Lady Nina Bracewell's Smith's 16% stake in Arsenal up for sale and Blackstone, the investor group hired to find a buyer has found someone who can pay the $145 million, or at least has the financial clout to do so.
Aliko Dangote is listed as number 463 on the Forbes rich list and is Nigeria's wealthiest man having amassed a fortune with his Dangote group, a business consortium that deals in commodities trading from sugar to oil. His personal worth is $2.1 billion, down from an estimated $2.5 billion, a year ago.
He is a self made man with little education who started his road to success from a small loan given by his uncle. Dangote made his mark in the sugar trade, of which he now controls 70% of the market, later branching out into cement, fueled by the massive growth in Nigeria's housing and construction business.
This being Nigeria, the rise to the top has been paved by a cozy system of patronage and kickbacks. Dangote especially benefited from his close friendship with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obesanjo lavishing him with exorbitant gifts including a Bombardier jet purchased by a former associate. The quid pro quo: Dangote saved billions of dollars in import duty waivers. The import duty scam revealed the complicity of Nigeria's top customs officials and as alleged even Obasanjo himself.
Dangote like many other Nigerian elite also benefited from banks who issued billions of dollars in loans without any credit checks. This cozy system of patronage led to the banking crisis which the government was able to averte with a $7.2 billion bailout.
The EEFC, the anti-crime agency established in 2003 following the advance fee scandal, are now targeting 200 of the most egregious offenders, the so called "debt cabal" in their debt recovery, amongst them Dangote who is said to owe as much as $67 million to various banks.
How much of this will stick because Dangote has kept the system of patronage alive with ruling party leaders including Obesanjo's hand picked successors, the late Umaru Yar'Adua and the present incumbent Goodluck Jonathan.
Dangote was recently elected as president of the Nigerian stock exchange, ironically after a share manipulation scandal brought down share prices of Africa Petroleum, a company owned by chief rival Femi Otedola. There are allegations that he paid off the members of the council for their "vote." The Dangote group has six companies listed on the NSE, which of course brings up the issue of a conflict of interest and the potential for insider trading.
However part of Dangote's cache is that he has managed to keep afloat in this financial downturn with fewer repercussions. He has profited from the durability of the commodities that made him wealthy. The healthy demand for sugar and cement has more than offset his losses in other sectors. He also made peace with Otedola, who is Nigeria's other billionaire, after a bitter turf war threatened to bring down their financial empires. Dangote's resume is also helped by sheer moral relativity - when you compare his trespasses to the pantheon of legendary Nigerian cut throats like Sani Abacha, he comes off as a saint.
Lady Bracewell's determination to sell off her stake whether it goes to Dangote or to someone else new, is muddy an already divided Arsenal investor group with competing blocs in Alisher Usmanov and Stan Kroenke, the two largest shareholders.
Her decision to go to Blackstone, and not sell to either one of them, may reflect her unhappiness with the decision to oust her from the Arsenal boardroom or the more practical consideration of whether they could afford to pay her. Whatever the decision, the club could be subjected to the destabilizing move of a new stakeholder's decision to launch a takeover by himself or the more realistic partnership with either Usmanov or Kroenke. What emerges is an ownership structure with older ties, parallel leadership, and less motivation for change.
Tom Hicks and George Gilett's decision to sell off has led to the search for new investors, the Glazers have managed to fend off the Red Knights at Old Trafford, the signal given by Roman Abramovich to buy again at Chelsea, City's reliance on the deep pockets of the Al Nahyan family, and Spurs benefiting from the ENIC group's investment. In each case, unitary ownership with little historicity have forged rapid responses to the changing situation.
Update: Aliko Dangote denies bidding for a stake in Arsenal