As part of YNaija’s commitment to contributing to the National discussion on politics and its place in furthering Nigeria’s fortunes, we commissioned Alexander Onukwue, who has worked extensively with our organization as political correspondent and commentator to select 100 of the most influential political players operating in 2019’s political landscape. It was important for us to highlight these men and women as we enter the beginning of a revolutionary (for its own reasons) second term for President Buhari and prepare to navigate the peculiar challenges this new tenure will bring.
Providing our readers with a roster of political players to watch and where necessary, pressure towards positive political participation is our civic duty and we hope our list will inspire you to take on the challenge with as much enthusiasm as we have.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu
2019 is the year Asiwaju Bola Tinubu effectively dominated Nigerian politics. Without him, Muhammadu Buhari would not have returned as president. Tinubu wanted a new chairman for his party; he got one. He wanted a new Governor for his state; he anointed one. His wife retained her senatorial seat for a third term and his former attorney general is now a favorite to be the country’s next president when polls open again in February 2023.
Maybe not. Perhaps the Jagaban will take his first major shot at the job in an aim to attain crowning glory for three decades in politics. With about 60% of Nigeria’s population under 24, more than half of the country has never not known Tinubu a political kingmaker. His carefully cultivated persona has established him as the visible successor to Obafemi Awolowo’s school of politics. Despite lacking the philosophical depth of the Ikenne sage, an unmatched footprint across the South Western region makes him an undisputed thought leader and strategic force.
After failing in 2011 to build a winning coalition against President Goodluck Jonathan, Tinubu’s victory four years later was accompanied by four years of mortification. Manoeuvres by Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara in June 2015 gave indications that Tinubu may not be the savvy strategist after all. More painfully, Akinwunmi Ambode suddenly grew wings of independence after inauguration into the Alausa Government lodge. But Tinubu has played the game as well as anyone currently in Nigerian politics and could hardly be expected to blow the commanding lead he has. “If I were to imagine two people whose disappearance from the political scene today would completely reconfigure Nigeria’s political scene” comments the political scientist Remi Adekoya, it would have to be Buhari and Tinubu”.
If a First Lady’s role is to be more seen than heard, Aisha Buhari clearly did not heed to those admonitions. In complete rebellion against her husband’s somewhat patriarchal expectations of women, Mrs Buhari wants a seat at the table. Should the president’s closest advisers deem themselves so powerful as to usurp the president’s powers, she will not shy from calling them out in public.
Aisha Buhari’s defiance may have been passed down from her grand-father Muhammadu Ribadu, Nigeria’s first Minister of Defence. She keeps Aso Rock observers at the edges of their seats, though she does not put out specific names. Her relatable theories on the dysfunction of the inner workings of the president’s administration lend support to public perception, but she would not bear to be mistaken as antagonizing Buhari himself. How exactly does this help the nation? What good is there in raising alarm but living comfortably with the supposed ravaging fire?
Nigeria’s judgement of the Buhari administration has benefited from Mrs Buhari’s regular commentary. While she remains his firm supporter, the expectation that she will react on some misdemeanor keeps the presidential circle honest. Many Nigerians could do worse that borrow from her critical approach to supporting a government. With virtually nothing to lose in the next four years, Madam Buhari – who owns a spa and beauty business in Abuja – may be less inclined to mask her criticisms of the cabal, taking off the veil of cosmetics. Mrs Buhari is 48 and is probably working towards remaining politically active in Abuja when her husband retires to Daura. She wants to be taken seriously on anti-corruption and it wouldn’t be wise to be shady around her in the years ahead. But it will also make her every action and public mention deserving of objective scrutiny, from the action of aides to impostors.
On any given day in Aba, the zeitgeist is defined by the latest 5pm broadcast from the studios of Radio Biafra, the unquenchable voice of dissent and renegade populism founded by Nnamdi Kanu. Subordinates handle anchoring duties sometimes, but the spirit of the unmistakably vociferous anti-Nigerian commentary flows directly from the mantle Kanu occupies as the spiritual and temporal leader of the Independent Peoples of Biafra.
According to the Nigerian state, Kanu runs a terrorist organisation. At present, he is ostensibly in violation of bail conditions having escaped the country to the United Kingdom where he is a citizen. Kanu’s entrance into the national conversation, from the fringes of rogue commentary to becoming a political prisoner for over 550 days, tapped into what many in South East Nigeria feel is an unsettled question: are Igbos merely being tolerated in Nigeria? Kanu makes the case that the actions of recent governments prove the answer to be an evident yes, doubling down on the inevitability of secession as remedy even against the counsel of leaders in the region.
His attempts at coordinating mass action have been ambitious, notably calling for election boycotts at state and federal levels. Where boycotts fail, Kanu develops theories cross right into conspiracy, Buhari’s Sudanese identity being one such instance. The international reports sparked by Buhari’s attempt at defending himself from those claims showed how much of a bite Kanu’s eclecticism can have. Kanu isn’t flustered by Nigeria’s absolute rejection of the possibility of referendum on secession; he will push on, even if it comes with a real risk of never seeing light of day again the very day he steps foot inside his home country.
‘Madam Diaspora’ is always communicating. Not officially on the presidential media team, it has sometimes belonged to her to project the image of a functioning presidency. This was most evident in the 104-day period President Buhari was away for a second trip in London between May and August 2017. Known for her communication skills and experience in advocating Nigeria’s foreign interests, Dabiri-Erewa has often weighed in on matters involving Nigerians in the Diaspora even before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs makes up its mind on an official statement. If you were looking for the worst thing to say about her, it would be that she somehow epitomizes a class of political actors who were once universally admired by Nigerians until they became members of an unpopular presidency. However, playing her role in getting the president re-elected for a second term is testimony to her efficiency as a campaigner and dogged believer.
Born in Jos, raised in Ikeja and schooled at Ibadan, Dabiri-Erewa has been a fixture in Nigerian politics for the best part of two decades. Making the switch from national television to the National Assembly was seamless for her in a way that may not have been expected for a woman in early fourth-republic Nigeria, becoming the chair of the House committee on Media despite being a member of the opposition AD. Whatever the current sentiment on her allegiance to the Buhari administration, Dabiri-Erewa’s file includes important pro-democracy strides that include resisting the Obasanjo third-term agenda to representing a voice of outrage against the perils of Nigerian girls and women in harm’s way along the Mediterranean.
Abubakar Bukola Saraki
Days before the 2019 presidential elections, a strange theory suggested Bukola Saraki was not actively working for the success of the Atiku campaign. In fact, Bukola Saraki’s focus on the election of Atiku Abubakar ultimately cost him retaining his seat representing Kwara Central senatorial district. Losing on both fronts shaves significant pounds of flesh off Saraki’s reputation but that does little to diminish Alhaji Saraki’s influence in Nigerian politics.
Saraki’s exit from Abuja this year is anti-climactic; he is going out with a whimper. But the former two-term Governor and Senate President has taken an investment approach to his time in public service, leaving him with considerable political capital to tap from when he is ready for the big shot. There are the unprecedented moves to make the National Assembly’s budget more transparent. There are the constitutional amendments speedily carried out to reduce age requirements for certain elective positions. His management of his colleagues when they attempt to go out of line was admirable. But Saraki’s enduring legacy is in asserting the independence and legitimacy of the Nigerian legislature.
Perhaps owing to the way he emerged as Senate President, Saraki set himself up to be a different chairman of the National Assembly. On the nomination of Ibrahim Magu, resolving discrepancies in budgets and on other occasions where the Buhari administration’s overreach threatened the legislature’s authority, Saraki’s was assertive, demonstrating in practice the vital principle of the separation of powers. Not that he always had his way – (Magu remains “acting” EFCC chair) but where it would have been easier to give in to the presidency to foster party unity, Saraki’s inclination was to act towards the good judgment of posterity.
Saraki leaves the Senate to take a bird’s eye view of Nigeria. He could leverage this period as a retreat to extend his international networks, growing his reputation as an outside observer and commentator on Nigerian public affairs from roles like being an Ambassador-at-Large of a the International Human Rights Commission (IHRC) to potentially more consequential multilateral public service functions. He’s only 56; he will be back.
More than fifty years of writing, speaking and challenging post-independence military authority. Black Africa’s first Nobel Prize laureate in Literature. Serving prison time and death sentence declared “in absentia”. Wole Soyinka has seen all and done all, but isn’t done.
Soyinka’s extraordinarily rich body of work captures a subset of Nigeria’s history. Through poems, plays and literary experiments of every form, he has driven conversation and inspired action on political, economic and theological topics from the days it began to dawn on Nigeria than post-colonial self-management demanded more than colorful rhetoric. Impatience with the oppressive boot regardless of the color wearing it pushed him beyond the bounds of comfort to provoke and postulate. A thousand scars and sour confrontations later, Soyinka remains unchanged and thirsty for challenge at 84.
From Gowon to Abacha, through Obasanjo and Buhari (in their first and second comings), Kongi has stayed true to those renaissance-like ideals that led him to convoke the first pan-African conference in Kampala 1n 1955, same which made him seek out Chukwuemeka Ojukwu in the Biafra days, as well as the motivation for using his Nobel Prize reception speech in 1986 to draw attention to continued detention of Nelson Mandela. For Soyinka, it has always been about dissolving the imbalances of power concentrated in a few hands against the will and freedom of the subjugated class. Nigeria is far from the dream Soyinka envisages and though his pen has proved mightier than the sword of years past, he continues to dedicate his thoughts to the project of the nation’s maturity.
Festus Keyamo has always had the pedigree, being a direct protege of the famed legal activist, Gani Fawehimi and setting up shop after just two years after mentoring under Fawehimi. Working on cases involving high profile individuals like Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, Ralph Uwazuruike and Bola Ige would set him apart as a lawyer with a thing for difficult cases and set him up for a future in the den of controversy.
Keyamo honed his intellectual and argumentative talents in human rights activism but no Senior Advocate of Nigeria takes up more airtime on political TV in 2019. More than the president’s senior assistant and special adviser on media and publicity, Keyamo easily took to the arduous job of responding to pointed criticisms of the administration like duck to water. As the 2019 Buhari campaign’s official spokesman, Keyamo was at every instance both chief attack dog and master of spin on the matter of the president’s need for a WAEC certificate and similar issues.
He is one of Nigeria’s most popular legal minds and by most estimations, he has earned his reputation. Defending the president of Nigeria daily in the press must require some qualification beyond having the knack for harnessing the powers of television.
But Keyamo isn’t making as many friends within legal circles (academics and students) as in his pre-Buhari, pre-politics days. Sensationalism, ad hominem clapbacks and an all-round impatience with attack-free dialogue with his principal’s opponents has featured in his most famous television appearances. His pivot to partisan politics has leaned heavily on building on strides made and avenging bruises suffered in decades-old opposition to PDP governments from Obasanjo to Jonathan on legal and human rights matters. Unabashedly, he channels the animosity from those years in making the Buhari case. And by the count of the last election, it couldn’t have worked better.
Former Vice President Abubakar might still be president, depending on the outcome of the tribunal. It would require an unprecedented ruling but even if it does not happen, Atiku’s legacy in Nigerian politics will be hard to match. You don’t often get a politician so big in personality and character that a sitting government’s cabinet official declares support for him.
Principally a businessman, Atiku’s political edge has strengthened by his knacking for growing and sustaining relationships. Even as the February 23 elections are being contested, he has kept his mien checked within the ambit of professional politicking that has made him a constant feature for three decades. His ability to plan in the long-term meant former vigorous opponents found him indispensable when it became time for an anti-Buhari alliance. It may yet prove to have been futile in the present but future politicians who want to reach across the aisle to achieve common purposes can look no further than the former Customs officer.
Will he be around in four years for one last attempt? Atiku will be as old as the current president is but should come up against more unyielding ambitions from those he defeated for the PDP’s ticket. In the mean time, he will remain a strong employer a labour, a political benefactor for new entrants from north to south, and, should the Buhari presidency swerve into uncharted territory in regressive terms, a regular reproach to the consciences of those who deemed him too bad an option. He won’t be making any enemies, or taking any short-sighted decision that will temporarily benefit him. Atiku thinks long-term and, currently, isn’t burning any bridges.
Peter Gregory Obi
Those who call him “the rock” don’t do so because Peter Obi cannot be moved. It is a particular quality of rocks to serve as landmarks and that is what the former Anambra state governor’s political career has represented since appearing on the scene as a very rich but little known banker in 2003.
The beginning of Obi’s political adventure was marked by a difficult transition, but he has since grown into the archetype of the possibility of institutional change. Overcoming a de facto mafia stranglehold to become Governor, Obi’s record of fiscal prudence and administrative efficiency became the rallying cry and punchline for what the Atiku Abubakar presidency bid was built on. Prior to his nomination as the PDP candidate’s running mate, Obi had been on the speaking circuit nudging young people towards the ideals of Nigeria that could work for them. His biggest stage was the Vice Presidential debates, a night that saw the usually eloquent and charismatic Vice President Yemi Osinbajo stumble a few times under pressure.
Obi relies a lot on China to drive home his points, at times leaving aside the distinctions in political configuration that make their achievements not immediately replicable. But he stands, more than anyone else, as the persuasive argument for a fiscal federalist system under which states will have to compete and develop ingenious approaches to human capital development. National politics has the risk of diminishing the reputation of a former regional chief executive. Obi is one of the exceptions; many young people still want to hear him speak and remind them of how different things can be.
Obiageli K. Ezekwesili
When Oby Ezekwesili declared on the first Sunday in October 2018 that she would be running for president, the field already included two polarizing front-runners and a technocrat-academic former deputy governor of the central bank getting good reception. There was also a popular motivational speaker and a controversial news media publisher. There was no woman in this race, but more importantly, Dr Ezekwesili hadn’t heard from any candidate the economic arguments she knew would get Nigerians out of poverty.
For 93 days, a grassroots-funded campaign traversed the country in an audacious bid to upend the status quo. What Ezekwesili’s movement lacked in ‘structure’, it make up for with the new street wisdom of Lagos-based techpreneurs. An interview with Christiane Amanpour, a cover in Guardian Life and a substantial number of other mediums broadcast ‘Madam due Process’ as the policy wonk Nigeria has never had and may need to become a 21st century economy. There was enough momentum in this campaign to make her the particular target of all anxiety that a third-force candidate would help re-elect the incumbent.
Ezekwesili’s Achilles’ heel showed during the Vice Presidential debates. While the suspension of her campaign forty days later was a natural consequence, the subsequent accusations reminded everyone of the sleaze associated with political participation. True to form, previous video exonerated the former Education Minister providing extremely instructive lessons to intending politicians on the absolute necessity of integrity and moral consistency. If the 2019 race was an integrity test and a compromise trap, Ezekwesili scaled unscathed. But will she dare try again?
Ibrahim El Zakzaky
Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) brave army tanks and direct gunfire for Ibrahim El Zakzaky to regain his freedom. In at least two occasions over a six month period, the Nigerian Army’s preferred mode of engaging the protesters incurred international criticism and condemnation. For the Buhari government, El zakzaky’s cause is anathema to the existence of the Nigerian state and invoking questionable interpretations of National Security concerns, have held in without the possibility of release in sight.
El zakzaky, 66, has been a regular tenant at Nigerian prisons since the 1980s. Not many know a lot about his present status other than that his members embarrassed the Chief of Army staff during a parade in 2015. Determined to keep him away for as long as possible, court orders demanding El zakzaky’s release have been ignored by the Government. The cleric’s situation raises questions as to how a Government could legitimately be committed to the rule of law while simultaneously flouting justice.
But constraints on freedom of movement have not impaired El zakzaky’s footprint on his group. This Ramadan, some families and individuals have received foodstuff from the cleric, ensuring that goodwill and motivation remains high to keep “Free El zakzaky” banners waving in the face of official antagonism. El zakzaky has already lost six of his nine children in the cause of the Army’s clampdown on his group’s activities, the first happening under the Jonathan administration. The cleric’s public statements profess commitment to non-violent confrontation, a distinguishing feature that sustains the international human rights community’s demand for the Government to restore his freedom.
Dino Melaye is the real name and character played by a legislator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who represents Kogi West senatorial district. He is unapologetically opposed to being told what to sing or what not to show off from his wardrobe. He may not have Chinua Achebe’s brains but he backs himself as an effective leader. And having gained re-election into the Senate, who could rightly deny Melaye his claim to being an astute politician?
Nobody can. The people in Kogi state backed him overwhelmingly when that state’s Governor engineered a re-call process to establish his own legitimacy. Melaye rallied and wrestled the narrative, making a persuasive case that a state Governor’s ability to mastermind a recall would not amount to another milestone in the nation’s democratic experiment. The consequence of that unsuccessful process is a Melaye convinced of the hand of destiny in his political journey which had began with a stint in the Patricia Etteh House of Representatives more than a decade ago. That Melaye bounced back from that at all to once again claim National office is emblematic of his appeal to those who matter.
