By Nnanke Harry Willie
He was just 48 years old in 2001. It was a cool Monday morning. Mike Adenuga Jnr. had only one thing on his mind…how to regain his GSM licence which was wrongly revoked by the Obasanjo administration.
Adenuga had to make a quick trip to Abuja. All usual protocols had been activated. Personal Assistants, Special Assistants and high-value contacts were all notified and waiting. He looked at his time. It was 7.05am. Suddenly, he remembered…he buzzed the intercom “Call me Harry-the-Willie.”
Connection made, he asked, where are you? Harry responded, “I am on 3rd Mainland Bridge”. “Can you make it to the office in 15 minutes?” Adenuga asked. Stuck in traffic, Harry responded that traffic was bad but will try. Adenuga said “Please do” and hung up.
Adenuga had stepped on the Tiger’s tail when he made the payment of $265M being balance payment for the GSM licence he won with his company Communication Investments Limited (CIL) at the now famous bidding that pegged the price at $285M. That is, of course, after making an initial payment of $20M to qualify for the bidding.
The balance payment however came with a condition that the federal government should come up with a letter of comfort because CIL was issued a frequency that had previously been issued by the Abacha administration to Motophone owned by the Chagouris.
Motophone’s frequency had however been automatically withdrawn when all GSM licences hitherto issued by the Abacha government were revoked by Obasanjo’s government. Motophone then got one of Nigeria’s best litigation lawyers, Chief Rotimi Williams to sue the federal government and reclaim the frequency.
Out of an abundance of caution, Adenuga had to make the balance payment into an interest-yielding escrow account in favour of the federal government of Nigeria while requesting for a letter of comfort for the then litigious frequency. This did not sit well with President Olusegun Obasanjo who immediately ordered Ernest Ndukwe, the then Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission to revoke Adenuga’s licence.
As if that was not bad enough, the hawks descended on Adenuga to ‘celebrate’ this setback citing perceived arrogance. A mistaken attribution due to Adenuga’s preference to keep to himself and mind his business. But Obasanjo and the haters had more than a tough customer in Adenuga who at that point dedicated his entire life and being to get back his GSM licence and restore his pride and path to telecom glory.
The Journey continued…
Harry did not get to the office until 7.45am. By the time he tried to see Adenuga, one of the PAs screamed “Harry, what are you doing here, you should be on the flight to Abuja with Chairman.” Harry knew very well what to do. Since he missed the Chairman’s Private Jet arrangement, he shot himself like a bullet to the airport to catch the next available commercial flight.
Harry reported himself at the Abuja home and office of Adenuga and thus began a series of meetings, brainstorming, waiting, and work over the next 5 days. The team returned to Lagos on Friday afternoon. Harry’s proposed meeting with Adenuga for 8pm was cancelled and he made for a bar to relieve what he believed had been a tension-soaked week. How wrong he was!
At about 11pm, Harry’s mobile phone rang. It was Adenuga’s office. Adenuga’s voice boomed “Harry-the-Willie, where are you?” “At home” Harry lied. For Harry, Home was about 30 kilometres away and he had hoped that that would dissuade Adenuga from going ahead with what he knew would come next. “Where’s that your house again? Aaah Magodo” he said before Harry could respond “We have to move you from that your village to the Island o.”
Then, the bombshell! “Harry, I know, it’s late and your house is far and you have had a long week but please can you come over to my house? Something came up. On your way please stop over at Patron’s home in Parkview, he will give you some documents. Then, come straight to my home office.”
Harry met Adenuga briefly at about 12.30am but discussions could not be finalized as some information and documents were still being expected. Adenuga gave Harry some cash for hotel accommodation at the Eko Hotel but appealed that “Please, can you keep the money, but stay in your office, (Harry’s office was then in the next building), so that I can just buzz you directly when I need to reach you and we can meet immediately?” Harry said “Of course, Sir”.
At 4.30am, the intercom buzzed. Harry met with Adenuga for about 30 minutes. Harry had to do yet another write-up with another batch of vital evidence to show CIL’s compliance to the NCC guidelines and justify the need for its revoked licence to be released. The publication date was to be Monday.
