief Obasanjo) moved NEPA to the presidency; it’s still what it is today. Same for the other services. Schools system have collapsed. Most people send children abroad. Medical services, we had our leaders, the former Vice-President traveled abroad (for a knee injury) and the present President went abroad…. The roads are all broken up. And I was abroad, in the US, and a friend told me that, oh! you wealthy Nigerians have run the country down, and you are responsible, you are corrupt and so on and so forth. And I told him that look, show me your generator, show me your mai-guard, who is guarding you, show me your borehole. Because here in my house, they send me water bill, I don’t receive water, I have a borehole. My generator, we are running generator as we speak. And we do that everyday. They send me electricity bills, I pay electricity bills, you know. And security, I have security guards out there, I had to install closed circuit television system for security. So, I am virtually a local government, that’s the point I am trying to make. I am a local government unto myself. Now, I receive bills; am also expected to pay tax, and I pay tax. Then I begin to ask myself, what do they do with this money that I pay, tax and all these bills?
DDH: Do you see any hope at all in the situation, and how do we begin to go back…?
Barrister Danjuma: We require a Marshall Plan. We have to go back as a people and ask ourselves because countries that had independence with Nigeria like Malaysia, Singapore, when you go there they are better than ourselves. We squandered our earnings. I don’t want to point to leaders. The easiest thing is (to point accusing fingers) but as I said corruption is in all facets of the economy, public and private sectors… People take money out that they cannot spend.
DDH: How do you see what EFCC is doing as a hope?
Barrister Danjuma: It’s very good, I think the President should encourage them, empower them. People should account. I read that the former governors are being invited, people should account for their role in government. It’s not a market where people just go and collect public money and stack them away, and they are not called to account. People should be called to account. It should be done civilly, because all said and done, we are in a democracy. So, I am happy they are being invited. I am happy they are charged to court, due process, you understand. So that we don’t give the wrong signal that we are back to the military system where governors were just arrested and locked up without any due process.
DDH: Taking you back to business, are there any sectors or new businesses which you think could bring in huge income to us a nation or something like that beside the traditional oil and gas or shipping, etc?
Barrister Danjuma: Yeah, you know, manufacturing. But you see the problem is government, they change their policies so often. Way back we wanted to, for instance, set up a factory to produce milk using soyabeans. Then they introduced SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme). We found out that we could not market it and that killed it. Right now, we are trying to set up a factory to produce synthetics and plastics and we also having a company that produces portakabins and spares for cars, a machine tools company in Port Harcourt. You know, because we do too much imports and we should begin now to produce goods here so that we don’t take money out. We should bring in raw materials. We should begin to look inwards.
DDH: What about food and agriculture, etc. With Taraba state being known as a food basket…?
Barrister Danjuma: Yes, it is a food basket. The issue is of course, the eating habit of our people. They produce yams, you understand. Now, if you go to Shoprite (in Lagos), you will think they import all the fruits, all the vegetables that are sold there. They are all from here. We have an expanse of land outside Abuja, we intend to set up large scale farming there to produce sorghum, beans, that we can even export. Agriculture if not done in a large quantity becomes virtually meaningless.
DDH: Let’s know what your daily routine looks like. On Monday morning, for example…?
Barrister Danjuma: Monday morning, I get up first in the morning around 7 o’clock, I play squash or I swim, if I am not going to Abuja or Port Harcourt, I will do some form of exercise. Because I believe that we crave for money so much that we forget looking after ourselves. We also forget to enjoy life, we forget to keep fit. So, I will go the gym which is quite handy there before I go to work. Am there till 6 or 7 o’clock in the evening. Then I will go to the boat club where I will meet chief executives, we interact on various (issues), politics, business, exchange views, you know, before my day ends.
DDH: And your family…?
Barrister Danjuma: I am a family man. I take them out at weekends, on boat rides or go to the beach. Fridays, we go to happy hour at the boat club where there is music and food and a form of entertainment. I am also a very religious man, I go to church every Sunday, if I am in town. I believe that I should, you know, appreciate God’s favour, and also pray for the family and the country.
DDH: What is your denomination?
Barrister Danjuma: Anglican; I go to Our Saviour’s Church at Tafawa Balewa Square ( Lagos).