Theatrics are not the same as legislation but there is some theatre to the process of lawmaking and Executive oversight. The story of Melaye’s place in the second decade of Nigeria’s fourth republic politics will go beyond his present troubles with the Police to how he remains a voice that cannot be put down in the 9th Senate. Being without the in-house support of Bukola Saraki will present its unique challenges but the 45-year old would not be where he is today if he didn’t have plans for amplifying his voice from the trenches.
Peter Ayodele Fayose
Some rocks can be moved. A historic impeachment in October 2006 was to be a guaranteed nail in this eccentric politician’s coffin. That the basis of his ouster was on corruption charges made it a pivotal moment for the nation. Fayose was not supposed to show his face again.
Fayose did, regaining the spotlight in spectacular fashion. His re-emergence as Governor in 2014 restored the primacy of stomach infrastructure as a veritable campaign strategy. But to reduce Fayose’s charisma to branded bags of rice is both unfair and naïve. To the extent that Nigerians want their administrators close to the people, there is hardly a better exemplar. Fayose had the appetite for local governance and relished the duty of relating with the urbanites and rural Ekiti people in the tongues they preferred. Not that this has placed the state at the top of Internally Generated Revenue rankings but Democracy as being “of the people” had some visible meaning.
As it happens, popular politicians tend to overestimate the extent to which their capital can be transferred. Fayose’s viral Channels TV moment proclaiming his ability to influence voters towards choosing his anointed successor still sounds as funny and as misguided, giving how much he knew of Ekiti state’s penchant for recalling ex-Governors from the wilderness. Images of a gracious-in-defeat Fayose walking Bisi Fayemi round the Government House in casuals and flip flops showed everyone why he is, regardless of his roadside and marketplace caricaturing, a person of political interest. Persisting EFCC troubles may explain why Fayose did not seek a Senate seat to further his presence in politics but if he has only declined Abuja for the moment for a bigger prize in the future, don’t be surprised. A moved rock is still a rock.
Taking over the INEC chairmanship after Attahiru Jega was always going to be a daunting task. Mahmood Yakubu, a professor of History from the Ahmadu Bello University, immediately found opposition in those who did not approve of another northerner at the helm of the electoral body. To the challenge of matching Jega’s operational success was added the imperative to absolutely not give the slightest indication of ethnocentric bias.
In his time, Yakubu has conducted elections in all states of the federation. Of 180 elections held before the 2019 cycle, only four were overturned by courts. Reports of irregularities this February and March may increase the Commission’s default rate under Yakubu when tribunals do their duties, including the presidential election where results were summarily rejected from some states for reasons that remain unconvincing for parties. Like Jega, Yakubu needed extra time to overcome unforeseen logistical glitches during the elections, a recurrence that exposed deep-seated structural anomalies in the Commission that require more than a change in leadership to fix.
Part of the legend of his predecessor was the dignified handling of rabid antagonism from political operatives. Yakubu followed an approach that neither sought to evoke such confrontations and when they seemed to be on the way, he created diversions to nip them in the bud. The 2019 elections did not produce “Share a Coke with Yakubu” memes but state elections in Kogi and Bayelsa towards the end of the year will be further tests of his capacity to lead the INEC in a decidedly more structured fashion. Most observers do not judge Yakubu’s leadership of INEC a regression to pre-2011 levels but he has also not proven to be a better head of INEC than Attahiru Jega.
The most important woman in the 2019 elections was neither a candidate threatening a major glass ceiling nor a male candidate’s enigmatic spouse. It was Amina Bala-Zakari, whose suspected family relationship with President Buhari, in the PDP’s judgement, rendered her unfit for even a janitor’s role in INEC.
Having risen to national consciousness by becoming the first woman to be in charge of INEC (albeit temporarily), she remained part of the top brass and, barring a transfer, was sure to play a role in the 2019 elections. Bala-Zakari is not Buhari’s niece but the semblance of a relationship with the President provided fodder for declaring her a conflict of interest issue in direct interference with the elections’ integrity. In fact, her role was to facilitate logistical arrangements necessary to for the INEC Collation centre to function optimally throughout the tedious and raucous process of a typical Nigerian election. Her experience through years working for two PDP administrations (including as special assistant to the President from 2004 to 2007) qualified her with the competence for the job and the INEC chair, to his credit, would not cave into political pressure.
There are not many Bala-Zakari’s in positions of power in Nigeria. A woman is yet to lead the electoral body on a substantive basis. If sensitivity to geo-political diversification would not influence the recruitment of the next chair (it should), she would be the outright favorite. It was not remarkable that she maintained low profile while her participation in the elections was debated. But noting how high ranking officials of agencies as the Police court controversy as a route to achieving celebrity, Bala-Zakari validated the golden value of silence.
Ebonyi is often treated as the least powerful of the South East states, even when it has, like others, contributed an equal number of Senate Presidents to Nigeria since 1999. Dave Umahi, following years of private practice as a civil engineer, timed his move to politics to coincide with the end of the tenure of the last Senate President from the region faded. Since then, Umahi has grown from leading the PDP in Ebonyi to becoming deputy Governor. That was supposed to be his climax, according to Martin Elechi who decided against rewarding Umahi in favour of the more popular Onyebuchi Chukwu.
Umahi would spectacularly defy Elechi and President Jonathan in the primaries, the first show of a capacity to galvanize unlikely support that resurfaced in the 2019 elections when the PDP needed a running mate for Atiku Abubakar. Umahi’s insistence on ratifying the South East Governors’ position on Peter Obi evoked quarrels as to how committed he was to the PDP’s plans. Nobody is quite alleging openly how Umahi cost the PDP given Ebonyi’s relatively low contribution to vote totals. However, if he was enthusiastic about Buhari not being re-elected as president, he did not show it. In no other opposition state did 140 traditional rulers officially endorse Buhari and in their official statement, direct reference was made to the cordiality between both men.
Umahi is changing the stereotype around Ebonyi as a backwater state. Infrastructural projects have ranked high on Umahi’s priorities; the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) approved a US$70 million loan in April for a road project. Should he maintain his capacity for combining Abuja politics with lighting up streets from Abakaliki to Nkalagu, the 55-year old would be laying the tracks for surpassing those five Senate Presidents when the region becomes favorites for the higher offices.
Nasir El Rufai
Sixty-year old El-Rufai has been in Nigeria’s top political bracket for so long that his emergence as an ‘accidental public servant’ seems to have been ages ago. Abuja and other parts of the Federal Capital Territory look nothing like the one he masterminded through an unrelenting campaign of demolitions, to mention but one indicator.
To many, El Rufai is really a builder who merely seeks order. From his introduction to public service as the Bureau of Public Enterprise’s first Director General, he has sustained a reputation for a direct managerial approach to administration. As Governor of Kaduna state, he has largely employed the same strategy. Through various investment corridors, Kaduna is rising to the fore as a substantial alternative to those who desire urban settlement outside of the Lagos-Abuja duopoly. Policy goals are not achieved without winning political fights. Not one to shrink from confrontation, two of his fiercest opponents from 2015 are now former Senators. Replacing his deputy Governor (who also lost his Senatorial bid) was also a political fight with an ethno-religious dimension, but it was one El Rufai won by emphasizing the gender inclusion he was promoting with his new choice. And, yes, he is still very into demolitions as a vehicle of development.
Into his final term as Governor, El Rufai will spend this tenure positioning himself as a national thought leader. He will insist it is not the same as becoming a political godfather in the mold of a Kwankwaso or Tinubu, that his mission is to mainstream a policy-over-politics brand of civic discourse on governance. A September 2017 letter to the President critical of the two-year-old administration signaled his willingness to point fingers where necessary. With Buhari not in line for another election, it will be interesting to see how much more open he becomes in issuing correctives and challenging incumbent political godfathers to give up and retire too.
He has gained enemies within the ruling party but the Comrade got the job done. Oshiomhole’s bombastic, irreverent manner of challenging all stumbling blocks to Buhari’s election was risky but the APC’s wheels under John Odigie Oyegun’s mild and blasé control looked set to roll of the rails. In Oshiomhole, Tinubu found the necessary force to redirect the fortunes of the party from the precipice of disaster.
The battle to place a handpicked favorite as the overseer of his legacy in Edo state had seen the former labour leader resort to some of the finest skills in public campaigning that made him the country’s most memorable NLC leader in the Obasanjo years. But after successfully crowning his successor, Oshiomhole looked set to retire from politics. Until fractures with the APC party structure threatened to disintegrate the party.
When the party needed a maverick who could engage the Atiku campaign, it came naturally to Oshiomhole to resurrect talking points from his years fighting the Federal Government as a union leader. On matters of party supremacy where the president maintained silence or detachment, Oshiomhole issued direct declarations that put state Governors and state chapters of the APC on their toes. Even the president’s closest advisers and family whose public views veered out of Oshiomhole’s interpretation of the party’s position got a sting of his venomous influence.
From having to go through the courts to be declared winner of the 2007 Edo Governorship elections, to letting it slip that elections are only for those willing to accept the pain of rigging a decade later, Oshiomhole’s time in politics is partly the story of an ascent to power and partly a tale of how the fruits of power can temper the virtues of activism.
Without a presidential debate to provide Nigerians a platform to engage and evaluate the 2019 presidential candidates, Nigerians had to rely on veteran journalist Kadaria Ahmed to improvise. Years of broadcast and editorial experience had taught her that in Nigeria’s public opinion space, a moderator’s performance could never truly satisfy anyone. Undaunted, she only had to stick with the style that has made her a household name from previous political talk shows: straight talk.
Ahmed’s journalistic footprint is captured in a long, illustrious career at the BBC in London, publications in the Guardian UK, Financial Times of London, as the editor of NEXT newspapers and host of a talk show on Channels television. While now running and supporting initiatives to improve journalism and civic society, she retains her voice in the public square particularly when it affects abuses and neglect in the North. Her vociferous advocacy against the unchecked spate of violence in Zamfara has earned bizarre criticism from those who accuse her of speaking against her elders, when in fact peace and security are the paramount focus of her cause.
Other critics suspicious of her political impartiality who otherwise affirm the righteousness of her advocacy cite support for El Rufai to become Kaduna state Governor in 2014, to the effect that once you are openly “pro family”, you never could truly criticize. Not that she pays a lot of attention; Ahmed, who is one of a few of Nigerian journalists from an older generation active on social media, looks over the pointing fingers and moves on.
Picture an animated, young, bespectacled lawyer questioning a sitting president during the Oputa Panel hearings. Imagine that president’s irritation at this lawyer whose face bears a smile but whose questions part bureaucracy to uncover dark acts of Nigeria’s military leadership.
It is hard to imagine the Nigerian legal environment without Falana’s commentary. At the height of the debates over the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, Falana’s analysis of the events, including calling out the NBA for organizing protests, provided strong backing for those who called the suspension the right move. Part of Falana’s popular defence of the presidency in that instance invoked Bukola Saraki’s handling of his own Chief Justice as Governor of Kwara state, though many pointed to the difference in circumstances.
Falana has run for public office once but has not substantially changed as a lawyer and activist. His political influence has become more accessible to younger populations who encounter him in his son’s music, either in actual words or in the themes addressed. Where Falz evokes comparisons with Fela, the senior Falana earned his stripes under Gani Fawehinmi and remains in that tradition. At 61, the likelihood of another attempt at getting elected look slim, meaning that street demonstrations, television appearances and newspaper op-ed sections remain the main platforms through which Nigerian politics can be affected by Falana.
Whatever the platform, a guaranteed feature of Falana’s analysis is the dramatic presentation. He wears a pair of glasses with smaller sized lenses compared to those Oputa panel days. But the incision of his points have not become any less sharp for opponents who, like and including that former president, still find Falana a co-debater they would rather not face.
Motor parks in South East Nigeria have a great buzz about them on Friday evenings for many reasons but none more important than the crowds of people on their way to the Adoration Ministries ground in Enugu.
Fr. Mbaka’s support for Buhari went against the tide in 2015. Known for an eccentric style of preaching in which he does not shy from calling names, the Enugu-born Catholic priest would remain a dependable ally of the Buhari administration even in the face of nationwide insecurity challenges due to farmers-herdsmen crisis that, among other casualties, claimed two of Mbaka fellow priests in Benue state. Not that there were no criticisms warning the government that it could fail, but Mbaka’s conviction of the Buhari’s presidency divine destiny was never really shaken.
An active role in politics from the pulpit has been a sizeable aspect of Mbaka’s 24-year old priestly journey. While former president Jonathan stands out as the biggest loser from his endorsements, former Enugu Governor Chimaroke Nnamani remains the undisputed punching bag known to the Adoration audience. Stories of sponsored assassination plots and miraculous escapes are rife and make up the legend of Mbaka as an authority. But he has significantly become gentler with Nnamani’s successors, current Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi being one of the most regular visitors at Emene.
Mbaka’s position on the Biafra question made Enugu the South Eastern state least enthused by Nnamdi Kanu’s cause. While he holds the view that a conversation is necessary, Igbo leaders “hiding in Abuja” should be at the forefront, not young people who barely have enough money to trade in Ogbete main market.
Nigeria’s Central Bank is supposed to be left alone from warring political actors, but the tensions raised by the man Godwin Emefiele replaced as the Bank’s Governor set the tone for continued interference. Since his appointment in June 2014, Emefiele and his CBN have maintained a visible hand in directing public affairs.
His rise to the Bankers’ bank from University class rooms in Nsukka and Port-Harcourt through the Zenith bank board room is an admirable success story. Both experiences have come in handy in dealing with pressures involved in leading a body whose monetary decisions pivot a 400 billion-dollar economy. Taking the job just as Nigeria approached a recession and growing into it at the arrival of a historic opposition government made Emefiele a recurring, sometimes contentious item on nightly news bulletins. From Boko Haram allegedly being funded through the CBN, to purported connivance with the APC to divert sensitive INEC materials before elections, Emefiele’s mentions have come up on timelines he would not have envisaged when taking the job.
Except the foreign reserves, all useful indicators on which Emefiele’s core roles are to be assessed – inflation, exchange rate, non-performing loans, foreign capital inflows – have all worsened, according to an assessment of his first tenure by Stears Business. His big “scandal” has been the foreign exchange crisis and the rationing of dollars than any insidiousness or grand plan to wreck the economy. His fixation on fixing the Naira (supposedly to avoid massive rises in domestic prices of goods) was too direct for believers in the market and may have led to businesses to close shop. But Buhari, arguably the biggest beneficiary of Emefiele’s direct intervention schemes including in Agriculture, has had no complaints. Re-appointed for another five-year tenure, Emefiele could become the second longest-serving and only the second person to serve as Governor of the bank for ten years.
Mohammed Sanusi II
If Emefiele is unassuming and blends in, Mohammed Sanusi II does not mind being the only permanent feature on news chyrons. As long as you are quoting him rightly, he gladly indulges the public attention on what he makes of the latest burning socio-economic issue affecting the North and the nation at large.
Sanusi’s travails with the Kano state Government leading to the dismemberment of his emirate is a testament of his influence. Armed with degrees in economics, Islamic law and experience from the Central Bank, Sanusi had sought to lead a reform that would give Northern Nigeria a different face. He was a contentious pick for the position from the very beginning and it has not necessarily been surprising to see his moves to upend the apple cart. He wants more women in classrooms and less use of Sharia in justifying minority oppression. But it is hard to argue that his current struggles are not a consequence of his own grandstanding.
With the diminished role of traditional rulers and their all but absolute dependence on state governors, Sanusi was really testing the waters by making the integrity-capacity declaration just before the elections in February. While not an explicit endorsement, the Emir was inevitably interpreted as a champion for an alternative to president Buhari. Given his familiarity with and professed admiration for at least one candidate in the race, what the Emir could have intended as a mere reminder to his audience of an 8th century Islamic tenet was noted at the Kano Government House as a political gauntlet dropped.
Will it be the end of his public influence? Sanusi’s elevation to his grand uncle’s throne in June 2014 came few weeks after he was indefinitely suspended from the Central Bank. Whatever his present station, the reasonable thing to expect from him is another epic come back.
Zainab A. Bulkachuwa
When Gombe state was created in 1996, Zainab Bulkachuwa had amassed ten years experience on the bench of the Kaduna High Court as a Judge. Rising rapidly to become the state’s first Chief Judge stands her out as a trailblazer among her peers within the judicial community. Fast-forward two decades and the lady who entered the judiciary as a youth corps member on primary assignment has become the principal arbitrator in a tribunal adjudicating the integrity of a presidential election.
She performs this role with due qualifications as president of the Court of Appeals but her deep connections to politicians made her suitability a centre of debate. With her brother as the new APC Governor of Gombe and her husband a Senator representing a Bauchi zone also of the same party, her inclination to be completely partial in dealing justice to the principal plaintiff – the Atiku campaign – was rightly subject to scrutiny. Nigeria’s judiciary has a history of unholy associations with politics and while the present scenario was hardly foreseeable when she assumed leadership of the Court of Appeals in 2014 (under the PDP), proving herself beyond reproach is critical to public trust.
Pressure to treat all parties fairly and without ill-will meant recusing herself from the presidential petition tribunal, drawing praise from Atiku himself. It remains to be seen whether the PDP fully accepts the outcome of the process should their petition fail to yield the outcome they anticipate. The odds on Justice tarnishing her long and so far unblemished career by interfering with the tribunal process are probably undefined. She has less than twelve months to retirement from active judicial service.
