#NBAAGC2023: Keynote Address delivered by Tony Elumelu | FULL TEXT

Op-ed EditorAugust 29, 202311 min





Mr. President and our Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, His Excellency Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR.

We have come together today united. United with one ambition, one duty – nation building. I thank Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), President of the Nigerian Bar Association and his leadership for the honour of speaking here today – and the wisdom of the choice of topic.

Yes – United, whatever our backgrounds, geographies, religions, and experiences, by a single desire – to ensure that our country experiences a true renaissance. There is no one in this distinguished gathering that does not want the best for Nigeria.

Whether my learned friends of the Bar or our distinguished leaders present. We know the potential of Nigeria. We know the resources, human and natural, that Nigeria has at her disposal.

We champion the successes of Nigerians globally – in international leadership positions at the WTO, at the UN, at the African Development Bank, at the Afreximbank, in technology, in music and entertainment, in business, in arts and in media, in film, in sports. Indeed, in virtually every human endeavour, Nigerians excel.

We live in a world where the UK Secretary of State for Business and Trade grew up in Lagos and the United States Deputy Secretary of the Treasury was born in Ibadan. In business, the Nigerian private sector is showing globally our capability, our ingenuity, and our institutionalisation.  

We have global businesses with Nigerian origins:  Let me name one – UBA, the United Bank for Africa, the only African Bank that operates in the USA as a deposit-taking bank.  We are now in Dubai, Paris, and London – and just as importantly, 20 other countries in Africa – Who would have thought 20 years ago that Nigeria would be home to Africa’s global bank? But these successes, these role models, are too few, too rare.

We know too well the reality of Nigeria at home. We know our energy deficits, and we experience the disillusionment of our youth, manifest in the tragic loss of talent, as our young, at times, and at great risk to themselves, seek opportunities abroad. Opportunities that our fertile, bountiful country should supply.

We see the plundering of our commonwealth through oil theft and pipeline destruction in broad daylight! We experience every day the impact of climate change. We see our loved ones kidnapped and killed. Insecurity breeds disorder, feeds intolerance and destroys opportunity.

Our country has experienced division – unnecessary division and the squandering of heritage. Nation-building is a call to arms – a vital task – a necessity. At its core, nation-building is the intricate process of forging a cohesive, harmonious, and united society out of diverse individuals, cultures, and ideologies. It is the art of constructing a shared identity, purpose, and vision that transcends all individual interests.

Transforming Nigeria is a journey that demands our collective dedication, building across political affiliations, ethnic differences, and socioeconomic differences. One that is not the responsibility of our government alone. Great nations start with great people, not just great leaders.

Our private sector, our philanthropies, our civil society, all citizens must be brought together and be empowered – as real, valued and executing partners for this national renewal, this nation building. It behoves us all to collaborate in unity to reset Nigeria. So, what does this mean?

For me, this is nothing less than a fundamental renewal of the social and economic infrastructure of Nigeria.  The contract between a nation and its people. We have already seen that tough, long-avoided economic decisions have been taken. We salute the political will and courage that have been found to address the root causes of issues to introduce policies for the long term, not for the short term. Let us build on this boldness.  Congratulations, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu!

Nation-building is not a quick fix. It entails sacrifices. We cannot keep doing the same things and expect different outcomes. Let us lead our nation-building by laying those important foundations for our nation – let us renew our infrastructure. When I talk of infrastructure, I do not mean just roads or rail, bridges, or ports, I mean the following:


  • Investment in our youth – we need to renew our commitment to our youth, provide them with the means to succeed in Nigeria – not beyond Nigeria. This means not just investment in our education system but in our entrepreneurial culture.Nigeria is a nation of entrepreneurs – you know me as an investor and champion of entrepreneurs – I know the social and economic returns entrepreneurship creates. Let us create a joined-up government task force to champion, at the highest level, our young and our entrepreneurs. When entrepreneurs succeed, we succeed as a nation.  If they don’t, we all fail.

In my engagement with fellow private sector leaders, my message is simple:  We must see ourselves as the engine of innovation, the source of investment, and the creators of jobs.  This is exactly what we have achieved at the Tony Elumelu Foundation.

The nurturing of entrepreneurship is not merely an economic endeavour but a social responsibility.  By empowering our youth, supporting start-ups and SMEs, the private sector contributes to equitable wealth distribution, job creation, and social advancement.  It paves the way for economic empowerment that uplifts communities and contributes to a more inclusive society.  We all owe this to our people, even for our own enlightened self-interest.

This is what I call Africapitalism: conscious capitalism; fair-minded capitalism, equitable capitalism; shared values and shared value;  shared destiny; shared prosperity; not prosperity at the expense of inclusiveness, prosperity for the majority, not the few.

