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Tolu Ogunlesi: My Most Influential Nigerians In 2014



In this article, the last for 2014, I will highlight the efforts and achievements of the Nigerians who, in my opinion, have in a good or bad way most shaped the news in 2014; and most influenced the way the year has played out in and for the country? I will lump them all together and leave you to judge which ones have been for good and which ones for ill. Many will be obvious, others less so. (The list is not arranged in any particular order).

Stella Adadevoh: Had Dr. Stella Adadevoh allowed Patrick Sawyer leave the hospital when he and the Liberian Ambassador to Nigeria reportedly put pressure on her, we’d today be telling a different, far more tragic story. The Ebola-infected Sawyer would have flown to Calabar and dramatically widened the radius of impact. Of the many narratives regarding the role she played in saving Nigeria from a worse outcome, the one I think best captured the truth is Simon Kolawole’s, in which he argues that she was “simply [doing] her job.” And so for me she represents every Nigerian who insists on doing the job for which they are paid, in the face of pressure (for whatever reason) to do otherwise. On the morning following the June 25 bomb blast that claimed 24 lives in Abuja, I listened to a group of survivors recount the horror. One man singled out two security guards at the shopping complex outside where the blast went off as heroes. “Those two boys – he didn’t know their names – no dey collect bribe.” He contrasted their attitude with that of another guard – he mentioned the name – who he said “dey collect bribe” to “reserve [parking] space for big men.” The band of survivors I was with – they all had shops within the complex – seemed to agree that had the car been allowed into the premises, and exploded there, the casualty toll would have been much higher.

Wendell Simlin: This is the fictional character who emerged to global backlash in March, spreading accusations that then Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Lamido Sanusi, was a Boko Haram sympathiser and sponsor. When a group of young Nigerians examined the document Simlin emailed to the press, it bore the unmistakable digital fingerprints of Reno Omokri, the President’s Special Assistant on New Media. Today, to create a fake online persona for the purposes of destroying an opponent’s reputation is known as “pulling a Wendell Simlin.” While Simlin didn’t invent that form of destructive engagement, he succeeded in instilling in me (and I believe many others) a studied disdain for all anonymous bearers of destructive online gist.

Adamu Mu’azu: His nickname in Abuja power circles, I have been informed, is “Game changer”. He stands for everyone who has brought a dramatic shift to status quo this year. Before he became the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, in January 2014, the party was in dire straits; falling apart under the accumulated weight of grievances of leading members. Under Mu’azu, the party has since rediscovered some of its “intimidating-ness”; winning the governorship election in Ekiti, alarming the All Progressives Congress in Osun, and attracting and rewarding respected technocrats like Nuhu Ribadu and Jimi Agbaje with governorship tickets. In all, Mu’azu has brought some impressive sense of direction back to the franchise, and set it on a good footing to maintain its vice-like grip on the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, come 2015.

Diezani Alison-Madueke: Arguably the most powerful woman in the Federal Government. And there’s yet another record she holds, that is often overlooked: She is the only Nigerian who has been a minister from 2007 till date – Transport, then Mines and Steel, under Umaru Yar’Adua; and Petroleum Resources since April 2010, under President Goodluck Jonathan. Trailblazing is not new to her; she was the first woman to be appointed to the Board of Shell Nigeria, the first woman to be appointed Petroleum Minister in Nigeria, and perhaps, the first Nigerian minister ever to be singled out for presidential defence during a live media chat. And then, this year, the first woman to be elected President of OPEC; a most remarkable achievement. By ending 2014 still a member of the Federal cabinet, as well as a distinguished member of the global oil trade elite, Alison-Madueke represents staying power; all of those Nigerians who will not be moved, regardless of what detractors say, do or tweet.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Muhammadu Buhari: It seemed like the results of the Ekiti election would form the opening lines of what promised to be the political obituary of the “Jagaban of Borgu Kingdom”. But in the months since then, rumours of his political demise have proved to be exaggerated. The outcomes of the APC governorship (Lagos) and presidential primaries have shown just how much influence he continues to wield within the opposition set-up. As for Buhari, four years ago, he was the old, tired, ex-dictator who insisted, against all seemingly sound advice (at that time), on running for President. Today, he is the candidate that appears to best represent the hope of a change in direction for the country. On account of this dramatic reinvention, Buhari joins the list. And together Tinubu and Buhari lead what is arguably the most formidable opposition party in the history of presidential politics in Nigeria.

Lamido Sanusi: He started the year as a talkative and combative technocrat; Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, determined to keep inflation below 10 per cent, and to defend the naira against all pressure. He’s ending the year as a sedate traditional ruler, the head of an institution historically one of the most respected in Northern Nigeria. In between, much has happened – humiliation, character assassination, a Boko Haram death sentence. But throughout the year, his place in the news headlines has been assured. Like Buhari, he represents everyone who has this year spectacularly reinvented himself or herself: even though his combativeness is still evident in his call-to-arms against Boko Haram, it is clear that the Emirship has altered the man in a dramatic manner.

Ayo Fayose: He started the year as a political has-been; a once-upon-a-time governor impeached for corruption. He is ending the year as an “Excellency”, one of Nigeria’s extremely powerful 36 state governors. If Nigerian politics is regarded as a continuum stretching between “Stomach” and “Service”, he would be the unabashed face of “Stomach”; the leading evangelist of the endlessly fascinating and ultra-pragmatic concept of Stomach Infrastructure. Photos of him handing out live chickens to long queues of policemen in Ekiti will form some of the defining images of 2014.

Stephen Keshi: Like Alison-Madueke, Keshi is a maker of history. Having become, last year, one of only two Africans to have won the African Cup of Nations as player (1994) and coach (2013), as well as the first African coach to ensure the qualification of two different countries for the World Cup (Togo and Nigeria), this year, he became the first African coach to reach the second round of the World Cup. But Nigeria’s showing in Brazil was on the whole a dismal performance, and things swiftly went downhill from there, ending in a controversial sack in October, and then an even more controversial reinstatement by presidential order in November. The roller-coaster nature of the Keshi 2014 story – one moment harbinger of hope; the next of crushing disappointment – aptly mirrors the Nigerian condition; one moment the new economic giant of Africa, the next the country that abandoned 200+ girls to Boko Haram.

Goodluck and Patience Jonathan: The POFRON (President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) and FLOFRON (First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) have loomed large in our consciousness all year long. Unsurprising, considering their home address. To their supporters, they are like “Jesus Christ”, to their detractors, they do not deserve to spend a day extra in Aso Rock after May 29, 2015. Whatever voters decide, one thing is certain: this year, the First Couple have kept us all the more than entertained with several memorable utterances, from “Stealing is not corruption!” to “Diarris God o!”


Article written by Tolu Ogunlesi and published with permission from the writer, On twitter @toluogunlesi and Culled from PUNCH.


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