Interesting Things About Mai Deribe, The Famed Billionaire of Bornu


The day was the 15th of March, 1990. Nigeria was to play host to some of the most important personalities on earth. Guess who? Diana, the Princess of Wales was in town, with her husband, Prince Charles on a state visit. Princess Diana charmed everyone with her magical aura. At the lepers’ colony, she almost made many shed tears as she held the hands of lepers, stroking their hands and looking at where they lost their fingers. The military president, General Ibrahim Babangida was ecstatic and wanted to ensure that the guests got the finest treatment possible. Thus, the Nigerian government made spectacular arrangements to make them comfortable. The search was on for a befitting place for them to stay. At the end of the day, a majestic golden palace lying in the middle of the ruthless desert was chosen. And so it was, Princess Diana and her husband, Prince Charles became guests at the Deribe Palace, the royal residence of Alhaji Ahmed Mai Deribe, the famed billionaire of Bornu. But who was this enigmatic billionaire who lies buried in an unmarked grave in faraway Arabia? Enjoy the story of Mai Deribe, the Kanuri billionaire.


Born into the Mai Deribe family, Alhaji Ahmed Mai Deribe’s father was one of the prominent long-distance traders of colonial Borno.


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Although Mai Deribe’s name is etched in the minds of many Nigerians as one of the few lucky and controversial owners of crude oil wells in Nigeria, he also had his hands in some other pies:

-Mai Deribe established the Dalaram Soft Drinks Factory, the first of its type in northeastern Nigeria and it was commissioned by President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari in 1982 alongside the Deribe Hotel. The factory had the capacity for one million bottles per day.

-Mai Deribe also established the first (said to still be the only) five-star hotel in northeastern Nigeria, the Deribe Hotel.

-Mai Deribe was a major shareholder in the Preussag Drilling Company. Today, the state governments of Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Kano, Gombe and Bauchi are making use of the services of this company to access their aquifers and other underground water basins.

The following are photos of the late Deribe with American oil tycoon, Mr. Phil Nugent and others.

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Mai Deribe was known and is still revered by the people of Borno for his charitable activities while alive. He pumped money into various ends, and these include:

-Construction of the Deribe Central Mosque, Old Maiduguri, Jere Local Government, Borno. It was commissioned by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

-In the early 1980s, Mai Deribe upon returning from overseas (most probably the US or the UK) came with gifts of ultramodern gadgets and equipment for the staff of NTA Maiduguri. NTA is the Nigerian Television Authority. The gadgets were so advanced that it took the staff two years to master it, even after inviting their seniors from NTA Channel 2, Victoria Island, Lagos.

-On the 1st of January, 1987, Mai Deribe gave a sum of N5million naira to the Maiduguri Central Mosque on behalf of his family and that of his brother, late Alhaji Kuli Deribe.

-His neighbours were the people of Fezzan and Old Maiduguri, and they also benefitted from his largesse, he sent money and food to them, one bag of millet per family every month of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

-Construction of the Bulumkutu Central Mosque, Borno, the Aminu Deribe Mosque, the Doggon Masalanchi in the Fezzan Ward of Maiduguri, Deribe Hotel Mosque, School Mosque, Government College, Maiduguri and Fillin Polo Mosque, Airport Mosque. This is in addition to 27 smaller mosques all across the country. In total, he erected 78 mosques.


-Deribe Arabic and Islamic Schools.

-For 44 years, Mai Deribe sponsored people to the hajj, the Muslim holy pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Atimes, he would ferry the pilgrims in his own Gulfstream private jet.

-Deribe Hospital along Bulumkutu Road. It was commissioned by Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, the-then Chief of General Staff, the second-in-command to General Babangida.

-Construction of the Baga Road Central Market and Shopping Complex.

-In the mid-1980s, Alhaji Mai Deribe dropped the sum of $1million for oil prospectors looking for crude oil deposits in the Gajiganna and Kukawa areas of Bornu State. Some geophysicists believe that there is a considerable quantity of oil in the Nigerian part of the Chad Basin and that is quite feasible as the Chadians have already started drilling oil in their own part of the basin. In a recent NTA programme hosted by the suave Cyril Stober, Governor Kashim Shettima said the Federal Government of Nigeria is the one stalling progress on the exploration of crude oil in the Chad Basin.

-Mai Deribe’s company, Preussag Drilling Company, built and donated more than 60 boreholes in rural districts across Borno and Yobe State.

-Mai Deribe sponsored numerous indigent students from Borno State to study abroad, giving them scholarships to England where some of them stayed at his palatial residence in Gloucester, London.

-Mai Deribe was regarded as a patriarch for the people of Borno State and that explains why his people ran into his open arms at various occasions. During the devastating flood disaster in September 1994, thousands of displaced residents camped at his house where they were catered to. Although he was not in the country when the flood happened, he sent a sum of one million naira (about $375,000) to the Borno State government to assist them with the relief efforts to purchase food items, shelter materials and other accessories for them. A similar scenario would be re-enacted in July 2009 during the unrest in Maiduguri.


With his wives.

With his wives.



With his son, Zanna Mustafa.

