Alhaji Abdulsamad Isyaku Rabiu
Alhaji Abdulsamad Isyaku Rabiu

Abdulsamad Rabiu: A Daring Kano Business Tiger

By no means are tigers slow movers. At full speed, tigers can reach up to 65km per hour.

Interestingly, no two tigers have the same stripes. They are unique because every tiger has its own pattern on its fur. That is true of the Asian tigers and the Kano tiger of the Isyaku Rabiu bloodline.

Generally, a tiger economy is a terminology used to describe the booming economies in South-East Asia. The Asian tiger economies typically include Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. Those who know better say their economic growth is usually export-led with sophisticated financial and trading hubs.

It appears Abdulsamad Isyaku Rabiu, the head honcho of BUA Group, a business conglomerate with a tremendous influence in Nigeria’s economy has the trappings of the Asian tigers. Under his captainship, the BUA Group has a larger than life footprint in sugar, cement, ports, agricultural produce, oil, rice, edible oil, flour, iron and steel products sectors of the Nigerian economy. 

Family Lineage

This Founder/Chairman of BUA Group, and Bank of Industry (BoI), was born on August 4, 1960 in Kano, a metropolitan city in Northern Nigeria. He is from the bloodline of a foremost industrialist, Khalifah Abdulsamad Rabiu. It not surprising that he has taken after his father’s philanthropy and business savvy.

Married with children, the most popular of his offspring is, Khadija Rabiu. This business tiger has many siblings including Nafiu Rabiu, a prominent businessman too, and Rabiu Rabiu, the Chairman of IRIS Airlines. There is no doubt that the 60-year-old billionaire has been a significant inspiration to many people in Nigeria and Africa at large. 

Education 

Abdulsamad Rabiu had his early education in Kano before proceeding to the United States for his university education. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. Rabiu was saddled with the responsibility of running his father’s business at the young age of 24, immediately he returned from the US after his studies. At the time, his father was detained by the Major General Muhammadu Buhari military dictatorship, on allegations of duty aversion on rice imports. Though young at the time, and with practically no business experience, he was able to captain the company in the absence of his father.

Forbes Rating

Forbes estimates his wealth as at 2013, at $1.2 billion, which heralds him into the global billionaires’ club. The Africa Report says his company accounts for some 15% share of the Nigerian cement market, reportedly worth $2.5 billion.

In 2008, he acquired the largest oil processing company in Nigeria, Nigerian Oil Mills Limited, and historically broke an eight-year monopoly in the Nigerian sugar industry by commissioning the second largest sugar refinery in Sub-Saharan Africa.

His philanthropic activities are driven by BUA Foundation that contributed handsomely to the construction of the Centre for Islamic Studies at the Bayero University, Kano. For undergraduates majoring in business-related disciplines, his persistence, tenacity, uprightness, business strategy, and lifestyle is encouraged to be used as a case study and point of reference.

Though he was literally born with a silver spoon in his mouth, this Kano business tiger rose from nothing to become something through dint of hard work, powered by doggedness. Despite being caught up in the country’s dwindling business climate with a typhoon and tsunami directed at him, he was able to weather the storm and retain his spot in business.

With the benefit of a hindsight, it is obvious Rabiu graduated from his industrious late father’s business school to become the tiger he is today., In the 1970s and 1980s, Isyaku Rabiu was a dominant name in the business milieu of Nigeria. He has ably navigated his father’s company to a great fortune. Due to his business wizardry, and unrivalled corporate governance, he was appointed the Chairman of the Nigerian Bank of Industry (BOI). 

Rabiu’s career in business dates back to when BUA International Limited was floated in 1988 for the sole purpose of commodity trading. The BUA Group is a conglomerate with a huge presence in manufacturing, infrastructure, agriculture, and generating income beyond $2.5 billion annually.

Remarkably, his defining business breakthrough came in 1990, when government-owned Delta Steel Company, contracted BUA to supply its raw materials in exchange for finished iron products. Later that year, the company expanded into steel, producing billets, importing iron ore, and constructing multiple rolling mills in Nigeria.

