By Samuel Ajayi
The year winds down as mortal life moves inexorably to the next generation. For every second, the clock ticks towards another end, a life episode unfolds. For some people, 2017 has been a good year. For some politicians, the year has given them so much while for others, it has taken so much from them. Charles Dickens once wrote on the two sides to life: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which every man has some.”
From the home to the street, Nigeria and across the world, 2017 has been eventful. US President Donald Trump emerged and changed the language of global diplomatic conversation. Vladmir Putin, the Russian strongman, remains what he has always been: counterfoil to a bullish USA. From Pyongyang, North Korea, the world has been made to sit on the edge as the ‘boy’ who seems to lack the reticence of his father, is hell-bent on standing up to America. Missiles have been fired; weapons of mass destruction tested. The world can do with some little peace. But even that little peace 2017 did not offer a troubled world.
For President Muhammadu Buhari, it has been a journey back from the dead. He saw death but did not embrace it. He conquered infirmity but was ominously reminded of his mortality.
“I have never been this sick in my life”, he confessed to a bewildered nation.
For more than 100 days, he battled life’s greatest decimator, death, in a London hospital. He won. But as the year winds down, Buhari’s son life is in danger after he broke a limb in a bike crash. His deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, to whom he delegated power to while he attended to his health, held the fort. Osinbajo acquitted himself well even when the vultures of power circled his politically naïve head. The same vultures nearly consumed a certain Ibe Kachikwu, the embattled Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, who sang like a famished canary over his ‘mistreatment’ by the head of the nation’s oil oligarch, the NNPC. Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, kept the ruling party busy while his own troubled party tried to sort out its sordid past. Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, emerged as the new power broker while Uche Secondus emerged as the national chairman of the PDP on the wing of the new power mongers within the party. Diezani Alison-Madueke remained in the news with her forced exile, accused of sundry crimes of corruption, allegation has strenuously denied. In this 2017, Benedict Peters breathed life into Nigerian football, lifting it with huge financial package that has seen Nigeria qualify for the World Cup in Russia to the glory of the fatherland.
In Anambra State, Governor Willie Obiano thrashed his former boss, Peter Obi, in a grudge political match and for Tinubu, it is never say die.
In this first part of a two-piece exposition THISDAY looks at the men and women who, in 2017, gave the nation and world something to think about.
President Muhammadu Buhari
President of Nigeria
A Triumphant Return from the Land of the Dead
Very early in the year, President Muhammadu Buhari jetted out of the country and returned after over 40 days. Many heaved a sigh of relief. But that was temporary. By May this year, he jetted out again to a London hospital, stayed there for over three months leaving the country in a quandary.
For Buhari, 2017 has been a year he fought his health demons. Has he won the battle? Only time will tell. But less than a week to the new year, Buhari’s son was involved in a fatal bike crash. The nation awaits with bated breath for his full recovery. As expected, thoughts of a second term that many, few months ago, felt were improbable, have returned with a deafening clarion.
While he seems to have successfully battled his health challenges, the president’s rating in the year keeps going south. No thanks to his perceived lethargic approach to governance and inability to rein in the hawks around his government.
This year was supposed to be his decisive year. Many knew 2018 would be for politicking. Many believe that while Providence kept him alive, the president actually lost 2017.
Minister of State, Petroleum Resources
An Oil Man in an Oily Year
Ibe Kachikwu, one-time Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and now the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, started the year being put on the spot and will end it in a similar fashion.
With the nation groaning under acute fuel scarcity, Kachikwu has promised heaven and earth that the scarcity would soon end. That is not happening. Kachikwu’s greatest day in the spotlight in 2017 was when a memo he wrote to the President, protesting the disrespect he suffered from the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Maikanti Baru, was leaked to the media. Kachikwu complained that Baru awarded contracts to the tune of $26 billion without pasing through them the NNPC board. Baru, Kachikwu also cried, made some key appointments and reshuffling without his approval or that of the NNPC board.
If there is one year Kachikwu will not wait to see its end, it is 2017.
GMD, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC
Controversial, Seemingly Untouchable
Maikanti Baru was having a quiet but busy year until the man who was supposed to be his direct boss, Ibe Kachikwu, raised the dust via a leaked memo to the President over Baru’s alleged shady and questionable deeds in the NNPC.
