Nigeria is home to the highest number of black people. It has close to 200 million people, and scores of multimillionaires.
Nigeria is also home to the richest black man in the world, and the second richest woman in Africa.
Nigeria’s ability to create billionaires did not start today. Before Aliko Dangote and Folunrosho Alakija, there were quite a number of Nigerians of incredible affluence.
Since the 19th century, Nigerians have been involved in some profitable ventures that have made their promoters stupendously wealthy.
This piece will focus on some people who, at various points in our nation’s history, were thought to be the richest Nigerians.
Candido Da Rocha (1860 – 1959)
Candido Da Rocha was a Nigerian born in Brazil. Upon his return to Nigeria with his father, Esan Da Rocha, he made a great fortune from various businesses he ventured into.
The shrewd and forthright Da Rocha was a water merchant. He sold water from the house he inherited from his father – famously called Casa d’Agua or water house (the same Water House on Kakawa Street, Lagos Island, Lagos).
Da Rocha would later venture into real estate and the hospitality business. He also established Sierra Leone Deep Sea Fishing Industries Ltd. He partnered with two other businessmen, J. H. Doherty and Sedu Williams, to establish the Lagos Native Bank.
He also owned Restaurant Da Rocha and was the proprietor of the now defunct Bonanza Hotel in Lagos.
Candido Da Rocha was so rich that he assisted many people in the society. He supported the government during the Second World War. He also supported the Catholic Church. When the Holy Cross Cathedral was to be built, he paid for the building of three chapels.
Alhassan Dantata (1877 –1955)
Alhassan Dantata is the great-grandfather of Aliko Dangote, the current wealthiest person in Nigeria and Africa.
He was regarded as the richest man in the British West African colonies. In 1929, Dantata deposited 20-camel-loads of silver coins in the newly opened Kano branch of Bank of West Africa.
Pointing to 60 groundnut pyramids, Alhassan Dantata reportedly said, “These are mine.”
He traded in groundnuts, kola, cattle, clothes, beads, precious stones, grains, ropes and other merchandise across the region.
As far back as 1918, Dantata had been dealing in groundnuts with the United Kingdom-based Royal Niger Company – later known as the United Africa Company.
He also co-founded the Kano Citizens’ Trading Company, established for industrial undertakings. In 1949, he donated property worth ₤10,200 to establish the first indigenous textile mill in the North.
Dantata, in 1917, acquired two plots of land in the non-European trading site (Syrian quarters) at an annual fee of ₤20. In 1950, Dantata was made a councillor in the Emir of Kano’s council, the first non-royal individual to be so honoured.
Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1908-1966)
Sir Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu is considered the first billionaire Nigeria ever produced.
Ojukwu was said to have made his money by importing dried fish, dealing in textiles, cement and transport.
He was also the president of the African Continental Bank. He was on the board of companies such as Shell Oil Nigeria Limited, Guinness Nig. Ltd, Nigerian National Shipping Lines, Nigerian Cement Factory, Nigerian Coal Corporation, Costain West Africa Ltd, John Holt, and Nigerian Marketing Board, among others.
He was the founding president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. As an honour for supporting the British military during World War II with his fleet of trucks, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
When he died, his wealth was put at an estimated $4bn in today’s economic value.
Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu is the father of the late Biafra warlord, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
Timothy Odutola (1902-1995)
Timothy Odutola was reported to have established a multimillion-dollar business, including three factories, a retail franchise, a cattle ranch and a sawmill before 1960.
Before his breakthrough, he worked as a clerk in various departments of the Lagos Colony and in the Ijebu Native Administration between 1921 and 1932.
By 1932, he opened stores where he sold damasks and fish in various cities in the Western Region; and later, he began trading in cocoa and palm oil.
An enterprising man, he also dealt in sawmilling and gold mining. By 1967, he had begun production of tyres and tubes which did so well that he added a $1,700,000 plant, with the plan to harvest his own rubber from his 5,000-acre plantation.
Odutola was the first president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria.
Mobolaji Bank-Anthony (1907-1991)
Between 1923 and 1930, businessman and philanthropist Sir Mobolaji Bank-Anthony worked as a junior clerk in the correspondence section of the Post and Telegraphs Department.
By 1931, he went into business, travelling to Germany and England to study how to make palm oil. Following that, he established M. de Bank Brothers, to trade in palm oil and patent medicine.
He was also a minority investor in Aero Contractors and at a time held the distributional rights to cars manufactured by Rootes Group.
