Often referred to as ‘the giant of Africa’, The Federal Republic of Nigeria is only the tenth-largest country on the continent. Located in the southeast of West Africa, it’s bordered by Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
But beyond the country’s name, it’s her people; Nigeria’s ability to create billionaires did not start today. Before Dangote and Alakija, Da Rocha, Ojukwu, and others were known for their fame and fortune.
Here’s a list of the wealthiest Nigerians during the Independence era, their families and their source of income with additional credit to Punch.
Candido Da Rocha (1860 – 1959)
Candido Da Rocha was a Nigerian born in Brazil. Upon his return to Nigeria with his father, Esan Da Rocha, he made a fortune.
Da Rocha was unlike Evander Wall – both were born in 1860 – who became a millionaire at 18 and a multimillionaire at 22 when he inherited a million dollars from his father and grandfather, respectively.
An extravagant showman, he was the first man in America to wear a tuxedo. He was reported to have changed his outfit 40 times in a single morning.
Considered a millionaire, Da Rocha sent his dirty clothes to the laundryman in the United Kingdom.
Shrewd and forthright, the first Nigerian millionaire was not given to unnecessary platitudes and politicking.
“His friend Herbert Macaulay persuaded him to join politics. On a particular day when he was addressing would-be voters, he simply told them that he was seeking their votes to represent them. He clarified that he would not use his wealth to get their votes.
“At the end of the day, he didn’t win,” his 90-year-old granddaughter, Mrs Angelica Oyediran, told SUNDAY PUNCH.
How wealthy was Da Rocha?
“I can’t put a figure to it. However, I can tell you that Papa was so rich that he assisted many people in society. He supported the government during the Second World War. He also supported the Catholic Church. When the Holy Cross Cathedral was built, he paid for the building of three chapels. The British respected him a lot. He was highly respected, a disciplined man who hated dishonesty and lying. I lived with him in this house for three years. I was very close to him. He loved me, and I was fond of him,” the granddaughter explained.
She described Da Rocha’s generosity: “People would come to him, crying, requesting financial assistance; from the balcony, asking how much they needed, he would throw down the money to them.”
Da Rocha became a water merchant, selling water from the house (he inherited from his father, Esan Da Rocha) – famously called Casa d’Agua or water house. Da Rocha would later venture into real estate and the hospitality business. He opened The Restaurant Da Rocha, Bonanza Hotel, and Sierra Leone Deep Sea Fishing Industries Ltd. He also partnered with two other businessmen, J. H. Doherty and Sedu Williams, to establish the Lagos Native Bank.
Alhassan Dantata (1877 –1955)
Pointing to 60 groundnut pyramids, Alhassan Dantata reportedly said, “These are mine.” He was the forebear of today’s richest African man, Aliko Dangote.
Regarded as the wealthiest man in the British West African colonies, in 1929, Dantata deposited 20-camel-loads of silver coins in the newly opened Kano branch of Bank of West Africa.
He traded groundnuts, kola, cattle, clothes, beads, precious stones, grains, ropes and other merchandise across the region.
As far back as 1918, Dantata had been dealing in groundnuts with the United Kingdom-based Royal Niger Company – later known as the United Africa Company.
He was said to have founded, with other people in business, the Kano Citizens’ Trading Company, established for industrial undertakings. In 1949, he donated property worth ?10,200 to establish the first indigenous textile mill in the North.
In 1917, he acquired two plots of land in the non-European trading site (Syrian quarters) at an annual fee of ?20. In 1950, Dantata was made a councillor in the Emir of Kano’s council, the first non-royal individual to be honoured. Born in 1877 in Bebeji, Kano State, he died in 1955. He was said to have lived a modest and religious life.
Timothy Odutola (1902-1995)
On March 25, 1943, the man who later became arguably the most respected politician and strategist in Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, requested a loan of £1,400 from Timothy Odutola.
The loan, according to Awolowo, would be fully paid in 12 years. He did not get the loan. But, the duo would later form a solid political alliance in the old Western Region.
Stupendously rich, Odutola was the first president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. He was reported to have established a multimillion-dollar business, including three factories, a retail franchise, a cattle ranch and a sawmill before 1960.
Before his breakthrough, he worked as a clerk in various departments of the Lagos Colony and the Ijebu Native Administration between 1921 and 1932.
By 1932, he opened stores where he sold damasks and fish in various cities in the Western Region; and later, he began trading in cocoa and palm oil.
An enterprising man, he also dealt in sawmilling and gold mining. By 1967, he had begun production of tyres and tubes, which did so well that he added a $1,700,000 plant, with the plan to harvest his rubber from his 5,000-acre plantation.
“The time is coming when we will produce more than we can consume, and we will have to look outside Nigeria for markets,” Odutola had once said.
Sir Mobolaji Bank-Anthony (1907-1991)
Businessman and philanthropist, he was a former Lagos Stock Exchange council president. He was also a minority investor in Aero Contractors and held the distributional rights to cars manufactured by Rootes Group.
Between 1923 and 1930, he worked as a junior clerk in the correspondence section of the Post and Telegraphs Department. By 1931, he went into business, travelling to Germany and England to study how to make palm oil. After that, he established M. de Bank Brothers to trade palm oil and patent medicine.