These included the award of contracts worth over $26 billion without due process and seemingly disrespectful disposition to Kachikwu. Baru replied that the President gave him approvals to carry out those actions.
However, while the furore over these issues seems to have died down, Baru and Kachikwu may not have a pleasant end of the year. Reason? There surfaced acute fuel scarcity across the country as Christians the Yuletide and prepare for the New Year celebration.
Like his boss, Baru may never see 2017 as his best year.
Vice President of Nigeria
The Tested but Loyal Deputy
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, has had a very eventful 2017. He started the year as the Vice President and later ‘graduated’ to the Acting President before reverting to default mode.
For more than 100 days, Osinbajo superintended over the affairs of the country while his principal was holed up in a London hospital attending to his health. He acquitted himself very well and he did not over step his bounds. When Buhari returned late August, Osinbajo continued to be a man of the people. 2017 has not been a bad year for him.
The only snag as the year reaches its end is the rumour that he might be dropped as Buhari’s running mate, should the incumbent president recontest in 2019. But even at that, the professor of Law has had a good year. Rumour or no rumour.
Anambra State Governor
One with God, One with the People
In the build-up to the November 18 governorship election in Anambra State, the talk was about who would replace Willie Obiano as the governor. It was taken as a fait accompli that he was a goner. But fate and 2017 political barometer had other plans for the man widely admitted to have changed the face of the state.
Assembled against him were the APC Tony Nwoye and the PDP Oseloka Obaze, who was backed by his former benefactor, Peter Obi. The rumour was that the APC wanted to use Anambra as an inroad into the South-east which has remained impregnable for it. But after the dust settled, APC might have to wait for another four years, same with PDP.
For Obiano, 2017 was like no other year, for all the good reasons
Governor of Rivers State
The New Power Broker in Town
Traditionally, sitting presidents, which the PDP produced for 16 uninterrupted years, have always been the leader of the party. But since they lost the presidency in 2015, PDP was in disarray until the Supreme Court came to its rescue and the recent elective national convention of the party.
But since nature abhors vacuum, the party needed a face and Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers State, stepped forward and became the power broker within the party. With massive resources at his disposal and leading his fellow governors, they bank-rolled the party’s recent convention and ensured that their candidates clinched all the major offices available during the convemtion. Effectively, Wike and his allies spent 2017 battling for the control of the party and they succeeded until Fresh PDP emerged.
For the former minister of state for education, 2017 was not without his regular skirmishes with his former-ally-turned-political-
It will not be an understatement to say Wike’s doggedness saved PDP from total destruction going by the way he led his colleague governors on the platform of the party to breathe life back to a party that was gasping for life in the political theatre.
Wike practically saved PDP from oblivion. On his shoulders now rest the former ruling party. Port Harcourt has become the new Mecca for members of the PDP.
A perfectionist no doubt when it comes to the finer details, especially in carrying out his primary assignments, back home in Rivers. He has shown what a difference two years can make when there is focused and purposeful leadership in place. His infrastructural renewal in the areas of roads, schools, hospitals, housing estates has lifted the state to the extent that he is getting recognition from far and wide including the United States of America.
Former Governor of Anambra State
He Who Fights and Runs
Peter Obi, the charismatic former governor of Anambra State and one-time managing director of Fidelity Bank, had one ambition at the dawn of 2017: to dislodge his former protégé, Wille Obiano, from Anambra Government House. He brought in Obiano in 2013 and the two had since spectacularly fallen out. Obi had wanted to show who was stronger between the two of them in the November 18 poll.
Pitching his tent with the PDP and appealing to the emotional sentiments of the people of the state, the party picked the delectable daughter of former Vice President, late Alex Ekwueme, as the running mate to Oseloka Obaze. They all failed as Obiano carried the day.
But Obi is a fighter and no quitter. The way he won the governorship seat itself in 2006 and 2007 showed the indomitability of his political spirit. 2017 might not have gone the way Obi wanted, but for him, the bones may rise again.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu
The King-maker and his Turbulent Year
Tinubu, one of the most flamboyant politicians the nation has ever known, has a 2017 he will either laugh over or frown upon. It all depends on which side is bulkier when taking his political stocks for the year.
