10 Nigerian billionaires who were once very poor

Nigeria is home to some of the richest people in the world and the very richest in Africa. The majority of the richest people in Africa are Nigerians. These people have made it in life and are doing quite well for themselves. However, not all of them had it easy. Some of these people came from a poor background and amassed so much wealth on their own which is quite impressive. In this article, I will list 10 billionaires who were once poor.

1. Tony Elumelu

This banking entrepreneur stands as one of the richest people in Nigeria with a net worth of $700 million. His main sources of wealth are his investments in oil and gas, real estate, financial services, healthcare, power and other ventures. He has also made waves in the hospitality sector, and he is quite well-known for his philanthropic activities. 

Tony Elumelu is the chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa (UBA), Transcorp, and the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF). The TEF, through its TEF Entrepreneurship Program, empowers young African entrepreneurs from every country in Africa.

Tony Elumelu did not come from an influential background, in fact, one can say he went from rags to riches. His mother was a humble woman who earned her living from managing a small restaurant. Even at a young age, Elumelu knew he would become an entrepreneur. He studied economics in school, and whenever he would come home for holidays, he’d spend his time helping out in his mother’s restaurant. He always wondered how her business would be if it was at a larger scale. She would have more customers and make more money. As he watched how his mother conducted her business, he became more aware of how the business world worked, and this greatly influenced who he has become today. 

Although he had always had an interest in entrepreneurship, his first step to the top was becoming a banker after graduating from school. It was while he was performing his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) that he began to explore his interest in business. He read magazines and newspapers on various business ideas and began to wonder about starting his own business. Despite not being entirely taken on the idea of becoming a full-time entrepreneur at that time, he still tried his hand in entrepreneurship by buying ‘Babaringa’ and local hand-made mats from Sokoto where he did his NYSC and reselling them in the South. 

After a while, he became interested in real estate and property and also started assessing opportunities in other parts of the world. He invested in a few companies while he worked as a banker. After his retirement, he ventured fully into entrepreneurship and founded Heirs Holdings.

2. Mike Adenuga

Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga more popularly known as Mike Adenuga is a well-known telecoms entrepreneur. With a net worth of $5.7 billion, he is one of the richest people in Nigeria. He owns a telecom company called Globacom, which is the third largest in Nigeria. 

Mike Adenuga was born in Ibadan. He attended Ibadan Grammar School, Ibada; had his tertiary education at Northwestern Oklahoma State University; and got an MBA at Pace University in New York. He worked as a taxi driver to fund his education and living costs in the US. 

To make ends meet, Adenuga hustled hard, even selling lace materials and distributing drinks. In the end, his efforts paid off and he made his first million in 1979 at the age of 26. Since then, he hasn’t relented in his efforts.

He has ventured into various businesses including telecommunications and oil and gas, and has made a fortune from them. In 1984, Mike Adenuga established Consolidated Oil Limited and made history as the first Nigerian to find oil in commercial quantity. In 2003, he established Globacom, which has been successful. 

3. Pascal Gabriel Dozie

With a net worth of $1 billion, Pascal Gabriel Dozie ranks among the richest people in Nigeria. He is the founder and former chairman of Diamond Bank Plc and owns shares in MTN Group. He is also the Chairman of Pan-Atlantic University and the founding partner of Africa Capital Alliance.

Pascal Gabriel Dozie may be swimming in riches today, but it wasn’t always so growing up. He is the embodiment of a village boy turned billionaire. He was born in Egbu village of Owerri, Imo state in the year 1939. His father was a Catholic catechist who died when Dozie was 15 years old. The responsibility of caring for him and his siblings lay on his mother who struggled to raise them. 

In 1960, Dozie was offered a scholarship by the London School of Economics. He studied Operational Research and Industrial Engineering at City University, London and later got a Masters degree in Administrative Science. After his studies, he worked as an economist at the National Economic Development Office in the United Kingdom and also worked part-time as a lecturer at the North-Western Polytechnic, London. He later served as a consulting economist at the African States Consulting Organization in Uganda. In 1971, he left his job in Uganda and returned to Nigeria.

