The Y!/YNaija.com Person of the Year is in its eighth year and is awarded to the individual who through acts of social good, personal achievement or innovation has the most outsize impact on the Nigerian society in the past year, breaking new boundaries or consolidating on gains – and driving the advancement of the public, especially young people.
Former Vice President and PDP Presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar makes the list for his impact on the nation’s political landscape in the past year. Abubakar has become the voice of the masses as it has become a norm for the presidency and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to react to national issues, only after Atiku has spoken. Auteur Kemi Adetiba returned to the film industry like she never left. Her new film, King of Boys has broken box office records week in, week out. The restructuring of the dreaded Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad would not have happened without activist, Segun ‘Segalink’ Awosanya. For 2017 POTY nominee, Herbert Wigwe, CEO of Access Bank, 2018 has been a great one with the bank pulling off a merger with Diamond Bank, making it the biggest customer-based bank in Africa.
Other persons on the list are popstar, Davido; media mogul, Tajudeen Adepetu; , Nigerian womens’ basketball team D’Tigress; Social change advocate, Samson Itodo; author and feminist, Chimamanda Adichie and media personality, Falz.
The shortlist is announced following the decision of editors as well as feedback from readers and social media audiences. Voting commences today, Monday, December 24 and closes on Monday, December 31.
Cast your Vote below : [yop_poll id=1]
In 2017, halfway into a political administration he helped usher to power, Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar resigned from the All Progressives Congress (APC). His resignation was both a surprise to his followers and also par the course for Nigerian politics. Nigerian politics is a fickle thing, especially in this democratic era and allegiances are constantly shifting. There was also precedent for his defection. In 2013, the members of the coalition that would eventually become the APC had visited Atiku and convinced him to leave the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and join their opposition party. They had argued that the government in office at the time had put factional loyalties over the good of the nation and needed to be removed. With his help, the opposition overthrew an entrenched government in an election that shocked everyone and set a precedent for the rule of law in Nigeria.
As Atiku reintegrated himself into the party he had helped found and left, he braved the accusations that followed; that he was putting self over party, that he was elevating party over country, that he would destroy an organization he helped build only to further his ambitions of one day becoming President. These accusations were the malignant remains of the behaviour of his party when they ruled the country and his involvement in successive PDP governments. Atiku was undeterred by the negativity and distrust and rather than lay low and wait out the haze till the PDP primaries, he chose a transparency offensive. He released statements addressing many of the accusations against him, especially the accusation that he was unable to visit the United States of America because of the pending fraud case against him. He also stated his intentions to run again for political office under the PDP and decried the disintegration of the leadership of the APC.
The demographic that Atiku really needed to convince of his fervour for the nation were the citizens he had called on in 2013, citizens disillusioned by the perceived betrayals of President Muhammadu Buhari and failings of the APC, especially in their fight to curtail corruption. It is here that Atiku has excelled. He has shown that he understands the influence that his pedigree as a politician and as a businessman accords him and has put that influence to use on behalf of the Nigerian people.
In the year since he left office, he has become the most vocal critic of the present government’s failings, releasing public statements that clearly state his position on issues of injustice, corruption, business monopolies against the financial chances of the common man and the general incompetence of the government. Using the amplification that social media gives, Atiku forced the federal government to properly explain its stance on important issues as the restructuring of the Nigerian economy, sparring publicly with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. But his approach to government opposition isn’t simplistic baiting of the presidency for soundbites. Atiku has put his money where his mouth is; pledging 40% of his cabinet to women and youth groups, increasing the minimum wage salary of all his companies to N33,000 in response to the government’s refusal to acknowledge the Nigerian Labour Congress’ agitations for the national minimum wage to be increased to help workers in the country earn a decent wage.