Rabiu is of the view that to flourish in the business in Nigeria, ‘’you must have the heart of Hercules, the fearlessness of Achilles, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of Macaulay, and the hide of a rhinoceros.’’

Rabiu’s Feats

No matter how one may wish to look at it, the acquisition of Nigerian Oil Mills Limited, the largest edible oil processing mill in the country is a feat. By 2005, BUA was operating two flour-milling plants in Lagos and Kano, and in 2008, BUA broke the Dangote monopoly in sugar sector by promoting the second largest sugar refinery in Africa.

The following year, the company acquired a controlling stake in a publicly-listed cement company in Northern Nigeria, and began to construct a $900 million cement plant in Edo State, completing it in early 2015.

Early in January 2020, Rabiu merged his privately-owned Obu Cement Company with the Cement Co. of Northern Nigeria. He has a controlling 98.5% stake in the company.

An online news portal, The Nigerian Voice, in an article last year with the caption, Abdulsamad Rabiu: An Industrialist Par Excellence, states, ‘’the apple doesn’t fall far from its tree is a popular phrase used to describe a similar trait that appears in both parent and offspring. This is the case of Abdulsamad Rabiu, the son of Khalifah Isyaku Rabiu, a renowned Kano businessman who made fortune in trade and industry in the 1960s and 1970s.

‘’Abdulsamad Rabiu, a graduate of Economics from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio was instrumental to the successes recorded by his father’s business empire as an Executive Director before establishing BUA International Limited in 1988 solely for trading and importation of rice, edible oil, flour, iron, and steel.

‘’In a short while, Abdulsamad deployed the lessons learned from the University and the experiences garnered while he worked at his father’s company to secure a contract with the Delta Steel Company to supply its raw material needs.

‘’With his vast business acumen, Abdulsamad’s BUA International Limited acquired Nigerian Oil Mills Limited, the largest edible oil processing company in Nigeria and later set up two flour milling plants in Lagos and Kano in 2005 and in 2008 broke an eight-year monopoly in the Nigerian sugar industry by commissioning the second largest sugar refinery in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

‘’When Abdulsamad decided to go into cement production, BUA acquired majority stake at the Cement Company of Northern Nigeria, producers of Sokoto Cement in Sokoto State to become a major shareholder. Shortly after this was the construction of BUA Obu Cement line 1 in Okpella, Edo State began which was commissioned in 2017. Kalambaina Cement Company followed and was commissioned in 2018 and then BUA Obu Cement line 2 was completed.

‘’After announcing the completion of BUA Obu Line 2, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved the merger between BUA’s Kalambaina Cement and Cement Company of Northern Nigeria for an increased production capacity of 2 million metric tonnes per annum. This brought BUA total production capacity to 8mmtpa.

‘’A lot of people lack the right description for Abdulsamad who has continued to soar with BUA Group spreading across Africa and beyond. Simply put, Abdulsamad is a shocker. This is unmistakable when Abdulsamad signed a contract with CBMI to build Kalambaina Cement Line 2 barely 30 days after the merger of CCNN and Kalambaina Cement Line 1.

‘’Abdulsamad has built BUA Group to become one of Nigeria’s largest conglomerates. In 16 months, he has completed 3 Cement plants in Edo and Sokoto States and increase Nigeria’s cement production capacity, reduced drastically importation, improve export and foreign exchange. Today he is not only recognized in Nigeria, Africa but Internationally. Abdulsamad Rabiu is easy going, doesn’t sing his praise but somehow his business brainpower and achievements have sold him out to the world. No wonder he was recently rated 16th richest man in Africa and 3rd in Nigeria with a net worth of $1.6 billion.’’ 

The Secret

Going well for the billionaire business tiger is his firm believ in delegated responsibilities. He is always calm and soft-spoken, a trait quite unconventional with those who fought their ways through hell and turbulent waters in business.

