Leading Folks of 2019


 Names matter. For journalists, they can be the difference between a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ story. There may not be much to it when a driver runs through a red light. But when the number plate reads ‘Burna’, hell is let loose. Names! As the year draws its curtain, it is leaving behind names – names of men and women that made headlines in the past 52 weeks. The good, bad and ugly – they have made this passing year a roller coaster spectacle for both actors and audience alike. 2019 has indeed been a remarkable year. The general elections were accompanied by its attendant political fireworks.Landmark business deals closed leaving sorrow, tears and blood in their wake. Entertainers fought their way into the limelight with many dancing on the wrong side of the law. Even sportsmen and women won and lost laurels few thought possible. From the sphere of politics and business through sports to entertainment and the arts, these Nigerians have become the delight of journalists, making headlines for the right and wrong reasons. This year was also interluded with bouts of comedy skits. What would you make of the First Lady consistently creating storms in a teacup? Or reptiles swallowing public funds in offices? Or security agencies acting out scripts for breaching the rights of the citizens they swore to protect under the constitution? Or cybercrime becoming the new rave for millions of jobless youth? Against the clock however, the country, with all its socio-political and economic crises, has made it to the end of another year. Many Nigerians will judge the performance of this year on three issues: have they become more prosperous? Are they happier than before? Have they been more secure than the previous years? The answers have to do with names. Things don’t just happen. People make things happen. And people have names. Our cover story is awash with these names; names that made the year a sheer spectacle. As the curtain draws on 2019, what will the coming year bring? Again, names. Old names. New names. And THISDAY will be there at the twilight, telling the tales to her readers – Ntai Bagshaw

Ahamefula Ogbu

Muhammadu Buhari
He won a second term in a controversial election in February that left the country divided on ethnic and religious lines. The battle to affirm his victory in the Tribunal dominated news. Buhari continued with his anti-corruption campaign, though selectively, as Danjuma Goje could enjoy his loot peacefully by a negotiated sacrifice of his Senate presidential ambition while Orji Uzor Kalu was imprisoned. Buhari’s lopsided appointments kept him on the front page, as most positions in the federation were given to his kinsmen in an apparent disregard for the constitution. His closure of Nigerian land borders, visa at point of entry for all Africans, persistent medicals abroad and his wife’s outbursts kept him on the front burner in 2019.

Atiku Abubakar
He contested the 2019 presidential election against Buhari, making a bold statement, with victories in 17 states. Atiku insisted he won the election and took his case to the Tribunal. He lost both at the tribunal and the Supreme Court, but the cases kept him in the news for most of the year. Atiku remained a prominent figure for most of 2019, with his tenacious criticism of the Buhari government.

Aisha Buhari
The wife of President Buhari remained fearlessly vocal in 2019. She has severally voiced out the much held belief that the President is not in charge of his administration allegedly seized by few men in the corridors of power. Aisha continued to cry out that Nigerians are suffering under her husband. She was also in the news for protesting being locked out of the villa by some relations of the President who had moved into the seat of power even when they were not supposed to. Her latest outburst was when she carpeted Garba Shehu, for working for the cabal and against her family.

Olusegun Obasanjo
He continued with his series of letters to any President in power through which he told truth to power. Before the 2019 election he wrote, saying Buhari does not deserve a second term and openly backed Atiku. He once described the National Assembly as cistern of corruption while he accused Buhari of nepotism to the extent that the country was more divided under him than it was during the civil war.

Omoyele Sowore
This enfant terrible founded the online media outfit called Sahara Reporters. He contested the 2019 presidential election and lost, scurried abroad and started hurling invectives on the administration which put him in trouble with the security agencies. Things came to a head when he announced his RevolutionNow protest. He was arrested. Sowore commenced his battle for freedom through the courts which Buhari had serially ignored its orders. After getting bail and struggling to perfect it, his real story started. Things went out of hand when the DSS stormed a court to re-arrest him while still enjoying his bail.

