Hakeem Belo-Osagie became most prominent during his stint as Board Chairman of Etisalat Nigeria, but in truth, he has been a key player in the development of Nigeria’s economy for decades. His interests span the energy sector, the banking sector, the telecommunication industry, and very recently, real estate.
Though he has had quite a bumpy ride as a businessman over the years, Belo-Osagie continues to forge ahead; he was even listed as the 41st richest in Africa with a net worth of $600 million in 2014.
In 1955, Hakeem was born to the family of late Professor Tiamiyu Belo-Osagie, a renowned gynaecologist, and Iyalekitue Bazuaye, a nurse. His father was the proprietor of the Osagie Medical Centre, and rendered medical services to several political and military leaders in the country, including General Ibrahim Babangida and President Shehu Shagari.
He was only three years old when his family relocated to England, where he had his early education. They returned to Nigeria when he was eight, and he completed his primary education before proceeding to King’s College, Lagos for his secondary education. However, they changed location again, so he finished his secondary education at the United World College of the Atlantic, Wales.
Hakeem Belo-Osagie obtained a law degree from the University of Cambridge, an MA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University, and also an MBA from Harvard Business School.
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A brief career in the public sector
Shortly after graduating from Harvard Business School in 1980, Belo-Osagie returned to Nigeria to start his career in Nigeria’s energy sector. It is believed that he benefitted from his father’s position as a family gynaecologist to the family of General Ibrahim Babangida.
He started as Special Assistant to the Minister of Petroleum and Energy, late Alhaji Rilwan Lukmon, and was later Secretary of the Oil Policy Review and LNG Committees. He also worked in the Petrochemicals Division of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
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In 1986, he left the government service to set up an energy consulting firm, CTIC, signalling his shift into the waters of entrepreneurial uncertainty.
The dive into business
In 1998, he acquired a controlling stake in the United Bank for Africa and became the Chairman. At the time of this purchase, UBA was on sale for $15 million and many thought buying into the bank was a bad idea.
Belo-Osagie insisted that it was an undervalued asset despite the refusal of a large South African bank to put in $8m for a 51% stake in UBA, as it considered UBA “too risky” an investment. He went through with his instincts and it proved right because a few years later, the same South African bank made an offer that valued UBA at $300m.
His ingenuity as Chairman must have also been a contributing factor to the bank’s revival. However, he had to resign from the position in March 2004, due to unconfirmed allegations made by the Central Bank of Nigeria that the bank, under his leadership, had engaged in unlicensed foreign exchange trading.
A brush with the law
Even after resigning, the apex bank went ahead to blacklist him. A year after, in 2005, there were reports suggesting that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had launched investigations into Belo-Osagie’s tenure as UBA Board Chairman. There appears to be no incriminating findings from this investigation as no criminal charge was ever filed against him.
After almost six years, on May 24, 2010, the CBN removed his name from its blacklist, acknowledging that its actions had been unduly punitive.
Belo-Osagie recalls one of his biggest mistakes in business happened when he was part of a group that lost the bid for the first mobile network licences in Nigeria. Available data then had suggested to him and his group that the Nigerian mobile phone market could not exceed 20 million subscribers, so they were advised to peg their bid at US$265 million. They lost the bid to other groups that went as high as $285 million. Looking back, Belo-Osagie reckoned the licences were worth a whole lot more, probably closer to $800 million, given that Nigeria now has over 100 million mobile phone users.
In an interview, he also pointed out that a critical part of his business success could be attributed to setting up the right teams with differing talents and expertise. It is always important to appoint someone with “a spirit of adventure, a hunger for new things” in business as “that eagerness and desire to experience something new, is more important than functional intelligence.”
Belo-Osagie also founded the First Securities Discount House (FSDH), one of Nigeria’s leading money markets trading firm, and served as the first Chairman. FSDH holding company now includes among its holdings the FSDH Merchant Bank, FSDH Asset management, PAL pensions and FSDH securities trading company.
He has remained dogged in business, surmounting challenges every step of the way.
Other interests and positions
Hakeem Belo-Osagie served as Chairman Board of Directors of Etisalat Nigeria, where he has significant stakes, until 2017 when he stepped aside. He served as Chairman of the Abuja Investment Company (2007-2011) and a director of Timbuktu Media.
He is Chairman of Metis Capital Partners, an organisation focused on brokering and delivering attractive, large-ticket transactions in Africa to select blue-chip international investment partners.
Belo-Osagie is the Chairman and main shareholder in Duval Properties Limited, a real estate company currently engaged in developing a major new residential and commercial district at Jabi Lake, Abuja. He also chairs the board of Vitol Nigeria, which is a subsidiary of the Swiss-based Vitol Group, a multinational energy and commodity trading firm.
He sits on the board of Andela where he invested recently. He chairs Chocolate City Music Group, a leading Nigerian entertainment company. He also serves on the board of Alfanar, and chairs the Nigerian National Committee for the United World Colleges.
Belo-Osagie is a member of Harvard University’s Global Advisory Council, and sits on the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institution and the Global Board of Advisors of the Council on Foreign Relations. He also serves on the Yale University President’s Council on International Activities and the New York University President’s Global Council.
Together with his wife, Belo-Osagie donates to the African Leadership Academy, a residential secondary school in Johannesburg that works to educate Africa’s brightest students. He has an endowment fund for the promotion of Africa at Yale University. They are supporters of Harvard University’s Center for African Studies, and have established a scholarship to support African students studying at Balliol College, Oxford.