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Tinubu and the Chagoury brothers

The flag-off of the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway recreated memories of the landmark activities, legacy projects of the Chagoury Group across the country. No other than President Bola Ahmed Tinubu poured encomiums on them, reminding his countrymen many more projects of such magnitude were on the way. NDUKA NWOSU reports:

Very few people have a knowledge of who the Chagoury brothers-Gilbert and Ronald are. The reason is understandable. The Chagourys are shy of public display of their success story; as a result, those who do not know them draw the wrong conclusions. Those who do are glad there are such comparable elements to the Aliko Dangotes or the Femi Otedolas, public spirited figures helping to drive the economic growth of the nation to the Promised Land.

Beyond this still, the Chagoury brothers remain global citizens, statesmen in their own rights and by their own accomplishments.

They have refused to lean on the larger-than-life image destiny carved into their Odyssey between Lebanon and Nigeria. In spite of their seeming unwillingness to latch on to this image, it is obvious that Gilbert and Ronald were prepared by circumstances of birth to be major players in global business, politics, and statecraft. Their parents became Nigerian immigrants almost as early as the birth of colonialism growing up as witnesses to a new independent nation. Their descendants have displayed their Nigerian-ness in many ways. While many Nigerians are running away from the reality and turgid demand of nation building, of rewriting history on a positive trajectory, these brothers have in more than fifty years of their active existence in the country, contributed so much for which they are not talking about.

Their early beginnings speak of a people in search of universal oneness, who had left Lebanon for colonial Nigeria in search of political and economic freedom. The vision was well defined, the desire to make meaning of what the future held in stock for both entities quickened the footsteps of Gilbert and Ronald who were sent back home to get grounded in early education before the quest for higher education came knocking; it did come and Gilbert gained admission at the prestigious Lebanese College des Freres while Ronald graduated in Business Studies at the Long Beach University in California. There was a sense of urgency in their footsteps to return back to the country and be a part of the new independent country. Both brothers saw Nigeria as the theatre for business and politics in their unfolding lives. It is therefore not surprising that Gilbert in being profiled has, over the years, exuded that image of the benevolent African big man having served as Presidential and economic Adviser and big-ticket investor with a greater fascination in construction and manufacturing, in many African countries.

Apart from the fact that Ambassador Chagoury is a friend to many Heads of State across the globe, he has been named ambassador to certain West African and Central African countries, the Americas, as well as Economic Adviser and ambassador of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In particular, he was always identified with the former President Bill Clinton family in good and bad seasons, donating millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

As a young man growing up, Gilbert became fascinated in the art of marketing, selling shoes manufactured by a shoe factory where he worked. He was exceptional as a salesman, and this attracted the attention of his employers who gave him additional responsibilities. Both brothers, no doubt, were daring adventurers who were not afraid of walking through the path not chosen for exploration. Two examples stand out: the new Lagos Atlantic City and now the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway; both draw their graphic imageries in adventurism, into the path not trodden.

Chagoury once said philanthropy was at the chore of his belief system and has defined his ultimate vision and mission in life. Discussing the humanitarian activities of these great brothers is like talking about their numerous investments across many countries in the continent. When it was mentioned the Chagoury brothers were cooking for Covid 19 victims in Lagos State, as well as donating one billion naira to the state government to help combat the disease which was ravaging the world, Nigeria inclusive, many people felt this was something innovative. It was not. Charity has always been second nature to them.

Out there in Memphis Tennessee at the St Jude Research Hospital US, Gilbert has made private contributions as a key benefactor. The same applies to his country of Northern Lebanon where he and his wife Rose Marie are involved in several philanthropic activities like he has done in Nigeria, and the Americas.

He was mentioned to have donated well over $10 million to the Lebanese American University to build the Gilbert and Rose Marie Chagoury School of Medicine and the Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing in memory of his mother.