Orji Uzo Kalu
While still serving as Abia State governor, then anti-corruption czar, Malam Nuhu Ribadu had investigated him for corruption. They tried severally to take him to court and secure conviction but Kalu was not a man to be easily caged and worked out his escape route brilliantly from the law. However, when the judicial noose appeared tightening on him, he jumped into the APC. He won his election as Senator and became Chief Whip. Just when he shouted peace and safety, his sudden destruction came with conviction on the fraud charges where on the 12th year of the case in court, he bagged 12 years jail term.

Ibrahim El-Zakzaky
He is a vitriolic religious leader of the Shiite sect who stood up against the apparently Sunni faith where the powers that be profess. His trouble started when he blocked the Chief of Army Staff’s convoy and in reprisal, had his members shot and himself with his wife scarred with bullet wounds. Two of his children were allegedly killed in that attack which razed and demolished his stronghold in Zaria, Kaduna State. He went to court and was granted bail but seeking the enforcement of the court order was like shouting at a deaf man. Lots of protests by his followers led to their being outlawed in court as a terrorist group. After more protests, loss of lives and arrests, the government under pressure sent him to India for treatment from where he returned saying the facility was worse than the prison where he was. He had been under house arrest where authorities said they were spending millions daily in feeding him.

Godwin Obaseki
He is the Governor of Edo State who is seeking a second term in office. He climbed the ladder of power through the state’s former governor, Adams Oshiomhole, with who he has fallen out. Obaseki has been reluctantly applying the powers of his office to outlaw political gatherings in the state where all entreaties to reconcile his erstwhile benefactor is proving abortive. Who blinks first in the power game will be determined during the governorship election. He has dared his political godfather.

Ibrahim Magu
The EFCC boss secured some high profile convictions in 2019, including that of former governors Orji Uzo Kalu. He was in the news for most of the year because of the large number corruption cases in court

Adams Oshiomhole
The APC National Chairman has been in the news on the drive for the control of Edo State. While he proclaimed that he killed godfatherism and retired the godfathers, he appears to see the need to transmute into one and Obaseki, his godson, appears to insist on no godfather in Edo politics. The test of strength which has defied interventions may be decided at the polls.

Abdullahi Ganduje
The Kano State Governor was in the news over a video where he was seen stuffing dollars into his agbada and got the sobriquet, “Gandollar”. While the video circulated, people made up their minds on what to believe but the courts has the final say. Ganduje surprisingly won reelection despite this “corruption”.

Chika Amanze-Nwachuku

Aliko Dangote
Aliko Dangote’s 650,000 barrels per day crude oil refinery is also fast taking shape. It is expected to become one of the largest in the world when it begins operation in 2021. His Foundation in Africa, with an endowment of $1.25 billion continues to impact on lives in 2019. Dangote, Africa’s richest man and founder/chairman of Dangote Group continues to impact on Nigerian roads and the first phase of the Apapa port to Toll Gate would be ready before end of December. In April, the business mogul announced the sale of his loss-making business, Dangote Flour Mill Plc to Olam International.

Godwin Emefiele
Emefiele’s series of policies in 2019 resulted in growth of Nigeria’s economy in some sectors. There was a positive growth in GDP, driven by improvements in Agriculture, Oil and Gas, Manufacturing and Information Communication Technology. The CBN recently licensed 15 mobile money operators. They are expected to deliver services such as cash-in, cash-out, funds transfer, bills payments, airtime purchases, government disbursements and remote enrollment of the BVN to an estimated 60 million Nigerians that are unbanked. CBN’s forex restrictions on certain items, as well as series of measures to discourage smuggling of restricted items into the country, have all resulted in some positives for Nigerian economy.

Femi Otedola
Business mogul and philanthropist, Femi Otedola in June this year, announced he had concluded the sale of his 75 per cent stake in Forte Oil to Prudent Energy, a local oil trading firm. Last month, the business tycoon donated N5 billion to the Cuppy Foundation, a philanthropic project of his daughter, Florence Otedola, popularly known as DJ Cuppy.

