The Movers and Shakers of Nigeria 2023
This special publication profiles 25 people and institutions based on their societal or industry impact in 2023.
Societies, markets, and industries have their movers and shakers. These are powerful people and institutions who exert considerable influence in one sphere, or across spheres, of endeavour. They lead, get things done, and generate positive impact.
The notion of “movers and shakers” is positive, but our feature also presents a disaggregation, enabling us to have “movers” and “shakers” as supplemental to the original phrase. In our conceptual construct, the “movers” are people who provide positive influence but lack the power to deliver change at scale. Nevertheless, their work, accomplishments, and impact deserve due recognition. On the other hand, the “shakers” are people who exercise considerable power and authority in ways that are injurious.
Our categorisation is implicit. It does not convey a sense of permanence. This special publication profiles 25 people and institutions based on their societal or industry impact in a year. If such entities make our future lists, they could have different profiling. The Movers and Shakers of Nigeria 2023 is the maiden edition of this annual feature of Financial Nigeria magazine. It will be published in the December edition of the magazine annually, as we review the roles and impacts of people and institutions in shaping our national reality during the year.
2023 has been a very difficult year for the country. This has been due to individual and institutional actions or failings. Some individuals brought the issues to the fore with their death. Others spoke out or refused to be intimidated. And some others exceled in their endeavours and are national beacons of hope. We present these individuals and institutions below.
PRESIDENT BOLA TINUBU
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, no single individual or event has put the Nigerian political system through a tougher test than President Bola Tinubu did during the last electoral cycle. Speaking to faithfuls of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abeokuta, Ogun State, in June 2022, then-presidential aspirant Tinubu declared it was the turn of the Yorubas to produce the next president of the country in 2023. Relying on a construct that particularises the informal rotational arrangement in which the presidency is to be alternated between the northern and southern parts of the country, Tinubu grandiloquently declared: “emi lo kan” – literally meaning “it is my turn.”
When against all odds he emerged the presidential flagbearer of the party, he nominated a fellow Muslim as his running mate. Although a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket was not unprecedented in Nigerian elections, this time, it was thought that the country could ill-afford it, given the deep religious polarisation of the polity. Indeed, the country was rattled by the joint ticket, but Tinubu viewed it merely as a strategic political calculation to win the election, as opposed to it being a stratagem for moving the country from secularisation to Islamisation.
Tinubu went ahead to win the February 2023 presidential election in very controversial circumstances, including his failure to meet a putative constitutional requirement of winning 25 percent of the votes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. This, and allegations of improper nomination of his running mate and perjury, provided grounds for his main rivals to challenge his victory all the way to the Supreme Court. Tinubu triumphed all the way.
Now sitting pretty as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Tinubu is seen not only to have mastered the Nigerian system but also captured it. As President, he has also made initial big policy calls – ending the petrol and foreign exchange rate subsidies. While both policies are driving up inflation and poverty rates in the short-term, Tinubu has been on global junkets trying to persuade foreign investors to support his economic reforms by investing in Nigeria.
Peter Obi, the presidential flagbearer of the Labour Party in the 2023 general election, shattered many myths about Nigeria’s presidential election. He achieved this feat in the way he ran the 2023 presidential race and its outcome. Mr. Obi went into the election cycle with a reputation of a frugal spender who gives no “shishi.” His thrifty attribute was exaggerated by his supporters – who sold it as a positive virtue – and his detractors who purported that Nigerians only bothered with big election spenders. But the real mystique of Mr. Obi were his simplicity, contentment, and moral rectitude – to which he invited anyone to challenge.
Mr. Obi ran on a fringe party platform against the candidates of the ruling and main opposition parties. He was, therefore, dismissed as having no structure to deliver victory in even one of the 36 states of the federation, much less garner one million total votes nationally. In the end, he officially won in 11 out of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, and polled over six million votes in total. His likeable persona galvanised independent voters and young Nigerians yearning for a different kind of leadership to the one that has made progress the exclusive preserve of few people and poverty the lot of a growing majority of the populace.
In a year that the country lurched to the precipice of political implosion, the restraint of Mr. Obi saved the nation from a likely catastrophe. He kept his supporters off the streets; many of them had to recourse to spending their youthful energy on X, formerly Twitter, vociferously calling out the electoral and judicial malfeasances that allegedly robbed their leader of the victory they believed he won at the poll. Rather than instigate violent protest, Mr. Obi pursued electoral justice through the legal process. He and the rest of Nigerians have opted to abide by the final judicial pronouncement on the 2023 presidential election.
Despite not being declared the winner of the election, the electoral performance of Mr. Obi would have been more popularly celebrated. Unfortunately, it is politically inconvenient for many to do so. He showed the indefatigable Nigerian-ness, the resilience that sees many of the people cope with, and even excel in, situations of great adversity. Nigerians are achievers – at home and abroad. Peter Obi also awakened the nation’s moral force in 2023.
Mahmood Yakubu is the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), whose conduct of the 2023 general election may permanently discourage many Nigerians from voting in future elections except the organisation manages to undo the damage it has done to its own reputation. Many Nigerians have since described the elections – the presidential election in particular – as a lost opportunity.
