Chief Musa Danjuma is the executive chairman of the Comet Group of Companies whose activities range from maritime to terminal operations, fishing, oilfield services and electricity production equipment. Additionally, he runs a vibrant chain of other concerns in stocks, real estate and associated businesses. With activities concentrated mainly at the coastal towns of Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar and administrative liaison offices elsewhere in Nigeria and overseas, he maintains a very busy travelling schedule. However, the occasion of his birthday has, over the years, attained the status of an annual reunion which brings together family, friends and business associates. When the time came this year, in November, he made allowance for a few media interactions, including this exclusive interview with the magazine. The themes of our interaction were based on the concepts of his experiences in life, social change vis-à-vis the outlook of the millennial generation, his style of pleasure and relaxation and the glaring misfortune of the Apapa traffic gridlock which threatens the normal routine of maritime business in Lagos and the country as a whole. Excerpts:
DDH: Can you tell us a bit about your childhood?
Chief Danjuma: I was the last child of my father and mother. My brother was already a young man in college and he came home and discovered that the mother was pregnant. He said that am an accident because I was not expected. Like all last children and by the fact that I was alone due to the gap, I was a favoured child. I had first cousins that I grew up with, went to primary school in Takum (Taraba State). My father was a farmer and a trader in commodities such as soyabeans, beniseed and salt; some sourced from his farm and from others. He would stock them and then send them to Makurdi for sale at higher price. Meanwhile I was in school, very young and not ordinarily involved in his business per se but I would oversee the stock, count them and make sure they were what he ordered. Also, when they were sold, I ensured that proper accounting was done. However, this phase of my life did not last very long because my brother was in the Nigerian Army, I think he was a lieutenant at this time based in Kaduna. He took me to St Batholomew’s Primary school in Wusasa Zaria which was the school he attended. I was about 13 at this time.
DDH: Were you close to your mother?
Chief Danjuma: Oh yes, very close, I was my mother’s boy. I would go to school, come back and help her. My father was already old when I was a boy and he needed assistance to send me here and there, to do chores. And I was also taking extra lessons at school which took my time too. They wanted to make sure I did well in school. Then there was a lot of discipline and corporal punishment if you don’t do your home work. Some of my school mates were withdrawn from school because their father would not tolerate them being disciplined. Many of those regretted later on. You see, you must do your home work and you must not be late or absent from school. In those days, corporal punishment was allowed and parents were expected not to interfere. But while some parents interfered and withdrew their children, some of the children refused to go to school because they would not take the discipline.
DDH: Who has played a major role in making you the person you are today?
Chief Danjuma: Of course, it’s my brother. You know people have role models that they only know from afar. They know them as a big figure whom they admire because they have achieved greatness in official capacities. But this is a man I know both in official capacity, what he achieved for the nation, and also personally, in private as a family figure because I lived with him as a child. To me, he is larger than life. He’s a biological brother but he’s actually a father. He’s wearing a very big shoe which I cannot even attempt to wear. He’s a mentor, a role model, very passionate and connected to his family.
DDH: What did you enjoy most whilst growing up that you feel is missing in today’s generation?
Chief Danjuma: Discipline, privacy, you don’t have it now. Now we have Facebook and Twitter, etc. In fact, you can be undressed very easily; it’s very easy for you to be destroyed. Morality is gone. I have people sending me virtually naked pictures. You see all sorts of things now. My son would tell me, why don’t you want us to watch TV in the night? Is it because of sex? I have seen it all. This boy is about five or six.
DDH: You can never imagine telling that to your father during your younger days?
Chief Danjuma: Never. Never. My son went to school and the school put him on discipline. He was toasting the girls about sex in the school. This is a nine-year-old boy. All in all, in as much as technology has advanced, it’s of benefit to us. You can pick up this phone and send message on message on WhatsApp, pictures across the globe or messages tweeting, texting. Communication is awesome. It comes with its drawbacks. You just have to manage your children and accept that things have changed. The respect and honour we used to give our parents, now we don’t get them. In those days, you could leave your car or your house closed without locking them but now we are barricaded. There was nothing like kidnapping and people were more sincere, no 419. People were contented with their lot. Now people are discontented, greedy, corrupt and stealing money that they cannot spend. People now take leadership of an agency, on coming out they are richer than the government. They buy justice through plea bargain, etc. Now people have no shame. Before if you do something wrong, you will even go into hiding, exclude yourself from the public eye. Now, it’s even the thieves that are being hailed. They buy the press, they rent followers. If they are coming out of prison, there’s a celebration and partying.