At the beginning of the year, it was obvious that he had been out muscled in the scheme of things at the corridor of power in Abuja. Even if there were constant denials by his handlers. But Tinubu is a fighter. He came ‘home’ and practically took charge of the state’s local government elections by personally nominating 18 of the 54 candidates of his party, APC.
Beyond that, Tinubu has also spent the greater part of 2017 reconciling with erstwhile political foes in the South-west. He was in Akure to meet with Pa. Reuben Fasoranti, an old Afenifere sage, and just this week, he received ‘defectors’ from PDP. These included former Oyo Governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala, and Senator Teslim Folarin. There was also some rapprochement between him and his ‘creation’, President Muhammadu Buhari.
For the old political war-horse, the fight continues as 2018 will show.
Former Minister of Petroleum Resources
A Troubled Amazon, a Popular Fugitive
Diezani Alison-Madueke, former minister of petroleum resources, used to be a very powerful woman. In 2017, she spent the greater part of the year trying to clear a name her traducers seemed so determined to ruin. There is no figure that was not peddled throughout the year as the amount of money, usually in dollars, that she stole. There is no property she has not been linked to. There is no deal she has not been claimed to be involved in. Yet, in all this, nothing has been proved against her except the court’s forfeiture of some of her properties.
Diezani has remained in London where she has been asking to be allowed to come home and clear her name. She spent the whole of 2017 fighting to protect whatever is left of her name.
The Astute Businessman and Patriot
Nigeria is blessed with sundry businessmen who have made noteworthy contributions to her development. Few have contributed in ground-breaking ways without a media fanfare. Benedict Peters, the Executive vice president of the Aiteo Group is such a man. As a silent achiever, Benedict Peters might not come across as the typical flamboyant Nigerian Billionaire. However, when it comes to business and investment in his fatherland, his devotion is unmatched. Benedict Peters is a visionary leader, transforming Nigeria through relentless investments in areas covering enterprise development, economic diversification, local content participation in the oil and gas sector and most importantly, football development.
“There are young Nigerians and Africans that I am still obligated to inspire and I owe them that…,” Mr. Peters commented recently. Such uncommon passion and drive is what pushes him to continuously strive for development in various aspects of national life in Nigeria.
Aiteo Group, one of Peters’ economic investments, is the foremost indigenous oil company in Nigeria by production. In 2017, Aiteo took on the huge task of funding the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF making it the foremost contributor to football development in Nigeria. The company through its five-year sponsorship worth N2.5billion, played a lead role in optimizing the administrative and technical management of the Super Eagles, making it the first African team to qualify for the Russia 2018 World Cup with no games lost. In the run-up to this laudable achievement, Aiteo gave sports sponsorship a human face when it pledged to contribute N10million towards the treatment of Super Eagles goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme, for every goal scored by the Eagles against the indomitable Lions of Cameroon. leukaemia in July, 2017.
Aiteo also bought the title rights to the country’s federation cup, now christened Aiteo Cup – an investment that takes football development and economic empowerment through the round leather game to the grassroots.
Although, Benedict Peters may have over the years achieved business success out of media spotlight, millions of Nigerians have been touched by his ingenuity without even knowing him.
Benedict Peters, has been recognised locally and internationally with several awards, including The Marquee Award for Global Business Excellence at the Africa-US Leadership Awards in 2014; Leadership Newspaper’s “CEO of the Year 2014” award; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Awards in 2015.
Acting Chairman, EFCC)
The Hunter who is being Hunted
Ibrahim Magu remains the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, even if the rumour mill was agog recently of his purported sack. And if there was one thing Magu achieved in 2017, it was the fact that he further pushed the executive and legislative arms of government on a warpath. The Senate had refused to confirm his appointment as the head of the anti-graft agency but the Presidency has refused to drop him to the extent that the Senate vowed not to confirm his nomination from the Presidency.