In recognition of his capacity as a leader and his willingness to do the necessary work to keep the government in power in check, Atiku was chosen in a landslide victory to lead the PDP in next year’s presidential elections. There is much speculation on what kind of leader the Former Vice President will be if he is indeed voted into office, but what is sure is what kind of opposition leader he is, one that leads by example.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received many labels in 2017; activist, writer, social butterfly, firestarter. That last one stuck because it was borne out of the controversy that Adichie, whose entire public speaking career was based around her doctrines of inclusion via ‘The Danger of A Single Story’ and her unapologetic, intellectual feminism, would seek to delegitimize and exclude transsexual women. Adichie was less than graceful in weathering that storm, as she tried with little luck to shed more light on her unique and sometimes confusing insight into the difference in experience between transwomen and cis women.
There were, of course, her controversial statements about post-colonial theory in France and more recently her panel at the Abantu Book Festival in South Africa. Much has been said about her thoughts on the practice of studying of African literature by African-born Western academics and her postulations that the disciplines can be farcical and deferential to the white gaze. Writer Shalija Patel was so incensed by Adichie’s statements she wrote a 14-tweet thread that went on to win the Brittle Paper Prize for literary criticism, the first of its kind to do so. Such is the outsize impact of her presence and her attention.
Adichie drew international ire to herself this year when she asked, during one of many high-profile public speaking engagements why the former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton chose to elevate her marriage over her personal achievements in her social media bio. Chimamanda had spent the entire year trotting the globe inspiring young people. It felt predestined that this statement, asked with the expectation that her conversation with Hilary was occurring in a safe space where women could ask of either honest questions would take on such an outsize life of its own. It seemed such a trivial argument, but the sheer volume of social media and real-life commentary that followed that conversation suggests otherwise. The discourse moved Hillary Clinton to change her Twitter bio in conciliation to Chimamanda’s observation proves 15 years after her first book began to make waves in the literary world, Chimamanda continues to hold an entire globe in fascination. She has an almost preternatural insight into how the most mundane of actions might reveal long-held beliefs and biases.
The power of Chimamanda, however, is that in spite of her controversies, she remains a powerful force for good both in African literature and the struggle for women’s rights. As the global controversies raged, Chimamanda focused on making her impact felt here in Nigeria. She shed her reticence, hosting a series of events that allowed her Nigerian fans to interact with her about her work, life, and future. She rebooted the cult creative writing workshop through which celebrated Nigerian writers like El-Nathan John and Oyinkan Braithwaite, opening a new class of amateur writers to a new world of possibilities with her endorsement.
Chimamanda is also just a woman, with a husband and a child that she tries to raise away from the chaos that into which her life as a public personality who inspires such rabid fandom can draw to themselves. She straddles that controversial line of intensely private and audience facing and does it with such grace, that she hasn’t released a book in years, yet we remain hung up on her every word.
Segun ‘Segalink’ Awosanya
Segun Awosanya didn’t start the fight to end police corruption and brutality in Nigeria, but he is determined to end it. Awosanya is many things, a digital consultant for many of the country’s leading Non-governmental organisations on point-to-point radio links, the CEO of Aliens Media, a tech-driven consultancy operating out of Lagos and an in-demand public speaker, but it is his work as an advocate for young Nigerians that has put him on this list.
Few people know that Awosanya’s first foray into activism was actually targeted at the Nigerian Financial Industries and the corruption that was happening unaddressed in their interactions with their customers. As early as 2015 Awosanya railed against the bogus dues and fees customers were forced to pay without an explanation or justification. But the more pressing issue of police brutality, violence against youth and pervasive corruption would soon come to occupy all his free time. Though the Nigerian Special Anti-Robbery Squads had existed and terrorised Nigerians since the early 90s, they were at best a minor nuisance, tolerated for the peace they brought to the country. Their human rights abuses were written off as a trade-off for the armed robbers and kidnappers they kept off our streets.