The passage of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2022 provides for electronic transmission of election results. INEC further bolstered public interest in the elections by announcing its commitment to deepening the use of technology in the accreditation of voters, transmission of election results, and real-time viewing of the results on its central server. Such effectual electronic mechanisms are capable of creating a new experience for Nigerian voters, strengthening the credibility of the elections, and providing legitimacy for the winners.
But under the leadership of Prof. Yakubu, public enthusiasm turned to frustrations and regrets. The 2023 elections witnessed significant logistical problems, either due to organisational incompetence or sabotage. The INEC chair went on to announce the winner of the presidential election in the dead of night. It later became apparent that INEC did not rely on the results on its server to announce the winner and later watered down its strong pre-election commitment to electronic transmission of results.
The result of the presidential election has been affirmed both at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal and the Supreme Court, which means that the issues with the election were not material enough to overturn its outcome, and its litigation has ended. What remains is how tenable the continued leadership of Prof. Mahmood at INEC is, and whether the institution would address why the huge public expenditure in the elections delivered such an underwhelming outcome based on the extent of the logistical and service failures.
Aisha Yesufu is one of Nigeria's most dogged and feisty social crusaders striving for transformative change in the country. Her fearless social activism involves inspiring and mobilising individuals and communities to challenge the status quo, raising awareness about pressing issues, and driving social progress. Yesufu rose to local and international prominence in 2014 by virtue of her pivotal role as a Co-convener of Bring Back Our Girls Movement, the campaign for the search and rescue of the 276 schoolgirls that were abducted by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, in Chibok, Borno State.
Tireless in her work to bring about positive change, Yesufu wields social activism as a tool for strengthening Nigeria's democracy and amplifying the voices of marginalised groups, particularly women and the youth. For her, good governance, security, education, healthcare, and a strong economy are indispensable for achieving a more just and equitable society.
While maintaining her non-partisanship, Yesufu was unapologetically outspoken about her support for Peter Obi before, during, and after the 2023 presidential election. She was an influential supporter of the Labour Party presidential candidate who she believes can deliver the good governance that is crucial for fostering positive change and enhancing the well-being of Nigerians. With over two million followers on X, the social media platform, Yesufu's influence is also evident in her vocal criticism of the incumbent government, challenging its policies and performance and advocating for the entrenchment of democratic principles.
A lot of social activists in Nigeria have proved that their virtues can be very situational, with many simply jostling for a place in the spotlight or a job in government. Yesufu insists she is firmly committed to staying above the political fray and the pursuit of social progress is not a cause she will relent on. "Giving up is never an option," she wrote on X.
Notwithstanding her rhetorics, Yesufu – the founder of Citizens Hub – has faced several criticisms, including within the activist community, for some of her stances.
The Supreme Court decisively quashed the legal contest of the victory of President Bola Tinubu in the February 2023 presidential election. The appellants in the cases brought before the apex court in the country agreed they had reached the end of the road in pursuing their challenge of the election despite their disagreement with the verdicts. The Supreme Court also effectively closed the case with the people, as no sizeable public protest greeted its decision. This affirmed the legal authority of the Court and the cooperation of the people with the role of the judiciary in Nigeria’s democracy and body politic.
But the debate about whether the Supreme Court delivered substantial justice in the high-profile political cases brought before it in 2023 – as in recent years – continues to linger. The technical deficiencies of suits tend to overwhelm their substantive merits before the Court, and this jurisprudence appears to benefit those who control the levers of political power.
Besides its verdicts on the presidential election, 2023 was a year of startling revelations about the Supreme Court. The South-East and North-Central geopolitical zones of the country were not represented on the bench of the apex court as of the time it delivered its verdicts on political matters that concerned the entire country. No less a personality than a newly retired Justice of the Court pointed this out, among other anomalies, including the extensive administrative powers the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) wields in the judiciary, where "children, spouses and mistresses" are routinely appointed as judges.
But most shocking was the warning issued earlier in the year by the Court against Nigerians – with a particular mention of a Nigerian academic in the diaspora – for criticising it and the CJN. The statement said the “silence” of the Court should not be taken for “cowardice”. If this was not intended to discourage public criticism of the Court, it indicated its reticence towards public accountability.
The decisive role the Supreme Court played in putting to rest the gravest political issue of the year notwithstanding, many informed Nigerians believe the Court – nay the entire judiciary – needs comprehensive reform. It is doubtful if that reform process is afoot.
AISHATU DAHIRU AHMED (BINANI)
Senator Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed, better known by her nickname, Binani, has had a chequered political career spanning twelve years. As a lawmaker in the House of Representatives between 2011 to 2015, she was chairman and member of various important legislative committees. Binani subsequently served a four-year term in the Senate (2019-2023) during which period she was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the 9th National Assembly, she was the only female senator from northern Nigeria. Her career progression from the lower to the upper chambers of Nigeria's National Assembly indicated her astuteness while signalling her sense of ambition.
Rather than run for a second term in the Senate to continue representing Adamawa Central, the senator decided to contest for the governorship ticket of the state in the 2023 general election. In what was perhaps the greatest challenge of her political career, Binani was up against heavyweights like the former Adamawa Governor, Muhammed Bindow; former Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu; and federal lawmaker, Abdurazaq Namdas. She defeated all three men during the APC primaries, according to INEC. Senator Ahmed’s popularity had made many to speculate she would make history by becoming the first-elected female governor in Nigeria.