John Nnia Nwodo
Credit is due to Nnia Nwodo for the boosted perception and recognition now accorded Ohanaeze Ndigbo since he assumed its leadership in 2017. Ohanaeze’s relevance as a socio-political group barely registered on millions of Igbo youths who needed a voice to represent their points of view in national conversations. To be sure, the group is yet to recover ground ceded to Nnamdi Kanu’s Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) judging by the red-black-green flags that remain hoisted in many parts of Aba and Onitsha. But harnessing his lived experience of the Biafran war, participation in the Shagari (at the age of 29) and Abubakar governments as a Minister, Nwodo – as one who has seen it all – masterfully aggregates Igbo agitations and devises expert ways of framing them as important national issues.
Nwodo’s campaign to raise greater consciousness on fiscally restructuring Nigeria has relied on his gifts as a communicator and London School of Economics-trained intellectual. His efforts to build consensus on such issues sees him regularly reaching beyond Head Bridge to involve minority Igbo groups whose views have often been overlooked during public recollections on Igbo history and on possible reparations to the region. Though not at all averse to lay blame for Nigeria’s insecurity challenges squarely at president Buhari’s feet, Nwodo has found (or made) vice president Yemi Osinbajo a useful partner on national integration.
Nwodo’s regular commentary on how the state of the nation affects Igbos makes him the dependable ombudsman whose rare abilities afford elders like Ben Nwabueze, Emeka Anyaoku, the Obi of Onitsha, and Ebitu Ukiwe liberty to take the back seat in the twilight of their public service.
When Nigeria Police trucks formed a blockade on a Tuesday early morning last July at Ekweremadu’s residence, it upped the stakes in the political battle of changing the Senate leadership. The siege, which was simultaneously ongoing at Saraki’s house at the time, became a national sensation sparking fears of the overthrow of democracy. It was a bizarre turn of events that drew sympathy to the supposed victims at play. But it is to Ekweremadu’s credit that he is the only one of the two still in the Nigerian Senate.
Since leaving his roles at Enugu state – from Secretary to State Government to Chief of staff – in 2003 to the Senate, Ekweremadu has become the first senator to truly advocate for Igbo causes in the legislature, to the extent that that legislative house has been factionalized along ethnic lines. Making his name in the tumultuous years when a president was at odds with his deputy prepared the Nsukka-trained lawyer for the rougher edges of parliamentary duties that were to come in the Yar’Adua days. However, his full glory was revealed within the past four years retaining the seat of Deputy President of the Senate despite slipping into the ranks of the minority. The privileges that come with being second in command makes him the first and only member of a minority party in the Senate to chair plenary sessions in the Senate.
Ekweremadu has announced he will exit the Senate in 2023. Should he keep to his word, he would have spent 20 years in the upper chamber, and will be one of only a few Nigerians to do so.
Mohammed Ali Ndume
Ali Ndume, as he is called, did not shoot to prominence overnight, or through a straightforward path. His launch pad was winning the Chibok/Damboa/Gwoza seat in the House of Representatives in 2003. After two terms, Ndume perceived that bigger things would be available to him were he to upgrade to the Senate. The process would not be easy though; the ANPP had another candidate in mind, triggering the first of many defections for the man who was once promoted from Junior House Captain to a substantive role at Comprehensive Secondary School Mubi.
Ndume has since gone from being a PDP Senator, to an nPDP instigator. Retaining his seat under the APC did not come with the fulfilling expectations Ndume anticipated owing to his inability to work with Saraki and the leadership of the National Assembly as a whole. An unceremonious removal as the Majority Leader less than two years into the 8th Senate and illegitimate suspension scarred Ndume, but emboldened him as a renegade unafraid to punch up.
2019 Ndume has not moved parties but is arguably in a better position now that the subject of his four year antipathy in the Senate has failed to return. But do not put it past him to have another long-running feud in the works given the APC’s reluctance to be impartial in the 9th Senate’s race for President. He has seemed like a fringe politician, a Google search for his name still throws up suggestions of terrorist affiliation despite being definitively debunked. Denying him the opportunity to produce enough moments to bury those pesky search results may be the next Ndume controversy frontier.
Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan
In Ahmed Lawan’s acceptance speech as Senate Leader on his 58th birthday, he cited destiny and rallied colleagues to work for Nigeria which “does not belong to the APC”. Favoured by the party to be Senate President until the Saraki maneuver caught them off-guard, Lawan has posed anything but the sulkiness of an unruly, scorned genius.
Biding his time and offering cooperation and respect to the Saraki leadership has proven a winning and wise strategy. Knowing his history, you couldn’t have expected less of a man who navigated 16 years as an opposition parliamentarian from his House of Reps days at the dawn of the fourth republic. Lawan, who holds undergraduate, Masters’ and doctorate degrees in Remote Sensing, is easily the most experienced of Nigeria’s present legislators, and were he to be elected Senate President, would be truly primus inter pares.
That said, the Senate of the last four years was unusual and Lawan will be heavily judged by how much he seeks to return to normalcy. For many, that represents a Senate that provides little resistance to the Executive, one that makes every request available. Riding to the presidency of the Senate on chariots from Bourdillon means every hit of the gavel will be assessed for independence of thought and clear judgment.
Lawan arrived Abuja and observed from the lower chamber as the Senate matured from a tumultuous era of five presidents in eight years to one of two in twelve. Staying as long as his recent predecessor must be a personal minimum benchmark, but the Senate remains a house in need of organisational stability, transparency and public acceptance. What would its potential first-PhD-president-in-20 years do to achieve that?
Surulere, home to one of Africa’s greatest-ever musical icons, has two federal constituencies one of which Femi Gbajabiamila represents in the House of Representatives. Lawyer by training and politician since 2003, Gbaja has got the name recognition that creates the illusion that he has been in the Nigerian legislature since its founding.
And it’s not for nothing. A reputation for poise and precision in delivering arguments on the floor of the House was strengthened by his rejection the Office of the Federal Republic (OFR) award he was offered in 2011. Buoyed by his status as leader of the opposition, the inevitable associations with Chinua Achebe and Grace Alele Williams that followed made Gbajabiamila a household name for the campaign to change government in 2015. It wasn’t surprising that when Gbajabiamila was passed over for the position of House Speaker, he expressed his extreme disappointment, bordering on betrayal. . Apparently graduating top of your class twice in two different countries does not produce the street wisdom to foresee twists in parliamentary leadership races.
Gbajabiamila’s voice would reverberate nationally again. Taking on the task of dethroning Dogara as Speaker based on his defection to the PDP, Gbaja leveraged his press friendliness and argumentative prowess to make the case, citing Supreme Court precedent. Now majority leader, it wasn’t lost on the public that this was as much a battle for the law as a probe to attain promotion. Keeping that conversation alive even when chances of Dogara’s removal were slim was Gbajabiamila’s way of proving to the APC powers that his skills are still good enough for the role should it be available. Now that it is and he is the designated front-runner again, surely he would have learned enough to avert a second stumble.
Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso
After nearly two decades as a water engineer in the Kano state civil service, Kwankwaso made an impression on huge characters like Shehu Musa Yar’Adua in the early 90’s. Becoming Deputy Speaker of the third republic’s House of Representatives at 36 was a sign of things to come, and not slowing down earned him the honour of becoming his state’s Governor after the return to democracy. That Kwankwaso had an eight-year hiatus between his two terms yet managed to sustain a an influential political following arguably unrivalled in Northern Nigeria is testament to a consciously cultivated understanding of power brokering. His Kwankwasiyya is the movement that typifies the “win, lose or draw” mentality of which the most ardent fans of sports teams are known.
To be sure, the losses can appear to outnumber the wins. In 2019 alone, he has failed to retain the Senate seat he won barely four years ago, failed to reverse the overwhelming support Buhari got in Kano, and despite coming close couldn’t galvanize enough antipathy against his former Deputy Governor. More than one attempt to grab a party’s presidential nomination has ended in giving up his ambition for a more “electable” candidate. Unlike in previous years, that candidate was on the losing side this time.
But the measure of Kwankwaso’s might is in the enduring appeal of his vision. Residents of and brief visitors to Kano remain alert to the landmarks of his tenure as Governor, particularly the focus on education and infrastructural development: Two degrees postgraduate degrees obtained from British polytechnics in the 1980’s solidify his reputation in both spheres. A political base built on these foundations has survived by being renewable every four years driven by Kwankwaso’s pragmatism.
James Onanefe Ibori
Would Ifeanyi Okowa have been re-elected governor of Delta state without re-inviting his godfather to the table? To the extent that Okowa had a decent record in his first tenure, the relevance of this question is less about his capacity than the return of his most prominent predecessor as the state’s undisputed Little Finger.
This is despite a trail of convictions dating back to before his first run for public office – a House of Representatives seat in 1991. During sentencing for money laundering in the UK in April 2012, presiding Judge Anthony Pitts was so befuddled by Ibori’s staggering loot that he declared the exact figure was “difficult to tell”. After serving four years of the prescribed thirteen years till December 2016, Oghara’s first son touched down at the Osubi airstrip in Warri three months later on a chartered private plan to resume power brokering duties.
Ibori’s power was most vivid in the open admiration professed by the PDP Chairman Uche Secondus, describing the former governor as “a factor in this country” and one who has a political structure that is envied around the country. Secondus prefaced those remarks with a declaration that Ibori must be “celebrated”, a statement loaded in political need at a time the party needed enough of its has-beens to vivify a flat campaign. If you have bankrolled a presidential campaign once, the thinking goes, you could help us out a second time. It may not have worked as planned but it could have been worse were he not asked to play a part.
It has not been easy knowing the mind of the 76-year old, ex-military dictator, now reformed-democrat Nigerians voted in 2015 as president. Press-shy or press-loathing, Buhari prefers that his thoughts be perceived in released statements than from engagement with his constituents. But thanks to Bayo Omoboriowo, the presidential photographer, Nigerians are able to form mental maps of Buhari’s thought process.
Pictures evoke emotion and the gifted Omoboriowo has a specific task: getting people to see Buhari, the human. In the fast-paced world of Aso Rock politics, Omoboriowo’s refined serendipity has provided portraits from curious angles and in enigmatic moods that gets one to admit to the challenging nature of the top job. Through the infamous 104 days of Buhari’s 2017 leave, it fell to the 32-year old from Ekiti state to provide regular evidence of life. Skeptics scanned every image for signs of digitally affixed body parts. Posture analysis was more than just a pastime. Unlike the last episode of indefinite absence involving a Nigerian president, Omoboriowo’s shots provided relevant material to debaters for and against motions to declare Buhari incapacitated.
Beyond covering his principal muse, Omoboriowo has been a national correspondent helping Nigerians assess power play in Abuja. Among his best works are shots revealing subtle details from Federal Executive Council sessions such as a feisty face-off featuring chief of staff Abba Kyari, National Security Adviser Babagan Monguno and Head of Service of the Federation Winifred Oyo-Ita. These figures appear in bits in news but Omoboriowo reminds us of their omnipresence in our daily reality as Nigerians. And it would seem, judging by the portrayal of state house visits, that whoever meets the President leaves full of laughter regardless of the prevailing political affiliation.
With a second term secured following a season in which campaign crowd photo comparisons took a life of its own like never before, Omoboriowo – a University of Lagos graduate of pure and applied chemistry – will remain an important source for evaluating chemistry between Buhari and members of his circle.
Any combination of red cap, white danshiki and a pair of searching glasses is probably president Buhari’s chief of staff. Armed with decades of managerial experience in corporate offices at UBA, Unilever, and Mobil, scoops on Abba Kyari’s control of day-to-day activities in the Villa have become the stuff of which adventure novels are made. The Aso Rock House of Cards, if you wanted to have it made, has Abba Kyari as the frank enforcer who stays two steps ahead to undercut every opposition tactic.
No chief of staff has lasted as long as Kyari since 1999. In fact, his longevity and ubiquity in Villa photos has arguably brought the role into focus for the first time. Regular, physically imposing and unmissable, he is essentially the uncle ensuring noisy neighbours think twice before attempting to pick a fight with the aristocrat’s bashful kid. Kyari is nearly always present in the room when every governor visits the president, as though the weight of his spectacles enforce honesty and circumspection. And why not? Degrees in sociology and law with extensive years of practice prepared for him for a retirement spent in this kind of active service.
More than a few people, perhaps including the First Lady, suspect Nigeria’s truly run by Abba Kyari and not the elected man from Daura. Kyari’s hands-on approach in ordering the president’s schedule and being present in every Bayo Omoboriowo photograph are hard-to-ignore supporting arguments. In reality, the president has found in Kyari the civilian reflection of a regimented, steely style that Buhari sees in himself. Kyari’s omnipresence, therefore, is the necessary canvass of broad strokes from which Buhari, the reformed democrat, draws motivation for manifestation. Kyari keeps Buhari’s visitors honest while giving the president confidence to be a man of a past era who can steer a democracy. This explanation would not absolve Kyari of the accusation of being the actual president but until he is pictured signing official documents, admirers do not blush to extol him as an effective invisible hand.
Being the first incumbent president to be defeated in an election has not scarred Goodluck Jonathan. Beyond Nigeria’s shores, he is held up as a symbol of democracy to be emulated. He is a favorite name for election observation missions across the continent where locals believe his presence lends credibility to the process and raises expectation of fairness.
Jonathan remains a symbol in his home country. In nearly every instance where his successor appears loose on defending freedom of expression, the accidental president is invoked wistfully. For many, he remains a reminder of the leader Nigeria’s ethnic diversity and surging youth population deserves, even with due acknowledgement that his inability to prevent the twin catastrophes of terrorism and a slide into economic trouble made his defeat very possible.
Jonathan’s rise from deputy Governor to president of Nigeria within 11 years is still a dream achievement. Joining politics as a University lecturer who made a career out of humble beginnings, the Ogbia-born zoologist became the unassuming negotiator gracefully climbing up the ranks without so much as handing out a campaign flyer for a substantive position. Contesting his first executive position turned out to be a massive validation of popularity. Jonathan, in 2011, made Nigerians believe in the possibility of a grass to glory story. Losing all that goodwill on a platter of gold and against the run of play disappointed those for whom Jonathan was the embodiment of the Nigerian dream, for whom the boy without shoes was their Barack Obama in ‘Bayelsa’ and bowling hat.
But watching Buhari struggle to eradicate the troubles that raised angst against Jonathan has softened criticism of his lack of capacity and cluelessness. His interventions on national affairs, these days in alignment with the engineer behind his rise to the vice presidency, carry an authoritative weight that would otherwise not be assigned were he simply a man whose five year tenure was inconsequential.
Farmer, international public servant and Christian theologian by academic degree are some of Obasanjo’s titles. Holding the honour as the longest serving president or head of state, he is also rightly called Baba.
Since vacating the presidential Villa, if reluctantly, only once has Obasanjo failed to get the president he wants. Two letters publicly denouncing Buhari and begging him to proceed to retirement were supposed to be catalysts for a dethroning ceremony. Successfully re-enacting that magic just the way it worked with Goodluck Jonathan would cement OBJ as the chief of state to whom all commanders-in-chief depend for credibility. It did not work out, and ironically, Obasanjo’s influential history of opposition to Atiku Abubakar may have added to Buhari’s ability to secure re-election. However distance he sought to create between his 2019 objectives and his virulent professions of animosity against his erstwhile vice president, it was more rational to believe the view he had held for the longer period of the past two decades life. Any other personality and those statements would be less far-reaching in substance and effect.
Five eventful decades stand Obasanjo out among the current crop of Nigerian politicians. If not on the score of being the oldest living head of state, he stands above on a clean bill of health on coups. Handing over military power to a civilian government in 1979 and being on the receiving end of the favour twenty years later makes him a significant landmark of Nigerian democracy. While 2019 may signal the beginning of the end of his magic touch, this May 29 involves conversations about his legacy in commencing an unbroken succession of civilian years that have lasted longer than at any other point in the nation’s history.
Japheth J. Omojuwa
Omojuwa, the social media overlord, is quite the effective political operator. He is determined to project a commitment to neutrality when topics get heated. But Omojuwa’s undisguised friendships with young wonks working in the Villa and state government houses mean he is about the most connected young person under 40 with over half a million followers on Twitter. It comes with huge implications and possibilities.
Less of a general purpose “king of the click” blogger and more a policy-advocating strategist, Omojuwa’s knack for discerning the pulse of the political day is enviable. He is conscious of his power on Twitter and maximizes it effectively, mixing the casual giveaway with searing commentary on sensitive issues to garner more following. An active voice in the campaign for Buhari in 2015 sees him siding, more often than not, with the administration at the federal level but he has exercised independence in not extending the pleasure to APC governors or particular public officers affiliated with the APC. It is a win-win blueprint worthy of emulation for intending political influencers not under the direct employ of parties as official spokespersons.
