Real reason I shut down Air Nigeria—Jimoh Ibrahim + Why I buy dead companies and revive them

Dr. Jimoh Ibrahim: The Turn Around Guru from Igbotako

Your Africa’s
Number 1 celebrity encounter blog—Asabeafrika
gets you this exclusive interview granted by politician-business man to Ovation International magazine
sometimes ago. In the interview which started inside his Nigerian abode and
ended inside his London apartment, the Igbotako-Ondo State born
politician-business man boasted about his ability to buy dead-wood companies
and turn them to mega firms. Read the chat!


This is Jimoh Ibrahim

When the history
of 21st century Corporate Nigeria is written there is one name that
is certain to be there and that is Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim. In the last
10years, he has had the audacity to thread where many men would dread, buying
up huge but decaying corporate assets and turning them around to his benefit.
The Ondo State
indigene who many would describe as tough as nails, is the kind of man you can
describe as what you see is what you get. He never beats about the bush. He
shoots straight from the hip no matter whose ox is gored. He speaks his mind
candidly and truthfully all the time.

Jimoh Ibrahim: The man who loves buying dead corporations

With business
interests scattered across Nigeria, Africa, Middle East and Europe, Barrister
Ibrahim is one of those young businessmen who run truly international
businesses, criss-crossing countries and time zones at will. Little wonder, he
is one of those who have bought a private jet as a necessity not a luxury.
Indeed, his
highflying lifestyle was epitomized by this interview which began inside his
own hotel, NICON Hotel, VGC, Lagos and ended in his stately home, located in
one of the first-rated addresses in the world, the famous Billionaire’s Row, The Bishop’s Avenue in Hampstead Gardens
Suburbs, London.
In our
encounter, Barrister Ibrahim was at his cerebral best. He brought to fore the
fact that he is a careful investor. Of course, he did not fail to express his
passion for Nigeria, Africa and firm faith in God. This is vintage Araba.
You bought NICON
in 2006, why did you make that bold move at that time.

Jimoh Ibrahim telling Michael Effiong of Ovation his success story

The issue of NICON is very interesting. We decided to invest in the government’s
policy of privatization and it was something we believed in and the top
economies in the world embraced. I am also of the liberal economic school to
know that government has no business in business and there is the need to
divest organizations from government control. The policy which started well in Nigeria as at the time, was at its peak
and we decided to participate. I think it is ongoing process because government
has now gone to Power Holding company of
(PHCN) and some other parastatals, so we showed interest because we
believed that we should have our own fair share. You would be surprised that we
had invitation all the way from Greece
to participate in some of their government’s enterprise. I have been to Greece but there is no vacancy in my appeal
for investment. I cannot take on something of that magnitude because we are now
confronting scientific management
Has it been a
good return on investment?

Jimoh Ibrahim

Well, it will take time for it to be a
good return on investment but it is an investment with prospects. NICON itself has a lot of issues
particularly in terms of turn around. You have to look at the pension holes,
assets that are not working and other things. So, we needed to sort out these
problems before knowing the estimated time of getting returns.
Your bought over
Air Nigeria, are you not bothered
that Air Nigeria is not flying

Jimoh, the man who bought Air Nigeria and re-sold it

No, I am not bothered. It was a
fantastic investment that we did. We bought Air
from Richard Branson who was
not bothered that he did not fly for several years. Before we bought it, there
were two planes that were parked at the tarmac but only one was flying. The
regular delay was about nine to ten hours, especially flights to Abuja. People forget things so fast!
When we came, we picked up Air Nigeria,
did a diagnosis and started a fantastic turn-around process.
People do not understand the aim of turn-around.
It is thought that it is in all cases that you turn-around a company and the
company is still living. No, if it is a credit led turn-around, your aim will
be to recover the money that you invested into that company, so it all depends
on how you look at it. So, what we did was to suspend the airline from
operation for a year because we saw the hand of Jacob and the voice of Esau.