That was at least, till 2015 when the SARS squads turned their attention away from armed robbers to young Nigerian men. Their precedents were believable at first; Nigeria was long infamous for being the fraud capital of the world, and as the world got increasingly digital, the barriers to attempting fraud dropped significantly, luring boys and girls, younger than ever into the glittery world of advance fee fraud. Following the passing of the 2014 Same Sex Act and the 2015 Cybercrime Act, SARS and Cybercrime Units across the country began to target young men specifically, arbitrarily stopping and harassing them, invading their privacy in the name of seeking evidence against them. Beatings and extortions followed, and by late 2016, young men across the country lived in perpetual terror.
Moved by the pleas of young men across the country, Segalink began a crusade to pour popular support towards ending or reforming the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, citing its illegitimacy according to Nigerian law and exposing the government’s indifference to the violence and extortion. In 2018, things came to a head when Segalink compiled a database of survivor stories, drawing the attention of international press and shaming the government into action. The government publicly announced it was reforming SARS and the Nigerian Police as a whole and recently reviewed the organisation’s salary structure to incentivise more officers to stay on the straight and narrow path.
There have been some missteps such as Segalink’s refusal to acknowledge the humanity of LGBT victims of the extortion, the very reason the ENDSARS movement began in the first place, but his impact in the last year is undeniable. He brought an entire government to task and his name strikes fear into the hearts of corrupt policemen across the country.
There is a lot to be said for the participation of young people in politics. With the exception of a handful of trailblazers, Nigeria’s 19-year democratic run has been largely driven by many of the players in the dictatorship before it. Pushing archaic ideas and consumed with power, many of these political stalwarts have used their influence and wealth to frustrate the efforts of younger Nigerians seeking political office.
One of the few avenues of political influence not already cornered by the power hoarders is the political pressure groups. Many have risen since Nigeria’s democracy began, driven by a need for accountability and the despair of being excluded from the all-important business of nation-building. Watchdogs like Enough is Enough and BudgIT task the government to follow through on its political objectives and Samson Itodo’s Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth, and Advancement (YIAGA) creates alternative channels for young people to influence politics through protests, town halls and other electorate oriented activities.
As one of the non-profits co-founders, Itodo has seen his star rise from activist to a voice that can and does influence government policies. Through YIAGA, Itodo has mobilised young people to vote, has guided through the processes to hold their elected representatives accountable and created grassroots channels that continue to exert pressure on government today. But Itodo and YIAGA knew that no amount of research, capacity development through investments in human capital and advocacy for policy change will matter if the problem of young people being barred from access isn’t addressed from the source, the National Constitution.
Nigeria’s constitution holds many relics from our colonisation, one of which is a rule which bars people below a certain age from contesting in political office. It was this law Itodo, in partnership with Honourable Tonly Nwulu targeted as part of YIAGA’s campaigning the years leading up to 2019’s elections. Sponsored by Nwulu, Itodo presented a bill to the National Assembly called the ‘Not Too Young To Run’, named after the non-partisan political campaign that sought to lower the age of eligibility for participation in State, Federal and Local Government elections. Together, Itodo and Nwulu pushed the bill through the senate and eventually to the Presidency where in a landmark celebration, it was signed into law in 2018. Following its passing, the 2019 election cycle saw the influx of hundreds of younger candidates contesting for political office and even the Modern Democratic Party, which caters almost exclusively to young candidates looking for a platform to back their political ambitions.
It will take at least a decade for the full impact of the Not Too Young To Run bill to be properly analysed, but one thing is clear, Samson Itodo is most certainly deserving of person of the year.
For years, David Adeleke’s antics as a pop star overshadowed his craft as an artist and even his identity as a person. For years, all we heard of Davido were legal battles between him and the mothers of his children and celebrity feuds with other pop stars. It was easy to dismiss him as anything more than just another narcissistic pop star.
In 2017, a change came over Davido. He began the tortuous process of cleaning up his act. He mended the relationships between himself and the mothers of his children, embraced his responsibilities as a father and returned to Nigeria to reinvent himself and restart his career with a focus on home first. By the end of 2017, Davido was once again, the country’s darling, inspiring a fandom that adored him with almost religious fervour; adoration that he took seriously and channeled towards positive pursuits. He put his influence towards starting a new record label and grooming the careers of Mayorkun and Peruzzi, now superstars in their own rights.