Unafraid to wade into controversial territory, Omojuwa’s able to stir debates from the comfort of his keyboards or speaking into a camera. A “Rubbin’ Minds” interview in 2013 where he appeared to discredit streets protesting as led by renowned activists like Gani Fawehinmi provoked chants of narcissism. But his capacity to turn such moments to broaden his value in public discourse has made Omojuwa one of Nigeria’s longest running social media political influencers. Not many persons in the 2019 elections cycle conducted Twitter polls significant enough to be cited by newspapers and a major party’s presidential candidate as evidence of popularity.
After every election, more people become active on Nigerian political Twitter. Being on the winning side in every cycle since 2011 makes Omojuwa an undisputed purveyor of the medium’s mechanism for influence. Young, ambitious and with more elections to witness, those aiming for his crown will have to be very, very patient.
Joe Abah has become Nigeria’s chief online explainer and adjudicator on thorny matters in politics and public policy. Like Omojuwa, Twitter has been the principal medium of his popularity, growing into one of the most recognised handles since joining on a Sunday morning three days before Christmas day in 2013. At the time, Dr Abah was four months into his appointment by President Jonathan as Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms, a role he continued performing to critical acclaim under the Buhari administration till the end of his tenure in 2017.
Abah hails from Ebonyi and has both undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Law. His practical and academic mastery of governance and public policy discourse was first developed from over a decade’s experience at the UK Department for International Development, and a PhD thesis in June 2012 from Maastricht University on “Strong Organisations in Weak States”. Interviews with President Obasanjo, Nuhu Ribadu and the late Dora Akunyili, among others, made up part of the material for that work. Abah had, prior to this, acquired certifications that enable him practice law in two different countries. When he became an active voice on the Twittersphere weighing in on the nuances of how Nigeria works, he was very prepared to profess from a place of knowledge and expertise.
Even as a public servant under the direct employ of the Presidency, Abah demonstrated the air of analytical authority and dedication to evidence-based punditry that facilitated a reputational boom, growing the attendance of his virtual classroom. Switching conveniently from folktale-themed political storytelling, to scholarly discourse on, say, Peter Ekeh’s theory of the “Two publics” made him one of the first on Nigerian Twitter to rouse politically neutral interest in the systematic understanding of the Nigerian state. 2019 alone has seen him embroiled in controversies for making impassioned analyses of the suspension of former chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and presenting evidence in defence of Amina Bala-Zakari. The premise for Abah’s stubborn inclination towards this form of punditry? “You can be disinterested in Politics, like me, but you can’t afford to be disinterested in Governance”.
Fans who watch a football match from the stands few rows above the team dugout are an interesting bunch. Among them are passionate types who, while observing the game, project their unvarnished analysis to the hearing of those at the bench and on the field, not even waiting for half-time. They provide entertainment value for viewers and other spectators but best believe their words get to the coaches and players.
Fawehinmi has been writing biting commentary on political and socioeconomic issues in Nigeria for more than half a decade. From the pages of TheScoop, through Quartz Africa and the Guardian, searing analysis has been his forte. As DoubleEph on Twitter, he reaches more than 50,000 people daily with insightful hot takes on especially monetary and fiscal policy issues. While the Central Bank, NNPC, tax authorities and the Ministry of Finance are his favorite punching bags, Fawehinmi’s searchlights roam just about every agency of government with a line item in the budget and a mandate to add to the revenue purse. Squeezing out accountability from the dark corridors of Nigerian bureaucracies is arguably a personal obsession of his.
An accountant by profession and, in his judgment, an amateur economist, Fawehinmi isn’t convinced by political moves towards disturbing a free market. You, therefore, find him unapologetically railing against the “built-in advantage” enjoyed by Africa’s richest man, or warning against the “unseen hand of China” in the Nigerian economy. Cue skepticism for the Buhari government’s social investment schemes and – yes – the new minimum wage. Predictably, he is not palatable to all sides but for the many who engage, his militancy is based purely on ideology rather than political or personal bias.
In the last eight years, Adeola Fayehun has built a brand of political journalism that mainstream news organisations in the country are now starting to pilot. Beginning on Sahara TV for six consistent years, Keeping It Real With Adeola moved to another YouTube channel in November 2017. Relying on donations made on Patreon, the pivot to running her show all by herself became a greater test of her ability to stay on the satire track. Adversity has its way of grinding humor to a halt, even for the heartiest Nigerian.
Not Fayehun. Rather than decline, her show retained the audience from Sahara and, over the course of the 2019 campaign season, grew in stature and relevance. Keeping It Real reports on political events from across the country, the continent and on some interesting part of the world. But she has been particular about Nigeria and, to good effect, has been a necessary voice in the deconstruction of various absurdities of everyday Nigerian politics. In the past twelve months, Fayehun’s videos have been viewed nearly 12 million times. Her most watched videos in the period include takes on the former Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Kpotun Idris struggling to read, the war of words between Buhari and Obasanjo, and her analysis of the presidential candidates.
The first and probably only Nigerian journalist to have had a one-on-one sit-down with Buhari as president, it is to Fayehun’s credit that Nigerians remember Buhari declaring early during his presidency an aversion to being questioned by the local press. She wouldn’t mind another opportunity to ask him tougher questions (a few things have happened since September 2015). In absence of such opportunities, a daily audience will nonetheless continue relying on the 34-year old to help them laugh through the ruckus of Nigerian politics. With new sources of financial support from non-profits like MacArthur Foundation, National Endowment Democracy and Centre for Information and Technology (CITAD), things are about to get more real.
Time has passed so fast that Olusegun Adeniyi’s current public profile today is more as a writer of political books than a principal player in Nigerian politics. But anyone who has read them, especially the most recent trio Power Politics and Death, Against the Run of Play and From Frying Pan to Fire connects (or re-establishes connection) with Adeniyi the journalist and, for a checkered period in Nigerian history, presidential spokesman.
A brilliant storyteller, Adeniyi’s contributions was a staple of the pre-internet days when back-page columnists held sway in thought leadership. Moving to the Yar’Adua administration just as digital media began may have pushed him out of minds far sooner than necessary. The seismic era-defining nature of those three years would reveal a side of Adeniyi that had led to the publication of a description of Abacha’s last days. Power, Politics and Death published in 2011 is, like his other books, a gripping page-turner that easily passes for a thriller. It is a book that laid down the standard for political books to be written afterwards by other public officers. Those standards have, it must be said, not been reached since.
As the current chair of the ThisDay’s editorial board, Adeniyi occupies a top-tier position in the fourth estate. At a time of rapid change in the industry due to surges in digital, he leads with a steady hand and a sagely approach. Born and educated in the ancient Ife town, Adeniyi’s measured carriage and natural supply of analytical prowess has directed his managerial duties in ensuring one of Nigeria’s longest running daily published newspapers remains an available channel of truth in a period of widespread disinformation. Juggling this with a dedication to intellectual stimulation in political discourse through columns (and possibly another book) makes his verdict worth all the attention.
Forty-six year old Moses Ochonu, professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, reaches for difficult puzzles with one goal in mind: to unravel whatever had been assumed mysterious or taken for granted. He does this in books like one examining the state of Northern Nigerian during economic depression of the 1930s, and in another accessing the colonization of one Nigerian ethnic nationality by another under British direction. Ochonu’s reputation as a rigorous student and master of Nigerian politics has institutional giants like Toyin Falola hailing him as a historian “mapping the future”. Ochonu’s ardent readers on Facebook can attest to that.
Harnessing his skillful use of language and deep of knowledge of the past, Ochonu produces essays that add unique dimensions to debates or develops distinctly new paradigms worthy of exploration. Beyond his analysis of Buhari and Atiku’s chances in the past elections and other assorted matters of statecraft, Ochonu’s exciting influence at the moment is in the well-written, carefully crafted arguments formed in the investigation of phenomena like racism or classism in this continent, or African victimhood. When rigorous attempts to dissect Nigerian issues can elicit sneers from critics who do not see an immediate translation of discourse to food on the table, Ochonu’s willingness to share his knowledge is a pleasure to be grateful for.
As one of several gifted Nigerian-born professors valued by another country, regular updates from Ochonu is the reminder everyone needs of the standards that must be set for the teaching of history in Nigeria, whenever the country snaps out of its eternal slug to take it seriously.
The circle of writers challenging conventional political wisdom with incisive and thought-provoking arguments is fortunate to have the lawyer, journalist and development specialist, Ayisha Osori. Now the Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Osori’s years of experience in profound thought and work on African development is bearing fruit in unexpected ways.
A graduate of law from the University of Lagos, Havard Law School and called to bar in Nigeria and New York, she has consulted for the most reputable multilateral organisations from the World Bank and UNICEF, to the Department for International Development and the UNDP. Osori was the founding CEO of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund, a group dedicated to increasing the participation of women in public governance, both elected and appointed offices. She remains on the board and is an active promoter of competent women running for office.
Her most recognised contribution to the cause of women in politics is arguably the compelling memoir of her run for a House of Representatives seat in the 2015 elections. In about 30,000 words, Osori captured the many pitfalls that often lurk around the path for women who seek public office, analyzing the challenges of late night meetings for young mothers and the menace of party women who are only placeholders for men. Her non-exaggerated first-hand experience draws to mind the many questionable requirements posed by parties for contestants, including the loopholes created to favour those willing to manipulate processes. Love Does Not Win Elections remains very popular two years after it was published, as can be seen in the enthusiasm of audiences at readings and during her tours. Osori has placed the most important reality of Nigerian politics on the table, triggering anyone with a stake in democracy and elective politics to think about solutions.
Chidi Odinkalu’s twenty-fifth birthday, on June 12 1993, was spent agonizing over the future of his country’s democracy and saving his own life. It was the fifth year of his career as a lawyer, having been called to the bar in 1988 at age 20 and obtained a Master’s degree from the University of Lagos. It is good context for understanding Odinkalu’s present preoccupation with preserving human rights and social justice: he was forged by literally life and death events posing existential threats to a bright future he imagined and looked forward to in the bloom of youth.
Today, he is easily one of Nigeria’s most notable activists, legal scholars and social commentators. His time as Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission placed him at a vantage point to interrogate and seek resolution on cases of abuse by state authorities across the country. That passion still burns in speeches, writings and the focus on social justice issues on Twitter.
Odinkalu is reliable because he cuts above the noise, presenting material evidence while providing legal analysis on topics that may have convoluted dimensions as some cases of human rights violations can sometimes be. Nigerians who need a guide to often obscure questions of law as it relates to day-to-day political developments in Nigeria find that in Odinkalu, who has a PhD in Law obtained from the London School of Economics and Political Science, a qualified teacher, thinker and citizen. As another testament of his value, Too Good to Die, a book on the Obasanjo third-term agenda co-written with Ayisha Osori, has struck a chord among readers and raised angst among the members of the “messianic political class” who Nigeria’s democracy and social progress could do without.
A founding member of the class of 1993, Dr Olisa Agbakoba devised the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) as a vehicle for demanding democracy in the late 1980s, serving as president from 1987 to 1995. He was a regular organizing force behind protest marches initiated by activists and ordinary Nigerians across geopolitical and religious lines, for whom Abacha’s military imposition and the denial of MKO Abiola’s mandate was an intolerable aberration. In principle an practice, Agbakoba has led the way on the cross-ethnic brand of Nigerian activism and remains true to those values.
He shines as a trustworthy legal mind two decades after, holding important positions in his profession at crucial periods that affect the balance of the Nigerian polity. A former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, his assessments and proposals are a vital component of how public opinion converges on hot-button issues of law and statecraft. Recent interventions include demands that the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal be struck off the Roll of Legal Practitioners for mishandling the trial of Bukola Saraki, and notably described the suspension of Justice Onnoghen as a siege on Nigeria’s democracy.
While he has refrained from contesting public office, Agbakoba is an active political matchmaker. A potential alliance with Obasanjo, Kwankwaso and Donald Duke amongst others fell through in May of 2018, but it is credit to his perceived worth that such plans would not be pursued without his being asked to be involved. His title as a Senior Advocate ranks him among the top lawyers in the country which comes with its respect and dignity. But Agbakoba’s name, following four decades of on-the-field organizing, has become synonymous with pro-democracy advocacy and law that it is almost always a good idea to have him on your side.
Before January 2019, the most talked-about man in legal circles in Nigeria was the Code of Conduct Tribunal’s chairman, Danladi Umar. Tasked with the trial of Senator Bukola Saraki for false declaration of assets, Umar became the focus of political morning shows and back-page columns. Was Umar to become the instrument by which the APC and the Buhari administration would punish Saraki for going against the party in becoming Senate President?
Umar had attained a career first at the Tribunal by becoming its youngest chairman at 40 since it was created in 1979. A former chief magistrate in Bauchi, he arrived Abuja and, on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council and Federal Judicial Service Commission, was asked by the Jonathan government to head the Tribunal. Umar’s elevation in 2011 was a good exhibit for the virtue of merit and the potential of youth.
His first four years on the bench were relatively quiet, except for a reported assassination attempt in June 2013. With a new government in town two years later, Umar made legal history by becoming the first head of a judicial body to issue an arrest warrant against a sitting senate president. Coming barely three months after the 8th Senate’s elections and amidst the war of words between APC leaders, Umar’s defiant move significantly put a thumb on the scale in favor of the aggrieved. The conclusion of that case in Saraki’s favour was swiftly followed by the EFCC charging Umar for bribery and racketeering.
Those charges have not borne fruit, leaving Umar in his influential position of bringing famous public officers into the dock for failing to declare their assets. In four years, Umar’s court has paraded a senate president and a chief Justice of the federation, each suffering substantial reputational damage afterwards.
No other public officer has exposed the deep fractures between the Executive and Legislature in the Buhari administration than the head of the EFCC. Still designated as an “Acting Chairman”, Magu’s presence atop the Commission’s leadership, wielding every power affordable to the position he is yet to officially acquire, is evidence of how the nation’s parliament has got its wings clipped.
Switching from a civil service accountant to the Nigerian Police in 1990, Magu has combined his number crunching abilities with an eye for investigations to become anti-financial fraud strongman in less than three decades. His police career has included deployments in Rivers, Lagos, Ekiti and Anambra, each involving assignments in financial fraud units of criminal investigation departments. His confirmation as substantive chairman may have been beset by inter-governmental branch squabbles, but the main arguments have not been against his experience for the job.
Two high profile prosecutions of former state Governors have added to the list of things Magu will count on as his achievements when he leaves, a slew of victories he can point to as examples of what he would have done were he confirmed earlier. For serving governors and other public officials, the prosecutions represent a deterrent. At least that is the hope from the public who desperately want the Commission to stand as an institution not swayed by the pleasure of the Executive but one whose presence sanitizes politics. In that sense, there remains a lot to prove; Nigerians see certain former officials of the presidency and former Governors friendly to the ruling party and wonder why Magu’s red jacketed-men have yet to swoop.
Another law enforcement officer with anti-financial fraud experience, CP Wakili’s footprint during the 2019 elections was exemplary. Nigerians are not used to hearing of the detention of a sitting deputy Governor, especially not during elections in which said official belongs to the ruling party. But Wakili, even if for a brief moment, changed a nation’s mindset.
His emergence as the Commissioner of Police in Kano followed pre-election redeployment by the acting Inspector-General Muhammad Adamu, transferring him from Katsina to the state with the highest number of voters in that region of the country. But before elections, Wakili had made his name by leading the War On Drugs, his efforts towards tackling a growing menace recognised as an ongoing success. Part of his success and acceptance by the people was the means by which he reached out to those who would be key in solving the problem. One thousand arrests in the first ten days as the state’s commissioner definitely got everyone to take notice.
A 1986 graduate of the University of Maiduguri in Languages and Linguistics, Wakili definitely has a natural and well cultivated gift of drawing attention. His father had served as a customs officer in Kano, while his grandfather, Turaki Jamnati, was a palace guard in the Gombe emirate. It is a legacy Wakili proudly wears on his sleeve, with an earthiness that makes him appear to belong to an era when Police officers were solely bothered about the responsibilities of law and order. There currently are not many of that calibre in the Force and the public feeling is that Wakili’s example makes the case for more.
He is the longest-serving chief of the Nigerian Army since the return to democracy two decades ago. With Buhari favoring continuity over frequent change, Buratai has overseen the present government’s anti-terrorism measures in Sambisa and other parts of the country where Boko Haram had taken as its base prior to 2015. Buratai has also been the force behind the Army’s clampdown on members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, especially since the episode at Zaria where demonstrators reportedly interfered with his convoy and, according to president Buhari, touched the general’s chest. His record also includes the various editions of Operation Python Dance in the South East, which, however well-intentioned, have certainly not gone down well with many.
From Buratai town in Biu local government area of Borno state, the 58-year-old comes from a family with military pedigree. His father was a non-commissioned Royal West African Frontier Force officer and World War II veteran who fought in Burma. His extended stay at the Army headquarters may itself be due to his understanding of history having earned a degree in the discipline from the University of Maiduguri, as well as a disposition to philosophy – another field of study in which he has an academic degree.
Buratai could possibly be in his role till he hits the new armed forces retirement age of 62, which will make him the nation’s longest ever serving chief of Army staff, eclipsing David Ejoor, TY Danjuma and Sani Abacha. But he will not be in charge when Tucano fighter jets ordered by the Federal Government last year are delivered, meaning he has to be more inventive in bringing the war against terror to a definite – and not merely technical – conclusion.