In an interview last year with Africa Forbes, Abdulsamad Rabiu, said: ‘’In 1988, I started my own business and founded BUA International Ltd. At the time, the in-thing was the importation of rice, sugar, fertilizer, agriculture, etc. So the challenge was that, if any product was scarce, everybody would now go and import the same thing.

‘’This pushes the price up and everybody will say the price of fertilizer has doubled, so everyone would now go and import fertilizer and within a short time, the product would now come down to half price and everyone would lose money.’’

To break the ice, he adopted a value-added approach, focusing on bringing in raw materials to process it locally. According to him, ‘’we started with oil in Kano. We were processing crude palm oil to refine it. We were also getting peanuts from Kano and then crushing and processing, and that was good business at the time because it was adding value and people were not used to adding value to anything at all. They were importing everything.’’

This philosophy of adding value allows BUA Group to innovate and expand capacity to about two million tons of cement per annum with its new merger. Rabiu discloses that with the consolidation, BUA Group has a market value of around $800 million.

BUA Group’s Subsidiaries

BUA Cement is one of the largest cement manufacturing company in Nigeria. The company has three plants in the Northern and Southern parts of the country as well as a floating cement terminal. The plants are those of Kalambaina Cement Company Limited in Sokoto State, Obu & Edo Cement Company Limited in Okpella, and Cement Company of Northern Nigeria in Sokoto. They are producing various grades of types of cement required by the Nigerian market.

BUA Sugar Refinery Limited was incorporated in 2015 as a private limited liability company. It focuses on the refining of imported and locally sourced raw sugar and has refineries in Lagos and Port Harcourt. It produces 1,440,000 metric tonnes of refined sugar per annum.

BUA Estates is the real estate arm of the BUA Group. It parades residential, commercial, mix-use developments in major cities in Nigeria. The residential portfolio includes BUA Kado Estates, BUA Hills, and BUA Court all in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. Its commercial and mixed-use portfolio showcases BUA Towers in Victoria Island, The BUA Place, Victoria Island, all in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, and BUA Business Park in Abuja.

BUA Port and Terminals Limited is a concessionaire of Terminal ‘B’ Rivers Port designed to handle various cargoes and storage. It is managing four berths, Berths 5-8 and two warehouses, Warehouse 5 & 7. It handles general cargoes such as frozen fish, bagged rice, and coated steel pipes. It also handles dry bulk such as dried wheat, palm kernel shell, bulk cement and liquid bulk such as crude palm oil, base oil, Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), etc.

BUA Oil Mills Limited was established in 2008 for the production of high-quality products including Distilled Fatty Acid, Stearine, and Palm Olein. It has its oil mills in Kano and Lagos.

Rabiu gives back to the society through BUA Foundation promoted for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The foundation aims to discover and develop talented young athletes. It also supports the health sector in the country by donating medicine and other healthcare equipment to the Cancer Centre in Abuja, and medical equipment to Daniel Ogechi Akujobi Memorial Foundation in Ogun State.

In partnership with Rotary Club of Gbagada South, the foundation renders free ears, nose, and throat clinical screening on pupils of Araromi and Kinniun-Ifa Primary School in Lagos.

The business tiger personally contributes to the construction of a seven thousand square meter paediatric ward at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and Islamic Studies Centre at Bayero University, Kano.

In April 2017, the foundation disbursed N600 million, an interest fee loan to 2000 farmers in Kano. It also supported farmers with fertilizers, improved seeds, and other rice-farming tools. Early this 2020, Rabiu announced plans of BUA Foundation to construct N7.5 billion ultra-modern specialist hospital in Kano.

Recognitions and Awards

He has to his credit these top-level awards: Commander of the Order of the Federation, Nigeria 2011; Business Person of the Year Award by Sun Newspaper 2012; Forbes’ Africa’s 50 Richest 2015; Lifetime Achievement Award by Vanguard Newspaper 2015; Forbes’ Billionaires 2016; West Africa Industrialist of the Year by CNBC, All Africa Leaders Award 2016; and Silverbird Extraordinary Business Achievement Award by Silverbird Group 2017.