By Abiodun Adeniyi
He rode to fame as a student union activist, and veered into advocacy as a graduate. He later resorted to public relations practice, and then detoured into oil. Then Gas, and now Energy. Soon, he got into politics: beginning as a presidential endorser, he moved into party administrator. And then he sought office as governor. A break followed, resulting into the expansion of a business, flourishing across Africa, in Europe and the Americas.
Somewhat like a fairy-tale, sometimes incredible, his concerns have flourished, and the young, ever agitated mind of yesteryears, have become a risen man of today, with promising manners for greater heights.
That’s the story of Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, who lately revealed his paternal identity, through the origin of his father, Hashimi Abdullah’s as being Kebbi State born, and who’s now vying for the nation’s top job, the presidency.
Olawepo-Hashim is not however your conventional businessperson, simply at home with figures and returns, and prospects or potentials. He works through the borderlines, believing in the persons powering the growth and progress of his concerns. He is not also your regular investor angling for new markets, through feasibility evaluations, and then taking the plunge.
He calculates with a calmness worried about firstly growing the one at hand. Then think of his contemplative mien. His introspective disposition. And then his philosophical outlook. What about his worldview that prioritises circumspection? They combine to reveal an intriguing, and yet incredible maturity of a radical philosopher that has equally mastered the art of dealing in figures.
Not a few were shocked a few years ago when a controversy over ownership of oil blocks raged in the Senate. It was important they should be identified. The former student union leader, former civil society activist, and former public relations consultant (a line of business not easily associated with megabucks), Olawepo-Hashim made the list. He was listed as the owner of OPL 241 on the continental shelf.
Is that the same Olawepo? How did he get into that bracket? Isn’t that forte for the royals, the generals, and the retired that, and retired this? More questions were asked. Tongues wagged. Riots ran in inquirers brains. Unbelievable? But it was him – the same Olawepo-Hashim. Not anyone else. Obviously, he had painstakingly grown his business. He had expanded. The transformation probably did not show because the man was still himself: simple, philosophical, affable, and godly.
He was still the polemicist, the thinker, the talker, and still vibrant in interacting. He did not grow into the recluse of the monetary empire builder, ever cynical about the person next door. Olawepo-Hashim did not bear the verbal asceticism of the million, or billion owner. He carried no strange airs. He was still lively, still in relationship with old folks and friends, from the good old days of the struggle.
While the disbelief of the oil block ownership was still lingering, he became known again as an energy investor. Like a joke, he soon began leading circles of power sector investors in Nigeria, and later in the UK. Often accompanied by aides and partners from all races, the age of doubt began to dry out.
The guy is real. His firm, Bresson AS Energy became one of the pioneer licensed Independent Power Producers (IPP) in the country. The firm is engaged in acquiring, developing, owning, and operating independent power generating facilities (IPGF). It is presently building its first power plant located at the Lagos corridor of Ogun State, Nigeria. More than $200million has so far being sunk into the project. And it is ongoing.
Something is ever common to growing or successful entrepreneurs: they hardly have ever worked for anyone else but themselves. Even when they rarely do, they quickly break off, to kick off. Check the story of Aliko Dangote, Mark Zuckerberg, Mike Domek, Joseph Semprevivo, and Babak Farahi. See the origin of Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Carlos Slim and Armacio Ortega, amongst others. With all these ones, it has ever being a crave for business independence, for the performance of experiments with finances, and a knack to take some plunges. In these cases, it has paid off.
For Olawepo-Hashim there is a parallel. He is not known to have being in any paid employment. From his days at Set and Sell Limited, he has been up and about. Between Lagos and Abuja, it was proposal here, proposal there. He kept at it. He diversified. Then kept the focus, and the vision. And then the bigger deals happened. Looks far easier said than done. Many waters would have passed under the bridge. There would have been countless pains, stress, near misses and disappointments. There would always be a story. The important thing is the stage at hand, and the work that still lies ahead, in the reckoning of Olawepo-Hashim.
Growing as one of Africa’s leading energy investors with some forays into East and Southern Africa, Olawepo-Hashim lately stole the show at a symposium organised by Imperial College Nigeria Society. He was also at the University of Ife as public lecturer, with tens of professors in audience.