After returning to Nigeria, he launched his first company, African Development Consulting Group (ADCG). He later pioneered electronic money transfer in Nigeria to relieve Nigerian traders of the hassle of handling large amounts of cash. Riding the coattails of the success of the electronic money transfer he pioneered, he set up Diamond Bank in 1991. 

4. Jimoh Ibrahim 

Jimoh Ibrahim is a politician, lawyer, businessman, and philanthropist with a net worth of $1 billion. He is the founder and CEO of Global Fleet Group. 

Jimoh Ibrahim was born to a polygamous family in 1967 in Ondo State. His father had about 7 wives and 40 children and was a bricklayer, while his mother sold fish. He studied obtained a Bachelor of Law degree (LLB) and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.

While in the university, Jimoh Ibrahim handled several small-scale building construction contracts, which he executed with his father’s building materials.

During his NYSC, Jimoh Ibrahim noticed a problem in the Nigerian law system which pushed him to organize a seminar for all the local governments in Nigeria. Local governments didn’t have their own laws, only the states and the federal government had. The seminar was very successful and fetched him about N3.6 million Naira. The success motivated him to organize several similar conferences, and by the time he was done with his NYSC, he had made about N70 million Naira.

He organized more seminars after his NYSC, and while doing this, he discovered how large oil companies were withholding taxes from the federal government. He then sent a detailed report on his findings to the government and proposed a solution. He would help them recover a large part of the funds and a commission will be paid to him on every recovery. His proposal was approved, and Jimoh Ibrahim helped the federal government to recover billions of Naira.

After amassing so much wealth from the commissions paid to him by the federal government, Jimoh Ibrahim went on to purchase a swampy area of land at the Victoria Garden City (VGC) gate and built a petrol station and two banking halls in it. He also set up another petrol station at the Illupeju area. He also invested a very large part of the funds into real estate. He later went on to establish the Global Fleet Group whose activities span oil & gas, hospitality, real estate, banking & finance, insurance, publishing, and several other industries.

5. Alafaa Kariboye-Igbo 

One of the youngest billionaires in Nigeria, Alafaa Kariboya Igbo is a versatile businessman whose net worth is $1 billion. He has several investments in real estate, oil, gas, auto dealership, and entertainment which are his main source of wealth. 

Commonly known as Oil Money, Alafaa Kariboye-Igbo was born in Rivers State and is currently based in the United Kingdom. He was born into a low-income family, but with hard work and persistence, he was able to become very wealthy.

6. Cletus Ibeto

Cletus Madubugwu Ibeto is a Nigerian businessman and humanitarian whose net worth was once more than $1 billion. He is the founder and CEO of the Ibeto Group which is the biggest union in the Eastern part of Nigeria. Tracing back to his roots, he started as an extra parts import vendor. 

When he was a young boy, Ibeto dreamt of becoming one of the most educated people in Nigeria. Unfortunately, his father clamped down on his dreams and pushed him into spare parts trading. Ibeto started his apprenticeship in Onitsha as a car parts trader. His apprenticeship was cut short by the civil war from 1967 to 1970, in which he became part of the Biafran Army from the start of the conflict.

After the war, he founded the Ibeto Brothers Trading Company in 1970 as its sole proprietor. Since then, the company has grown into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

7. Orji Uzor Kalu

Orji Uzor Kalu is a businessman and politician with a net worth of over 200 billion naira. He is currently the sitting senator of Abia North Senatorial District and former Chief Whip of the House of Senate. He is the CEO of SLOK Holding and has invested in banking, shipping, manufacturing, oil trading, and media. 

Orji Uzor Kalu was born on 1960 in Abia State, Nigeria. 