Solving Nigeria’s internal security problems is primarily the responsibility of service chiefs but they get their wishes across to the president only when the special adviser on National Security affairs offers a listening ear. While the controversy surrounding the financial dealings of his predecessor is yet to be resolved, the retired general Babagana Monguno has maintained a low public profile but commands an exerting influence in the nation’s security affairs.
Monguno’s capacity to act as the cog in Nigeria’s national security wheel stems from a long career in Defence. His last job before joining the presidency was as the head of the Military’s intelligence, which is no mean feat. Monguno’s office coordinates information from the Defence headquarters, Police and Customs, with the Ministries of Defense and Internal affairs, providing the president with strategy advice on addressing the nation’s security challenges in most effectively. His role has also included providing usually closed-door briefings to the Senate.
Keeping a low profile may be working in Monguno’s favor as little mention is made of him during public analysis of persisting security issues, particularly of herdsmen-farmer clashes and gruesome rampages in Zamfara. He has served longer than two of his immediate predecessors in the role but is at least another four years short of matching Aliyu Muhammed Gusau in the rankings of long-serving National Security Advisors. Buhari’s inclination to let things progress as they are set up may see Monguno stay on, though it is not unlikely that a new set of ideas for winning against terrorism will be eventually deemed necessary at some point.
If Buhari’s administration and political machinery has a civilian army, the foot-soldier-in-chief is Rotimi Amaechi. The two-time Rivers state governor has won nearly every battle he has bought and retaining that record in 2019 cements him as one of the most effective campaigners Nigerian politics has seen.
From his days as secretary of the National Republican Convention in the third republic, Amaechi has had an eye for organizing and getting things done. Cutting his teeth under Peter Odili and stepping over him to become Governor remains the biggest move in his personal career, but Amaechi boasts a collection of political victories that would still be enviable were he not a Minister today. His reputation as the one to have on your side was set in stone in the periods between being chairman of speakers of state houses of assemblies and leading a subset of state Governors to form the APC. No other politician has been nearly as effective in using the powers of both branches of government at the state level to influence the federal level at such a consequential scale.
He is not almighty, else his nemesis Governor Wike would not have been re-elected Governor in his home state. Indeed, Amaechi’s dogged work for Buhari has earned him the status of something of a pariah in his state. Combined with statements credited to him dismissing the possibility of an Igbo presidency in 2023, he currently does not have lots of love from two-thirds of the Southern region. But don’t sleep on his ability to reinvent himself when necessary.
Lai doesn’t lie low when the stakes are high. When there is danger of narrative not being in the presidency’s favor, the public relations mastermind in him coaches and directs where the seasoned politician in him might concede. Nigeria’s previous Information Ministers have been professorial politicians like Gana and Akunyili or bland personalities as in Chikelu and Odey, or self-assertive types like Nweke and Maku. Mohammed is unprecedented.
Some call it muddying the waters, but his capacity for turning credible searching questions seeking to draw attention to affairs of the the presidency into accusations of political smearing or fake news is effective politicking from a tax-payer funded pulpit. He prepared for this role as an effective spokesman for the APC, playing a leading role in how public opinion was shaped concerning the Jonathan government’s failures, particularly on Boko Haram and the Chibok girls’ affair.
Now in power, he has evaded claims of government failure. But for fact-checks and persistent reporting by international bodies, his framing of the terrorist group as “technically defeated” had gone some way in convincing some that the Buhari administration has solved the crisis. But the Kwara-born lawyer has not relented in leading the offensive. This year alone, he has pushed, among other theories, a suggestion that PDP presidential candidate is seeking to make the country ungovernable. Within an environment where political parties are known for such insinuations regardless of the weight of evidence, he knows the value of propagandist formulations and certainly does not shy from wielding them. Perhaps he would have become a more influential figure in Nigeria had he won his contest for the Kwara state governorship in 2002 but he won’t be easily forgotten in future reckonings of the most efficient framers of public opinion.
His appointment as presidential aide on new media at 24 signaled a seriousness in the Buhari administration on the subject of youth involvement in leadership. Social media and online campaigns did play a noteworthy role in Buhari’s election. It was a smart move to leverage the medium to proclaim the government’s goals and achievements, and Ahmad has taken to the challenge like a duck to water.
A 2013 graduate of mass communications from Bayero University in his native Kano, Ahmad’ moved from being online editor for the Leadership newspapers’ Hausa page to playing a pivotal role in the Buhari Support Organisation’s media campaign. In the lead up to 2019, he would build on that experience and frequent interactions with the president to organize an even stronger coalition of volunteers across the country for re-election. The Buhari New Media Centre, inaugurated by Osinbajo early in the year, was essentially Ahmad’s workshop for coordinating a social media campaign to flood pro-Buhari hashtags and subdue opposition ones. Until they are overturned, the declared results of the February 23 election may not have been possible without Ahmad’s band of keyboard warriors on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.
Combative and unafraid to court controversy, his tweets could swing from the factual to the conspiratorial, Ahmad, in concert with other members of the Presidency Office of Digital Engagement (PODE) and APC online influencers, strike at the heart of debates in the manner that excite their base. Mild-mannered and unassuming in person, Ahmad’s time in the presidency may serve as a launch pad for a distinct career.
Ogundamisi has clout. He is proudly Yoruba and will not hide from ethnically-charged arguments if that clout can be enhanced or used to further his political causes. Operating from a London base adds a layer of power to his blue check mark and putting all of this at the service of electing and re-electing Buhari places him in a central position among online influencers who contribute to and shape the public conversation.
Whatever may be lacking in him as speaker, Ogundamisi effectively makes up behind the keyboard. In fact, his dyslexia would not be known were it not for him boldly placing it on the table for all to see. That kind of vulnerability in a charged political atmosphere comes with personal risks, but he has played the game long enough to acquire the thick skin for it. Four hundred and twenty-six thousand followers and counting, Ogundamisi’s is a platform many loathe but wish they had.
The son of a Muslim mother and nominally Christian father, Ogundamisi sees himself as having the right to wade into religious controversies as well, especially when it involves the narrative of islamization. He has gone after pastors and religious figures, and lashed out at those who position their faith as the source of wealth that may have come from political benefits; his twitter unload on Folorunsho Alakija comes to mind. He dedicates special attention to online influencers on the opposite side of his political views and, more often than not, emerges with fewer scars.
Attorney-General Abubakar Malami has worked in Buhari’s inner circle since 2011 and remains one of his most effective ministers. Former National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki has been held in custody against multiple court orders but thanks to Malami’s legal interpretations, Buhari could authoritatively tutor lawyers at an NBA conference on how the constitution empowers him with national security prerogatives for detaining anyone he pleases.
Born in Birnin-Kebbi 80 days before the beginning of the Nigeria civil war, Malami studied law at Usman Danfodio University in Sokoto and was called to the bar in 1992. Since then, he became a magistrate in his home state and pivoted to politics, seeking the APC’s gubernatorial ticket in 2014 and losing out to current governor Atiku Bagudu. That would lead to being compensated and elevated to the president’s cabinet as the youngest minister, from where he has made his mark on judicial interpretation and public service politics.
In the last three and half years, Malami was most mentioned in connection with the reinstatement of the former pension administrator Abdulrasheed Maina. The Justice Minister’s signatures, as shown in letters reported by investigative reports, suggested a far-reaching determination to force Maina’s return to his former position, even with a compensatory promotion. Malami’s denials and threats to spill the beans may have been one of the reasons that issue has become a cold case. It would not be surprising to learn that a Minister of Justice knows where the bodies are buried, a handy accessory to possess in Nigeria’s political theatre where actors are desperate to unearth skeletons where necessary.
After the unprecedented success of President Muhammadu Buhari at the polls, many political hopefuls believed that perhaps, the tide had truly changed and all the age of politicking was finally over for Nigeria. This belief was reinforced by the shortcomings of the Buhari administration and the informal opposition that seemed to grow out of the malcontent of the citizens. It was clear, anyone who could unite these disgruntled Nigerians into one party could sway the 2019 elections and continue the legacy of technocrat politicians as ushered by President Yar’adua and strengthened by Goodluck Jonathan.
Enter Kingsley Moghalu. A former CBN deputy governor with an enviable background in global politics from his work with the United Nations. He was no stranger to the controversial politics that permeates Nigerian living. He had worked with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the controversial CBN governor who accused the federal government of $20 billion fraud and was summarily ostracized for his accusations. Moghalu’s stellar handling of situation, set him apart as a politician par excellence.
But Moghalu knew the only real shot he had for instituting real change was to enter the fray and contest for the presidency. He did so under the umbrella of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), a relatively new entrant into the party system and with an admirable campaign, Moghalu positioned himself as the primary opposition candidate to PDP’s Atiku and APC’s Buhari. A couple of missteps would derail his momentum; the decision to join a ‘Third Force’ coalition comprised of minor opposition parties would backfire when the group chose Fela Durotoye to represent them at the polls. The public division that followed would cast doubt on his ability to lead the nation, doubt that was eventually reflected in the polls a couple of months later.
But Mr. Moghalu remains the candidate who best used the 2019 election cycle to bring his cause into the spotlight and position himself as a genuine contender for the 2023 polls. Hopefully he learns a thing or two from Jimi Agbaje and doesn’t meld into the shadows in the coming years.
As his tenure as Nasarawa state governor wound down, Adamu got increasingly familiar with former president Obasanjo in a play to become his favored successor. Where that failed, Adamu positioned himself in the Senate and has been a near permanent representative from the state. As one of the most experienced in the 8th Senate and leading APC founding members, he took it on himself to lead the formidable anti-Saraki resistance.
Adamu has been on the scene for more than forty years. He was a member of the constituent assembly that drafted the second republic’s constitution and was played active roles in the National party of Nigeria, through the periods of transformation to the PDP in 1999. A stint as a Minister of state for Works within that period makes Adamu one of the oldest and consistently involved political operators in 2019.
He has never been as powerful as he desires. Beside ensuring the CPC (and subsequently APC) reclaimed his home state in 2011 after his own defection, Adamu’s efforts to fully become a politician with the name recognition of a Tinubu-like godfather has often fallen short. A run for to lead the 9th Senate had little chances of success and being unceremoniously booted out of the chairmanship of the Northern Senators’ caucus last year was crushing for his future prospects. But Adamu is a man who re-branded himself in preparation for return to democracy by acquiring a law degree through part-time studies at middle age. He may be seventy-one but history says he is still one to fear.
Before a political storm in Plateau brought Lalong’s six-year speakership of the state house to an abrupt end, he had made history by becoming the state’s longest serving speaker, a distinction he maintains. Within this period, Lalong chaired the conference of state house speakers, a platform that gave him a taste of what comes with a position that affords inter-state interactions. Like Amaechi, Lalong would take the step up towards governorship against the will of the man he would be replacing.
A graduate of law from Ahmadu Bello University with a Masters from UniJos, Lalong could not resist being outside of politics after the end of his speakership, ending private practice to pursue the Government House. Into his second term, Lalong’s new role as chair of the Northern Governor’s forum gives him a platform to further boost his national profile. While it is not clear how he has become the person to speak on behalf of a group that includes arguably more popular Governors, it could be the continuation of a strategy to keep the focus on insecurity which remains a primary governance challenge in the region. Lalong has also been a regular sight at the Villa, forming a comfortable rapport with the president; leading the forum provides him additional encouragement to speak more in defence of the federal government’s approach to handling the nation’s security.
Lalong does not get along well with Solomon Dalung, the Sports Minister who represents Plateau in the federal cabinet. Both have had a fair few clashes over the past three years. The safe bet is that the man who has retained his seat by election will have the last laugh with the minister the public has clamored to be removed once the president decides on a shuffle.
Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike is the currently most powerful opposition politician in Nigeria. Overseeing a state with the bulk of the country’s oil facilities and at the helm of the country’s second most commercial city, Wike is regularly at the center of politics in so far as oil is the chief basis for the nation’s continuous existence.
A Minster of state for Education less than a decade ago, Wike’s rise coincided with the Jonathan years, using his elevation to substantive Minister to effectively stage a hostile take over in Port-Harcourt. His victory over Amaechi’s machinations to replace him as governor was momentous given the difference in parties involved. Re-election did not get easier with the APC supporting an unknown as it could not field a candidate of his own, but Wike’s winning streak was not in danger.
When he speaks, Abuja pays attention. Rivers oil is crucial to national stability. There is an inclination to match his bombast in equal measure, back-channel moves to appease and maintain peace usually follow suit. Emboldened, Wike never misses an opportunity to raise alarms and fill a roundtable with interested observers ready to develop gossip and build whole narratives around his off-the-cuff broadcasts. To his credit, he has walked the talk in the state with completed and new infrastructural projects that keep criticisms of his government confined to the realms of policy.
“Nigeria needs men like you” were Atiku’s congratulatory words for Wike upon securing re-election. Wike’s unhidden choice for the PDP’s ticket hadn’t been the former VP. Could February 16 have turned out much better for the party if his candidate had flown their flag instead?
By assuming the role of the man who knew enough about Buhari to break him, Buba Galadima’s every appearance triggered salivary glands amongst the opposition. Galadima had receipts and could quote names, dates and times. He effectively shoved Segun Showunmi aside becoming the leading proponent of the cause to elect the PDP’s candidate.
Galadima was sufficiently anti-Buhari, providing all the reasons why his re-election would be a disaster for Nigeria but not going far enough to renounce his membership of the APC and embracing the PDP fully. It may have a lot to do with Galadima’s role in the formation of the APC in 2015 but the hesitation to abandon the ship entirely – forming the so-called reformed APC instead – fell short of the full blooded assault necessary to get the challenger over the finish line in a battle that ultimately witnessed lower enthusiasm from voters. His arrest by the Police during the elections notwithstanding, Galadima’s effect may have been to whip up angst against Buhari as a disappointing, incompetent commander-in-chief but it may not have amounted to more than regretful long sigh channeling national frustration amongst 2015-era change supporters who had undergone a conversion.
At 71, he is capable of still influencing another election in four years time but there will be constructive conversations on how he impacted the just concluded cycle. Winning one and losing one is how his record stands over two cycles. There will be some ambivalence about him, though with a recognition that he remains able to build coalitions and get attention on breakfast and nightly political talk shows.
Lazeez Ayinla Kolawole
“O To Ge!” will, for the foreseeable future, be associated with the fall of heavyweight politicians, and political historians will credit a relatively unknown chieftain from Kwara state with the coinage. 79-year old LAK, as he is known, deserves all the attention he gets having engineered a process many outside the state did not anticipate or even think possible.
To be sure, other factors may have played into former Senate president Bukola Saraki’s downfall. His protracted case at the Code of Conduct tribunal had barely ended when the awful Offa robbery incident was linked to him. A coalescing of those factors with an internal feud within his party and extended family enabled an environment for a political invasion. However, there was still a job to do in fashioning the right weapon to compel popular support at an emotional level.
LAK had the answer, devising a message that sold itself. Though not the direct beneficiary, the 1971 graduate of political science from the University of Lagos resurrected “O To Ge” which he had first deployed against Saraki in 2003 during the PDP governorship primaries and again in the 2010 PDP primaries for Kwara central Senatorial district. Similar to why Buhari’s change campaign finally found soil in 2015, LAK’s signature finally moved the needle even if not in his personal favour. The obvious lesson is in persevering in one’s message, being alert to when it can be used to greatest effect. But LAK’s victory is more important for its validation of that four-word warning national politicians must never forget: All Politics is Local.
The ex-Senate president had a 29-month head start over his sister but it has not made her less of a political force. First as member of the House of Reps in 1999, Gbemi Saraki stepped it up by winning consecutive elections to stack an eventful eight years in the Senate between 2003 and 2011. Trouble began at home with her desire to replace her brother in the Ilorin Government House even as he took her place in the Senate. They are now both former two-term Senators and while he has had more national and international recognition – and probably achieved more personal and policy goals – word is that Gbemi Saraki could not be content at the moment.
Gbemi Saraki’s presence on the national scene is evidence of how political dynasties can be sustained in Nigeria. She has undoubtedly profited from the name recognition and political infrastructure that comes with the family brand, regardless of the present disagreements. Her active role in Buhari’s campaign may put in line for more than just contentment with her brother’s defeat. A battle may be on for the state’s ministerial slot, though she is up against the highly effective Minister of Information and Culture who is also staunchly at odds with the defeated Saraki.
Common sense should prevail leading to a suitable compromise for all parties, or Gbemi Saraki may seek to force her way. As she has shown with her brother, standing in the way of a prize she deems deserved could have future consequences.
After a string of losses – failing to have his favoured successor emerge as Governor and stumbling on the way to the Senate – some say “Iroko” has fallen, never to rise again. He whose rise to the upper echelons of South Western politics set in motion the replacement of existing kingmakers is now himself curtailed. The healer struggles without cure to a new, odd disease called consistent defeat.
