Game Changers of 2018 (I)

Olawale Olaleye and Demola Ojo

In a few days, the world would bid 2018 a final and deserving goodbye for all that it connotes.

In Nigeria, however, the outgoing year has been quite eventful, with its many ups and downs, sorrows, tears and blood, laughter and fun, the gains, the pains and the losses – many of which were avoidable and of course in other circumstances, inevitable.

But in totality, either for the good or the bad that came with the year, certain individuals defined 2018: they shaped the narrative, defined the agenda and determined the outcomes for millions of Nigerians around the world.

Muhammadu Buhari: A Cat with Nine Lives

It is true that President Muhammadu Buhari has a health challenge, which had seen him visit London, the United Kingdom, many times, including spending over three months at some point for his health checks.

But in all of this, what had pervaded the polity at different points was the exaggeration of his passing. He remains around, hale and hearty and indeed, getting stronger by the day.

And like the cat with nine lives, not only has he survived his health challenges, he has confounded his critics, although these critics would not back off.

As Buhari gets stronger, many political plans fade away. The President is seeking re-election on the back of strong anti-corruption war and his strides in agriculture as well as social intervention for the poor. The jury would decide in February next year, whether this Katsina-born general, who becomes 76 years old today would get a second term.

Olusegun Obasanjo: Stoking the Anti-Buhari Fire

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is one Nigerian leader, who should be suffering publicity maximus by now. Ever in the news, either for the good or the bad reasons, Obasanjo has never been found to be missing in action. Since his January letter to Buhari, where he urged him not to run, Obasanjo has continued to stoke the anti-Buhari fire.

The former president, who took his anti-Buhari campaign a notch up by instigating a Nigeria movement, which in turn gave rise to a multiplicity of opposition against the president, came out days ago to reiterate the fact that it would be sheer foolhardy for anyone to stand aloof in the 2019 elections, because the future of Nigeria is at stake.

Just that Buhari must go, Obasanjo has made up with his former deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and presidential candidate of the PDP, whom he had long sworn never to see emerge president and is now going about campaigning for him as the best man for the job. Obasanjo is constantly a game changer and 2018 has not offered differently for him.

Bukola Saraki: The Phoenix

For the last three and a half years, Senate President Bukola Saraki has consistently remained a game changer year in, year out. From the drama of his emergence to his leadership of the National Assembly and eventually, his no-love-lost relationship with the executive, Saraki has remained a game changer all along.

However, for 2018, he has a lot to talk about. Indeed, whenever he decides to write his memoirs, 2018 would form an entire chapter of its. Although the plot to remove him had been set in motion since he emerged President of the Senate, it became pronounced and an open assignment for his traducers in 2018.

From the conspiracy of the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) led by Adams Oshiomhole to the buy-in of the Department of State Security, the drafting in of some of the anti-graft agencies and the unashamed tag-along by the police in his removal plot, Saraki waltzed through them all.

The height of his triumph, which was quite significant, was the time President Muhammadu Buhari personally apologised to him at a meeting brokered by some governors for all that he had been through. He is by all standards a game changer in 2018 and is therefore recognised as such.

Adams Oshiomhole: Entrenching Party Supremacy

Like the biblical tree of good and evil, which became a challenge for the first man and woman on earth, chairman of the ruling APC, Adams Oshiomhole can be said to fall on the two sides of good and evil in the discharge of his current posting. His emergence as the APC chair was with a lot of expectations especially, coming at a time the party was believed to lack discipline, coordination and proper administration.

Thus, on coming on-board, his first but difficult assignment was his resolve to return the party to their original owners – the party members – by entrenching party supremacy. Although he too had been a beneficiary of the familiar impunity that usually governs political parties in this part of the world especially, with the high-handedness of the governors, he however thought enough of such excesses and no more business as usual.

His taking the bull by the horns shook the party to its marrow and indeed, causing several other changes, many of which some members particularly, the governors were not in tune with. He is bold and fiery and is never afraid to say what is on his mind, to whom and when. This too is causing uneasy change in the party and the change too is being interpreted in different ways. However, whether good or bad, his idea of entrenching party supremacy and putting the governors in their place was one of the many noteworthy changes that 2018 can point to.

Atiku Abubakar: The Comeback Kid

For the first time since his foray into politics, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar appears really very close to becoming Nigeria’s president in 2019 if things work in his favour. His emergence as the PDP presidential candidate at its October Convention has put Atiku in this stead and with the momentum that greeted his emergence, coupled with the swirling support across many divides; Atku is by these measures a game changer.

Although 2019 is the second time he would actually be on the ballot, 2011 being his first, Atiku is coming into this race as his last, perhaps, and with his very all. And to think that he was hugely underrated at the PDP primary and was almost rated third in line, his miraculous comeback has remained a reference point in the countdown to 2019.