It promised to be a tough one as those write-ups used to take about 3 days with the usual back-and-forth with additions and subtractions. Also, the artist at the advertising agency that Harry usually worked with would not be available. However, by Saturday night, Harry’s write-up had been approved by Adenuga. Next was to prepare the Artwork.
Harry had already called an artist in a newspaper house where the publication was going to feature. the Artist was waiting. Work went on through the night. Printouts were made by noon on Sunday and by 8pm Harry received matching orders that he should make sure the material was published in the Monday edition. Of course, to effect that Harry needed to ensure materials were printed on Sunday night/Monday morning.
However, at about 9.30pm on Sunday, Harry received a direct call from the chairman. “Harry, please hold on with that publication. I mean… we would still publish but I am talking with some high-value contacts and we may or may not publish. Please ask the newspaper not to go to press.”
With a 14-page pull-out, it was not too difficult to convince the newspaper house not to roll their machines until we were ready. However, Things became very tough when after various calls at 12 midnight, 1.00am. 1.30am, 2.00am. 2.30am… Adenuga still said we should hold on. It was very important to publish but only if…
The MD of the newspaper publication finally had enough. He said “Harry, you guys are messing up our operation, we ought to have finished printing by now if I don’t get a confirmation from you in 5 minutes, we shall start printing with or without your ads.”
Harry made frantic calls. “The Chairman says he will call you back” was the response he was getting. At 3.00am, Newspaper House MD was ready to ask his boys to roll. It would take a while to remove our materials from the machines. Torn between the devil and the deep blue sea, Harry decided to print. The machine began to roll!
At exactly that minute, Adenuga called. “Harry, let’s not publish the material. Tell them, we will compensate them.” “Sorry, Chairman, they started printing already…with the materials.” Harry responded. All hell was let loose…!
Harry called for a halt to the printing. MD, printers, everyone was angry. Harry calmed frayed nerves as best as he could. Harry explained to them that this was a special national assignment that was meant to ensure fairness to a Nigerian entrepreneur against whon foreign interests were conspiring to asphyxiate and an opportunity to ameliorate the wrong. Harry promised the boys ‘something good’ to ensure that every single paper bearing our advertisement should be destroyed.
Harry met with a very flustered MD of newspaper house immediately after and knew well that he must work out the cost implication of this stoppage and upheaval in operations. Negotiations over, Harry took an hour’s nap in his car before setting out to see Adenuga.
As he entered, Adenuga thundered, “You have made me waste my money, you made me lose 3.5 million Naira.” Confused, Harry said, “I don’t understand, Sir?” Adenuga explained that that was the amount that the publisher charged him for stopping the publication. Harry brought out his signed document to show that the cost was just about half a million naira.
Relieved, Adenuga called his secretary and instructed, “Please stop that draft of N3.5million”. Harry asked for permission to go home and rest after a tortuous one-week marathon. Adenuga approved and continued with his strategizing on the CIL matter.
It is not easy to be a billionaire!
Months later, after much strategising and many other gruelling sessions later, Adenuga eventually won back his GSM licence with Globacom.
Only this time, the Globacom licence came with a bouquet of other benefits as the GSM licence was just a part of the Second National Operator (SNO) licence. A licence for which all other prospective bidders refused to step forward even after the initial payment of $20M.
Globacom was launched to the appreciation of all Nigerians as Adenuga introduced Per Second Billing (PSB), zero SIM card costs which the existing operators had hitherto claimed were impossible and many more.
Globacom started a bullish deployment into unserviced locations across the nation very quickly and introduced the necessary tonic for robust competition within the sector. Globacom has remained a proudly Nigerian telecom operator with significant footprints across Africa.
How did Mike Adenuga Jnr. pull off this bullish victory? That is a story for another day.
For now, this anecdotal piece on the racy, pacy, busy, and fulfilling life of Mike Adenuga Jnr is in celebration of his bullish life at 70 and a bit of what I was privileged to share with him. A man who has the uncanny gift and personality to conquer uncharted territories and dare the odds to achieve the seemingly impossible.
Happy birthday Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr. With such a thoroughly blessed life, one can only wish you pristine health to keep on rocking.
Nnanke Harry Willie, now CEO HQSC and BRANDPOWER publisher, worked for the Mike Adenuga Group between 1999 and 2002. He was the advertising and communications head at CIL later Globacom and Devcom Bank and also handled special marketing communications projects within the group.