But Binani's political fortunes plummeted after she backed a controversial and illegal declaration of her as the winner of Adamawa State's gubernatorial election. The declaration of her victory was wrongly made by a Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) after he usurped the power of the Returning Officer, sparking outrage across the country, including on both sides of the political divide. INEC voided the inappropriate declaration and went ahead to state the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate and incumbent governor, Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, was the winner.
In further barking up the wrong tree, Binani filed a lawsuit to stop the police prosecution of the errant REC as directed by INEC as well as Fintiri's victory. This action appeared to be in support of the dysfunction that characterised the 2023 general election cycle, which was fraught with several irregularities, violence, and voter intimation. Only time will tell if the disgraced politician, once considered a rising star in the Nigerian political universe, would bounce back.
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) is the court of first instance in any legal challenge of the outcome of a presidential election in Nigeria and couldn’t serve as the final arbiter in the suits challenging the outcome of the 2023 presidential election. The main petitioners went on to the Supreme Court seeking to set aside the decision of the PEPT. This was by no means extraordinary. Quite the contrary, a trend in which the highest court of appeal for an election petition ultimately decides the election has become part and parcel of our electoral process.
The PEPT may have followed the law, which suggests petitioners go to court to claim justice as opposed to obtain it. The burden of proof of election rigging falls squarely on the petitioners. The institution that conducts the election and is the custodian of the election results does not have to validate its decision before the court, which is offensive to commonsense. The PEPT during its proceedings, as well as in its decisions, did not as much as advocate for the ideal situation to foster transparency in how a publicly funded institution discharges its mandate. The tribunal seemed satisfied with the status quo and offered no advocacy for reform.
A clearly contentious decision of the tribunal – which the Supreme Court seems to have upheld – was the putative constitutional requirement that a candidate requires 25 percent of the votes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) (apart from other requirements) to be elected president. Here, the PEPT offered its decision while obfuscating the question. It argued that the FCT is not superior to a state and that voters in the FCT are not more special than voters in other parts of the country. But the question was whether the FCT can be regarded as a state, when it does not have a governor – like the 36 states of the federation – and a House of Assembly, while the constitution says a president must obtain 25 percent of the votes in two-thirds of the states AND the FCT.
Overall, there is a growing consensus, including in the judiciary that is overburdened by election matters, that the country’s election should not be decided in the courtrooms.
Nyesom Wike is a long-term politician and has wriggled his way into becoming the numero uno politician in the politically important Rivers State, where he served as a two-term governor between 2015-2023. Vocal and hubristic, Wike practically exploded on the political scene in the 2023 electoral cycle, exercising his powers without compunctions. In fairness to him, he had the experience and no constitutional limitations to run for president in 2023. And so, he ran for the presidential ticket of his party, PDP.
His loss in the presidential party primary changed everything. From being a PDP party faithful, he rebelled against the party and its presidential candidate. To prove his political weight was hefty, he went on to work to deliver an improbable – even controversial – victory for the opposition APC party in Rivers State, which by all judgement was a major contribution to the victory of President Bola Tinubu in that election.
Wike proved that he was capable of doing what he wants. After betraying his party, he insists that he is still a member of it and the party hierarchy has been unable to sanction him. His strategic party disloyalty is serving his personal interest quite well, as he is now a serving Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the first time a southern politician would clinch the substantive headship of the ministry since 1999. As FCT Minister, Wike promised to do all it takes to restore the integrity of the Abuja masterplan. Should this involve taking on powerful political interests, he was ready. He also promised to rid the streets of the FCT of cattle, which are herded by some urchins backed by powerful and belligerent Fulani interests.
Maintaining the masterplan of Abuja to counter the slumification of the city is a laudable policy. But after four months in office, Wike has been unable to effectively act with the same alacrity that he had spoken. Apparently, his eyes are on his state, and he is keen to preserve the winning ‘political structure’ in his favour for future elections, undermining the ability of the governor – his protégé whom he helped elect into that office – to govern.
YUSUF DATTI BABA-AHMED
Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed is a man of a powerful political pedigree with anti-establishment inclinations. He ran as the vice-presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 general election. Many supporters of the party’s presidential ticket were enamoured of the gentle mien of Dr. Baba-Ahmed and the geo-political balance he brought to strengthen the joint ticket. But it was not until after the result of the presidential election had been called that he truly exploded as a fierce personality in the election cycle. On a national television, he warned that the official winner of the election should not be sworn in to avoid consequential constitutional breaches. After the legal challenge of the election had been laid to rest by the decision of the Supreme Court, Dr. Baba-Ahmed was undaunted and refused to acknowledge the President as duly elected in yet another interview.
Dr. Baba-Ahmed is not a political newbie or a latter-day political activist. He is a member of the prominent Baba-Ahmed family of Kaduna State. He served in the Federal House of Representatives in 2003-2007, and openly criticised the third-term agenda of President Olusegun Obasanjo – which the former President has denied he had. His election into the Senate in 2010 was overturned, and he unsuccessfully ran for the presidential ticket of the People’s Democratic Party in 2018. In politics, Baba-Ahmed is anti-corruption and an advocate of good governance. He is also a businessman and the founder of Baze University.