Mimiko’s failure to grab what looked like an easy Senate seat is kind of a big deal but it is a modern re-enactment of an old political lesson, one that involves being aware of suffering the fate of those that have gone before. Transitioning from medical school graduate to state commissioner for health within a decade, Mimiko’s ability to lead was observable from his oratory skill and charisma. When it became time to run for the Governorship of Ondo state in 2007, he turned the sitting Governor Olusegun Agagu into the underdog in the race. Victory sealed and delivered after two grueling years by successive unanimous decisions at tribunal and court of appeal, his stock and reputation burst at the seams. Preventing Agagu from gaining the Ondo Central Senatorial district seat in 2011 was the checkmate move, but it sowed the seed for manifestations that will be revealed a decade later.
By all accounts, Mimiko is a successful two-term Governor. His engaging speeches and public lectures across the country on restructuring and national integration make for vivifying participation. He is also a lesson that being a “former” public official comes with limits in authority and ingenuity in future exertions, especially when you are not a certain Jagaban.
Lamido proudly identifies as a stock of the Old Generation. Some notable names in the ring with him at one time or another – Saminu Turaki, Abubakar Rimi – are no longer on the scene. At 70, he stands tall as a character whose counsel and vast knowledge of the interactions of local and national politics is invaluable.
Trusted by Obasanjo with the duty of retooling conversations on Nigeria in the international community, Lamido initiated a new dispensation of diplomacy with neighbouring countries and leaders in distant lands. As Foreign Minister, he led Nigeria’s delegations to the United Nations, G-77 bloc of nations, Commonwealth, Organization of African Unity (before it became African Union) and ECOWAS, resurrecting Nigeria as the country around whom the most consequential decisions affecting the continent should revolve. After four years in that role, Lamido’s attention would be turned to local affairs where he has since established an even greater footprint.
Formed at the renowned Barewa College, Lamido lives up to the expectation that his frame and gait anticipate in the casual observer. A founding member of the PDP, he has been one of its most loyal supporters sticking diligently through times when he lost his first gubernatorial contests and in the period of national losses that followed his eight-year governorship. Lamido’s base did not activate a return to a PDP administration in 2019 and his best days may be in the past decades. But he has enough active foot soldiers coming of age in the digital age who are now spreading the former diplomat’s political philosophy beyond the shores of their immediate localities.
Though not on the ballot, the Akinrogun of Egbaland and Aremo Awujale of Ijebu scored a memorable win during the 2019 cycle. Standing as a guarantor to Dapo Abdiodun in defiance of Governor Amosun’s bid to replace himself with a candidate on another party’s platform was a huge risk. Osoba has not exactly been an earth-shaking figure since leaving the Abeokuta Government House in 2003 but falling out publicly with Amosun stirred the veteran journalist into campaign mode.
Osoba joined politics following very successful newspaper years managing Nigeria’s leading print newspaper of the post-colonial era and reporting for acclaimed international publications including the BBC, Times of London and Newsweek. Born in Osogbo in 1939, he was one of the older and professionally accomplished men who were ready to assume political office when Babangida allowed elections in 1991. Osoba was a fitting successor to follow in the footsteps of another former journalist of Ijebu extraction, Onabisi Onabanjo, in becoming Ogun state’s democratically elected Governor. He was one of only three governors from that thirty-state era to be elected in 1999.
With Abiodun in charge, Osoba’s smarts are in focus again. The new Governor enthusiastically celebrated the March 11 victory with him in well coordinated public photographs, a sign that the civil engineer and former journalist have similar ideas about the future of the state that could see Amosun’s legacy in jeopardy. Honeymoons fade quickly in politics but before sour grapes start making headlines, but Osoba will be one of Nigeria’s happiest former Governors at least for a few weeks after swearing-in day.
He may be 91 but Ayo Adabanjo’s eyes glow while taking audiences through the life and times of his mentor and political benefactor Obafemi Awolowo. His contracting voice gains new energy and a fresh memory shines through. Recalling history is also a painful exercise that reveals the innumerable cycles of hope and despair he has had to endure over his storied career.
Still Adebanjo believes. He hopes and wishes that a modicum of that Nigeria which was dreamt up and fanned in the days before Independence could appear. A reflection on Pa Adebanjo’s life provides a guide through big events that have shaped Nigeria. He was born a year before Aba women rose against colonial taxation, channeling social, political and economic agitations around the country. In the year of his tenth birthday, general elections were held in the reign of Governor Bernard Bourdillon, leading to the emergence of leaders like Kofo Abayomi and Henry Carr. Abayomi would play a leading role in the founding of Egbe Omo Oduduwa as Adebanjo turned twenty, a group that would shape his political approach in later years. When he became 25, Anthony Enahoro moved the historic motion for Nigeria’s independence and by the time that was achieve in his early thirties, he was ready to play a role.
Like Awolowo, Adebanjo’s politics has featured long years of resistance. As leader of Afenifere, the most recognised of the two groups to have grown out of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa of the 1940s, Adebanjo’s voice and experience has proved too authoritative to ignore. He refuses recognize Buhari’s election as president until the Supreme Court rules decisively.
Nigeria’s last military leader is not remembered as a dictator and the evidence of his eleven-month stay in power supports the popular perception. Today, he is most seen or heard when the subject matter is nation building or peace agreements. That is Abubakar’s legacy, an unrivalled one among his peers.
Twenty years after his historic handover of power, Abubakar can look back to his decision to definitely move Nigeria away from the horrendous Abacha years. He must always wake with good thoughts every morning, knowing that the country’s present – however turbulent and full commotion – is better than the stifled, oppressive regime that gave way before he took over office five days prior to his 56th birthday. Up to that point, he had been the dreaded general’s chief of Defence staff, a fact that not a few people hold on to as evidence of his complicity in the egregious acts of that administration.
If he had any desire to continue Abacha’s legacy of perpetuating a military presidency, he did not show it. Forming INEC and appointing former Supreme Court Justice Ephraim Akpata to lead it signaled to everyone that indeed change was at hand. The transition process was not perfect but for a people battered over half a decade, Abubakar’s accelerated initiation of a democratic return was more than a wave of fresh air. It was no mean feat, especially as some African heads of state from his time remain in charge of their countries after amending their constitutions several times. May 29 exists because Abubakar made a promise and kept it.
Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar
The Sultan of Sokoto is arguably the most prestigious and influential of all traditional leaders in Nigeria. The current holder of the historic office, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, is the 20th since the caliphate was founded by Usmanu Dan Fodio in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Abubakar, as leader of Jama’atu Nasril Islam and president-general of the National Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs, effectively represents a lodestar of Islamic intellectual and political thought in the country.
His consistent voice has been critical to national stability considering Nigeria’s Public Enemy Number One for the last decade. When Nigerians of all religious stripes look to Sokoto for comments on the official Muslim community’s position, Abubakar has not failed to reinforce the distance in ideology between the terrorists and the majority of peaceful, law-abiding Nigerian muslims who constitute at least 45% of the population. He maintains visible presence in the peace conferences and dialogue forums with representatives of other religions.
Now in his thirteenth year as Sultan since replacing his brother Muhammadu Maccido, Abubakar has largely kept to the conservative track synonymous with his predecessors in terms of public appearances and direct participation in partisan politics. While Sokoto’s political battles have played out between the present and a past Governor, the Sultan has sensibly fails to pick sides without putting a thumb on the scale. On the basis of the stability in the state relative to its neighbours to the south, the Sultan’s fidelity to the politically neutral course continues to bear dividends of peace.
Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi
The 51st Ooni of Ife is, by a margin of nearly two decades, the youngest of Nigeria’s most recognised coterie of traditional rulers. On one hand, he comes across to young people who make up the majority of the country’s population as relatable. Even if his present position is not available on the free market, he had to be chosen from among a pool of other reasonably qualified potential Obas, a sense of meritocracy diluting the usual hereditary hegemony. Beating 20 other contenders, including his older brother Adetunji to the throne, makes him an effective campaigner to some degree.
Oba Ogunwusi, on the other hand, is a maverick public figure. His publicized divorce from Zaynab-Otiti Obanor caused an elaborate sensation, raising conversations on the dynamics of power in Nigeria’s male-dominated society that supports the shaming of women when marriages fail. While Obanor’s public statement on the end of the marriage regained her respect and saw her fade out of the conversation with her head high, the Oba moved on from the controversy but not without another sensation reflected by the buzz around his new wife, Queen Moronke Naomi Oluwaseyi.
Personal matters aside, the 44-year old monarch plays an active role in preserving the socio-cultural heritage of the Yoruba’s. He has been a vibrant promoter of cross-cultural conviviality for political stability, seeking out alliances with traditional rulers from other ethnic groups to forge partnerships for national unity. Though partly the religious leader of a people but without the jurisdiction that comes with heading an emirate or caliphate, Oba Ogunwusi can be seen participating at the observances of different faith congregations like an indifferent, eclectic temple rover.
He has been called the Anglican kingmaker who holds the key to political power in South-East Nigeria. More than fifty years of service as a cleric has brought Bishop Anikwenwa in regular contact with business leaders, godfathers and elected officials in his native Anambra state and beyond, providing him the social capital to position himself a s a moral force and a pillar of the state’s institutional conscience.
Experiencing the Nigerian Civil War may have been the foundations of Anikwenwa’s quest to influence political matters. But rather than become partisan, he chose the path of Christian ministry by becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1968. From the pulpit and through the various duties of his apostolate, Anikwenwa obtained first -hand accounts of the war’s effect on the politics and economy of the Nigeria that surrounded him. Fighting against the prevalence of the war’s causes – corruption, nepotism, tribalism – would become part of the young priest’s public testimony and lifelong advocacy.
Anikwenwa is reputed for refusing gifts from politicians. It is a significant ingredient in the perception people have of him as an authoritative voice, knowing that he does not speak from both sides of his mouth. When President Yar’Adua honored him with the Officer of the Federal Republic national award in 2007, it was in recognition of the rareness of his breed in the Nigerian political space where rent and personal profit trumps integrity. Now retired from active ministry since 2010, the father of three and grandfather of about a dozen continues to be sought after for his clear-eyed thoughts on national issues, helping to shape and swing consensus on what government’s at local and central levels should or should not do in the public interest.
Matthew Hasan Kukah
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto made his name as Secretary of the Oputa panel in the early 2000s. Kukah has since become a thought leader opining on national politics, social development and public policy. His command of history shrines through in the insightful analysis of current events he offers in written columns, television interviews and speeches, making him one of the nation’s most heard clerics.
Born in Zangon Kataf in 1952, Kukah has been a prominent member of the Catholic Church’s interactions with other religions in Nigeria for the purposes of peace and religious freedom. He has written books on democracy and defended it in practice, and his commitment to seeing justice become the norm rather than exception in Nigeria can be gleaned from the meticulous documentation of some of the Oputa panel’s momentous moments in “Witness to Justice”. Kukah is an ever-present presence in peace committees at national and regional levels, working with former presidents, traditional leaders and interest groups to understand the triggers of conflict and proffer lasting solutions.
In addition to these, the Kukah Centre in Abuja is developing into a prime think-tank for dissecting Nigeria’s intractable policy issues. Bishop Kukah’s life-long commitment to a society in which the commonwealth reaches us is able to attract experts to the centre for rigorous analyses and research that can inform evidence-based solutions that are practicable. Kukah has generously shared his time between caring for a flock that covers Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi and Katsina. That he operates from a state that is the de facto headquarters of Nigerian Islam without any controversies but rather is a force for co-existence shows an enviable measure of character and capacity.
Since joining the Redeemed Christian Church of God in 1973 as a Yoruba interpreter for English sermons, Enoch Adeboye has risen non-stop to become a mercurial but incredibly powerful strong man in Nigerian politics. Adeboye’s leadership of RCCG has been a pivotal factor in Nigeria becoming something of a Pentecostal republic especially in the last two decades. Revivalist ministries such as his have been considerably cited as playing some role in the “divine intervention” of June 8 1998 that turned Nigeria’s fortunes around. Adeboye has not lowered his standard since.
Forbes ranks him as one of the world’s richest pastors with a net worth of $40 million. A new law putting a twenty-year cap on the leadership of certain organisations means the Osun-born former Unilag Mathematics lecturer has relinquished running day-to-day activities at RCCG. But he has Nigeria’s Vice President on speed dial, and so is bound to continue being regularly flocked by politicians and interest groups seeking favours from Abuja. With a five-million membership base spread across the country and in 198 countries around the world, the sight of Adeboye holding a microphone in an auditorium remains powerful.
A significant measure of Adeboye’s influence is in the number of other influential Pentecostal ministries and ministers that have sprung from his time leading RCCG, including Africa’s richest pastor and a former Vice Presidential candidate. His church’s continued expansion shows no signs of slowing. Adeboye is retired and travels more freely around the world which is bound to make him still influential even at 77.
Tunde Bakare was a surprise choice in 2011 when Buhari made him the vice presidential candidate on the CPC’s presidential ticket. He was known to be a radical polemicist in his sermons – calling names and pointing fingers on political issues – but not necessarily a politician who would contest office. While that bid, in hindsight, stood no chance, Bakare remained on the scene in the four years that followed to move the needle to a conclusive end. From leading the “Occupy Nigeria” protests against fuel subsidy removal in January 2012, Bakare played a galvanizing role in coordinating the platforms that eventually rode Buhari into power.
Trained as a lawyer after the tradition of Gani Fawehinmi and Rotimi Williams, Bakare’s mission is the product of the mix between a faith-based motivation for fairness and righteousness with the humanistic desire for justice. He left the Redeemed Christian Church of God to found his own ministry thirty years ago and the community of worshippers who stream to the Church’s auditorium in the Ogba area of Lagos have progressively become accustomed to being served course meals in faith, morals and politics.
Despite his support of the Buhari administration, Bakare hasn’t given up his penchant for critiquing government performance. His comments on Vice President Osinbajo’s chances of succeeding Buhari in the days of the latter’s extended stay in London roused much gossip. “The next in line does not translate automatically to the next king”, as Bakare put it, was ostensibly a sounding of the alarm for political observers to be alert to the unpredictability of politics in Nigeria. Bakare’s political thoughts can be found in his 2015 book, “Strategic Intervention in Governance”.
In Pentecostal Nigeria’s power hierarchy, Poju Oyemade is still a fresh-faced newcomer. His church is yet to expand outside of Lagos – indeed there are only three main centres (Iganmu, Yaba and Lekki) where Sunday services are held. But the appendages of his Covenant Christian Centre – founded in March 1994 – have given Oyemade the launchpad to carve a space and exert influence.
With “The Platform”, Pastor ‘Poju’ is getting more young Nigerians to consider and eventually embrace outside-of-the-box ideas. Since its “Nigeria at 50” symposium in October 2010, it has featured moving speeches still being revisited today in discussions around politics and policy. Oyemade’s vision has attracted the likes of Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, Prof Pat Utomi, Peter Obi, Ibuku Awosika, Matthew Hassan Kukah and even serving government officials like Okechukwu Enelamah to make strong cases for innovative ideas that foster wealth creation and national development. In fact, Nigeria’s first exposure to Yemi Osinbajo’s talents was arguably from his October 2012 appearance. Since shifting the date to May 1 the traditional day for celebrating workers, Oyemade is effectively shaping the date as National Day for Brainstorming on Our Future.
Oyemade has done all of this in less than ten years, taking advantage of new media and the tapping into the increasing sense of urgency among youths. His acute ability to sense the pulse of the frustrated generation makes Pastor Poju a social commentator whose opinions hold water. He espouses a millennial brand of influence that emphasizes the practical applications of his faith’s teachings for socio-economic and political transformation as against religious conformity and a preoccupation with neutering the underworld. To the extent that this represents the next phase in Nigeria’s evolution as a Pentecostal republic, 51-year old Oyemade looks set to play a leading role in the paradigm shift.
With a valuation of $150 million, David Oyedepo is Africa’s richest pastor. As founder of Covenant and Landmark Universities, he is also one of Africa’s foremost educators. Oyedepo founded Winners Chapel in 1981 and in less than four decades, its branches now occupy a large portion of the nation’s landmass.
Ubiquity of space has made the Winners approach to life, leadership and entrepreneurship an increasingly popular aspect of being Nigerian. Like Adeboye, Oyedepo is one of the pioneers of a prosperity-driven brand of the gospel in Nigeria, which actively encourages (even demands) members embrace and aggressively pursue the acquisition of material wealth. In sermons and scores of published books, Oyedepo outlines “principles” and “strategies” for financial freedom that have seen his empire stretch across the country. He stands with few rivals in the promotion of marrying the spirit of capitalism with evangelism.
Oyedepo has been fiercely outspoken against the ravaging menace of violence especially due to herder-farmers clashes. Despite his ties with the current vice president, he was hardly sparing in calling for the government to not be re-elected in the February elections. It is an aspect of Oyedepo’s personality that, until now, has stayed relatively out of the public eye. Born to a Muslim father, Oyedepo has turned up a fortune so immense for a man without a fast moving goods or manufacturing empire in a country that is currently the poverty capital of the world. Yet, he does not shy from broadcasting those private jets and Church buses, that after all on brand for the spiritual adviser for a good number of Nigeria’s richest Christians.