After some time, he began importing watches, clocks and pens – at a point, becoming the third largest seller of fountain pens in Nigeria after UAC and the United Trading Company. He also owned a tanker fleet and a charter airline.
He co-authored a report on the Economic Mission to Europe and North America, which recommended the investment of extra funds from the product marketing board in a regional bank and public corporations to stimulate economic development. He was known for his exquisite taste in clothes, shoes and food.
When he died a year later, his wealth was put at an estimated $4bn in today’s economic value.
He was one of the earliest Nigerians to become chairman of a European company in 1950 – he was the chairman of the Italian Construction firm Borini Prono and Company. He was also a director of Mobil Oil and Friesland Foods back then.
Sir Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1908-1966)
Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu, according to anecdotes, was the first billionaire Nigeria ever produced. He was the founding president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. As an honour for supporting the British military during World War II with his fleet of trucks, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. The queen – on the request of the colonial administration – was said to be driven in a Rolls Royce owned by Ojukwu.
“Few people realise that he remains the richest African by every standard today, worth in trillions if you consider that he left about £10m in 1966 – at 10 per cent compound interest,” a source close to the family had said.
Ojukwu was said to have made his money by importing dried fish, dealing in textiles, cement and transport.
He was also the president of the African Continental Bank. He was on the board of companies such as Shell Oil Nigeria Limited and Guinness Nig. Ltd, Nigerian National Shipping Lines, Nigerian Cement Factory, Nigerian Coal Corporation, Costain West Africa Ltd, John Holt, and Nigerian Marketing Board, among others.
Shafi Edu (1911–2002)
In 1965, TIME magazine named Shafi Edu one of Nigeria’s richest men. Along with Talabi Braithwaite, he co-founded the first indigenous insurance company in the country. He had shares in big companies like Bata, Alumaco, Wiggins Teape, BP (formerly British Petroleum), Lever Brothers and Nigerian Breweries.
Edu was the first president of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and the Lagos Rotary Club.
At 54, he had built a fleet of eight oil tankers. He was also on the boards of Blackwood Hodge Nigeria, Haden Nigeria, Glaxo Nigeria and the Federal Industrial Loans from 1954 to 1959.
He was elected into the old Western Region’s House of Assembly in 1951 and was later nominated to represent Epe at the Federal House of Representatives.
Sanusi Dantata (1919–1997)
His father, Dantata, left him a will that amounted to over $12,000, though he was already a wealthy man then. Sanusi Dantata is the grandfather of Africa’s richest man, Dangote.
Under British rule, according to Forbes, Dangote’s grandfather became rich trading commodities like grain, oats and rice and was one of Kano’s wealthiest citizens. In the 1960s, he was the country’s largest licensed produce-buying agent of groundnut.
Said to be benevolent, Dantata was spending about £40,000 each year to support his friends and the poor.
He and his brother, Aminu, controlled about 200 agents buying kola nut, livestock, groundnuts and merchandise, using about five autonomous levels of associates, agents, and farmers.
The system involved buying goods from restricted rural areas, transporting them to the city and storing them in warehouses.
He gave his beloved 21-year-old grandson (Dangote) a loan of $500,000 to trade in rice, sugar and cement upon graduation from a university in Cairo, Egypt.
Emmanuel Akwiwu (1924-2011)
He owned a company with 70 vehicles and hauled oil rigs and supplies for British Petroleum Ltd. He was a federal lawmaker in the House of Representatives between 1954 and 1964, and he was also a deputy speaker of the Eastern Assembly.
Akwiwu was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and studied at Cambridge University between 1945 and 1950. He returned to the country in 1951 and became a solicitor. He founded Akwiwu Motors in the 1960s. He was on the board of the Nigerian Ports Authority when established in 1954.
Born in 1902, he was described as Nigeria’s most prominent baker in the mid-1960s. Featured in Time magazine’s list of millionaires in Nigeria in 1965, Tuyo at the time had four outlets and was making 115 products. According to the magazine, he was running a business that would have “priority in people’s spending.”
“The firm’s unusual name – De Facto Works Ltd. – was shrewdly chosen by Tuyo to impress Nigerian bankers with the fact that he was seriously in business,” it said.
Trained as a teacher, Tuyo left the profession to work for 24 years in the Nigerian Railway Corporation, the British Bank of West Africa and the Ministry of Commerce. He retired in 1953.
His wife started the bakery. After his retirement, he took over the catering business. By 1969, his bakery service was the largest in the country.
Talabi Braithwaite (1928–2011)
Regarded as one of Nigeria’s youngest business person of his time, Talabi Braithwaite left a British insurance company to found a firm that would write life insurance for Nigerians, which the British underwriters avoided like the plague. So successful was he that his African Alliance Insurance Co. Ltd occupied a six-storey office with 300 bush-beating agents. Braithwaite lived in an elegant house in Ikoyi.
He was the first African to pass the examination to become an associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute, London, in 1951. Braithwaite, in 1960, advised the government of the Western Region as a risk consultant when it formed the Great Nigeria Insurance Company. Between 1963 and 1966, he served as the first indigenous president of the Insurance Institute of Nigeria. He was also the first president of the Nigerian Corporation of Insurance Brokers for 16 years, starting in 1963.
In 1969, he became an underwriting member of Lloyd’s of London, and from 1970 he started underwriting on the Merrett Syndicate.