Datti, as he is called for short by his political supporters, is one of the few politicians who have businesses that are easily traced to them. This attribute, combined with running against the avaricious political establishment, meant he was taking a big risk. So doing, he should be correctly viewed as public-spirited. Such mindset, backed with his intellectual and professional accomplishment, is rare in Nigeria’s politics. Only time would tell if his political decision – and its outcome – would encourage or deter people like him who have stayed away from the political fray to be more active in politics.
Herbert Wigwe, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings PLC, is arguably the most influential Nigerian banker in 2023. Mr. Wigwe is the most active on the banking scene amongst the ‘newbreed’ bankers that took the industry by storm in the 1990s. His most recent exploits include leading the merger of Access Bank PLC, the banking subsidiary of Access Holdings, with Diamond Bank in 2019 to create one of the largest African banks by customer base, and Nigeria’s largest bank by total assets. In 2022, Access Bank posted N1.4 trillion in gross earnings and became the first Nigerian bank to cross the N1 trillion mark for the metric.
In 2023, Wigwe continued to execute his expansionary vision for Access Holdings. The vertical businesses of the company, apart from banking, are operating in the insurance, fintech, and pension industries. During the year, Access Bank opened its French subsidiary and continued its acquisitions across the frontier economies of Africa. The bank now operates in 20 countries across four continents, serving over 63 million customers.
Wigwe has sufficiently exemplified his leadership ethos for it to be easily known by even distant observers. He wants his businesses to be governed by global best practices, in particular sustainability, which entails achieving long-term profitability while creating positive social impact and demonstrating environmental responsibility. He likes his businesses to be the first in recording industry accomplishments. Little wonder Access Bank is the first African commercial bank to become a Sustainability-Certified Financial Institution. And Wigwe believes in growing his businesses to be among the biggest in their respective industry.
In the years ahead, Mr. Wigwe will impact more millions of Nigerians by expanding access to financial services. His Wigwe University, which is set to open in 2024, will further expand his influence to the education sector.
Godwin Emefiele, the immediate past governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has had a year of nearly two halves. Up until 29 May 2023, when President Bola Tinubu assumed office, Mr. Emefiele was a powerful figure – not necessarily as a central bank governor, but as a political actor. In the second half of the year, he has been paying dearly for his lack of discretion, and only a few Nigerians are sympathetic towards him.
Mr. Emefiele would be remembered for his unconventional policies as CBN governor, which is the kindest way to describe his decisions in office. But to be candid, he played his part in wrecking the economic. In 2023, the CBN aided the addition of N22.7 trillion to the public debt as the bank’s Ways and Means Advances to the federal government, which by far exceeded legal limits, were added to the national debt. This liquidity tap opened by Emefiele’s CBN was a major driver of inflation, until the new administration added two inflationary policies of subsidy removal and market exchange rate. Also, Nigerians came into the year faced with a crunchy naira scarcity as the CBN deliberately or inadvertently introduced a currency redesign programme in the middle of an electoral cycle. That monetary decision has been viewed as Emefelie’s continuation as a political actor, after he had failed in his bid to become the presidential flagbearer of the ruling party.
Such was the extent to which he abused his office. Many people believe that he decided who to enrich by the untenable multiple exchange rates policy of the CBN, which essentially discouraged inward foreign investment and fund repatriation to the country. Others, however, think that throughout his tenure, he was a pawn in the political game of the ‘cabal’ that had hijacked the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Since June, Mr. Emefiele has been hopping from detention to courtrooms and prison. He is getting his comeuppance for dabbling into politics while serving as the apex regulator of the Nigerian banking industry and the country’s top monetary authority. So far, it has been unclear whether he is being held in order to help the current administration recover funds that were rampantly looted in the last eight years or he is simply an easy scapegoat.
Atiku Abubakar is a veteran politician and former vice president. As he has done quadrennially over the last two decades, he once again put himself forward for the 2023 race for the presidency. Many thought he should not have contested the election as a mark of honour and personal respect for the extra-legal rotation of the presidency between the north and the south, since a northerner like him had been president since 2015. Such particularity undermines Atiku's attributable democratic values. There was no lawful reason why he couldn’t run. Indeed, the doggedness with which Atiku – as the former VP is popularly known – pursues legal redress in election matters will be etched in his legacy.
For months, Mr. Abubakar became a rallying point after the results of the 2023 presidential election had been officially called. He seemed to have a formidable case against the declared winner of the election and went as far as the United States to obtain evidence from a court for his case. Whereas he lost his case against the victory of the now-incumbent President, Atiku showed that he fights through the legal process. Rather than mobilising violence in reaction to perceived electoral injustice against him, he pursues his case to the greatest extent the law permits and leaves it there. This was exactly what he did in 2019 as well.
Although he said he was not going away, 2023 may actually be the end of the road for the 77-year-old former officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, businessman, and politician. His legacy as a political leader includes his commitment to the democratic process. His political friends and opponents accept that he is ‘de-tribalised’, having a pan-Nigerian outlook. But this legacy would move no one as Mr. Abubakar himself accepted a political endorsement from an individual that regarded him as no saint in his public life.