At Imperial College, his fellow speakers probably lived up to their backgrounds as conservatives, speaking with the solemn elite flavour. Not with Olawepo-Hashim: Even with that flavour as well, he additionally went further. He connected with the mainly student audience. At home with them, he recalled his days of activism, his focus and his rise through the stages of advocacy and finance, before zeroing in on the state of the Nigerian nation. With varying presentation skills, his applause was deafening, temporarily providing a warmth in the whipping winter cold.
“We have gathered here to talk about a great country Nigeria” he began, stressing, “Nigeria is great not just because it is the 7th most populous country on the planet. It is an important Nation not only on account of her oil wealth. Nigeria is significant more because of the energy of her people, whose creativity and resilient spirit of enterprise continues to assure her progress even in the face of seemingly hopeless situations”
His salute of the ordinary Nigerian spirit and hardwork did not end there: “ It is due to the hard-work and industry of the ordinary Nigerians- the nation’s greatest asset, that Nigeria attained a GDP rebased at $510 billion in 2013 exceeding that of South Africa to become the biggest African economy even in the face of her parlous infrastructure.
“The feat is the result of the toiling of small scale entrepreneurs, who continue to create value without adequate electricity, cottage food processors, without affordable financing, farmers without the scantest of state support; artisans, bold and imaginative business men and women, dynamic financial managers, young innovators creative artistes and hardworking professionals”
Then the interactive session came. Ideologies and backgrounds were bound to clash. Olawepo-Hashim and Aig-Imoukhuede got into a short, harmless, but interesting back and forth. While the banker highlighted the many risks associated with investments in Nigeria with some facts and examples, the investor discountenanced them, arguing that Nigeria remains one of the best places to invest in the world. “Look at MTN, what about the Dubai merchants and the joint venture partners? They are all doing well despite the challenges. There is no business without risk, and there is no location without its troubles”, he pontificated to a warm applause.
He moved on to criticise the high interest rate in lending in Nigeria. “We probably need a new set of bankers, if we cannot do something about the rate in Nigeria” Then this: “Given that prevailing interest rate to assess finance in Nigeria is 22% compared to 8.5% in South Africa, 7.8% in Egypt, China 3.4% and in the US 2.33%, the Nigerian manufacturer is already not competitive. The burden of high cost of production could be lighter if electricity supply can be assessed at the grid price on a stable basis and even at a price a little higher than the current grid cost” Applause and applause!
Olawepo-Hashim then went into his forte, noting that the participation of new Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in the sector are specially very crucial because whilst privatization of existing utilities merely transfers ownership to the new operators, it is the new greenfield IPPs that add capacity to the network. Unfortunately, he pursued, in the past five years no new IPP has been commissioned in Nigeria. As a matter of fact last year no single turbine was imported to Nigeria and none has been imported this year, compared to 15 GE turbines that were shipped to Egypt this year alone.
The businessman, who also chairs the Transnational Energy Corporation in the US regretted the difficulties associated with the private sector participation in infrastructure development identified previously. “The difference here is, the sense of urgency that the resolution of these issues in the power sector demands. They are questions to which answers cannot be delayed further; they must be addressed right now! Policy formulators only lament and sing the power inadequacy like a song and failing to take the practical executive actions that do not even require legislation to achieve”
British Tycoon, Richard Branson, it was, who said “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts” As a communications graduate, Olawepo-Hashim understood the power of creativity earlier on, and he built on it from the beginning, through his crave for differences. And “what lies ahead?” Tom Althouse also adds, “Worrying about it or creating it. Both requires a choice, one opens the door.”
The Bresson AS Energy Chairman has also learnt from these Althouse lines, and with the closet sing-songs of Dr. Funmi Olawepo-Hashim, the gentleman is propelled by another saying from Germany Kent “Once you believe that you can do something, there is not a single person in the universe who can convince you otherwise.” Then it can be said that for Olawepo-Hashim, and with his strong believes, it is morning yet on day of increase.
●Dr. Adeniyi sent this piece from Abuja