With his son, Zanna Mustafa.

His eldest son, Alhaji Zanna Mustafa Mai Deribe oversees his late father’s vast investments. He is the Chairman of Cavendish Petroleum Nigeria Limited, a post he assumed in April 1992. Educated at Lynn University, Baton Rouge in Florida, he was the Chairman of the Board of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital from June 2005 to August 2008. He was also a Board Member, College of Education, Zuba, Abuja from March 2005 to 2008 and also Board Member, Nigerian Ports Authority from 2000 to 2003. He is fluent in English, Kanuri, Arabic and Hausa. He was also affected by the court judgment against Bode George, they were actually arraigned together.


His daughter, Mabruka.

His daughter, Mabruka.

This is one lady that many Nigerian men are already dreaming of…lol! Mabruka is still single and she says she will marry a man who has the qualities of her late father. Quite pretty, she is a fashion designer –for the wealthy.


An academic, he has chosen to lecture at the University of Maiduguri after bagging his doctorate degree. Abacha Mai Deribe stated that he is going into lecturing because of his love for sharing.


Handicapped, he was injured at the Kano Polo Tournament.


-That Deribe was extremely wealthy is a fact and even more factual is his action of dazzling others with his luxurious wealth. And many other Nigerians remember him more for the trappings of his wealth. In the 1980s, he was one of the very few people on earth who were cruising around in the newly-released Gulfstream G550 private jet. It is believed that he was among the first 12 people to purchase the customized version of this jet in the early 1980s, putting him in the same league with Yoshiaki Tsutsumi of Japan who was the richest man in the world at that time and other billionaires like Khalid Ibn Mahfouz of Saudi Arabia and Robert Edward ‘Ted’ Turner, the owner of CNN.

-There is also the Deribe Palace (Gidan Deribe) in Maiduguri, the state capital, SEE PHOTOS BELOW. Sprawling and vast, the building’s majesty was enough to impress the late Princess Diana and her husband, Prince Charles, King Juan Carlos I of Spain who stayed in the palace for two days in 1986 (the Spanish king was said to have been amazed with such opulence right in the middle of a vast desert) and even a son of an American President (George Bush would later become the US President himself), all of whom were hosted in the gold-marble building which was so exquisite that its commissioning was done by military president, General Ibrahim Babangida. IBB was also a guest at the palace, while another high-profile guest is a retired army general, Muhammad Saad Abubakar, now the Sultan of Sokoto. Many Nigerians were flabbergasted at the majesty of the Deribe Palace when Ovation magazine did a feature on the man and his wealth in early 2000. How much did the palace cost him? Just $100 million. And cleaning his house was said to have cost N5 million per month. This is what Dele Momodu, the publisher ofOvation has to say on the Mai Deribe piece, which he said was one of the most memorable for his company:Alhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-26Alhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-15_NaijarchivesAlhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-14_NaijarchivesAlhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-13_NaijarchivesAlhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-12_NaijarchivesAlhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-7_NaijarchivesAlhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-8_NaijarchivesAlhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-9_NaijarchivesAlhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-10_NaijarchivesAlhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-11_NaijarchivesAlhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-6Alhaji-Ahmed-Mai-Deribe-Famed-Billionaire-Borno-22_Naijarchives

After that, I think the Mai Deribe in Maidugri. I also flew in Colin Ramsey from London to do the photography for us and this is a man who has photographed Imelda Marcos (former First Lady of the Philippines) and all the top stars. When he got to Maiduguri, he could not believe he was still on this planet. In fact, he yanked off his shirt (General laughter).

-In the early 1990s, there was a bid for a set of luxury cushion chairs, one-of-a-kind. At the end of the auction, Mai Deribe got the set of chairs, beating people like the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who was at that time, the richest man on the planet.

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-During his lifetime, he was one of the major customers of Mercedes Benz (at a time reportedly among the top ten customers and number in Africa). Deribe purchased more than 1,000 cars for his own use and for gifts. He did not stop there. He spoilt the Borno Emirate Council when he splattered on them gifts of specially-customized Mercedes Benz 700 series. A car freak, he was also one of the few people in the world to own multiple sets of Rolls Royce, especially the iconic Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.

-Mai Deribe also purchased a special bed, once owned by the late King Hassan II of Morocco.

-Although many Nigerians are familiar with the Mai Deribe Palace in Maiduguri, he also built another palace in Dakar, Senegal.



The late Alhaji Mai Deribe was the Treasurer of the National Party of Nigeria (Borno State Branch) under the Presidency of Shehu Shagari in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Using his convoluted political connections and wide-reaching influence, Mai Deribe prevailed on the Nigerian Federal Government in the 1980s to site one of the four international airports in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. The contract to build the airport was awarded to him in 1981 after he had also constructed the Brigadier Maimalari Barracks along Monguno Road, lecture theatres at the University of Maiduguri (alongside the Ramat Library, Science and Social Science Complex with the Agricultural Department Building/AgroVet Building commissioned by Babangida), Maiduguri Main General Hospital Building near the Post Office, public buildings and secretariats in Yobe State all as part of contractual agreements with his companies.  See photos below:


When Yobe State was carved out of Borno State on the 27th of August 1991, Mai Deribe prevailed upon his good friend and military president, General Ibrahim Babangida to shift the capital city to Damaturu. Babangida also commissioned the Gidan Deribe in 1991 upon its completion. It was said to be the most expensive house in Africa.