Magu has been a victim of serious power play between the National Security Adviser and the Director General of the Department of State Services, DSS. That is why for the year, the only conviction the EFCC got in the year was in the media. And towards the end year, the agency nearly got its fingers burnt over the issue involving GTBank and the industrialist and indigenous vehicle manufacturer, Innocent Chukwuma.
For Magu, 2017 is ending the way it started: mired in controversy.
Former Vice President
All Hail the Political Minstrel
When Vice President Atiku Abubakar resigned his membership of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, many were not surprised. Atiku, as he is popularly called, only confirmed what many had suspected throughout the year: that Atiku would move again. And, he did move. Not long after, 2017 recorded one of its major political masterstrokes: Atiku went back to his political first love, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Atiku has never hidden his burning desire to rule the country. It is an ambition that dates back to 1993 and 24 years after, he has not given up. His defecting to PDP is to see to the realisation of that ambition.
And if there was one politician who made 2017 tick politically, it is the man called, Atiku Abubakar.
A Year of Corporate War of Attrition
For foremost industrialist, Aliko Dangote, 2017 has been another good year in terms of expansion of his business tentacles to other parts of Africa. From Ethiopia to Ghana, from Zambia to Kenya, the name Dangote continues to reverberate across Africa as the man behind cement revolution which is spreading further on the continent. And he is even going beyond that. In a daring diversification into the capital-intensive oil and gas sector, Dangote’s multibillion-dollar petrochemical company is nearing completion. When completed, it will be able to refine close to 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day. And he will be the largest individual investor in that sector in the whole of Africa.
As laudable as 2017 has been for Dangote, it has been the year when he has been at attritional corporate loggerheads with fellow Kano man, Abdulsamad Rabiu, over the mining site located at the boundary town of Oguda/Ubo in Okene, Kogi State. Dangote is claiming that the site with Mining Lease number 2541 belongs to it and as recent as December 18 this year, Dangote Group still accused BUA of carrying out illegal mining on the site.
In another breath, BUA Group accused the Dangote Group of conniving with top officials of the Ministry of Mines and Power to sabotage its operations at Okpella in Edo State. The Group wrote an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari over the matter. The move by the Dangote Group, according to BUA, was despite the fact that the matter was pending before a Federal High Court and the hearing was slated for December 5 and 6, 2017. The BUA Group claimed the factory was worth over a billion dollars and accused Dangote Group of seeking to control cement production and sales in the country.
According to sources, Dangote is said to be unhappy with BUA over the latter’s attempts to crash the prices of cement and thereby break the vice-like grip that Dangote has on the market. And BUA claimed the era of monopoly has gone – and gone for good.
While the battle promises to rage on in 2018, it is obvious that 2017 has seen these two giants being at loggerheads than being partners in progress.
Mallam Nasir El-Rufai
Governor of Kaduna State
What a Year!
If there was one northern governor who has had a busy year, it was Nasir El-Rufai, the diminutive governor of Kaduna State. From killings in Southern Kaduna to his faux pas on paying herdsmen who lost their cattle and then to sacking more than 20,000 teachers, it has been a busy year for the former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
However, the biggest issue el-Rufai had to deal with in the year was the sacking of teachers in his state who failed Primary Five examinations set for them; el-Rufai got kudos and knocks in equal measure. Before then, the governor had written a secret letter (which was later leaked) to the President lamenting the state of the ruling APC.
And as the year gears towards its twilight, the embattled governor has to deal with another wave of killings in the troubled southern part of the state. For el-Rufai, it has been one hell of a year.
Former Chairman of Pension Reforms Task Team
A Nemesis for a ‘Saintly Government’
The massive condemnation that trailed the purported reinstatement of the former Chairman of the Pension Reforms Task Force, Abdulrasheed Maina, showed the resentment with which Nigerians viewed one of the biggest official scandals of 2017. Between the offices of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and the Head of Service, the blame game went on like brickbats. But from all indications, it seemed the attorney general told the nation less than he knew about the whole saga.
But the Maina saga of 2017 lent credence to the popular saying that the more things change, the more they look the same. While the family of the man claimed he was ‘invited’ by the administration to help it, the government said nothing of such happened.
But if there was one issue in the year that showed the purported moral stance of this government was all a ruse, it was the Abdulrasheed Maina saga.