Above all, that he is a northern Muslim like the incumbent, Buhari, is one of the reasons his return to the presidential run cannot be underestimated and the fact that he is fast gaining momentum and recognition even in the most unusual quarters makes him one of the 2018 game changers.

Aisha Buhari: Speaking Truth to Power

Wife of President Muhammadu Buhari is not your everyday woman. Confident, smart, intelligent, forward-looking and politically savvy, the first lady has carved an uncommon niche for herself with the courage through which she delivers truth to power.

It still baffles many how the wife of a sitting president remains a leading critic of some of the ills of the administration of her husband. But that is the way Aisha is wired and it does appear that the inner circle of her husband’s government has come to accept this new reality but struggling bitterly to live with it.

Recently at a function, she claimed that two men had hijacked the government of her husband and wanted the world to know this reality. She was quick to add that she knew the wife of the vice-president, Dolapo Osinbajo and one of her husband’s aides, Senator Babafemi Ojudu (both of whom were present) would not like that she said as much, she was however inclined to say even more for posterity. She is not only a rebel with a cause but could be a game changer in 2019

Bola Tinubu: The ‘Godfather Emeritus’

One of the national leaders of the APC and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, who has continued to hold down the politics of the state, proved his worth a couple of months ago, when he, under the guise of returning the party to its original owners, stopped an incumbent, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State from returning.

Tinubu has single-handedly continued to control the political cum economic nucleus of the state and as the godfather – no one dares undo whatever he did. He knows the politics of the state and with a template designed and controlled solely by him, he runs the show in the state and effectively so.

But of all his political escapades and adventures, denying an incumbent a chance to seek re-election was a feat no one has ever pulled off before. And known to always blaze the trail, he did it and successfully so. That would forever remain a talking point in the annals of the state’s polity as it changed the 2018 game in the state from a very much unanticipated angle.

Godwin Emefiele: Pulling the Economy Back from the Brink

That Nigeria survived one of the worst economic recessions in history was not a feat that just happened on the nation. There were conscious steps taken by the administration including the economic recovery and growth plan. But that was not all. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the leadership of its governor, Godwin Emefiele, actually did a lot by helping to pull back the economy from the brink of collapse.

This, the CBN did, first by stabilising the nation’s money and capital markets, boosting investors’ confidence and ensuring that the country’s foreign reserve hit $32 billion, the highest mark since January 2015.

Reports also showed that the GDP grew by 0.55 per cent, which is 2.04 per cent higher than the rate recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2016 (–1.49 per cent) and higher by 1.46 per cent points from rate recorded in the preceding quarter, (revised to –0.91 per cent from –0.52 per cent). Thus, quarter on quarter, real GDP growth was 3.23 per cent

Of course, there are some industry players, who would defend this view with their all; it has also not stifled those, who still think that the impact of the economic recovery is yet to be felt by the average Nigerians. But whenever the talk about economic recovery is being put up for deliberation, the place of the CBN and its governor, Emefiele, is not negotiable. He definitely changed the game in 2018, particularly putting in mind his Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), which is a link between companies involved in the processing and small holder farmers of the required key agricultural commodities.

Aliko Dangote: Staking It All on Local Refining

Billionaire businessman and foremost philanthropist, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, is one Nigerian that is changing the Nigerian story and boosting economic growth with his local content initiative. His planned 650,000 barrel per day capacity petrochemical refinery is one initiative that has been rated to transform and diversify Nigeria’s economy when completed.

Also, when completed, the Dangote Refinery is being projected to boost the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by $52 billion per annum, which represents 0.8 per cent growth per annum. This, in addition, is expected to translate into $9.9 billion per annum trade balance improvement as well as reduce crude exports by $14.7 billion per annum. It will also ultimately reduce fuel importation by $17.9 billion per annum, projections have stated.

The mention of the name Dangote connotes many things and largely positive especially, when it comes to business and philanthropy. The fact that in spite of the many losses his businesses reportedly recorded during the economic recession he did not shy away from adding value makes him an irreducible game changer in 2018.

Fayemi: Taming the Fayose Menace

Curiously, the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and his predecessor in office, Mr. Ayodele Fayose have something in common. They both came as governors and could not return immediately for their second terms, albeit under different circumstances. Yet, they came back years later to reclaim their mandates.

Interestingly, whilst Fayose’s retail politics not only elevated his relevance in the state and made him nearly invincible, Fayemi’s elitist posturing was largely considered his undoing and was going to cost him his second chance. It was a chance many had rather he did not take. But he did. Whatever changed, Fayemi demystified Fayose’s myth and crushed his invincibility for all to see. He clearly had learnt his lessons and became a better him.

His comeback magic is fast changing the tide on the Ekiti turf and has remained one of the many game-changing developments that have thrust through the nation’s body polity. How and if Fayemi is able to sustain the feat is a different debate altogether. But currently, he holds the ace and truly, a game changer.

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