For the 12th year in a row, Aliko Dangote was the wealthiest African in 2023 with a net worth of $13.5 billion, according to Forbes African Billionaires index. His remarkable success in business has been celebrated and his appetite to continue to succeed appears to only grow. Through his eponymous businesses in cement manufacturing, sugar refining, salt refining, fertiliser production, and more, Mr. Dangote arguably touches more Nigerians than the government.
In 2023, a new mega business of the Dangote Industries Limited – Dangote Petroleum Refinery – was to start operations. During the formal commissioning of the refinery in Lagos in May, many Heads of State and foremost Nigerian public and private sector leaders graced the occasion. But seven months after, the refinery, which has an installed capacity to refine 650,000 barrels of crude oil per day, has yet to commence commercial operation. After several times that its operational launch had been postponed, it is now envisaged that the refinery will reach full production capacity by the end of 2024.
The premature launch of the refinery earlier this year highlights how intriguing the project has been. After it started out as a private enterprise, it received preferential allocation of foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria as a project of national priority. Then the state oil company, NNPC Limited, acquired a 20 percent stake in the refinery while leaving its four moribund refineries unfixed. It has now been mooted that the Dangote’s refinery may have to rely on crude oil importation to meet its input demand – quite contrary to the assumption that the government would prioritise domestic refining of petroleum products over billions of dollars it earns yearly from the export sales of the commodity. Should the assumption prove to be wrong, it would explain a factor that underlie the crippling of the state-owned refineries and why no private refinery has so far made appreciable progress in the country.
But if there is any Nigerian businessman that can weather the challenge, it is Mr. Dangote. He is too experienced to have his largest investment fail before it has even come on stream. Having launched the giant project this year, progress with its operation and positive economic impact are anticipated.
SENATOR ADAMU MUHAMMAD BULKACHUWA
In June 2023, Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa gave an astonishing revelation about the corruption in the Nigerian judiciary. During his remarks at the valedictory session of the 9th Senate, which was broadcast live, the soft-spoken senator from Bauchi State said his wife used to extend ‘help’ to some of his colleagues seated in the senate when she was the President of the Appeal Court. He said he used to prevail on his wife to grant the favours that perverted justice.
The scandalous revelation rattled the nation. At last, it appeared that the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the perceived widespread corruption in the judiciary were not ghosts. They are identifiable, and some of them were the nation’s lawmakers. Senator Bulkachuwa undid the denialism of rampant corruption in the judiciary, which axiomatically is the last hope of the ordinary citizen – in functioning democracies.
Perhaps Senator Bulkachuwa would not have been as forthcoming if he had retained his position in the Red Chamber. He had lost the nomination of his party for re-election in 2023. This may ascribe sour grapes as his motive. Such cynicism may be validated by the allegation of misappropriation of constituency project fund against the senator. Nevertheless, his courage to speak out should not be undervalued. And he might even have been contemptuous of the sanctimonious aura of the distinguished senators, whereas many of them did things that made them unworthy as members of the hallowed chamber.
Senator Bulkachuwa has suffered political backlashes for daring to inform Nigerians of the corruption in the legislature and judiciary. History would likely be kinder to him than those who perpetrated similar or worse abuses and remain quiet in common criminal solidarity.
Atedo Peterside, one of Nigeria’s banking icons, was a major political voice in the 2023 election cycle. While no one thinks that Nigeria’s corporate titans are disinclined to partisanship during elections, they are often quiet while supporting the bandwagon on its way to victory. It was, therefore, surprising that Mr. Peterside would come out openly, not to lend his profound professional credentials to the political establishment, but to show how it is not playing by the rules of ethical electoral practice.
On live television interviews, Mr. Peterside showed how the election result sheets of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were seemingly systematically defaced and figures on them altered to achieve an outcome that could subvert the credibility of the election. Showing what he called “exhibits” on television, Peterside called out INEC as systematically manipulating the election results. In doing this, he himself appeared partisan, which is OK, and his candour strongly portrayed him as pursuing a high societal ideal.
It was not the first time Mr. Peterside would be an anti-establishment vocalist. A self-confident technocrat who built one of the most professional banks in the country, he is known to more than hold his ground when engaging powerful industry regulators. He would offer different policy thoughts. Now retired, Peterside is the founder of ANAP Foundation, whose mission is “to promote good governance.” He was a standout voice of reason in 2023, a year in which reason failed to prevail in the polity.
Nigerian award-winning footballer, Asisat Oshoala, has received notable accolades and made significant contributions to the sport in 2023. At the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand, Oshoala made history by becoming the first African player to score in three consecutive World Cup tournaments. As a striker for the Spanish club, Barcelona Femeni, Oshoala was a key player in the treble won by the club, which clinched the Champions League, La Liga, and Super Cup titles during the 2022-23 football season.
During the year, Oshoala further established herself as one of the most prolific goal scorers in women's football, scoring 29 goals and providing seven assists in 46 club matches. In recognition of her talent and exceptional accomplishments during the year, Oshoala was nominated in the Women's Player of the Year category of the Ballon d'Or Award, marking her third nomination for the prestigious award. Despite finishing 20th, it was a remarkable recognition for an African player.