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After sometime, he began importing watches, clocks and pens – at a point, becoming the third largest seller of fountain pens in Nigeria after UAC and the United Trading Company. He also owned a tanker fleet and a charter airline.
Sir Mobolaji Bank-Anthony was one of the earliest Nigerians to become chairman of a European company in 1950 – he was the chairman of the Italian Construction firm, Borini Prono and Company. He was also a director of Mobil Oil and Friesland Foods back then. He was also a former council president of the Lagos Stock Exchange.
Sanusi Dantata (1919–1997)
Even though he was already a wealthy man, his father Alhassan Dantata, left him a will that was worth more than $12,000 – a huge amount at the time.
Under British rule, he became rich trading commodities like grain oats and rice. This made him one of Kano’s wealthiest citizens.
In the 1960s, he was the largest licensed produce-buying agent of groundnut in the country.
He and his brother, Aminu, controlled about 200 agents involved in buying kolanut, livestock, groundnuts and merchandise, using about five autonomous levels of associates, agents, and farmers.
The system involved buying goods from restricted rural areas, transporting them to the city and storing them in warehouses.
Sanusi Dantata is the grandfather of Africa’s richest man, Dangote. He gave his beloved 21-year-old grandson (Dangote) a loan of $500,000 to trade in rice, sugar and cement upon graduation from a university in Cairo, Egypt.
Said to be benevolent, Dantata was spending about £40,000 each year to support his friends and the poor.
Emmanuel Akwiwu (1924-2011)
Emmanuel Akwiwu was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and studied at Cambridge University between 1945 and 1950. He returned to the country in 1951 and became a solicitor.
In the 1960s, he founded Akwiwu Motors. He was on the board of the Nigerian Ports Authority when established in 1954.
Emmanuel Akwiwu owned a company that had 70 vehicles, hauled oil rigs and supplies for the British Petroleum Ltd.
He was a federal lawmaker in the House of Representatives between 1954 and 1964. He was also a deputy speaker of the Eastern Assembly.
Born in 1902, he was described as Nigeria’s most prominent baker in the mid-1960s.
in 1965, he was featured in Time magazine’s list of millionaires in Nigeria.
Tuyo at the time had four outlets and was making 115 products. According to the magazine, he was running a business that would have “first priority in people’s spending.”
“The firm’s unusual name – De Facto Works Ltd. – was shrewdly chosen by Tuyo to impress Nigerian bankers with the fact that he was seriously in business,” it said.
Trained as a teacher, Tuyo left the profession to work for 24 years in the Nigerian Railway Corporation, the British Bank of West Africa and the Ministry of Commerce. He retired in 1953.
The bakery was started by his wife. After his retirement, he took over the catering business. By 1969, his bakery service was the largest in the country.
Shafi Edu (1911–2002)
Shafi Edu, together with Talabi Braithwaite, co-founded the first indigenous insurance company in the country.
He had shares in big companies like Bata, Alumaco, Wiggins Teape, BP (formerly British Petroleum), Lever Brothers and Nigerian Breweries.
In 1965, TIME magazine named Shafi Edu one of Nigeria’s richest men.
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At 54, he had built a fleet of eight oil tankers. He was also on the boards of Blackwood Hodge Nigeria, Haden Nigeria, Glaxo Nigeria and the Federal Industrial Loans from 1954 to 1959.
Edu was the first president of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and the Lagos Rotary Club.
He was elected into the old Western Region’s House of Assembly in 1951, and was later nominated to represent Epe at the Federal House of Representatives.
Talabi Braithwaite (1928–2011)
Talabi Braithwaite was regarded as one of Nigeria’s youngest businessmen of his time. He was the first African to pass the examination to become an associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute, London in 1951.
Braithwaite left a British insurance company to found a firm that would write life insurance on Nigerians which the British underwriters avoided like the plague.
He became so successful that his African Alliance Insurance Co. Ltd occupied a six-storey office and had 300 bush-beating agents.
Braithwaite, in 1960, advised the government of the Western Region as a risk consultant when it formed the Great Nigeria Insurance Company.
Between 1963 and 1966, he served as the first indigenous president of the Insurance Institute of Nigeria. He was also first president of the Nigerian Corporation of Insurance Brokers for 16 years, starting in 1963.
In 1969, he became an underwriting member of Lloyd’s of London, and from 1970 he started underwriting on the Merrett Syndicate.