NEWS FEATURE

Prince Malik Ado Ibrahim

There are a lot of kings and princes in Africa - and a large number in Nigeria, a country with a great tribal, cultural and religious diversity. There are more than 250 different ethnic groups and many have traditions of monarchy. The Almanach de Bruxelles - which has recorded royal dynasties in Europe for over 100 years - recently began compiling a list of non-European "sovereign families". The organization admitted that it is not going to be an easy task, saying that "it is impossible to include all members of the sovereign families" and quoted one distinguished member of an African royal family saying that "half the country's people are royals".

According to the Almanach Nigeria has at least 75 different royal families ranging from kings to emirs and sultans. No-one has yet chronicled them properly and as every son of every king has the theoretical right to use the title "Prince" there are a large number of Nigerian princes in the world today.

They are an interesting bunch, but not at all like royal families of Europe. A surprising number of Nigeria's royals have become successful musicians, none more so than King Sunny Ade and his African Beats. Another is a wellknown football player in Spain.

Before it gained independence Nigeria was a British protectorate and so there a lot of the royals were sent off to private schools in England for their education. This does not mean that all Nigeria's royals are "good chaps". The Central Bank of Nigeria recently issued an official warning to foreign investors to watch out for scams run by criminal syndicates and fronted by Nigerian princes, which have soiled the country's image around the world. In 1998 a special task force was appointed to defeat the fraudsters.

The monarchs of Nigeria have no formal political power but as they remain influential in their own areas and they have often been befriended by ruling generals - the country has had a succession of military governments and a series of coups d'etat since it gained independence in 1960s. Power ebbs and flows depending on which tribe the leader is from. In general the muslim Hausa tribe is the politically dominant group.

Because of the upheavals which have made the country so unstable many wealthy Nigerians have left the country to settle in Britain or the United States of America. One such Nigerian is Prince Malik ado Ibrahim - who currently controls 20% of the shares of the Arrows Formula 1 team.

According to team press releases Malik is the third son of one of the tribal kings of Nigeria.

He has told pressmen that he is a Hausa prince from the Abuja royal family. This is one of the more important kingdoms because since December 1991 Abuja has been the capital of Nigeria. Located 300 miles inland - at the centre of the country - Abuja is a new city. Work on the Federal Capital Territory began in 1976 but was delayed when Nigeria's oil revenues dropped in the late 1970s and because of tribal and religious unrest in the country.

The Arrows team's official biography of Malik underlines that his family was an influential one having "made its fortune in oil, real estate, fisheries and telecommunications". It is said that the family once owned 40% of Nestle Nigeria.

Malik has, however, been outside Nigeria for most of his life. He arrived in Britain in 1966, which was a very good time NOT to be in Nigeria. Racial tensions between the Hausa and the Ibo has resulted in a series of bloody massacres in the north which claimed the lives of around 20,000 people. A million Ibo migrated to the eastern part of the country and a year later that area declared its independence as the Republic of Biafra. War followed and hundreds of thousands were killed or starved to death before Biafra was defeated by Nigerian government forces.

Prince Malik did not return to Nigeria. He was being educated in Britain. There is some confusion as to where he was educated, with some people being told that it was in Norfolk and others that he was a pupil of Britain's most expensive school - Millfield School in Street, Somerset. This costs 15,600 a year.

"Millfield's amenities are nicer than those of most British universities, let alone boarding schools," says The New York Times. "Set on 67 green and woody acres in the middle of picturesque Somerset, Millfield has 18 tennis courts, 2 nine-hole golf courses, a new theatre and an Olympic-size swimming pool. There is a large riding stable, and many students bring their own horses to compete in horse shows and polo matches."

It is the school to which kings and prime ministers send their children.

Malik's schooling is important because it introduced him to many influential international contacts who have played a role in his business life in recent years. The "Old School" network is a traditional part of British life and in Malik's case it seems to have been very useful.

According to the Arrows team biography, Malik then went on to the University of Southern California. After leaving college he married an American and had three children. He spent several years doing business in the United States before moving to Europe. The biography says that he "has been involved with high level marketing operations in the food, oil, travel and telecommunications industries, and currently holds licenses for the Nigerian GSM, Internet and V-SAT communications".

He certainly gave the impression of having plenty of money, driving around in a Ferrari 550 with Swiss number plates - his father spends a lot of time in Zurich. He had a variety of other impressive cars, including a black Bentley, a Panoz roadster, and various BMW and Mercedes and he lived in the less-than-cheap Lanesborough Hotel at London's Hyde Park Corner, although he has since moved to an apartment in Lancaster Gate.

