Who is Alhaji Seidu Agongo? For many, he is the businessman being persecuted for his fertiliser dealings with the Ghana Cocoa Board. For others, he is the entrepreneur whose budding Heritage Bank was collapsed in 2019 although it did not breach any prudential or regulatory requirements.
While these may be true, they are recent additions on a man who made his name and fortune from wholesaling rice and sugar in one of Ghana’s populous suburbs, Nima, in the Greater Accra Region.
Long before he ever landed any government contract, ‘Seidu’ or ‘The Rice Seller,’ as he was affectionately called by his numerous retailers, was raking in millions of dollars on a daily basis from his Nima enterprise. The business was flourishing so well such that his trucks could take days to offload the consignment, resulting in gridlocks that residents and other market people still remember with nostalgia. So were the returns too.
His bankers, the Amal Bank now Bank of Africa Ghana, used days just to count a day’s sale from his rice business, even with the help of money counting machines. The current chief executive officer of the Ghana Export-Import Bank (GEXIM), Mr Lawrence Agyinsam, was, at the time, Alhaji Agongo’s Relations Manager.
Access Bank (then Intercontinental Bank) was also, at a point in time, one of Alhaji Agongo’s bankers with Mr Sylvester Mensah, a former chief executive officer of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) and ex-MP for La Dadekotopon, as his Relations Manager.
Alhaji Seidu Agongo’s name resonates in Nima and beyond, today because his rice business made him millions of dollars way before he inked any contract with any government.
Even prominent politicians, including some of those at the helm of affairs in the Akufo-Addo government today, fell on Alhaji Agongo, in those days, to supply their Muslim supporters in Nima with rice.
Current Chief of Staff Frema Osei Opare, as well as the late Yaw Kwakye, a cousin to President Akufo-Addo, can bear Alhaji Agongo witness that he used to support Nana Akufo-Addo, long before he became president, with hundreds of bags of rice for distribution to his Muslim support base in Nima.
Even Mrs Samira Bawumia, in those days, was one of Alhaji Agongo’s prominent customers. Alhaji Agongo recalls that his rice, sugar and tin tomato business helped him to transform Nima into a hotbed of trading activities.
Nima became a buzzing trading hub becuase of one man’s entrepreneurial forays. “I created the bustling business environment you see at Nima today through my rice business”, he told Nana Otu Darko in an interview on CTV, one of the several staples of his media empire, Class Media Group.
Alhaji Agongo recounted: “I attracted people to Nima to trade”. “Everyone knows me at Nima as ‘Seidu, The Rice Seller’”, he reminisced.
As far as money goes, Alhaji Agongo said: “I could sell GHS4 million worth of rice in a day”.
“You can ask Olam, Stallion and other suppliers”, he challenged, noting: “Banks were unable to count my money and, so, they did what they could and returned the following day to continue counting the money”.
“I drove trailer trucks myself to go and cart rice to sell. I could bring 20 to 30 containers of oil to Nima. The whole of the Nima Roundabout gets clogged with human and vehicular traffic just because of my trading activities there. I’ve done a lot of work in my life but my philosophy is: the work must impact the lives of people positively”.
“The rice brands I sold were mostly imported brands from Thailand and USA. I only sold foreign rice. So, it meant we were creating jobs for those countries anytime we consumed their rice. It wasn’t meaningful to me because I believe money must be made in a satisfactory way to help other people but not through any means at all, irrespective of the consequences”.
This, right up here, is what nudged Alhaji Agongo to start “searching for institutionalised businesses protected by government regulations to establish more businesses”.
“That’s what got me to set up Heritage Bank. Such businesses can outlive me and last for decades because they would have had protection from government regulatory institutions”.
The motivation to get into government-regulated and institutionalised business sectors was a purely altruistic one.
For Alhaji Agongo, it was never and has never been about amassing ‘dirty wealth’ through corrupt and fraudulent means.
For a man who was already making millions daily in his Nima trading activities alone, he needed no help from ‘Mr Corruption’ or ‘Madam Fraud’. Rather than amassing wealth, Alhaji Agongo finds joy and fulfilment in distributing his hard-earned money to the poor.
He has a voracious appetite for philanthropy, spurred by his inherent quest to ensure poverty distances itself from people so everyone can have a bit of a decent life. He is and has always been a cheerful giver, never a taker.
In 2018, the Muslim philanthropist constructed an Out-Patient Department (OPD) block at a cost of GH¢857,000 for the Child Emergency Unit of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (K’Bu) in Accra. He handed the 30-bed capacity block to the Hospital in 2019.