DDH: With the harshness of today’s economy, many youths are disillusioned with what the future holds for them. Given the opportunity to speak with them, what advice will you give them to boost their morale?
Chief Danjuma: It’s a very big problem for the nation because they are the future of the country. Success without a successor is a failure. If the country has oil and is wealthy and the youths are not employed, let alone become successful, the country has no future. We, in the shipping, oil and gas industry have tried our best not to retrench. Even at the height of the recession, people had their salaries reviewed maybe 20% to 40% to save the job because it was a very harsh situation where the earning capacity of the business was not able to sustain transactional expenses. We are now beginning to see trickles of improvement, which is a good sign. We hope this is maintained and that the youths are employed. This accounts for all the wrong things happening in the country, be it kidnapping, robberies, stealing, because the young people are pushed to the wall. This is the problem in the Niger Delta. Oil is produced there, the people are not seeing the proceeds. They can’t fish, they can’t farm. They are hopeless. We’re not saying that armed militancy is the solution but they have a case. It’s not something that can be solved by the military but politically. So government should go into dialogue to come up with policies to inject hope and ameliorate the situation, clean up the oil spill sites and build institutions to provide jobs and improve all the facilities on ground.
DDH: When you are not working what things do you enjoy most doing?
Chief Danjuma: I love to keep fit. I go to my gym to work out, I have a gym here. Sometimes I swim or I go to the beach on Saturday or Sunday. I have a boat, so when I go to the beach, I take a walk on the sand and also swim. I go with friends or family. I am also a strong member of the boat club. I usually go to Ilashe Beach, an island off Lagos, where I have a beach house. I go there to rest and sleep, take in the sea breeze. I put the phones on silence because, you know, people’s business never ends. But you have to find time for yourself. The problem is that we go after business so much that we forget about ourselves. We don’t find time for ourselves and that is why sometimes you find sudden health problems. We work and we don’t play. We don’t relax or unwind. That is not good. People tell me that I look younger than my age. I tell them am not a magician, it’s by the grace of God but God helps those who help themselves. So, I try as much as possible to make sure that I keep a regime and take time to relax.
DDH: Don’t you think it’s because you can afford it? Many Nigerians may not afford it.
Chief Danjuma: Yes and no. But they have to live to look for a living. As I said before, people go for business so much that they forget themselves. Fine, maybe we don’t have the facilities here, maybe the situation here is so harsh. You find that in the civilized world, in Europe and North America, even the lowly paid, they have parks; there’s provision for all classes.
DDH: Are there other people or public figures you see as good role models?
Chief Danjuma: I would say, if you want to talk about President Nelson Mandela, what he endured; the fact that he came out of prison and appealed to the blacks to forgive the whites. Those are policies which you admire. Or you want to admire President Goodluck Jonathan for accepting defeat and giving up power willingly to the opposition in what some would call the first time in Africa? I would admire that. Am not saying his government was good but this very aspect is laudable. It’s new in Africa and that is what I would ask our leaders to emulate.
DDH: Would you consider yourself a romantic at heart or a pragmatic man when it comes to women? Do you want to say one or two things about the women you have dated or married?
Chief Danjuma: Of course, am very romantic. I am a straight man and I consider women a weakness. I love beautiful women and women too love me. I respect them and I value them and I think they are essential in life. As per your question about the women I married, they are beautiful women, good women but it’s just that like all marriages, there are good days and bad days, there are ups and downs. So even though there may be disagreements, I am proud of them. You have to have a large heart. All the women that I married, we are still very good friends. We have children and I look after the children. The children are very happy, they themselves are quite impressed. I may be a bad husband but am a good father. (General laughter).
DDH: What do women do to touch a soft spot in you and what do they do to turn you off?