Abubakar Bukola Saraki
President of the Senate
Never Say Die!
If one was to go with the political permutations of his traducers, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, would have become history, albeit politically. His ascension as the number three man in the country was tumultuous. The leadership of the ruling party never wanted his emergence in 2015 and they did not do anything to hide it. If therefore, there was a year Saraki consolidated his hold on the upper legislative chamber and turned the executive into a spectator in some periods, it was 2017.
First, Saraki’s Senate vehemently refused to confirm the appointment of the EFCC chair, Magu, and it stood its stand. When the executive would engage in foot-dragging, the Senate would set up ad hoc committees to probe controversial issues which further endeared it to the people. To cap the year, the Senate vehemently told the executive that it would not consider the 2018 budget proposal due to poor implementation of 2017 budget.
For Saraki, political death itself seemed to have ‘died’ permanently in 2017!
Governor of Lagos State
Akinwunmi Ambode is aware of the huge expectations that will always naturally follow anyone who has the unique opportunity of governing Lagos and if there is one year he has tried to live up to these expectations, it was 2017. In this year alone, Ambode inaugurated at least eight major roads and bridges. Prominent among these were the Ajah and Abule-Egba bridges. Not to be forgotten were roads, schools and other governance interventions.
Currently, work has started on the Pen Cinema overhead bridge which was equally long overdue. For the son of a teacher who was once a top civil servant in the state, 2017 is one year he proved his mettle as Mr. Infrastructure!
Two and half years in office, the teacher’s son has made eight years of his predecessor look like years locusts. He quietly turned the mega city to a mega construction site. He calls himself a dreamer. Perhaps, by the time he does eight years in office, Lagos would have achieved the dream of a new wonderland.
Yet, when he started there were doubt wheither he waqs up to the task. His predecessor whose performance was used as a yardstick to rate others was quickly found to have underperformed when the teacher’s son got his hands on the handle.
Governor of Imo State
The Comic Side of Governance
In 2017, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the maverick governor of Imo State, actually brought a lot of comic relief to governance and he reminded Nigerians that governance is not all about serious issues. He started the year by asking workers in the state to stop working on a certain day of the week so they could attend burials. If you thought that was funny, then wait. He also told them to stop working on another certain day so they could farm. And when the nation thought 2017 has got enough from Okorocha, he announced a new ministry called, the Ministry of Happiness and the only person who could man that ministry was no other person than his younger sister.
In between all this, Okorocha found a new pastime: erecting statues. He did one for South African President, Jacob Zuma, and he did not forget to ‘honour’ outgoing and first female President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf – she’s also the first female African president to be elected.
Biafran Secessionist Leader
The ‘Warlord’ who Disappeared
If there was one man who questioned the sovereignty of the country in 2017, it was a certain Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB. He wanted the eastern part of the country, inhabited by Igbo, to secede from the country due to perceived marginalization. The way he went about that agitation got even so many of his fellow ‘Biafrans’ to be uncomfortable. Not only did Kanu take hate speech to another level, he also ensured that any man or woman of Igbo extraction who did not believe in his campaign was a traitor and a slave to the Hausa/Fulani. Kanu even set up the Biafran Defence Forces and there were video footages of him inspecting a guard of honour mounted by members of these forces. But all these were until a couple of months ago when the Nigerian Army launched the Operation Python Dance that effectively sent Kanu into hiding.
But he remains one of those who made 2017 as eventful as it could possibly be, either for the right or wrong reasons.
Jay Osi Samuels
National Coordinator of Alliance for New Nigeria, ANN)
And the ‘technoticians’ came calling
When they first appeared in the news earlier in the year, many did not take them seriously. But a certain medical doctor, Jay Osi Samuels, believed the Alliance for New Nigeria, ANN, one of the newly registered political parties, was ready to change the way party politics is played in the country. Samuels has the idea and he went about it preaching the message of ‘technoticianism’ to all those who cared to listen. His targets are professionals and technocrats who believe that politics is for professional politicians alone. And his message has been sinking in due to the fact that the party now has almost a 100,000 registered members.
In his own little way, Samuels made 2017 a year to remember.