Orji Uzor Kalu has always been an activist that clamoured for human rights. While in the university, he was actively involved in the school’s political activities which got him suspended due to his participation in the “Ali Must Go” riots, against the then Minister of Education. After this, he gave up on school and ventured into business.

At the age of 19, he took a loan from his mother, which he used to purchase palm oil from the South Eastern part of the country and resell it in the Northern parts of Nigeria. His business quickly grew, and he was able to diversify into the furniture business. He would purchase furniture from Aba and resell it in Maiduguri. His furniture business did so well that he abandoned his palm oil business and began manufacturing furniture.

His university eventually pardoned some of the students that were suspended, including him. He refused the pardon on account of impartiality to the others that were not pardoned.

In the year 1986, the then military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, granted him the national merit award. In 1987, he registered a company called SLOK Holdings, which went on to span oil & gas, hospitality & travel, manufacturing & trading, financial services, media, and logistics, across 11 countries and 3 continents.

8. Emeka Offor

Emeka Offor is a businessman and philanthropist whose net worth is in billions of naira. He is the founder and chairman of The Chrome Group, an oil exploration firm in Nigeria.

Emeka Offor was born on 1957 in Kafachan, Kaduna State, Nigeria. He is an indigene of Irefi Oraifite in Ekwusigo local government area of Anambra State, Nigeria. After graduating from secondary school, he remained in his alma mater where he worked as a teacher. He left shortly after because he was convinced he had more to offer than being a teacher.  

After resigning from being a teacher, Emeka Offor followed his Father’s friend, Geoffrey Abadi to Warri, Delta State. He secured employment as a transport clerk at a company that imported bitumen products called Rivways Lines Nigeria Ltd. While he was working there, Abadi encouraged him to learn how the business was conducted. He took his advice, and as he learnt, Abadi helped him purchase and supply bitumen in small quantities to smaller companies. As his business grew, he began to supply to larger companies. In 1985, he decided to diversify into more areas of the oil and gas sector and established Chrome Oil Services which became The Chrome Group in 1994.

9. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma

Theophilus Yakubu Damjuma is a businessman, politician and retired Nigerian army lieutenant general. 

Danjuma was born in Takum, Taraba State. His village was largely into farming, with many families cultivating beniseed, cassava, yams and rice. Both his parents were farmers. Theophilus Danjuma attended St Bartholomew’s Primary School in Wusasa for his primary education and Provincial Secondary School in Katsina-Ala for his secondary education. In 1959, he was awarded a Northern Nigeria Scholarship to study history at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology in Zaria (Ahmadu Bello University). In 1960, Danjuma left the university to enrol in the Nigerian Army where he made significant achievements.

In 1979, Danjuma established the Nigeria American Line (NAL) and began his trading business by leasing a ship to trade between Lagos and Santos in Brazil. The company was later patronized by Nigeria’s National Supply Company (NNSC) to bring in government goods. NAL also received patronage from prominent companies including DICON Salt (Nigeria) and Volkswagen. 

In 1984, Danjuma established COMET Shipping Agencies Nigeria Limited. The company’s main function was to act as an agent for Nigeria American Line (NAL). COMET was very successful and grew to become one of the largest independent agents operating in Nigeria by the late nineties. 

In 1995, Danjuma established South Atlantic Petroleum (SAPETRO), a Nigerian oil exploration and production company. 

10. Leo Stan Ekeh

Leo Stan Ekeh is a businessman with a net worth of $1.2 billion. He owns Konga, an online electronics shop and Zinox Group, a leading ICT ecosystem in Africa. He was born to a middle-class family in Ubomiri Mbaitoli, Imo State. 

In 2001, Leo Stan Ekeh started Zinox Technologies Limited in order to manufacture computers, and in 2013, the production of its computer tablet line named Zipad was announced. In 2018, Zinox acquired Konga.com by buying 99% of the total company shares.

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Habibat Musa

Habibat Musa

Habibat Musa is a content writer with MakeMoney.ng. She writes predominantly on topics related to education, technology and business. She is an English language major.

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