My List of Most Influential Nigerians in 2014, By Tolu Ogunlesi
In this column, 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).
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 two-dozen 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.
This is the fictional character who emerged to global backlash in March, spreading accusations that suspended Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi was a Boko Haram sympathizer 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.
His nickname in Abuja power circles, I have been informed, is ‘Gamechanger’. He stands for everyone who has brought a dramatic shift to status quo this year. Before he became PDP Chairman in January 2014, the party was in dire straits; falling apart under the accumulated weight of grievances of leading members. Under Muazu the party has since rediscovered some of its intimidating-ness; winning the governorship elections in Ekiti, alarming the APC in Osun, and attracting and rewarding respected technocrats like Nuhu Ribadu and Jimi Agbaje with governorship tickets. In all Muazu has brought some impressive sense of direction back to the franchise, and set it on good footing to maintain its vice-like grip on the presidency of the federal republic, come 2015.
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 Yar’Adua; and Petroleum since April 2010, under 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, Mrs. 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 elections 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 General Muhammadu 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, Muhammadu 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.
He started the year as a talkative and combative technocrat; Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, determined to keep inflation below ten 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.
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.
Like Alison-Madueke, Keshi is a maker of history. Having become, last year, one of only two Africans to have won the Nations Cup 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 & 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 more than entertained with several memorable utterances, from ‘Stealing is not corruption!’ to ‘Diarris God o!’ But there is also something we might be tempted to forget: Compared to his predecessors, the POFRON has, this year, like previous ones, wielded presidential power rather lightly (same cannot be said of his wife). Unlike Obasanjo he hasn’t treated PDP electoral losses like an abomination; unlike Yar’Adua he hasn’t forced any Nigerians into exile.
Social Media Voltrons
Voltron is the animated TV series that ruled the local airwaves of my childhood, featuring five robotic lions committed to defending the universe. Today the word has been adopted on Twitter to refer to people who aggressively and blindly defend a chosen hero on Twitter. So there are Goodluck Jonathan Voltrons (called Jonathanians) and Muhammadu Buhari Voltrons (called Buharists/Buharistas). This has been a remarkable year for Voltrons; the intensification of political activity has kept them all super-busy. The average Voltron is not prepared to listen to anything that appears to even remotely cast his/her idol in negative light, and will go to any lengths to fight back, sacrificing obvious fact and basic logic in the eager quest to be an effective Voltron. For this immutable dedication to their work, all Voltrons, wherever they might be found, belong to this list.
Last but definitely not least is the man who styles himself Imam Abu Mohammed Abubakar bin Muhammed Shekau; the original cat with nine lives; the one the Nigerian army has killed several times but who just refuses to stay dead. Four years ago, he was unknown outside of intelligence circles. Today he is one of the most well known names in the land, and a Commander-in-chief of forces that control or occupy Nigerian territory larger than many countries in the world. Shekau, alongside Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, his ISIS counterpart, are the poster boys for contemporary terrorism, and an inspiration to all violent non-state-actors around the world. Under Shekau, Boko Haram has acquired devastatingly effective drive and direction. His goal is to conquer the entire country, and create a Caliphate in which his brutal brand of religion will hold total sway. He has kept Nigeria in the news far more than any other. He has succeeded, arguably far more than anyone else, in putting Nigeria on the world map in 2014.
Who did I leave out? Email or tweet me your thoughts, queries, insults, agreements and disagreements.
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