The management of St. Paul’s Lutheran School, in 2019, presented a citation to Alhaji Agongo for adopting and sponsoring 17 pupils there over the past few years.
The 17 were among 81 pupils Alhaji Agongo adopted almost 10 years ago and sponsored from the basic to the university level.
Realising that education was the only means by which he could help end the cycle of poverty in the families of poor pupils, Alhaji Agongo decided to move his own children from Al-Rayan International School, where he was spending about $5,000 on each child, at the time, to the St. Paul’s Lutheran School near the state-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) in Accra, so that he could use the savings he made on his children’s school fees, to sponsor the 81 poor pupils up to the university level.
In November 2019, one hundred talented but needy hairdressers and seamstresses/tailors benefited from the third edition of Class Media Group’s ‘Founder’s Empowerment Project’ held in Kumasi, Ashanti Region.
Class Media Group operates Class91.3FM, Accra100.5FM, No.1 105.3FM, Kumasi 104.1FM, Adehyee 99.1FM, Ho FM, Sunyani FM, Taadi FM, Dagbon FM, CTV, and ClassFMonline.com.
Alhaji Agongo founded it in order to use the power and wide reach of the media, to positively impact the lives of the poor across the country.
In the heady days of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ghana in 2020, Alhaji Agongo, in an attempt to mitigate the impact of a three-week partial lockdown in Greater Accra and Greater Kumasi, launched an e-charity programme through which he disbursed cash to some 10,000 widows, single mothers and the underprivileged across the country through mobile money platforms.
It was his little support to help them to cope with the financial challenges that the pandemic brought. His intervention benefitted more than 4,600 widows, single mothers and other less-privileged people in the Greater Accra and Ashanti regions in April.
Alhaji Agongo, who said helping the poor makes him feel human, explained that although his initial target was to support 600 people through the intervention, he had to revise the figure upward after noticing that many people were going through financial difficulties, as a result of the partial lockdown. He said he reached this conclusion after his radio stations that advertised the support scheme got inundated with calls far beyond the numbers that were projected.
As a result, he said he revised the initial target to 10,000 people. Alhaji Agongo sees philanthropy as a way to share the blessings of God with those in need.
“Islam teaches about giving but I go beyond Islam”, he said, adding: “What I believe is that life has realities and be it the Bible or the Quran, the holy books tell us that you will be judged according to your own deeds”. “So, I believe that whatever blessings God has blessed me with, God knows why He has blessed me with that and, of course, God will also know the fact that the blessing he gave me, I did not utilise the blessing alone; I also tried to bless others”, he explained.
Throughout his business journey, Alhaji Agongo has faced major challenges, some of which should have grounded him completely, but he always surmounted them and emerged even stronger and wiser for them. And none of those challenges has ever dampened his business spirit or changed him from continuing to be the good and generous giver he is.
A typical example of his tenacity, steadfastness and unwavering philanthropy was when, despite the collapse of his solvent Heritage Bank, he, privately, reached out to fellow bank owner Prince Kofi Amoabeng, whose UT Bank was also collapsed, with a generous offer of financial assistance. In October 2022, the UT Bank founder expressed gratitude to Alhaji Agongo for being the only Ghanaian who offered to assist him after a selfie of him wearing a scruffy beard with a sad face went viral on social media and got Ghanaians rumouring that he was now a pauper on the verge of death following the collapse of his financial institution.
He told Nana Otu Darko on CTV’s morning show on Tuesday, 4 October 2022 that the only reason he accepted an invitation to appear on that show was because the station belonged to Alhaji Agongo’s Class Media Group.
“Actually, the reason why I couldn’t say no to your invitation was because of his [Seidu Agongo’s] personality”, Mr Amoabeng told Nana Otu Darko, adding: “I’ve never set eyes on him but at some point in time, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I started wearing this beard and I took a picture of myself and I posted it on [social media] and that set tongues wagging that ‘I was on the verge of death’, ‘I’m now a pauper’, but the boss of this place [CMG], Seidu Agongo, sent me a WhatsApp message that if I’m in difficulty, I should send him my account number for him to give me some money”.
“Of course, I didn’t pursue it but I’m ever so grateful that, at least, one Ghanaian thought that ‘instead of laughing at him, let me help’”, he noted.
For now, Alhaji Agongo trudges on with whatever is left of his businesses, as he awaits the womb of time to birth restitution and restoration.
Ghana’s leading digital news platform, GhanaWeb, in conjunction with the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, is embarking on an aggressive campaign which is geared towards ensuring that parliament passes comprehensive legislation to guide organ harvesting, organ donation, and organ transplantation in the country.