A prototype of Air Nigeria’s plane

We saw that our operations were
penetrated by external parties and the staff strike came with demand of payment
of May salaries to be paid in that May. They went on strike in May (laughs). It was a technical
investment. If it had been an insurance company, I would have fought it but we are
talking about safety. If you push it and someone plants something in the plane
and it crashes, then you will begin to mention Jimoh’s name as the cause of a tragedy. Life is priceless and we
had to shut it down at that stage. We recorded unprecedented success. We were
flying from Lagos to London and we had a full flight with 282
passengers within three months of operation. It was incredible! As at that time,
airlines like Virgin had closed some
of their routes. In fact, Delta Airline had
closed its Ghana to New York route. I
re-introduced that London route and
we were able to move from Lagos to London
smoothly. It was fantastic. When we had challenges, we had three options –
doing it alone, getting partners or getting everybody involved. Since I did not
want to compromise people’s lives by getting partners whose total commitment I
may not vouch for, we had to divest from Air
This is news,
Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim has divested from Air

Jimoh, the man who loves to buy dead companies

Yes, quote me. We have divested from Air Nigeria. People will not hear the
truth before they start saying what is not. They will not wait to get the facts
to support their claims. If we divest and somebody buys the airline from us, it
means that it is a valuable company. It is valuable to the person putting his
money down to buy it, either in the company or in the goodwill. If it is not
good, nobody will want to buy it.
So, for me, the Air Nigeria journey was fantastic. We do not have any regrets for
investing in that airline. We were committed to make it work, we made the
airline attractive and flew the Nigerian
flag proudly but some external forces had other ideas and we had to show them
that we are in business to do business. We are in serious business not jokers.
Like I said, it had to with human life and we had to be very careful.
As at now, you
have taken over a couple of companies and we have just spoken about two, what
factors do you consider before you invest in any business.

Jimoh Ibrahim showcases the re-branded Newswatch Magazine to Ovation Editor

For me to invest, the business must be
dead or critically dying. If it is just showing some signs, I will not buy it,
but if it is dead, then it requires surgical operations; that is where I have
my own gift. If you look at some of the companies we have bought, you would
observe that I can turn around a dead company to life. If you look at Newswatch, it is now a 129-page
. If you look at it now, it is different from the Newswatch that was there some years
back. This is the latest edition of Newswatch,
a product we can be proud of this was not the product when we picked it up
because it was a 96-page document.
Now, embassies, United Nations and international firms in Nigeria subscribe for the magazine. You have seen the Mirror
Luxury Hotel
in Abuja.

Jimoh Ibrahim explains how he turned around ‘Newswatch Magazine’ and made it Nigeria’s leading newspaper brand

Speaking of NICON Luxury Hotel in Abuja,
people have forgotten that there used to be snakes and big pythons in that Hotel. We had to make way for a
biological garden. We spread powder down the swimming pool side to collect the
snakes, they inhaled the powder and we put them inside a bag alive. The snake
situation was so bad that there was a presidential directive that no official
presidency function should take place in NICON
Luxury Hotel
. This was a hotel that Presidents used to deliver speeches in
and Senators, Senate Presidents and Governors used to sleep there.
The hotel was advertised three times by El Rufai and there was no single bidder.
It was advertised in all the papers yet no one wanted to buy it. Obasanjo invited a footballer who wanted
to buy it sometime ago from America
but he wanted it for free because he was scared of what the renovation would
cost. I paid about 60 Million Dollars.
After we had worked hard to put the place in shape, some people now stepped
forward and said they were looking for papers, saying, “Oh, it is our fore father’s assets”. What about my 60 Million Dollars? Is it your father’s
asset or your brother’s assets?

Jimoh Ibrahim the turn around guru

The fact is that a young man has decided to put
his brain and his life into something and it worked. He did not steal or
embezzle money. 60 Million Dollars is
a lot of money. You are saying it is you father’s house. If your fore-fathers
sold this asset for a price, then what are we talking about? Number one, why
did your fore-fathers sell? What about the consideration price? Sometimes, I
just laugh. There was a time someone said that when Richard Branson left 49 percent of the asset at Air Nigeria and he would one day ask me
to account for it. But the person is not concerned about the N34 Billion debt that was left in UBA as at that time. He did not know
that if he had to pursue 49 per cent of the deal, he would also get 49per cent
of the debt. It is nice when illiterates confront civilized and educated
people, but usually, you have to forgive the illiterates because they do not understand
the critical issues in management.

Does this
principle apply when you are taking up property investments or you have a
different philosophy for that?