Chief Danjuma: That’s a tough one. I don’t like a woman to chase me. I like to chase a woman and for her to be difficult to get. I like a woman who is reserved, not marketing herself, too forward. At the same time, I don’t like women who snub. I like those who give respect. I respect women and expect them to respect me too. I also spoil them, to a fault; it’s my weakness. This is some of the problems I have with them. Sometimes, not only is the expectation too high but they abuse the favours and don’t deserve it. It’s okay if they feel entitled but at least let them prove they deserve it and appreciate it. Many don’t.
DDH: You come across as a very shy and reserved person but you have friends that are very popular. Are you one of those people who are initially reserved until you get to know the person better?
Chief Danjuma: I am not shy, am not. I may be reserved but am not shy. In this country, the empty vessels make the loudest noise. Everybody is making noise, somebody must listen. The fault with us is that we are not good listeners. You go to a restaurant or a community, you find so many people talking at the same time. Nobody is listening to the other. And this is the problem we have in the country. Somebody somewhere must listen and then once in a while he comes and talks and then you find credibility in the person. But here we are all talking and most of us are deaf because nobody is hearing the other. Now, to your question; yes, I have many friends who are loud. I have them as friends to complement me. It’s deliberate. I don’t like to be like them but I have them to complement me. But I am not shy. People see me from a distance. They think I am arrogant and proud, until they come close to me. I am down-to-earth, friendly, loving, and I have a soft kind heart. I help a lot of people of the lower level and I have many friends that are downtrodden. But because I am not on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and am not an actor or celebrity, I believe I am misunderstood. I am just a businessman, an executive. Yes, I may be a product of silver spoon or gold spoon or whatever but I work very hard and I work every day. I am a quiet operator. Only people who work close to me appreciate what I produce.
DDH: Are you a firm believer in raising your children to join you in your business when they are adults or do you prefer them to take their own course and follow their own dreams if that is their choice?
Chief Danjuma: At the moment, two of my children work with me. One is with Fivestar Logistics Ltd, the terminal operations company; the second is managing my trading company, Best Trade Nigeria Ltd. So my first son and first daughter work with me. My brother’s children also work with us. It’s a policy because we are hoping that the businesses will outgrow us. And to do that, we bring in the young ones. As I said, a success without a successor is a failure. And you want that while you are alive for them to know the business and know what you are doing. On the other hand, I have two daughters in the UK who are working on their own, they are not in the shipping or maritime business.
DDH: You must have travelled to various places all over the world. Till date, where is your best destination holiday and why?
Chief Danjuma: I love the sea. I love destinations that have beaches and water. And there are various places for that where I can swim, go on boat, go on the beach, wear shorts, where the weather is warm. I can name several places such as Saint Tropez in France, Mabella in Spain, the Seychelles in the Caribbean, Rio in Brazil, Miami. I love cities by the sea such as Rio in Brazil, San Francisco in the US, and Cape Town. They are very similar cities. They are by the sea, so they have water, beaches and they have mountains and also civilization in terms of quality development. Those are my favorite cities. What I try to do really, I like to go to destinations I have never visited before. Now, am exploring places like Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
DDH: Do you find that your taste is changing as you age?
Chief Danjuma: Yes. I used to love cars, for instance. Now I realize it is a wasting asset. Now I love property and quality life. And I try to take less risks, to be wiser.
DDH: Are you involved in any charitable ventures and if so can you tell us about it?
Chief Danjuma: Yes. This is ongoing. My focus now is to set up a foundation for the less privileged for my locality and beyond, so as to be able to give back for what God has done for me. I have already incorporated a foundation and established a management for the foundation. In intend to go into operation in the new year. You have people who are fatherless children, disabled people, people with disabilities, those are my focus. There will be locations to be considered. Obviously, I want to go back to basis, to my roots, Takum, Jalingo my state capital and also here in Lagos. The managers will be coming up with a strategy and framework and how it will function. And am going to set aside funds for that. I am starting with N500m to erect structures and my intention is to pump in money as it grows. People come and say they have so many millions dollars of foundation, they make it sound big but when you go into it you find that it is more of a political ego gambit. What I want to do here is to touch lives and it’s going to grow with the funds.
DDH: Your brother has a foundation too?