David ‘Davido’ Adeleke
In a seismic three-year roll topping charts and winning all available accolades in Nigerian music, Davido the politician has emerged to considerable surprise and delight over the past year. The change began with his surprising decision to first participate in the National Youth Service Scheme, then abandon it weeks later to join his uncle’s political campaign. Maybe the maturity of his activist genes needed his superstar status to be established beyond reproach. Whatever the triggers are, Davido’s entry into Nigerian politics has been one hell of a ride.
Stomping for his uncle, Ademola Adeleke, in the Osun Governorship elections was clearly a venture driven by self-interest. But Davido proved himself a helpful campaigner when he could have easily asked to be left alone so as to not hurt his career. It did not pay off in the ultimate sense of electoral victory but the multimillion-records-selling artiste exemplified the popular call for entertainers to use their platforms for social influence. In the 2019 polls, Davido’s social media effectively became split between promotional content for his music and public enlightenment campaigns preaching turnout and voting one’s conscience. By declaring support for candidates across party lines in state and National Assembly elections, Davido was promoting, in practice, the ideals by which the Nigerian voter should choose capable leaders.
Does he have a future in public service? Failing to complete his youth service will now never be forgotten owing to his popularity. But a future in which Davido seats closer to the corridors of power isn’t far from imagination. Meanwhile, he continues to make music that breaks bounds in the international market, forging friendships and new recording partnerships abroad that further boost his credibility and show his capacity for leadership.
Olubankole ‘Banky W’ Wellington
Banky W ran for a House of Representatives seat to win more than just two polling units. Choosing an unknown party instead of the APC and PDP turned out too radical an idea even for voters in a federal constituency believed to be among the richest and most enlightened in the country. But Banky is taking the losses and learning from them with his eye set on 2023.
Not many were surprised to see him enter a political race in 2018. For as long as he has been a musician in Nigeria, Banky has also been an energetic part of pro-good governance advocacy campaigns. Inspired by genuine desire for social change, he features on infomercials organized by groups such as Enough Is Enough Nigeria promoting citizen awareness and civic engagements for the achievement of social accountability. Throwing his hat in the ring comes at no cost to this reputation. On the contrary, he is able to speak more from experience having witnessed the realities on the ground. Banky’s three-month excursion through the political terrain becomes an important deposit in the public’s knowledge of how politics works. As he shares it over the coming months, expect a great number of people to benefit from the practical insights.
Unlike other “third-force” candidates in the 2019 cycle, Banky’s candidature for the Eti-Osa House seat garnered support and commendation from young political talking heads across the APC-PDP divide. Perhaps he would have definitely won by being on one of those platforms but the 38-year old businessman believes that a new ladder can be raised for a different generation of political leaders.
Nigeria’s number one sports bookmaking innovator cashed out big at the polls. With his entrepreneurial abilities not in doubt, Akin Alabi began teasing a future political run on Twitter by offering sensible hot takes on issues bordering on governance and public welfare, while offering practical business advice for intending business owners. Ever the strategist, hitting while the iron was hot proved a winning move that future candidates would do well to understudy.
Where other young candidates and arguably more popular candidates stumbled, it certainly helped Alabi’s cause that he was flying a major party’s banner. That said, there are lessons to be gleaned from Alabi’s street-style campaigns in pursuit of the Egbeda/Ona Ara Federal Constituency seat. With the exception of a few tweets, Alabi relied for the most part on making physical contact and establishing emotional connections with locals on the ground. Winning the incumbent, the PDP’s candidate and the 17 other contestants was no forgone conclusion; Alabi made it happen on his own terms.
All eyes are on Alabi to prove himself in Abuja as a lawmaker with a difference. Being a member of the ruling party, he will naturally appear more on the defensive side of critical assessments of the Buhari government’s policies. His legislative record will be of utmost concern to the Twittersphere, with particular attention to his handling of constituency projects and executive oversight. A bundle of goodwill is accorded him online as though he bears the hopes of a generation desirous for a more legislature akin to those found in developed countries.
He is Africa’s richest person. When his businesses sneeze, Nigeria’s capital markets catch cold. The Federal Government is desperate for his refinery to be ready so as to share credit for the thousands of jobs to be created. What more needs to be said?
Dangote is never quoted endorsing any candidates but he has always voted with capital. Sizeable donations to campaigns and multiple political parties during elections are followed by enthusiastically offering to work with every government that emerges to advance Nigeria’s economic goals. It makes Dangote a regularly consulted individual on national investment decision making, particularly those likely to affect the viability of local businesses. With stakes in consumer goods, real estate, telecommunications and oil, he is only one of a few whose opinions can significantly alter any Nigerian government’s policy objectives simply by deciding to make an investment.
Beyond his multi-industrial footprint, Dangote is further demonstrating his international appeal – and, consequently, the Nigerian government’s need of him – by showcasing his closer relationship with Bill Gates. The Kano-born magnate is leveraging the power of philanthropy to boost his public image as a man dedicated to the idea that the more rich Nigerians there are, the better for the society. At a time where billionaires are the most obvious targets for populists of both nationalist and liberal progressive stripes around the world, Dangote continues to enjoy the status of the indispensable benefactor in Nigeria. Traditional rulers are perpetually asking him to come to their aid and virtually every current job seeker in the country is hopeful of landing a role when his $10 billion refinery opens by December 2019.
Shipping and petroleum tycoon Theophilus Danjuma appears regularly on rich-list rankings. As at November 2015, he ranked at number 50 in Africa with a net worth of $750 million. Lots of that fortune has gone to charity over the years via the TY Danjuma Foundation, his platform for humanitarian aid around Nigerian and Africa.
Danjuma was chief of staff during Obasanjo’s military dictatorship and served as Defence Minister in his first term as president. He has been relatively quiet on the national political stage since but was an active adviser to the Jonathan administration for a time before growing cold on the PDP. Danjuma has more often been on the Obasanjo side of debates on matters of who becomes president while controlling the scene in his native Taraba state under the PDP’s umbrella.
With his depth of political experience and immense wealth, the octogenarian does not hold back when offering his views. He has accused the Nigerian Army for being complicit in the violent killings in the country, particularly those affecting his community. In stimulating support for Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 elections, Danjuma explained the origins of the former vice president’s troubles with Obasanjo as being due to the interference of another former military leader, Ibrahim Babangida (diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks suggest meetings between Obasanjo and Babangida in 2002). In essence, Danjuma’s long history in the Army and Defence means he has a wealth of knowledge on inside secrets (including on controversial missions like the Odi and Zaki Biam massacres), making him an inconvenient political enemy to have.
Aliyu Magatakarda Wamako
Wammako coasted to a resounding victory in February to retain his Senate seat. However, these elections were different for the former Governor with his 2015 predecessor in opposition. While not a big state relative to its other neighbours in the North-West, Sokoto is one of the so-called “core North” states where voters are usually expected to vote unanimously in presidential elections. With another Northerner on the ballot, it would be down to Wammako to maintain a “core North west” status quo.
Wammako owes his prominence to fighting the will of his predecessor Attahiru Bafarawa in becoming Sokoto governor in 2007. It involved defection from the ANPP to the PDP, staying with the latter for the period of his two terms before joining other “nPDP” governors in merging with the APC in 2015. His first term as a Senator saw him largely align with his party in being against Saraki’s leadership of the National Assembly, famously declaring the Senate president would regret moving to the “dead PDP”. Going by election results, the teacher from Wammako made good on his threat.
Indeed Buhari’s sweep of Sokoto in the presidential polls can be attributed to Wammako’s show of his continued relevance in the state despite no longer being its governor. Considering three different political parties have ruled Sokoto, honor is due the 66-year old for maintain a grasp on the state which his predecessor and incumbent do not currently possess. No wonder, in separate visits, APC leader Bola Tinubu and Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje made sure to visit him about two weeks before the elections.
Tambuwal contested the PDP presidential primaries in 2018 and was the preferred candidate of at least one of the party’s major governors. What might have been had he got the ticket instead of Atiku?
Nobody knows and having secured re-election to govern Sokoto for another term, it is safe to guess that he is not losing any sleep over the past. If anything, Tambuwal won a battle of his own by overcoming the resistance of former governor Wammako and the power of the ruling national party to whom he once belonged. His winning margin? 342 votes.
Tambuwal’s political journey is probably more decorated by defections than any other currently active politician. He has been on the same page with every governor of Sokoto since 1999 but has had to be on an opposing side within the next four years. Yet, he has won each time.
Called to the bar in 1992, Tambuwal quickly identified his future in politics and found work as an aide to Abdullahi Walo, the 4th Senate’s Leader. Three terms in the House of Representatives on behalf of Kebbe/Tambuwal Federal Constituency have followed. Those terms were served on the platform of three different parties – four, if the brief period he spent at DPP before swinging back to ANPP during the 2007 elections is counted. Rising to the House Speakership proved pivotal in the campaign that saw President Jonathan fail in his second term bid in 2015, a period in which Tambuwal was singularly referenced by then First Lady Patience Jonathan as a thorn in her husband’s political flesh.
Being voted vice chairperson of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum is the latest recognition of Tambuwal’s influence. Knowing his presidential ambitions, it will be interesting to see how he uses the platform.
Sowore’s Sahara Reporters is unlike any major news platform out there. Designed to intentionally provoke reactions by publishing news unvarnished, SR has pushed boundaries within the media ecosystem on what it means to monitor politics since its operations began in 2006. The character of the publication is a near absolute reflection of its founder; Sowore is as blunt as they come. Channeling that directness may not be the reason he failed to win his election bid for president this year but it certainly got him more attention. And thanks to him, his state Governor has become interested enough in marijuana to undertake an exploratory trip on how it may be grown in the state and exported.
In the past decade, Sowore used SR in shaping public perception around major issues. His insistence on discovering the truth made him a source of information in the days of the controversy surrounding the health of President Yar’Adua in 2010, effectively becoming the first publication to break news of his death in May of that year. Unrelenting and unsparing, Sowore kept up the flame in the Jonathan years, especially during the fuel subsidy debates of 2012, famously organizing an impromptu protest to disrupt a Minister’s meeting with Nigerians in the UK. Naturally, his anti-establishment fervor has shown no signs of slowing in the Buhari years and, having lost to him, we can expect him to be even more insistent on uncovering the administration’s dark arts.
Winning his polling unit in the elections – the only one of the “third-force” to do so – will provide inspiration for the 48th year old that his efforts were not in vain. Should he desire to try again in 2023, there will be this cycle’s experience – including the subsequent altercations with his party, African Action Congress – to draw motivation and strategy lessons from.
With more than three decades of journalism under his belt, Dapsy as he is called by friends is presently one of Nigeria’s most important figures as pertains progress in perfecting democracy and governance. Everywhere he’s been – from The News, through Tempo and NEXT to founding Premium Times in 2011 – the veteran reporter and writer has stuck stubbornly to the belief that investigative journalism is a most effective instrument for achieving justice and social good.
“His personal style is a quiet tone, self-effacing” observes the political scientist, Ibrahim Jibrin. Indeed, the PT publisher is rarely every heard or involved in any heated squabbles either offline or online, despite his publication being the most widely read and quoted portal for political news in Nigeria. He would rather let the paper’s products – authentic news, investigative reports, factual analysis and revealing profiles – speak to the issues of the day and foster the suitable atmosphere for the growth of democracy.
Thanks to Olorunyomi’s leadership of Premium Times, Nigerians have a dedicated political news platform that has not lent itself to the whims of any existing political party or subset of the ruling class. There is still some way to go before it attains the standards associated with the world’s leading outlets but under his guide, the foundations are being dug on firm ground. Whether uncovering the Maina affair, detailing certificate scandals involving cabinet officials, or publishing reports that may be unflattering to security agencies at the risk of arrest, Olorunyomi has been tireless in re-creating the image of the Nigerian media to re-acquire its true place as the fourth estate.
Alexa ranks Legit.ng as Nigeria’s most visited indigenously owned website. As its editor-in-chief, Olupohunda has moved the online publishing platform to the terrain of more rigorous reporting and commentary on political activities, solidifying its appeal to young Nigerians who have significantly moved online for their news.
Olupohunda’s journalism spans politics, health and the arts. He has forged a weighty reputation for impactful storytelling for reports drawing attention to various plights in remote Nigerian communities. With his credibility established over time on the pages of NEXT, The Guardian and Punch newspapers, he is investing the entirety of his depth and experience to make Legit Nigeria’s new leader in news publishing, akin to how BuzzFeed challenges established newsrooms in the US. In the video domain, Legit is standing out as a leader in providing Nigerians on the street with the medium for contributing to the national conversation without the varnishing that is required on traditional television.
Legit’s growth is driven by recognizing the power of a decentralized media ecosystem to activate previously unreachable segments of the population. Transiting from Naij, Olupohunda’s new project is to achieve the simplification of political news by making it appear part of the daily Nigerian’s life, hence stirring greater participation. That mission has featured an inclination to sensationalization as some critics readily point out but Olupohunda argues for the need to convey the hard, often boring news of politics and policy through emotional vehicles. Their numbers suggest buy-in from the public and encouragement for Olupohunda to proceed.
Okinbaloye hosts “Sunday Politics” and “Politics Today,” arguably two of the most-watched political programs on television. Viewers tune in to watch the debates, usually between public servants or political operators on opposite sides of the partisan divide. But the debates in themselves are insightful in due part because the anchor asks the piercing questions that put guests on the hot seat.
A graduate of the University of Ilorin, Okinbaloye has led Channels television’s coverage of the last two general elections as well as being lead reporter for state governorship elections held outside of the usual season. Punchy, direct and mostly reasonable, his reputation is now of a young Nigerian who isn’t afraid to poke the elders’ sensitive buttons. For a society where curiosity is associated with disrespect and not minding one’s business, his style of putting officials on the spot to provide answers to questions on the minds of Nigerians seats well with viewers.
Okinbaloye’s role in expanding the scope of expectation from televised news is not in doubt. By which style of questioning, he brings a forthrightness and focus on important matters that may often be lost when politics is dramatized as a game. This has made him a go-to journalist after huge developments are reported on other news outlets; knowing that Okinbaloye will quiz presidential advisers, legislators or party leaders on the day’s big issues gives a modicum of comfort that some clarity will appear from the usually confiscating political atmosphere. Versatile and informed, he is establishing himself as the gold standard of political TV anchoring in Nigeria for years to come.
Momodu is the publisher of The Boss, an online newspaper with a focus on politics, entertainment and culture. Though more popular for being a steady fixture of the celebrity coverage circle with Ovation magazine, he has always been a political insider. He is one Nigeria’s masters of public relations, a field of endeavour he has used to launch and support political quests to varying levels of admiration.
He has at least one presidential run under his belt from 2011 and so proudly brands himself as one who knows what it takes, despite not going as far as to register with most Nigerians during that cycle. Having made his name and fame in the days before online publishing and advertising, he has adapted seamlessly and effectively pooled the advantages of the new digital age. Nearly one million followers on Twitter benefit from his ensuring contacts with power plugs around the country which serve as sources of scoops on the intrigues along corridors of power.
Momodu has legitimate political credentials that go back to M.K.O. Abiola’s presidential campaign in 1993. He was a publicist for former Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama in the lead up to the country’s 2016 elections though the campaign fell apart. He has, nevertheless, continued to be a sought-after strategist for his knowledge of the dynamics of statecraft in Africa. With Ovation published in English and French, Momodu has the spread across the continent that makes him a reliable link for connecting government interests. His weekend column, Pendulum, is considered a rich source of ideas and critical analysis on state and culture.
With the successful passage of the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ bill and subsequent signing into law by President Buhari in 2018, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) established itself as a non-profit that delivers results. Thanks to the astute leadership provided by Samson Itodo, the organistion is positioning itself to ascend to higher ground.
In the 2019 elections, Itodo led YIAGA to undertake the most scientific observation process of a Nigerian election yet by expanding the scope of the parallel vote tabulation system to cover more ground. Supported by a dynamic team of researchers, statisticians and computer scientists, Itodo’s YIAGA provided convincing evaluation of the electoral process. Their useful data on election participation dis-aggregated by demographic markers will certainly feed better understanding of the make-up of the Nigerian electorate and aid greater planning in future elections.
A 2019 Tutu fellow, Itodo is reaching out ambitiously across the nation for more partners in the necessary work of popularizing democracy. He has come some way from being an anchor on talk radio to becoming one of Nigeria’s leading figures on elections and political participation. Itodo is providing an admirable example on the potential of the young, aware Nigerian to demand and effect change. When it is said that democracy is not served a la carte, his use of his immediate means to inspire possibilities is one of the most convincing examples to cite. The constitutional amendment reducing the age for contesting public offices may have come too late to significantly affect the number of 25-year olds on INEC’s register of candidates but with “Ready to Run”, YIAGA is awakening ambitions. Itodo is, buoyed by the success of the past twenty months, leading this charge.