Few could have anticipated that Davido’s influence would transcend the spheres of entertainment and truly manifest in politics. As the nephew of Osun state politician Ademola Adeleke, otherwise known as the ‘Dancing Senator’, Davido had been invited to perform at a few Osun state events and rallies. When the older Adeleke announced that he was taking on the challenge of representing his political party in the upcoming governorship elections, observers watched to see if he would try to leverage Davido’s burgeoning fame towards his cause. What they could not have anticipated was that Davido would embrace the challenge with his infectious enthusiasm. He became a fervent campaigner for his uncle, putting his career on hold and risking contravening National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) bye-laws to follow his uncle through the campaign trail, galvanising voters to consider his uncle a viable choice.
In the end, Senator Adeleke was defeated at the polls as Osun residents chose Gboyega Oyetola instead but Davido’s involvement was a shining example on patriotism and how influential young Nigerians can actively participate in the process of choosing our next leaders without losing their integrity or transparency. Davido challenged the government when he suspected foreplay, kept meticulous document to buttress his claim and graciously accepted defeat when the battle seemed lost.
There is more depth to David Adeleke than we all gave him credit for, and we are convinced that his growth in personal and professional sphere is an inspiration to us all.
Women’s sports in Nigeria has always struggled to find the kind of fame, attention and support that men’s sports in the country has enjoyed. This lack of attention is so pervasive much of the success in sports the country has enjoyed in the last decade has come from its female teams and has been largely ignored by its sports loving citizens. But this year, the Nigerian Women’s basketball team took on the challenge of forcing the country to pay attention to them, by taking on and conquering the world.
D’Tigress, comprised of Aisha Mohammed, Ezinne Kalu-Phelps, Adora Elonu, Sarah Ogoke-Ejiogu, Nkechi Akashili, Chioma Udeaja, Ugochi Nwaigwe, Cecelia Okoye, Upe Atosu and Ndidi Madu and Atonye Nyingifa rose to prominence when they rose through the ranks of the African Basketball rankings when they conquered the continent at the FiBA’s women’s 2017 Afrobasket Championship in Mali, making them eligible to represent the country at the Basket Ball World Cup in 2018 alongside Tunisia and continent favorite Angola.
Entering the competition as underdogs, and with minimal support from their home country; D’Tigress surprised the world when they not only exceed expectations by winning their second and third group matches trashing tournament favorites Argentina and Greece, they also qualified for the quarter-finals, an unprecedented upset. D’Tigress became the first African team to win matches at the Basketball World Cup and the first African team to reach the quarter-finals in the competition.
Proving themselves as a force to be reckoned with, D’Tigress forced the nation to take notice of them and the sport they love so much and brought honour to the country through sheer grit and determination. This kind of teamwork and singular focus that country so desperately needs in this time of uncertainty. We honour their achievements and their legacy by nominating them for person of the year.
When Kemi Adetiba began shooting the primary scenes for her scene-stealing independent debut ‘King of Boys’, she broke director taboos and shared the process with her audience. It was very important for her to carry along her devoted but challenging fan base along for the roller coaster that would become the second most successful film ever released in cinemas in Nollywood. It took almost a year before King of Boys was released. The film became the tool for reinvention not just for Ms. Adetiba whose career to that point was overshadowed by the success and the critical panning of her debut film project the ’Wedding Party’. It holds the record for the most successful film in Nollywood and had her typecast as a director only able to tell one kind of story.
The reality is that Kemi Adetiba didn’t need to make a comeback, she just needed to solidify her position as the most versatile filmmaker in all of Nollywood. Starting her career as a music video director, Adetiba’s work at that time pushed the boundaries for storytelling that was clearly Nigerian but also marketable to a global audience with videos for ‘More You’ by Bez and ‘Out the Magazine’ by Lindsey Abudei. She is also a gifted ethnographer, collecting the stories of a diverse group of Nigerian women in the public eye with her ‘King Women’ interview series. The Wedding Party’s success was part of a trifecta that covered the range of media.