Chief Danjuma: Yes, my brother’s foundation is his foundation. My foundation will be mine. He’s blessed and I’m blessed. I don’t feel that I should ride on his back to death. As I said, the managers will strategize on the list of projects. It’s going to be practical and touch lives. I’m not a politician, am a quiet operator. But for this interview, I’m not going to put it in the press that I’m doing this because I’m not looking for reward and I’m not looking for praises.
DDH: Everyone has a bucket list of things they still will like to do in future. For a man of your status, one would presume you have done most of the things you desire to do but are there still some other things you have in the pipeline that you will like to do in future?
Chief Danjuma: This foundation is one of them. God has been very kind to me. I want to appreciate Him and also go into helping the church for God’s work to go farther. I want to be kinder to the unfortunate, friends, the less privileged, people who may be privileged but have special needs. I have friends who are not well, who have ailments but short of funds for their needs, friends who cannot pay their children’s school fees, friends who used to be wealthy but now are in need. I have a friend who used to be very wealthy but now down with cancer and went to the hospital. He appealed to me. Ordinarily one would say when you were wealthy what did you do for me. So as I said I want to be kinder not just to the downtrodden but also for my contemporaries who are in need.
DDH: At this point in your life, you must have had your fair share of triumphs and challenges as to be expected. What has given you the most solace when faced with trying times?
Chief Danjuma: Well, am a believer and I pray. I fear God. I go to church. Apart from that I try to be at peace with myself. I don’t panic or allow things to bother me. God has given me the grace not to be too bothered about trials and tribulations. This is why people do not see much stress in me. As I said, am not a magician but it’s the grace of God.
DDH: When we talk about trying times, what would be a trying time for you?
Chief Danjuma: Several issues. If you are going through divorce, if you are flying and going through storms in an aircraft as if the plane would crash. In that kind of time, there is nothing you can do, you call on the Lord and say your last prayers and wait for the outcome. On that occasion, the flight had to divert and we landed in Alaska.
DDH: We noticed you also embrace English wear more than native. In fact we don’t recall ever seeing you in native. Do you own any native attire by any chance?
Chief Danjuma: Oh, I have lots of them. As a lawyer, by tradition, you wear tie and the wig and gown. In law school, you wear tie and black suit. This has propelled me, if I don’t have tie on my neck, I don’t feel complete. But I love my traditional attires, I have lots of them. I believe that occasions where you should appear in native dresses, you won’t be complete unless you are in it. I would not go to a traditional marriage or traditional ceremonies, I would not go to greet my brother who is my father on a Sunday without being in traditional wear. I would not go to the Villa (Aso Rock) wearing tie on my neck, I would go with traditional dress. So, my attire really depends on where I am going. I would not wear suit and tie in the North but traditional dresses because that is what we wear. I would like to blend with my society.
DDH: You are also famous for your colorful blazers. Is it safe to call it your
trademark? What key elements do you look out for when you shop for them?
Chief Danjuma: Well, I have favourite designers such as Angelo Galasso, the Billionaire, Zilli and Versace. I go for quality and exclusivity. These are top designers. In any case, every item you see in the shop, they will tell you how many they made. They may tell you they made ten pieces, 20 pieces in the world. So that you would not go to any occasion and see somebody wearing what you are wearing.
DDH: What would be the average price of these items?
Chief Danjuma: It depends. Some, of course, very expensive others, reasonable but they are top notch and the pacesetters. For price, you may be talking of an average of about $5,000 for one. For things like shoes, if they are crocs, you may be talking about $2,000.
DDH: How do you feel when you wear them? Do you feel completely separate from other people?
Chief Danjuma: No, no. It all depends on the way you look at it. Everybody has what they spend their money on. Where they have a soft spot, they think too much about the price, whether it is jewelry or cars, houses or even women. Everybody has passion and they don’t cut corners when it comes to such items. Am talking about the rich, they don’t cut corners. If I go in and see a blazer and try it on, sometimes I order made-to-measure. They will make the piece for me. Sometimes, I may go into a shop, they have it but they don’t have my size. Or they say, ok we made only ten pieces in the world and we sold out. Or, they’ve not sold out but the blazer there is not my size. I would then order. Some people who are much wealthier than me don’t care about all these things but they have other interests that may cost a lot more money than what I spend on my blazer.