When my wife and I committed USD100m to help democratise luck and empower our youth, through The Tony Elumelu Foundation, giving annual non-refundable grants of USD5k seed capital to each beneficiary, now received by over 18,000 young Africans, it was not out of an abundance of wealth.  Rather, it was our own contribution in spreading prosperity and making the world a better and safer place for all.

Poverty anywhere is a threat to all of us everywhere.The ultimate panacea for insecurity and extremism is prosperity.This is why all of us must think of legacy and play our role and part now, that we can, to urgently support our young ones to become economically engaged, else we are doomed. We must give them hope.  Hope of a better tomorrow.  

Let us not underestimate the power of hope.  Hope is what fuels the dreams of our youth, what ignites the determination of our entrepreneurs, and what unites us in our pursuit of a better future. Nations that prioritise their young go far – it is no coincidence that an America that created Harvard and Stanford also produced Amazon, Microsoft and Google – we need the same focus on our young, their futures and ambitions.

Let us invest in our women.  When a woman succeeds, families and communities are lifted out of poverty. I am a product of a hardworking woman who greatly influenced, supported, and groomed me. It is no surprise that in my businesses, women lead and flourish.

Let us invest in our power sector – let us create regulatory structures that reward success, that deliver to our people, our schools, our hospitals and our industries, the sustainable, robust power supply that our country so urgently needs. Is it not ironic that a country with abundant gas resources cannot optimally operate its power plants due to lack of gas! I have seen, the beginnings of what we can do. 

Let me give you an example: The TransAfam Power Plant that belongs to Transcorp Group has an installed capacity of 1,000 megawatts. The Federal Government of Nigeria made a significant investment to acquire 240 megawatts fast power turbines from General Electric (GE).

For context, 240 megawatts of electricity can power about one million homes in Nigeria. Yet GE has threatened to pull out of the project because our nation – with some of the largest gas reserves globally, could not provide 65mm scuffs of gas needed for the comprehensive testing of the installed fast power plant. We have idle gas fields, and there is so much private capital to make the needed investments for gas production.  Yet, we cannot produce gas to power our economy and 21st Century industrialisation.  Thanks to a short-sighted regulatory regime and self-serving policies that keep our people permanently in the dark.  This has to change.

And let us invest in our social infrastructure, in our civil society, our courts of law and our administrators of justice.  No country – and no entrepreneur, can truly thrive without the rule of law, without peace, without certainty and fairness – for all – for our young, our old, our women and our men, our future generations. 

Let us invest in security:  Banditry, kidnapping, oil theft, pipeline vandalisation, and transmission line cuts.  These create uncertainties, fears, deprivation, poverty, and untold hardship.

Let us invest in brand Nigeria: We know the frustrations. We know that the joblessness of our youth is a betrayal of a generation, and the plundering of our commonwealth is inhumane and cruel, but we have no other motherland than Nigeria. Let us be proud of our country.  In Washington, in Singapore, wherever you walk, you see homes, shops, and offices proudly displaying their national flags.  Do you see this even in government agencies here, even less in private homes or corporate places?

Let us invest in Nigeria – so we are respected abroad and at peace and prosperous at home. When we speak, as we rightly do, of nation-building, that is the Nigeria I dream of – it is the Africa I dream of. I know that with the audacity, courage, support, goodwill, the resilience, and the dedication of those in this room, it is a dream that will also become our reality and in our lifetime.

We know Nigerians can talk; we know – and I am surrounded today by advocates – that we can argue and dispute, but now we must act.  There is an urgency, driven by our enormous younger generation, by the threat of climate change, by the clocks ticking on our natural resources, which will soon be left behind, as the world races towards a green economy.

In conclusion, let us approach the task of nation-building with unwavering determination, guided by the principles of unity, inclusivity, and progress. Let our pursuit of nation-building be characterised by unwavering determination, empathy, and the commitment to create a legacy of progress, unity, and hope for generations to come.

I am a Nigerian. I owe everything to Nigeria. I am proud of Nigeria. I am proud to be a Nigerian – let us honour our country, let’s respect our leadership, let us honour our people, let us truly build our nation, and in doing so, deliver to our young ones the future and destiny they so rightly deserve – in Nigeria and in our time.

Let history remember us not for our individual achievements, not for the balances in our bank accounts, but for our collective efforts in building a nation that stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration for the entire black race. Let us be inspired by the lessons of history, motivated by the sacrifices of our forefathers, guided by the wisdom of our elders, and energized by the aspirations of our youth.

Thank you.

Tony O. Elumelu, CFR

Founder, The Tony Elumelu Foundation


Op-ed Editor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please email us - contents@orderpaper.ng - if you need this content for legitimate research purposes. Please check our privacy policy