"He was good fun," says a high-ranking member of one F1 team.

As a guest and a wheeler-dealer he did not attract much attention in F1 until January when it was announced that he was the head of a consortium which had bought the financially-troubled Arrows team. He arrived in Melbourne dressed from head to foot in black and talked of exploring new markets for F1 and coming up with new marketing concepts. He hit the headlines by suggesting that "there is no reason why the next Michael Schumacher should not be black" and suggested holding a Grand Prix in Egypt, as the gateway to the Middle East.

But very quickly there were hints that the team did not have much money to play with. Legal action began between Arrows and engine builder Brian Hart. The team dumped Mika Salo - who was on a healthy salary - and took on Tora Takagi, who brought a chunk of sponsorship from PIAA. Malik promised a big surprise at the San Marino Grand Prix but the launch of the "T-Minus" brand was very disappointing - and there was no sign of any money coming from the idea. Malik said it was doing well but there was no evidence of money. The team made no progress. It was simply treading water.

The deal struck between Malik and Walkinshaw was that the purchase of the shares should be completed by the end of July 1999. In theory Malik owns 20% of the team's equity with merchant bank Deutsche Bank Morgan Grenfell (which Malik convinced to back him) owning 40% and Tom Walkinshaw controlling the remaining 40%. The deal was not completed by the end of July and the partners are now in a period of consultation after which Walkinshaw has the right to buy Malik's 20%. This process will be completed by September 15.

The failure of the team to make much progress this year and the fact that the deal has not been completed have led the fickle folk in F1 to turn their backs on the Prince.

"I don't know him," said one man, who is reputed to have introduced the Prince to Walkinshaw. When pressed the man in question suggested a number of people who might be able to give further details about Malik - who is no longer giving interviews - even down to naming the Nigerian High Commissioner in London - who is not a wellknown public figure.

And yet he claimed not to know Prince Malik.

Even people working at Arrows know nothing about Malik beyond what was written in the official biography.

Is he a Prince? Does he have money? Are all his stories true?

Who knows?

The only way we will find out is when the September 15 deadline passes. If Malik is the wealthy royal with fabulous connections he will still be around...

Time will tell.

SIDEBAR

Prince Malik says that he was first interested in motor racing when he was at school in England and the BBC began to screen Grands Prix for the first time. It was around 1977 and interest in F1 in Britain was high thanks to James Hunt's World Championship success the previous year.

Malik told a news agency reporter that he raced a Lamborghini in the Le Mans 24 Hours, using a pseudonym, but there is no evidence we could find to back this up. He began to attend Grands Prix in about 1995 after being introduced to Eddie Jordan by former Formula 3 racer Ian Khan. He was a guest of Jordan and was in the company of Mokhzani "Johnny" Mahathir, an old schoolfriend. He has close links with the Malaysians and there was talk that he was involved in oil trading with them. Whatever the case he impressed Jordan by introducing them to the head of engineering at Proton at a Silverstone test. Later Malik and Jordan fell out but EJ refuses to say why. Our spies say that there was a dispute over money and that Jordan's deal with Arrows sponsor Zepter was Eddie's revenge.

Malik represented himself as a fixer and not long after he started appearing at F1 races there were rumours that he was trying to put together his own F1 team, using connections in Indonesia to secure a supply of Lamborghini engines. The team never happened.

But late last year Malik managed to convince Morgan Grenfell Private Equity - a subsidiary of the vast Deutsche Bank - to buy a shareholding in the Arrows team. It was a good piece of business and followed the trend of financial companies investing in F1 with the longterm aim of getting a big profit when the team was eventually floated. Arrows announced that the deal valued the team at $175m. In order to complete the deal Malik had to find some money to secure his shares - which we are told were given to him as a commission on the deal. The "T-Minus" marketing concept did not produce the money needed and so it seems Malik was unable to complete the deal as he had hoped.

Malik liked being in the spotlight and hired the expensive Freud Communications promotion agency with the brief to make him "as famous as Eddie Jordan". That relationship has since ended although in recent months Malik has been getting a lot of media coverage in Germany where he is being linked romantically with the TV star Verona Felbusch, who present a soft porn TV show called "Peep".

Malik's dream in F1 seems to be coming to an end, leaving the F1 circus wondering what is true and what is not about this curious character.

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