Jimoh Ibrahim adjusting his ‘turn around’ thinking cap

You see, our property investment came to
us, more or less as a gift. When we acquire a company, the company comes with
property, so we allow another company to manage that property. We can have 16
assets and all of them have properties. 
We are almost gradually becoming the highest property investment company
in Nigeria. Right now, we do not have
track of everything, we just keep updating the database and turn-around these
properties. Sometimes, they say, “Oh,
NICON has all these properties, quite fantastic”.
We have 17 hectares of
land in Bauchi, Ok go there and use
it for farming; we have 10 hectares of land in Imo, OK, go there and farm on the land. We have a four storey
building in Bauchi for NICON office; I was there when my friend
was the Governor. We have in Akure
too. Sometimes, the cost of maintaining a property is more than the cost of
getting a new one. Our property portfolio is huge.
There was a
story that you bought a property on highbrow The Bishop’s Avenue in London

Jimoh Ibrahim explaining a point to Michael Effiong of Ovation Magazine

It is not a story it is a fact. That is
my house. You do not want me to have a house? (Laughs) That is my personal
house on The Bishop’s Avenue. If you
go to the internet, check Jimoh Ibrahim’s
house in London. Bishop Avenue is a
significant street in London and I
have neighbors like Bill Gates, a Russian Jeans maker and a Sheikh. What is wrong in a Nigerian having a house there? What took
me to the Bishop Avenue is the nature of the building that I bought; that was
what I needed at that time. I needed a library, sports area and a swimming pool
where I can exercise.
That house provides all those basic
functions, but that does not mean that I cannot sell it tomorrow. You know I am
an investor. I do not have any attachment to my properties. If tomorrow, any of
my companies needs money, we would sell it and then buy another one again.

Jimoh Ibrahim’s mansion in London. Inset: His dinning room

Houses are always there for sale. Femi
bought a place on that same Bishop’s
; he sold it and bought another one. As an investor, it is nothing to
us. We can buy and sell and it gives us joy. People are scared, they want to
approach us with a particular property and they feel we will not sell, if your
price is right, why should I not sell? I did not come to this world with any
property, so I would not go back with any property. So, what is the problem? My
children, one wants to be an artist, one wants to be a Professor in the University. They are far from running
any company. So, what are we talking about? Above all, in the next five years,
when I am sure of the balance sheet, I will make sure that I satisfy my
conscience that my companies are in good standing; I will put them on the Stock Exchange and sell my shares. I
will sell 70 per cent of the company and hold 30 per cent and I will use the money for charity. Whatever you
acquire, you are still going to return it to the society. Acquiring something
and turning it around is our own contribution to the society.

How is the
Energy Bank doing in Ghana

Jimoh Ibrahim in a pose for Ovation Camera

You should be proud of us in Ghana because that is the most liquid
bank for the third year running. We are gunning to be number one again and that
is something to be happy about. You can see the balance sheet. Straight
forward-37 per cent of Bank asset is
in Treasury bill, three percent was
the loan given to Air Nigeria. We do
not want to be local entrepreneurs but rather global entrepreneurs. Microsoft opened an office in Lagos and you are happy about it, why do
you think Nigerian companies should
not open offices in America or Britain? Why are you sad about that? Why
are you saying people are going out of Nigeria?
It is not like that, they just want to establish their names. I do not want to
die locally, if I can use Microsoft’s
product here, they should be able to use my work in Ghana, South Africa, Dubai and America. I will be glad because God created me the same way he
created them. So, I do not see any reason why you want me to die locally.

Jimoh Ibrahim amidst moods splashed around words

Look at Michael Dell of Dell Computers;
he has offices in over 86 countries in the world as at ten years ago. I have
not even got to 86 local governments and we already have bad belle people complaining (laughs). I have a global vision that
is why we are on Cable News Network
(CNN) at the moment. Anytime I see my company on CNN, I see Rolex, Nokia, at the same time. When did we
start? Was it not ten years ago? What is so bad about it? CNN is an American cable
and we are watching it in Nigeria.
Why can’t we begin to think about when Americans
will be watching a Nigerian cable station?
If you cannot do it, you should be happy and pray for the person who is doing
it to be successful.

The Dr. Jimoh Ibrahim (OFR)

People that have not established
businesses outside Nigerian soil are
not entrepreneurs, they are local entrepreneurs. If you know that your business
can be successful, take it to London,
Sao Tome and Dubai where you have to comply with all   rule
and regulations. You should not just sit down here and be a local champion and
be disturbing Mr. President for
allocation. You cannot just take one product and say that you are the only one
that must supply that product; they do not do that is America or London. Even
if you discover that product, you must share the knowledge with everybody. Is
that not what we call anti-trust law, that America was tackling Bill Gates on.