“Hello and welcome to ‘Know Your Rights’, a human rights enlightenment program on your radio”. That was Dr Nwankwo’s signature opening in the mid-nineties while anchoring the civic advocacy program he ran every Tuesday from the stables of the Constitutional Rights Project. In the two decades that have followed, he has maintained unbroken presence in Nigeria’s civil society environment as a leading governance and pro-democracy specialist. He founded the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) to provide needed monitoring and public enlightenment on the duties of the National Assembly, and convenes the Civil Society Situation Room for elections observations. Under his leadership, PLAC has emerged as a premier source for politicos who wish to keep abreast of the progress of legislative agendas.
Nwankwo is internationally recognised as a change agent and consistently committed to equity, transparency and justice. Brutalized on the streets outside of a Swiss hotel while attending a summit of the International Human Rights Community (IHRC) in Geneva in 1995, Nwankwo triggered an unequivocal condemnation of the Swiss Police by the United Nations. Beyond the racist undertones of that particular case, it was one of a significant number of occurrences that reflected Nwankwo’s image as a man marked by authorities who loathed his progressivism and commitment to the struggle for liberty.
Nwankwo coordinates PLAC – now in its tenth year – from the Guzape District of their Abuja office but is frequently on the move particularly during elections season. Few have acquired his level of on-the-ground knowledge of the political economy and sociology of Nigerian elections, from the logistics of organizing to the motivations that drive civic participation.
To change the number of women in politics and public office, it is necessary to have women talking about it on platforms where they can be visible. Television remains a powerful force for influence despite all the raving about the digital revolution eclipsing traditional media. Nigeria has had her fair share of female political TV hosts over the years. In Maupe Ogun-Yusuf, we are assured of continuity and quality.
She hosts Channels TV’s ‘Hard Copy’, a stirring 30-minute one-on-one with eminent persons in the politics and policy space. Her hard-hitting questioning style is also featured on Sunrise Daily one of the most watched morning shows in the country. Born in Lagos and with degrees from the University of Lagos and the University of East Anglia in English and International Relations respectively, Ogun-Yusuf has made played a leading in role in advancing the media’s critical role in keeping government honest and accountable. She is often up for the argument with her fact-book in hand and does not budge to the usual politician’s propensity to evade and distract.
Her devotion to the Nigerian cause comes through in the genuine interest that inspires her incisive questioning, as against any vain inclination to catch opponents saying wrong things. Her prominence on political TV also serves as encouragement for more women to feel invited into the space, dispelling the perception of political communication as a domain reserved for those with masculine strengths. The space remains male-dominated by a wide margin but the consistency of high flyer like Ogun-Yusuf consolidate the gains of greats of years past – Eugenia Abu, Kadaria Ahmed – and make the strong case for more.
Nigeria’s budgets are always subjects of much debate among politicians and the public. The man who has been responsible for preparing it since June 2016, Ben Akabueze, actively avoids the spotlight but cannot prevent his name coming up when dissatisfied groups make their case.
As Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Akabueze has overseen the preparation of the annual bills posed to the Nigerian public by President Buhari. First appointed special adviser on national planning before taking charge of the budgets duty, the former Lagos commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget has undertaken the task of making the Nigerian budget a bit more understandable and accessible to the public. The BOF publishes considerable material on its website on budgets going back ten years, as well as periodic reports on performance, particularly the implementation of capital projects. Under his leadership, BOF has pursued savings initiatives that have reduced its operational costs, from travel expenses for staff and senior officials to souvenir and entertainment at its functions, leading the way on Buhari’s inclination to run a lean bureaucracy.
Akabueze is recognised as an accountant, banker and economist of distinction. A first class degree holder from the University of Nigeria Nsukka, his time as one of Nigeria’s fiscal policy engineers coincides with an era of greater demand for transparency and accountability from civil society organisations. He has been generally inclined to answer questions and provide explanations on the often grey areas of how Nigeria’s budgets are drawn up. Being in-charge of a political office where expertise is essential is a test of one’s professionalism and while the budgeting process requires more openness and less complexity, Akabueze has had a hand in some incremental gains.
Few have the ability to produce essays and treatises on Nigerian politics that inspire equal measures of rage, fulsome laughter and hope about Nigeria than can be found in Pius Adesanmi’s writings and lectures. Many who are moved by his words develop kinship from a distance, each virtual encounter inspiring greater conviction that every existing facet of the Nigerian society can be radically improved upon. What he has said about Nigerian politicians’ exulted perceptions of themselves are common observations but his talent for painting vivid pictures evokes greater repulsion. Sophisticated or plain, urbanite or barely read, a glance through a basic Adesanmi essay, Facebook post or Tweet leaves you feeling more knowledgeable than minutes before.
Adesanmi’s central thesis – that education is the way to raise the critical mass of conscious citizens to preserve democracy – does not have many challengers. For every fierce, unsparing criticisms of political office holders, government officials and every other impediment in the way of Nigeria’s socio-economic progress, education remains the antidote tested the world over and, when applied to Nigeria, will surely produce the goods. Nigeria’s education, in his telling, has been designed consciously to be decadent and dependent on politicians and only a focus on rescuing the sector from their control or electing leaders who care enough about it could get the country out of jail.
There is much more to the living treasure trove of ideas inspired by Adesanmi’s four decades of public intellection on society and human progress, establishing him as a recognised authority across the globe. A sunny personality, eternal optimist, student of history and teacher, Adesanmi’s dream for Nigeria to never be last and for Africa’s genius to shine through lives on.
Musiliu ‘MC Oluomo’ Akinsanya
Unions are a powerful group to have on your side when seeking public office. While the Nigeria Labour Congress leads the way on advocacy and has the capacity to swing sentiments for or against a government, the two most powerful transport unions – Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and Road Transport Employers Association (RTEAN) – have the numbers and personalities to be influential. By virtue of population densities and traffic, transport unions in Lagos are a big deal and no is a better example of this than Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Oluomo.
Born in Oshodi, Akinsanya is the treasurer of the Lagos NURTW and also seen as a political influencer during elections. Reports of his being stabbed in January by rival members of the NURTW at an APC rally punctured his reputation as an invincible operative. But the sight of him posing with the certificate of return of a House of Representatives member-elect served as a reminder of his gravitas and sway. It would be remarkable for an elected legislator to be captured thanking the rank and file of his community for electing him but the import of events involving Akinsanya add an extra dimension.
Can other Nigerians in ordinary positions as his across the country have his level of influence? There are market women who are indispensable at state and ward levels, who serve as galvanizing forces to get out the vote for candidates. In some parts of the country, militants are able to command politician’s attention for the fear of what they could do when not heeded. While he is framed as a tough talker, the jury isn’t decided on where Akinsanya lies on this spectrum. For now, most agree, as Teni alludes, that it isn’t particularly comforting to have him called on you.
Akiolu gained a win in March from a Lagos High Court ruling affirming the validity of his position as Oba of Lagos. Princes from other Lagos royal families have tried legal and less than legal ways for 16 years to dethrone Akiolu with little success. All the while, however, he has gone about his business with the charisma and command of one unperturbed.
The Obaship of Lagos is ceremonial just like every other traditional position in the country. But the advantages abound in being able to remain in power beyond the tenures of elected governors. In fact, the fate of Akinwunmi Ambode is probably a persuasive reason to prefer the security of kingdomhood, however diluted the power. Surrounded by the bliss of Lagos’s riches, Akiolu has managed his status as an unelected but recognised permanent stakeholder to great effect. His position as a traditional ruler guarantees regular visits by politicians seeking public office, from aspiring presidents to governors and Senators.
Where his predecessor, Adeyinka Oyekan II, was considered a pacifist, Akiolu has not been averse to issuing statements with awkward ethnic undertones. He often backs himself to take on those whose opinions interfere with the Tinubu agenda in Lagos and Nigeria, former president Obasanjo being his most prominent opponent in 2019. By choosing to air his views and have them travel as far as possible, he differs from the apolitical, neutral approach of major traditional rulers in other parts of the country. Seventy-five and full of life, Akiolu continues the second dozen years of his reign under a fourth governor, still as an employee but one with a voice louder than most.
Adebayo Alao Akala
Since handing over the keys to the Oyo treasury in May 2011, Alao-Akala has failed to garner support to complete a second term. Dropping out in the last race for APC’s governorship ticket, Adebayo Adelabu also failed despite the power of incumbency. Four defections in five years have yielded nothing and with his seventieth birthday around the corner, the former police officer seems to have peaked politically.
Alao-Akala is the only one to serve as a deputy governor, temporarily succeed his principal and then get elected governor in his own right but just for one term. Where a similar succession of events propelled another man to the vice presidency, acting president and elected president, Alao-Akala’s ends at the Ibadan Government House and with every other failed attempt, he becomes a distant memory. Yet, he remains in the political observer’s notebook as an interesting character who probably missed his opportunity to cement a legacy. Ife and Ibadan being Yoruba’s cultural and intellectual ancestral homes, he could have made a great name for himself by offering the quality of governance and would make his present status legendary.
But all that power is not lost. Ever the adaptive politician, he will find his way back into relevance. Seyi Makinde’s is the first PDP led government is the first since Alao-Akala in 2011 and, so, it should not be surprising to see the latter rebrand himself as the state’s elder statesman. The challenge of reasserting influence is one big characters like Alao-Akala thrive on. If not by the route of reclaiming public office, by some other.
Radio host and blogger Jimi Disu started his journalism career in the Daily Times in 1975 even just before beginning undergraduate studies at the University of Lagos. He has worked in different capacities over the years in the most notable publications including getting his very first post-graduation job as an assistant editor at Punch. Since then, he has worked as a business editor at Vanguard, as well as at Compass at NEXT. Now in a new phase of his career, Disu has gained prominence as Lagos’ top host and on-air political opinion shaper especially with “The Discourse” on Classic FM 97.3
He attributes him formation to his primary school education where pupils were required to read the day’s newspapers and right down the main themes. Today, he is known for covering the breadth and length of topical issues and lending a guide to the public in making sense out of them. While the more popular radio on-air personalities are usually in the entertainment, music and popular culture domain, Disu’s experience as a journalist in the Babangida and Abacha years means he is immersed in political thought and does a job of getting the audience to see what he perceives.
It has not been without some regret, once admitting that he probably would have taken a job as a reporter for a foreign publication after graduating Unilag, considering the state of Nigeria’s democracy. However, Nigeria’s developmental progress, in his telling, is reason enough to be hopeful and persist. Persisting could entail resisting, like his request to Femi Gbajabiamila to give up seeking a fifth term. His ability to offer candid opinions of that nature even when they affect his family endears him further to the listening public.
An APC founding member, Fayemi has been integral to the party from his first term as governor before joining the Buhari administration as Minister of solid minerals. His path to politics followed two decades in the development sector in Nigeria and the UK, serving as director of the Centre for Democracy and Development for nine years until 2006. After riding to power on the back of his amiable professional record, failing to win a second term as the incumbent raised doubts as to the capacity for more intellectually minded politicians to succeed in the Nigerian environment. His excuse – that the Jonathan government had paid significant amounts of money to influence the polls via the Army – did not hold much water among critics who described his governance style as detached from regular folk.
Not one to give up on a fight, Fayemi threw all of his experience and capacity for coalition-building into Buhari’s 2015 election, a move that has paid off with him back in the Ekiti government house. Progressive in his politics and reputed for being attentive to detail, Fayemi is part of a small circle whose careers have not always been in politics but who have adjusted well enough to be deferred to by colleagues. Elected chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum for the next two years, he will have finished his tenure when next presidential elections are due. Speculation has begun on potential front-runners for the party’s ticket. With his experience and status in the party, Fayemi is certainly in the mix. But until then, his focus is on re-directing Ekiti in his image, whatever the reservations, and away from the “folksy” Fayose.
Kabir Garba Marafa
When the Supreme Court’s voided all APC victories in the February/March elections conducted in Zamfara, another trophy was placed in Nigeria’s democracy cabinet. PDP’s Bello Matawalle was the principal beneficiary, despite securing under 30% of the votes cast in the gubernatorial elections. The APC will not have any legislator representing the state in the National Assembly, including outgoing governor Abdulaziz Yari who will now give up the Senate seat he won. No one is more pleased by these outcomes than Kabir Marafa.
His war of words with the Yari over the state’s internal security crisis eclipsed every other Senator-Governor battle of the past four years. Yari promised to “kill” his political career and the threat was duly returned by Marafa who was first elected to the Senate in 2011 on the ANPP’s platform after defecting from the PDP. While he is not returning to the 9th Senate, Marafa showed his mettle by making the case in the Supreme Court for cancelling the APC primaries facilitated by Yari after the expiration of INEC’s deadline. Marafa’s suit, filed with 142 others, denied the APC control over Zamfara but it is a personal victory over Yari who was chairman of the Governors’ forum.
Yari is one of at least four APC governors who failed to have their successors take over. Where other cases were influenced by a cluster of factors including divergence between state and national party officials, Zamfara will be remembered for Marafa’s singular role in stoking antagonistic sentiments against the governor. He may now be unemployed but new state governors elsewhere will beware of getting into similar skirmishes.
For the most part, public discourse in the media on matters of law are mostly taken up senior advocates or practicing lawyers who may have vested political or corporate interests. With Professor Akin Oyebode, a rich source of objective analysis associable with systematic academic analysis enters the fray and elevates the quality of synthesis.
To understand Prof. Oyebode’s unique insights and his impressive grasp of legalese, we must go back to his upbriging. Oyebode is from Ekiti state, touted as the most educated state in the country with the most professors. With that kind of pedigree, it isn’t surprising that Oyebode graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Harvard Law School in 1975, and the prestigious Osgoode Hall Law School at the York University in Toronto, Canada. He was the founding dean of the Ondo state University Faculty of Law and has taught law at the University of Ado-Ekiti while serving as it’s Vice-Chancellor. Utilizing the opportunity to teach two generations of Nigerian Lawyers, means that Oyebode has significant influence in the Nigerian Bar, from which a decent amount of politicians come.
With more than three decades as an eminent scholar on International law and Jurisprudence, Oyebode offers an ever-necessary perspective from the long view of history, study and practice that is not available to just anyone. He has, to his credit, no less than seven books and monographs, plus over two hundred papers on myriad subjects of justice. As a commentator on political and legal issues, Oyebode’s precise analyses help clear up misconceptions and direct public attention towards the consequential issues that require action.
Abubakar Ibn Umar Garba El-Kanemi
Being a traditional rule can be a fun job but when your domain is the epicenter of a decade-old war, the peace, order and exuberant displays of culture in other kingdoms elude you. That is the reality under which the Shehu of Borno, Abubakar El-Kanemi, lives and reigns. This compounded with the reducing power of traditional caliphates and traditional leaders in general put El-Kanemi in a bit of a bind. But the regent has never let that stop him for advocating for his people, and bringing their problems to the limelight.
Appreciative of the Buhari government efforts to end the Boko Haram menace, in principle, El-Kanemi has maintained pressure on the military to double up, refusing to lend credence to the various theories of victory that have gained attention at one time or another. Apart from that, El-Kanemi has encouraged his people to take their own security and safety into their lives, providing logistical support for the vigilante groups that have served as a barrier between the marauding terrorists and the local communities targeted by Boko Haram. Recurring warfare in the region has led to staggering internal displacement of indigenes and while he lacks executive power, the Shehu has led the state’s other traditional rulers as a quasi pressure group to achieve lasting peace.
TVContinental might have had to fight political assertions that it is a tool for APC propaganda but it has managed so far thanks to the tireless work of its journalists and its insightful programmes like the ‘Journalist’s Hangout’ helmed by renowned journalist Babajide Otitoju.
Otitoju is the head of news at TV Continental, but is known mainly as a panelist on its flagship evening political magazine programme, “Journalists’ Hangout”. On the show, Otitoju is able to step away from neutrality and offer important insights, steering conversations about nationalism, political affiliations and the true power of the electorate in changing legislature and government policy.
He covers the depths and nuances of power play with a mastery of the political scene cultivated over years of keen and critical observation. With his years of experience in journalism, Otitoju wields his tools for commentary and a sharp eye for recognizing patterns at work in any given region of interest. Given the ever rapid change in Nigerian news cycles, his ability to keep pace with developing events from around the country gives him the star quality associated with an academic political scientist.
One of the three anchors who gave Sunrise Daily its enduring reputation as a must-watch for political analysis on weekday mornings, Chamberlain Usoh has been at Channels since 2006 and is a producer and anchor of the hit show. His longevity and consistency makes him a leading medium for the exchange of information between government, civil society and the general public. Under Chamberlain’s watch, Sunrise Daily and indeed, Channels TV has transitioned from a niche news platform to the premier political soap box for all Nigerian political players who want to be taken seriously and have their message heard. With a mix of insightful questions, and indefatigable resilience in the face of apoplectic guests and an ability to maintain an air of neutrality no matter the question at hand.
Usoh displays an enviable mastery of topics and never appears to be unprepared. It could have something to do with his qualifications in Mass Communication and Public Policy from various institutions including the Pan African University and the Leadership Institute in the US, or that he is a thorough professional who takes his unofficial role as the public’s questioner very seriously. In 2018, Channels Television had to weather accusations of partisanship but Usoh and his collagues managed to weather the storm and prove yet again, that neutrality is the true soul of Channels TV’s increasing success.