Behold, The $ Billionaires Club!

Forbes, the American international celebrity magazine that rates the mega rich and famous amongst us had penultimate week released a new list of the world’s wealthiest men and women. Forbes magazine annually celebrates wealth and those who are rich through verifiable dint of hard work. Anyone with questionable source of wealth never gets mentioned lest Forbes gives the false impression that criminal or illicit wealth pays and guarantees fame.

As the saying goes “behind every great fortune there is a crime” but those Forbes magazine celebrates are about the clean billionaires whose rag-to-riches/grass-to-grace antecedents could easily be traced. People like the Sultan of Brunei whose great wealth could be said to be more or less the wealth of the Kingdom he rules over should not be ranked among rich people without monarchical hereditary connections.

This year the benevolent billionaire Warren Buffet overtook the microsoft whizkid Bill Gates and the Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Helu Slim. Buffet, worth some $62 billion (an increase of $10 billion from the previous year) led the pack followed closely by Slim whose fortune is put at $60 billion. Gates is third on the rich list with a net worth of $58 billion. The three wealthiest men in the world are strikingly not the noisy kind of men; they are level-headed and charity-friendly fellows.

On the list one finds billionaires in dollars coming from countries whose economies have had a serious transformation in recent times. You have new entries coming from Russia, China, India, South Africa and Nigeria. The world’s richest woman is the French L’Oreal proprietess, Liliane Bettencourt, who is 17th on the list with a net worth of $22.9 billion. According to Steve Forbes Chief Executive of Forbes Magazine: “The reason for this explosion in wealth is that we’re in the midst of a phenomenal global boom. Never before in human history have so many people in so many parts of the world advanced so quickly economically as has happened in recent years.”

The most impressive performance could be said to have come from Russia. Under out-going President Vladmir Putin the Russian economy boomed and the result is the production of more billionaires and millionaires. Russia, with 87 billionaires, is the new second-place country behind the United States, overtaking Germany, with 59 billionaires. The richest men and women list showed clearly that the rest of the world is making some progress economically and socially breaking poverty barriers and conquering wealth frontiers.

From Africa only two countries made the list: Nigeria and South Africa and this is not surprising. The richest African is Nigeria’s Alhaji Aliko Dangote of Dangote industrial fame and South African gold magnate Mr Patrice Motsepe. Alhaji Dangote is estimated by Forbes to be worth $3.3 billion thus ranked 334th richest person in the wider world! Following him in a distance is Mr Motsepe ranked 503 in the world.

According to Forbes who described Dangote’s source of wealth as “inherited and growing” traced same to cement, sugar and flour manufacturing. The magazine wrote of Dangote’s feat: “Nigeria’s first billionaire hit the jackpot when his sugar-production company listed on the Nigerian stock exchange last year… Began career as trader at 21 with loan from his uncle; built his Dangote Group into conglomerate with interests in sugar, flour milling, salt processing, cement manufacturing, textiles, real estate, haulage and oil and gas.”

And Alhaji Dangote himself was thankful to Allah for making it possible for him to touch many lives Nigerian alluding to the greatness of the Nigerian nation in the near future. Hear him: “The country is moving in the right direction. Things are happening. I am very confident that in the years to come, Nigeria alone will boast of 100 billionaires who are entrepreneurs. The signs are very good for Nigeria. Next year, I expect at least five Nigerians to be on the list.”

Dangote is surely a shrewd businessman and a consummate entrepreneur. His business tentacles reaches as far as Benin, Togo and Ghana. The Kano-born business mogul has more rare capacity to position Africa as a continent where wealth could be created and managed well like the Gates, Slims and Buffets. One may equally give a deserving mention to the “Glo” mobile phone network Chief Executive Mike Adenuga whose exploits in the telecom industry and elsewhere is indeed ground-breaking.

Dangote deserves the mention and evaluation by Forbes. I believe Alhaji Dangote meticulously worked his way to riches. His entrepreneurial prowess is never in doubt. Nigeria has produced many billionaires and millionaires in dollars but due to the dearth of accurate statistics, moral morass and the secrecy surrounding sources of wealth no generous mention has ever been made before now by any international credible establishment.

Again given the fact that corruption has wreaked a lot of havoc producing crushing poverty that has left the majority of the people more powerless and helpless the rich men and women tend to hide their wealth, ill-gotten or otherwise. The social dislocation occasioned by the phenomenon of social betrayal by the ruling elite has alienated the populace from the rulers thereby widening the rich-poor gap.

In an unfortunate nation where military rulers (like Ibrahim Babangida, late Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo) unwittingly boast of stealing billions of naira (even dollars) for themselves and their families while pretending to improve the lives of the people patriots like Dangote use their wealth to empower thousands by way of employment. That is what is called for in this modern era where possibility is a favourite word for achievers.

Creating wealth with little or no mischief associated to it is never easy. Getting started poses a big challenge. It is only in politics that money is laundered without any iota of conscience; African politicians spend less than a year in power and before long they ‘break’ banks and become stupendously rich suddenly. And in Nigeria it is even worse. You have a situation where an ex-convict gatecrashes himself into power and loots the treasury blind or worse still a military coupist, stifling dissent, uses the machinery of larceny to clean the patrimony.

The $ billionaires club will, next year, hopefully, make more room for new entrants including more Nigerians and Africans. And in doing so increase the prospects for healthy competition and ambition. And reduce the poverty cycle inflicting millions of Africans. Poverty diminishes our collective human heritage and brings out the worst in our human community, our human standards of living. Checking its spread and taming its monstrous effects on a greater number of our people far and near, anywhere in the world, is a sure way of true liberation.

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