Jimoh Ibrahim adjusting his thinking cap amidst the words

When Bill
told America that he would
not reveal it but will pay One million Dollars per day, they still said
no. They wanted him to reveal it so that other people can gain from it. So, do
not come and say you are the best in the world, because you are just deceiving
yourself. Take the business out and do not celebrate what is not of global
How Successful Has
Your Business Been In Sao Tome

The Dr. Jimoh Ibrahim

Haba! We are the
biggest investors in Sao Tome. We
have the second biggest bank, biggest insurance house, we insure oil assets and
we are the official insurer of the government in Sao Tome. We have the only University
there, what else do we want to do? Everybody complies with rules and it is my
joy to transport Nigerians from to Sao Tome and they are getting permanent
visas to stay. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I pick my phone and
call my Country manager In Dubai. I
say ‘Tolu, how are you doing?’ He says
‘I am fine sir’.

Jimoh Ibrahim’s private jet stylishly parked in the hanger

It is Afternoon. I call my company Manager in Ghana, ‘Ayininuola, what is happening there?’ He says ‘Everything is Ok sir’. I also call my people
in Sao Tome. I understand some words
in Portuguese that they speak in Sao Tome
and we begin to talk. So, you see it is a global thing.  People talk about having private jets and see
it as a crime. That is madness! Now, you take off from here to Sao Tome, fly one and half hours; you
move from Sao Tome to Ghana and you know there is no direct
flight. From Ghana to Dubai, from Dubai you cross to London,
from London you are back to Nigeria; your base. Haba, commend these people for fantastic job and we are not making
profit yet. These are just establishment that with time, we would make profits.
By the time we would be making profits, we would have been listed on the stock
exchange whereby the profit will be shared by everyone that is called Ultimate investor.

Jimoh Ibrahim alighting from his private jet @ Kotoka Airport, Accra

We are not going
to list a company whereby we sell 20 per cent of the shares and keep 80 per
cent to ourselves and we would say we declare dividends of N35 Billion and we would pay ourselves; that is not the kind of
company that we want. That is Alawada
(joker) entrepreneur (Laughs). If you want to list in London, for examples, will you keep 90 per cent of your shares to
yourself? It is not allowed. You cannot keep 90 per cent of the holding of your
company to yourself and list only ten percent and say when you want to pay
dividend, you made a profit of N100 Billion. Then, 90 Billion is paid to
yourself, you now raise ten billion to pay other shareholders and say your
value now is 90 per cent of your company which you have fixed the share price
to any amount of money times the number of shares in issue, then you would come
and say you are the richest man in the world, You do not do this type of thing
in America. So why are we messing
ourselves up here?
understand that you are the Honorary Consul of Sao Tome in Nigeria

The Politician business man in a reading mood

Oh yes, I am.
There was a request from the Sao Tome
Government to the President of Nigeria to release me and he granted the
request. So, it is by the grace of God that I am the honorary consul and it is
a fantastic place. It is another opportunity to serve, to contribute to
society. They don’t have a university for example, so I established one,. But
what kind of money can you make from 300 students. What we are doing in Sao Tome is to take excess funds within
the company and investing it there to show our humane side.
talking about investments, are you still into oil marketing
Of course, we
have 200 petrol stations and we have depots all over.
I see some of your banners and I see you have only lubricants and gas.
No, we sell
is that a mistake?

The Cover of the Ovation Magazine where Jimoh Ibrahim spoke about his wealth and splendor

I believe so,
sometime, I do not go into details of how they do the signage, but I know that
here in Nigeria; we do not have a specific station where they sell only gas. When
a station is there, it is assumed that they sell petrol but when you now put gas
that means that you now have additional services of gas and lubricants. If you
do not have those things, you do not put them on the signage. The stations are
doing well. Nigerians have benefited from that our unique initiative because
we had decided to give our stations to dealers to run. These dealers sell under
our brand, they only pay license fee, which is a token and run their stations.
Those set of people that got those stations are now entrepreneurs, they make
their own money and do not report to anybody. The brand name is the only
unifying factor between us and the fact that we own the station. When we
promised that we would do this, people were skeptical, I am happy that we have
seen it through and many families are benefiting. That is the kind of impact
we want to make.


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