Alhaji Mai Deribe was one of those who assisted the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar to the limelight. In fact, one of Atiku’s children, Ahmed (a twin, the other boy is named Shehu, named after Shehu Musa Yar’adua), was named after Mai Deribe. He rendered immense assistance to Atiku while he was in the customs and when he also entered politics. When it was time to swear Atiku in as the Vice President of Nigeria in 1999, he said that he would not regard himself as an orphan (he had lost his two parents) as long as Mai Deribe was present at the swearing-in ceremony. Aliko Dangote’s uncle, Alhaji Aminu Dantata was also best friends with the late Mai Deribe.


In 1996, the military junta of General Sani Abacha gave approvals for various crude oil applications. One of the beneficiaries of the one-in-a-lifetime opportunity was Alhaji Mai Deribe, the owner of Cavendish Petroleum in control of the Oil Mining Lease (OML 110). OBE4 and OBE 5 are two well-known oil wells owned by Cavendish Petroleum. Estimates indicate that the Mai Deribe family earns more money in a year than the entire Borno State. While he was alive, Mai Deribe was actually the richest man in Borno State.


Mai Deribe has come under fire by those who have accused him of being one of the oligarchs of Nigeria. They accuse him of using his unfettered access to the corridors of power to promote his business concerns, corner contracts and oil blocs for himself and make outrageous profits only to sprinkle crumbs on bedazzled masses who saw him as an angel sent from the very chambers of heaven. Many, especially his teeming supporters from his native Borno State, do not agree with this submission. His critics pointed out that many of the projects he carried out were based on contractual agreements, purely business matters which he profited from, and should not be flaunted as his personal works or any outstanding works of charity.


Death came visiting the grand old Nigerian billionaire while he was faraway in Saudi Arabia. He died on the 13th March, 2002 at the age of 78. The next day, his body was prayed upon at the Al-Masjid al Haram (also called the Grand Mosque or the Sacred Mosque, the largest mosque on earth). Thereafter, he was buried at an unmarked grave next to the Grand Mosque. Many Muslims believe there is no better way to die than to have the last breath within the proximity of the Kaaba as it is believed it is a ticket that facilitates one’s entry to Paradise.


-The late Mai Deribe’s influence was not limited to Borno State alone but also to the neighbouring Yobe State. Borno and Yobe States are the only Kanuri-majority states in Nigeria. The late General Sani Abacha was from Bornu State while his Chief Security Officer, Major Hamza al-Mustapha hails from Yobe State.

-In 2001, there was a dispute involving Dublin-based Tuskar Resources and Mai Deribe’s Cavendish Petroleum over an oil field.

-Mai Deribe took his religious injunctions seriously and was said to not miss any of the Umrah and Hajj (lesser and major pilgrimage of the Muslims). In the 1970s, the Saudi government embarked on an expansion of the Holy Mosque in Mecca and they had to pay off the owners of the adjoining buildings that had to be demolished in order to make way for the expansion. Mai Deribe refused any form of payment for his own house, saying he donated it in God’s cause since it was for the expansion of the Holy Mosque.

-He was also said to visit his mother while she was alive three times in a day. The first time was after the morning prayers, then later at 1pm and then 6pm.

-The late Mai Deribe is one of the most important figures in the life of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Atiku met Mai Deribe in 1974 when he accompanied his friend Mohammed Indimi to Borno State for his wedding. The two met and the rest is history. Mai Deribe was said to have treated Atiku like his own son.

-In 1969, there was a legal tussle between Mai Deribe and Alhaji Usman Ali/Borno Holding Company Limited, another wealthy Borno businessman. The two later made up.

-One of Mai Deribe’s sons married the daughter of former presidential aspirant and MKO’s running mate, Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe.

-Mai Deribe was also friends with former President Obasanjo. In her book,Bitter-Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo, Obasanjo’s former wife, Oluremi wrote: It was not surprising that Hassan Usman had arranged with Alhaji Mai Deribe to receive us on our arrival at Maiduguri. We flew in an Air Force helicopter to Maiduguri and Mai Deribe came to the airport in a Mercedes Benz car to receive us.

-The furniture for Mai Deribe’s house was done by the world-renowned Giovanni Monzio Compagnoni (GMC) of Italy. This interior décor company is known for decorating the homes of people like the late President Omar Bongo of Gabon, the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates and the Central Bank of Kuwait. Actually, Mai Deribe’s name is listed on their website as one of their most important customers and you can check it out HERE 


– Alhaji Mai Deribe Building, Sir Kashim Ibrahim Way, West End, Maiduguri, Borno is named for him. Same goes for the Mai Deribe Street in Maiduguri, where his hotel is located.

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  1. Indeed the late Mai Deribe was.a great man. He touched many lives and would be remembered for his contributions to Borno State and beyond.

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