Oshoala is also leaving remarkable footprints off the field by advancing various social causes. Through her charity, the Asisat Oshoala Foundation, the five-time African Footballer of the Year is empowering girls and advocating for women's rights and education. In 2022, the foundation launched the Asisat Oshoala Academy (AOA) to provide opportunities for young girls to pursue their passion for football. The academy has a partnership with Nike and Germany's Women Win. For her philanthropic contributions, Oshoala was nominated for the Socrates Award, an annual football award focused on recognising humanitarian efforts by footballers.
Last month, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) nominated Oshoala in the women's category of the CAF Awards 2023. It was the eighth successive nomination for the Super Falcons star. At the age of 29, Oshoala has had an illustrious career and certainly ranks in the pantheon of elite female athletes.
Mr. Abdulsamad Rabiu is the second-richest Nigerian on Forbes 2023 Africa’s Billionaires List. With a net worth of $7.6 billion, according to the publication, Mr. Rabiu is also the fourth-richest person in Africa. His stupendous success is enviable and validates his vision and industry. Nevertheless, Mr. Rabiu had been in a difficult, or perhaps unenviable, position of being second to Africa’s richest man, with whom his largest businesses are in direct competition.
In 2023, Mr. Rabiu seemingly gained an all-important political leverage, or he at least closed the political influence gap that his fiercely-competitive rival had enjoyed over him for decades. Mr. Rabiu has had audience publicly with President Bola Tinubu twice. As an outcome of their deliberations, the Forbes billionaire promised to cut the price of his branded BUA Cement, to bring down the high prices of the product in the market. He has followed through with the promise, as BUA Cement slashed the ex-factory price of a bag of cement to N3,500.00. The cement magnate is currently constructing new plants, which would increase his production volumes to 17 million metric tonnes per annum. This, BUA Cement has said, would enable it to further slash its prices in Q1 2024.
According to Global Cement, BUA Cement recorded sales of $423 million in the first nine months of 2023, up by 27 percent year-on-year from $333 million in the same period in 2022. Mr. Rabiu’s pledge of exerting downward pressure on the price of cement in Nigeria, and the ongoing expansion of his production volume, will serve as a welcome development in the built environment.
Rufai Oseni, who currently works as a co-presenter on Arise Television’s Morning Show, is a multiple award-winning journalist and philanthropist. Outspoken and with a tendency to take a stand on issues, Mr. Oseni came into prominence during the 2023 election cycle. The side he takes on issues appears to sit well with the majority of the TV’s audience but intolerable for the pro-establishment commentators. While he is popular with his audience, some political actors, or their hires, go on his programme to take him – and not the issues – on. As a result, the morning show he co-anchors sometimes descends into a pandemonium, for which he has been vilified as unprofessional.
Mr. Oseni is a man of guts. He held his ground in Nigeria’s year of dangerous partisanship. Often seemingly oblivious of the sensibilities of some of his guests and unintimidated by their profiles, he simply insists that they should answer his questions. But they would rather want to help him rephrase his questions or attack him as ignorant.
Mr. Oseni is a pain to interviewees who like to obfuscate issues. He asks a question and seemingly insists on getting an adequate answer. He is tenacious. He would want some of his guests to openly admit to ethical failure. This, supposedly, makes him rude. Although his interview style is known to be aggressive and unsparing, many politicians, who like to have their cake and eat it, would not stay away from his programme.
In 2023, Mr. Oseni stood strong for the people. He wanted answers for the insecurity, poverty, high inflation, lack of electricity, etc. that plaque the nation from those in positions to know or paid from the public treasury to address the problems. He showed that not everyone would be intimidated and cringe before those who wield political powers essentially to become more powerful and rich.
2023 has been a remarkable year for Nigerian Afrobeats superstar, Davido Adeleke, popularly known as Davido. It has been a year of pivotal achievements for the 31-year-old music icon whose fourth studio album, Timeless, is considered one of the artiste's magnum opuses. Released in March, the Amapiano-themed album earned Davido three nominations for the 2024 Grammy Awards, his first-ever nominations for the annual awards. One of the award categories, "Best African Music Performance," which Davido has been nominated for, was newly added by the United States Recording Company in recognition of the global prominence and accomplishments of the African music industry.
Davido overcame personal tragedy to write "Champion Sound" and "Unavailable," two of the hit singles for Timeless. His three-year-old son died on 1 November 2022 due to a fatal drowning in a pool at his residence. Over the past 11 years, Davido has worked hard and contributed immensely to advancing Nigeria's global cultural impact. Apart from his various chart-topping hits, the artiste featured in the 2021 comedy classic, Coming 2 America, making him the first African music star to be featured in a major Hollywood movie.
In Nigeria, many celebrities are known for their ostentatious lifestyles and scandals, which are par for the course among pop stars. Davido has had his fair share of these. He has also managed to demonstrate social consciousness. The artiste has been extoled for his strong commitment to using his platform to address social and political challenges facing Nigeria, including corruption and inequality. In his musical wheelhouse are messages of empowerment, resilience, hope, among other messages that advocate positive change.