DDH: And lastly if you were to be remembered for something or you were to describe yourself in a few words, what will it be?
Chief Danjuma: That is difficult because I don’t like to speak about myself because you will be doing self-praise, which I find uncomfortable to do. I don’t want to be remembered as somebody who wears good blazers or who lived in a big house. I want to be remembered as somebody who has helped the poor, somebody who is kind, somebody who has helped others that are downtrodden, somebody who has employed people. My organization employs so many people but nobody knows.
DDH: What are the major areas of your business today?
Chief Danjuma: We are into shipping and maritime trade through Nigeria-America Line and Comet Shipping Agencies Nigeria Ltd. Then we have the port terminal company, Fivestar Logistics Ltd, which is the concessionaire managing the RoRo Port at Tin Can Island. There is Tarabaroz Nigeria Ltd which is a fishing company. Others are the trading company, Best Trade Nigeria Ltd, Plantgeria Ltd and Tethys-Plantgeria which operate supply boats that go to the oil rigs and they also do electrical instrumentation. And Danelec runs a factory in Calabar which produces electrical transformers. Best Land and Sea Services brings in mud and chemicals used for drilling. I’m also into real estate, I’ve got some houses in Banana Island, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki, Abuja.
DDH: What are your thoughts on the state of the economy today?
Chief Danjuma: This government came to power on the premise of fighting corruption and restoring security by limiting Boko Haram and degrading their capacity to create instability. To some extent the government did well in these two areas. I will give them maybe 50% on the two. As we speak there is still corruption, even though it is not like business as usual. Secondly, Boko Haram’s ability to capture territories in the country has been checked. What we now have is attacks on soft targets, such as attacking innocent people and sending suicide bombers. However, an important aspect of governance as we all know is the economy. The main source of revenue, crude oil was under strain by the activities of militants in the Niger Delta. To my perception, the government did not address the issue the way it should be. Instead of having dialogue with the militants and addressing their main concerns, the government sent in troops. We lost a lot of revenue in terms of production and instability; Nigeria’s daily output declined. So, whatever was gained in the fight against corruption was not equal to what we lost in the Niger Delta crisis. This is a major setback for the government.
DDH: As a captain of the maritime industry, what is your view of the Apapa traffic gridlock that has almost paralysed the city?
Chief Danjuma: You know, you have two ports in Apapa that serve not just Nigeria but also neighbouring landlocked countries. They are also a major revenue earner for government. Yet, Apapa has been ignored over the years. The access roads have all been broken, destroyed, with trailers and tankers going into the ports to lift containers and petroleum products. There is no substantial rail service. In effect, the two ports have been abused and abandoned, overstretched. This accounts for the present gridlock in town, it is pathetic. So, government does not expect to earn so much revenue, even a farthing, because of what is happening.
DDH: How does it affect your daily activities as an operator?
Chief Danjuma: Do I need to say it? There is a gridlock. I come to Apapa by boat, go back by boat, the roads are all blocked. We have associate businesses but people don’t want to come to Apapa. People prefer to have meetings with us in Ikoyi or Victoria Island or other areas of Lagos. Aside from the difficulties of operating outside your office environment, these are ports where goods come in from abroad, how do you clear the goods and deliver them? It is a very serious situation.
DDH: What are the possible solutions?
Chief Danjuma: Well, we have a government that is deaf. The Governor has come and the Vice-President has also visited Apapa and nothing has been done on the ground. The road works started but it is not given the attention that it deserves. Government having earned so much from the ports should have the capacity to address it and not subject it to the Dangote Group.
DDH: As concessionaires, how do the terminal operators feel?
Chief Danjuma: This is why there is not much faith in governance because it is very clear that there is a failure of leadership.
DDH: Some people have suggested that the tank farms should be relocated to other ports such as Calabar?
Chief Danjuma: Yes, they have said so but as you can see the bridges are still filled with petroleum tankers, stretching from Apapa to Surulere and beyond, all the bridges. And this is a disaster waiting to happen because the bridges were not built as parking lots for container trucks and tankers. There are cases where containers fall on people and cars, killing people, but it is not noticed because it is happening in Lagos and not Abuja.