Just as he is strong in the provision of public infrastructure in Nigeria, back home in Lebanon, he is active in the building of public infrastructure, health, and educational development. There is the Louvre’s Gilbert and Rose Marie Gallery housing a permanent exhibition of famous collections of art works including works of French artists that act as private collections of the Chagourys. He is deeply rooted in Catholicism where his philanthropy knows no bounds. Gilbert married his lovely wife Rosemary Chamchoum since 1969 and they both have four children. Ronald, on the other hand, is married to Berthe, and they have two children.

I was once privileged to visit the Chagourys one evening in 2012 in the company of my distinguished Senator friend. I was curious to know what makes them tick. The home I saw was not anything close to what you would call a lavish display of splendour and affluence, the type oil well beneficiary Mai Deribe built in Maiduguri, now a tourist attraction centre amid a poverty-stricken people.

When you mention Eko Hotel, Eko Atlantic and now, the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway, the names recreate all manner of protean expressions. Yet, there was a time in the history of Lagos when the roaring tide of the Atlantic Ocean posed an existential threat to Victoria Island. Experts raised an outcry warning that a flood would swallow the corporate city of Lagos if nothing were done to arrest this looming danger ahead. Every rainy season the Atlantic gave evidence to suspect this dangerous possibility existed. The Chagourys through one of its subsidiaries, the South Energyx Nigeria Limited, with the support of the Lagos State Government, was able to reclaim 10 million square meters of land shielded by an 8.5 kilometers of sea wall with skyscrapers that remind you of New York’s Manhattan Business District.

With headquarters in West Africa, the Chagoury Group’s activities have been listed to include construction and property development, hospitality & hotels, telecommunications & information technology services, international financing, water bottling and purification, insurance services, flour mills, furniture manufacturing, and catering.

It is only interesting to know why President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Gilbert crossed each other’s paths.

In my many encounters with the Nigerian leader, especially as Governor of Lagos State, he took me down memory lane, guided by Dele Alake, now Solid Minerals Minister, and the First Lady besides him at his then Alausa office, on how he became a taxi driver in the US as a student at the Chicago State University, struggling through life, and was too eager to return home where he believed the future beckoned. One evening on late dinner in his Bourdillon home with former Ogun State Governor and my boss at Daily Times, Segun Osoba, Tinubu spoke of his long-term vision for Lagos State and his greater wishes for the nation.

Now that he is on the driver’s seat of statecraft, it is only expected some of his dreams for Lagos are rubbing off on a higher scale for the country. We heard his spin managers speak glowingly on that note. As has been chronicled here, the Chagourys were part of that game plan for Lagos State. Now he has brought them centre-stage, it is expected those dreams would fly with wings of accomplishment.

Coming to the official launching of the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway, Mr. President could not hide his profuse delight in his old friend Gilbert and his brother Engr. Ronald Chagoury, owners of Hitech Construction Company Limited, the project builders, describing them as worthy stakeholders who believe in the future of Nigeria.

He reminded his audience where he was coming from with them: “Together, we worked to tame the Atlantic, and we turned a disaster into a great asset of value. We lost weight and took insults, but eventually, we tamed the Atlantic. We achieved our goals,” recalling the oft-repeated narrative of how the indigenous company successfully executed a project “to prevent the Atlantic Ocean from encroaching on critical sections of the Lagos shoreline.

The highway project, which is privately funded, will also play a pivotal role in complementing the expansion of Nigeria’s maritime industry. The United Nations’ recent decision to extend Nigeria’s continental shelf by an additional 16,300 square kilometers, we were reminded, has opened new economic opportunities, particularly in maritime trade. The President went ahead to stress the need to leverage on these opportunities to establish more export processing zones along the coastal states.

“Today is my day to boast. The deal is done. The dream is realisable. The determination to build a nation of prosperity is possible. We said we would build this road, and we are determined to do it. Do not be afraid. We will do this road, and it will be a success for Nigeria, and we will do even more of this,” the President said. That is the spirit of adventure captured by Mr. President and the Chagoury brothers in their quest for a greater Nigerian nation.

Author

  • Guardian Nigeria

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