Davido has also made significant philanthropic contributions to various causes in Nigeria. In July, his charity, the David Adeleke Foundation (DAF), announced the donation of N237 million to 424 orphanages across the country, benefitting 13,818 children.
Senator Godswill Akpabio, a two-term governor of Akwa Ibom State, is the President of the Senate by some miracle. He did not participate in the nomination of the candidate for his Akwa-Ibom North-West senatorial seat by his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Instead, he was an aspirant for the presidential ticket of the party. Nevertheless, the APC awarded the senatorial ticket to him, and the Supreme Court ruled that the party has discretion over the nomination of its candidates. Senator Akpabio, who served as a federal minister from 2019-2022, won the 2023 election for his senatorial zone.
Senator Akpabio has twice made a spectacle of himself since he emerged as the president of the 10th Senate in June 2023. On one occasion, while presiding over a Senate session, he put to a vote whether poor Nigerians should be allowed to “breathe”. If he meant it as a joke, it was thought to be insensitive and cruel. The two earliest policies of the new administration – the removal of petrol subsidy and introduction of market exchange rate – had triggered an inflationary effect, which was bound to worsen the endemic poverty in the country.
On the second occasion, the Senate President announced that the Clerk of the National Assembly had sent “a token” to the bank accounts of the senators for them to enjoy their holiday. This happened when the government was struggling with providing palliative measures to vulnerable citizens to cushion the harsh economic impact of the removal of the fuel subsidy. This time, Akpabio was embarrassed when his colleagues told him that his announcement was made on live television coverage. “I withdraw that statement,” he said, and replaced it with “In order to allow you to enjoy your holiday, the Senate President has sent prayers to your mailboxes to assist you to go on a safe journey and return.”
A rumbling has started in the Red Chamber. A senator accused the Senate President of approving the passage of executive bills without seeking the input of other members. Another was openly confrontational to the leader of the National Assembly for imposing the minority leaders of the opposition parties. With Senator Akpabio as the Senate President, Nigerians are waiting to know whether the 10th Senate would be a “rubber stamp” legislative body – like the 9th Senate was nicknamed for its acquiescence to executive authority – instead of upholding the democratic principle of checks and balances.
Victor Osimhen is a Nigerian football star who currently plays as a striker for the Italian Serie A club, Napoli. Mr. Osimhen, 24, was the top scorer (with 26 goals) in the league during the 2022/23 season, helping Napoli to win the Scudetto – the award given to the champions of Italy's top division of professional soccer – for the first time in 33 years. Since his exploits last season, Osimhen has been rumoured as attracting interests from European club football powerhouses, including Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea. After his record-breaking transfer from French Lille FC to Napoli for €70 million in 2020, he is now valued at around €120 million in the transfer market. This past summer, he turned down a €200 million transfer offer from Al Hilal to play in the Saudi Pro League.
Mr. Osimhen recorded many achievements in 2023. He was ranked number 8 in the 2023 Ballon d'Or award for the best players in the world. It was the highest-ever ranking of an African player for the award. Also, he is currently the African highest scorer in the history of the Serie A. And earlier in May, the out-going President Muhammadu Buhari conferred the national honour of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) award on Osimhen in recognition of his accomplishments.
By his very high standards of last reason, Osimhen seems to have struggled a bit this season. In a TikTok video by Napoli in September, the club seemed to mock its own player but has since said its intentions were misrepresented. How much longer he would remain with the club is unknown, but ahead of the 2023/24 Champions League game between Napoli and Real Madrid late in November, Carlos Ancelotti, the current coach of the Spanish giant and former Chelsea coach, said Osimhen was the striker that Chelsea needed. This was a high-level endorsement of the Nigerian football star’s talent by one of the greatest coaches the game has known.
This December, Joe Ajaero will mark eleven months in office as president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). He will also be celebrating his 59th birthday on 17 December. It has been an eventful year for the former deputy president of the labour union. The NLC has grappled with many issues pertaining to the conditions and welfare of Nigerian workers. A month ago, Ajaero was undergoing treatment for the physical and psychological injuries he sustained during a protest march over unpaid salaries in Imo State.
On 1 November 2023, Ajaero was assaulted by suspected thugs in Imo while leading a protest against the state government's alleged violations of workers' rights. Security operatives who were reportedly acting on behalf of the state government arrested Ajaero and handed him over to the group of thugs. The attack on the NLC president drew widespread condemnation. Many called it an attack on the rights of workers and a violation of freedom of association.
Ajaero is a veteran unionist and has made important contributions to the Nigerian labour movement throughout his career, including advocacy for workers' rights and welfare. For 18 years (2005 to 2023), Ajaero was General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE). He is also a respected figure in the international labour movement, having served as a member of the International Trade Union Confederation's (ITUC) Executive Committee.
Ajaero emerged as NLC president at a time the Nigerian labour movement is struggling with a reputation of being a "lame duck". Public trust in the movement is eroding. Research by Francis C. Anyim of the University of Lagos' Faculty of Business Administration and his colleagues shows Nigeria's 21st century trade unions are fast losing their value, integrity, and the trust of their members who no longer have confidence in the unions' ability to protect workers’ rights, welfare, and interests. For instance, the NLC was mostly all bark and no bite as Nigerians faced various economic challenges in 2023.