King of Boys, however, was more than a solo project, it was a vehicle that reunited her with her muses, Sola Sobowale and Adesua Etomi and an avenue to tell a story about women that wasn’t linear or unidimensional. Drawing out phenomenal performances from singer Reminisce and Rapper Ill-Bliss and giving Sobowale space to truly cement her place as one of Nollywood’s most compelling actresses, the film has become a touchstone of sorts for people who want to step away from the familiar tropes that clog our cinema halls. King of Boys is Adetiba’s chance to expand the very limited canon of difficult women in Nigerian cinema.
Did she succeed?
The numbers certainly suggest so. Her film has broken so many Nigerian cinema records that it has become a unicorn of sorts. It is the first Nigerian film to spend more than 7 weeks at No 1 in the Box office, it is also at the moment the 4th highest-grossing film in Nollywood history with enough steam to make it all the way to the top. There are not nearly enough filmmakers at the top of Nigeria’s film echelon, but Kemi Adetiba has certainly made her play for King of Boys.
You might not know Tajudeen Adepetu but you are certainly influenced by him. As the owner of the largest private network of television and radio stations and media properties, Mr. Adepetu is the most influential man in media and one of the most influential men in the country, creating content across several platforms that are consumed by millions of Nigerians.
His growth as a media mogul is even more impressive considering Adepetu started his career with one television show, Family Circle that aired once a week on terrestrial television and required that television slots could be paid for before the show was aired. An education in theatre arts from the University of Jos and radio production from the Television College in Jos did not prepare him for the unpredictability that was par the course in independent media in Nigeria. Much of what he knows now, he had to learn on the job, tweaking his ideas for radio, film and television to meet the needs of his ever-expanding audiences. As his show portfolio grew, Adepetu took on the challenge of finding homes for them where they would find premium time slots and receive the kind of attention and care the work he’d made so carefully deserved. He eventually began establishing his own platforms where he could both have creative control of the content and be free of the problems of marketing and funding.
Today Tajudeen Adepetu runs 8 successful terrestrial and cable television channels including the much beloved Sound City Television, the fashion vertical Spice.TV, Village Square TV, Televista and Business TV broadcast across the continent and the world. He also runs a number of successful radio stations across the country including Lagos’s Sound City Radio, Urban Radio and Kano’s Correct FM both launched in 2017. It is clear that Adepetu is not quite satisfied with his cachet right now and is still looking to expand into other markets.
His diverse offerings of content across genres and platforms suited to every taste, Adepetu has direct access to millions of Nigerians and astronomical influence. For conquering the media industry in a country where nothing works, Adepetu is a legend among his peers and an inspiration to all young enterprising Nigerians with nothing more than a dream.
Folarin ‘Falz’ Falana is a gifted strategist. That much is evident in his rise through the ranks in Nigerian entertainment and how he has been able to successful distance himself from his parents’ legacies as pioneer Nigerian activists. As the son of celebrated legal troublemakers Femi and Funmi Falana, Falz grew up watching his parents take on the Federal government over its human rights injustices, its unwillingness to tackle corruption and its reticence when it comes to international policies. Entertainment couldn’t be further removed from the circumstances of his youth.
As an entertainer, Falz has proven over and over that the arts are not just a medium for entertainment, they are also an important tool for education, self-reflection and correction. Using comedy, music and acting, Falz has brought to the limelight contemporary issues affecting Nigerians, sometimes succeeding in his attempts to by-pass the traditional preachiness that has become associated with activism and going straight to the meat of the matter.
In 2018, Falz shook the entire country when he released ‘This Is Nigeria’ with little warning, his remake of the Childish Gambino satire, ‘This Is America’. Like the original, this is Nigeria put a spotlight on the issues that plagued the country, but took it a step further by exposing the hypocrisy and denial that allowed these issues to persist and even thrive. He touched on taboo subjects like the abduction of the Chibok Girls and the glorification of advance fee fraud by musicians within his industry, looking for wealthy patrons. Shared by international superstars like Diddy and Naomi Campbell and censored by the National Broadcasting Company, ‘This is Nigeria’ is one of the ways Falz is able to get under the skin of Nigerians and rattle their psyche.
‘This is Nigeria’ was banned by the National Broadcasting Council on grounds of it inciting public outrage, and Falz took the NBC to court, winning the rights to keep broadcasting the song and video. This is an underreported victory for entertainers in Nigeria as it sets an important precedent on what is permissible and not for artists of every genre.
He isn’t simply a shock and awe artist. His ‘Sweet Boy Association’ campaign, created to promote his song of the same name, proved Falz was as versed in appealing to our vanities as he was in stoking our anger and fear. Sweet Boys Association became a national trend in less than a week of its launch and quickly went through the cycle of being adopted into contemporary lingo, vilified as a slang and canonised through a music video and elaborate signup process that proved to be newsletter sign up.
Falz is a troublemaker like his father, but he is also one of the country’s most charismatic performers, earning every ounce of attention he demands.
It is almost criminal that outside of the financial services industry, the phenomenal work that Herbert Wigwe has done with Access Bank goes largely unrecognised. This is the nature of Mr. Wigwe, while the man remains largely reticent of public attention, his work is ubiquitous; as emblematic as the three orange arrows that adorn your corner Access Bank Branch.
Wigwe took over the leadership of Access Bank from Aig Imokhuede, and took on the challenge of growing the bank from a minor bank when it was first reconsolidated in the early 2000s to the global bank it is today. The first thing Mr. Wigwe put his mind to was changing how the present and prospective customers of Access Bank imagined banking and banking processes. The Bank was one of the first to embrace the cashless economy and the pivot to digital banking, first with its internet banking protocol, then a mobile banking app and the Pay with Capture bar-code prototype that turned mobile phones into a virtual wallet.
It wasn’t enough to just change customer’s attitudes, Wigwe also worked to change how the bank itself saw banking. Under his guidance, customers and teams were weaned off the banking hall approach to customer service, improving digital, real-time channels for customers looking to take charge of their own transactions and embracing the benefits that accrued in the process.
Sustainability is a huge part of Herbert Wigwe’s legacy at Access Bank and the financial services industry as a whole. Access Bank helped midwife the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principle (NSBP) in 2012 and currently chairs the initiative, using it to champion Environment and Social Risk Management, Environment and Social footprints, Human rights, women’s economic empowerment, financial inclusion, environment and social governance, capacity building, collaborative partnerships and reporting. Under Wigwe, Access Bank also set the precedent for supporting sustainability efforts by donating 1% of gross annual profits to causes that fit that niche. These and other sustainability initiatives have earned Wigwe the ‘Outstanding Sustainability Leader of the Year’ award at the 2018 Kalsruhe Sustainable Finance Awards and the Euromoney Awards for ‘Africa’s Best Bank for Corporate Social Responsibility among many accolades.
Wigwe personally has become an integral part of Nigeria’s many art niches. For the last three years, the Bank’s personal art archives have been offered on loan to the Art X Fair, the continent’s biggest art fair. Access Bank has also underwritten the fair’s artist endowment. Sports is supported through many sponsorships, including the Fifth Chukker Annual Polo Charity event, where a phenomenal 8oo million naira was raised for Charity through events in Kaduna and London. The Born In Africa Festival held on the 16th, brought the country’s most charismatic performers across all spheres on to one stage and gave them the rare world-class platform to express their talents.
Looming above all these achievements is the recent merger with Diamond Bank Mr. Wigwe helped see to fruition. A merger of that magnitude catapults Access Bank into the largest retailer bank on the continent and affirms what everyone in the financial services already knew; Herbert Wigwe has taken over banking in Africa.