Anyim’s study, which examines the disappointing role of trade unions in Nigeria in this century, expresses a concern that unionism in the country may likely atrophy. Gone are the days when unions played a central role in the country's pro-democracy struggles.
The jury is still out on what the NLC will achieve under Ajaero's term.
DR. VWAERE DIASO
Vwaere Diaso, a young Nigerian medical doctor, died in very tragic circumstances in August 2023. A medical house officer with the Lagos Island General Hospital, Dr. Diaso was the sole occupant of an elevator at the hospital when it crashed from the 10th floor of the high-rise building. She was trapped for minutes inside the wreckage of the elevator and ultimately succumbed to the injuries she sustained. The graduate of the Babcock University’s medical school was only a few weeks away from completing her housemanship, which would have fulfilled one of her life’s ambitions, when she died.
Dr. Diaso’s death highlighted the dangerous culture of neglect of the Nigerian health system. The elevator that crashed epitomised the level of systemic infrastructural decay in the sector. Badly injured in the crash, it was probable that Diaso could have survived. But she had lost a lot of blood before emergency officers managed to rescue her, only to find that there was no blood available for her emergency transfusion. This tragedy highlights the prevalence of avoidable deaths in the country. An indicative data from the Federal Ministry of Health on the National Maternal and Child Health shows that 2,445 preventable deaths occur daily in Nigeria.
Dr. Diaso was described by her colleagues as the “brightest among us,” according to a report by The Guardian newspaper. They said she was “always happy and smiling.” Trained to save lives, it is hoped that her death would even be more positively impactful, by jolting the government to finally begin to give due priority attention to healthcare reform.
Nigerian singer, rapper, and songwriter, Ilerioluwa Aloba, popularly known as MohBad, passed away under tragic circumstances on 12 September 2023, leaving behind his wife, Omawunmi, a five-month-old son, and parents. The late artiste died shortly after being rushed to a hospital following complications from an unprofessional wound treatment he received from an unqualified nurse in a "non-clinical setting", according to a police report. At 27 years old when he died, MohBad was in the prime of life.
The afrobeats singer was already known for his chart-topping songs, such as "Ponmo" and "Feel Good." But his popularity has skyrocketed in the aftermath of his death, as his music has expanded to a much wider audience. The circumstances surrounding MohBad’s death – which sparked outrage, an outpouring of grief among his dedicated fans, and demands for justice – have led to significant media coverage about him. On 18 September, six days after he passed away, MohBad’s songs charted at the top of the Official Nigeria Top 100 published by TurnTable magazine.
Research has shown that the passing of an artist can sometimes lead to their mythologisation or romanticisation, adding a quality of mystery and intrigue to their work. This phenomenon contributed to the posthumous popularity of MohBad as many people who were not familiar with his music before his death took an interest in knowing about his story and going to streaming platforms to listen to his songs. But his death also drew attention to the negative undercurrents of the Nigerian entertainment industry, including bullying, physical assault, and exploitation of young artistes.
Added to the aura of mystique about MohBad are the allegations of cyberbullying and assault against Azeez Fashola (also known as Naira Marley), the afrobeats star and owner of the deceased's former record label, Marlian Records, and music promoter, Samson Balogun, alias Sam Larry. The duo was remanded by a magistrate court over their alleged involvement in circumstances that led to MohBad’s death. They have since been released on bail while the investigations continue.
SHEIKH AHMAD GUMI
Sheikh Ahmad Gumi is a firebrand Islamic cleric, erudite scholar, medical doctor, and retired military captain. He has leveraged his influence in the north to become a volunteer kidnapping negotiator, a role in which he helps to secure the release of abducted hostages. At the same time, Gumi is a provocateur who is plying his trade by exploiting Nigeria’s security, ethnic, and religious fault lines.
In Nigeria, Islamic jihadists and armed criminal groups, known as "bandits," have made kidnaping-for-ransom a thriving industry, killing, raping, looting, and terrorising hapless individuals and communities. Over 4,500 people were killed and more than 4,600 were kidnapped by these non-state actors in 2022, according to data from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations' Africa programme.
Gumi stirred controversy by advocating a “blanket amnesty” for the criminals responsible for these atrocities, which have continued in 2023. Criticising the government's response to the security crisis in the northwest of Nigeria, the cleric has argued that military approach to ending the conflict has been ineffective, serving only to escalate it.
While Gumi's mediation efforts have not been unproductive, many Nigerians have accused him of sympathising with the criminals. Implicit in this is an allegation of religious and ethnic bias since most of the bandits are Muslims from the northern region of the country where the Kaduna-based cleric resides. Remarks made by Gumi in 2023, including that southerners should not be entrusted with the national security of the country, potentially gives credence to the accusation of bias.
Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and other groups and prominent personalities in the country have cautioned Sheikh Gumi against making inflammatory and divisive statements that will undermine Nigeria's national security. Some have even called for his arrest and prosecution.
Jide Akintunde is the Managing Editor of Financial Nigeria publications. He is also Director, Nigeria Development and Finance Forum. Martins Hile is a sustainability strategist and editorial consultant.
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