Hadiza Bala Usman
For most of 2019, the NPA boss continued with her mission of entrenching transparency and accountability in procedures at the nation’s ports. Hadiza was recently attacked at the premises of the National Assembly by those she described as hoodlums and was linked to her recent cancellation of a $133 million Lagos Secured Anchorage Area contract agreement with Ocean Maritime Solutions Limited (OMSL), a firm promoted by Captian Idahosa Okunbo. The NPA boss also clashed with the BUA Group over her decision to decommission and shut down the BUA Ports and Terminals Limited, operator of terminal B, Rivers Port, Port Harcourt. She had explained that she took the step for security reasons; to save lives of those working at the terminal.

Allen Onyema
Allen Onyema, CEO of Air Peace airlines was last month indicted by the United States Department of Justice for alleged bank fraud and money laundering. Onyema, who was accused of moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes, was charged alongside his airline’s Chief of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha. Although Onyema, denied the allegations, insisting he had never laundered money in his life, the unfortunate incident was a major setback to his overseas business and his reputation within Nigeria and the international business community.

Obinwanne Okeke
Obinwanne Okeke, otherwise known as ‘Invictus Obi’ is a serial entrepreneur, who was listed among Forbes 100 Most Influential Young Africans 2018. The CEO of Invictus Group was indicted by the FBI over a series of coordinated internet scam running into $12 million and put on trial in the United States. Until the crisis, Okeke was a role model to young people both in Nigeria and across the globe and a major source of inspiration.

Diezani Alison-Madueke
The Nigerian former Minister of Petroleum Resources remained in the news for most of the year because of the numerous corruption allegations against her. She was indicted in the controversial Malabu Oil deal. Diezani is among those standing trial with Chairman of Atlantic Energy Brass Development, Jide Omokore in the nine-count amended charge of criminal diversion of $1.6 billion, pressed by the EFCC. Diezani was also accused of misappropriation of over $20 billion and abuse of power when she was a Minister of petroleum in Nigeria. She recently forfeited N14.5 billion worth of luxury jewellery to the federal government. Last month, a court gave the EFCC four-month ultimatum to extradite the former petroleum minister from UK.

Jide Omokore
Jide Omokore, a businessman is facing series of litigations in relation to alleged illicit crude oil deals, money laundering and unpaid loans. One of the suits pertained to the nine-count amended charge of criminal diversion to the tune of about $1.6billion, pressed by the EFCC, in which other defendants were former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke; former Managing Director, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, Mr. Victor Briggs; former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production, at the NNPC, Abiye Membere, and a former Manager, Planning and Commercial, NNPC, David Mbanefo (now deceased). Also, involved in the suit were two companies: Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited, said to belong to Omokore, the first defendant. The firms were alleged to have been used by the defendants to allegedly commit procurement fraud and money laundering. Omokore’ latest ordeal was the recent seizure of his properties over N29billion allegedly owed to AMCON.

Ferdinand Ekechukwu

Burna Boy
Self-acclaimed ‘African Giant’, Damini Ogulu, aka Burna Boy has had a tremendous year, bagging numerous awards at home and abroad, like Best International Act awards at the 2019 BET Awards. He had back to back sold out concerts in UK and became a roaring success. The impact of his recent album African Giant still reverberates across the globe. It was nominated in the Best World Album category for the 62nd Grammys.

Genevieve Nnaji
The Nollywood sweetheart made her directorial debut on Netflix with Lionheart to rave receptions and it transcended the year before to the present year 2019, dominating top movie charts. A largely Igbo cast movie, Lionheart, became a major issue across the entertainment scene following its disqualification from the Oscars Best International Feature category for having too much English dialogue.

Njideka Akunyili-Crosby
Known for creating art works that speak to the life of Africans who find themselves in the diaspora for one reason or the other, more so for her unique style of painting - a balanced mix of African ethnics and Western standards. The daughter of the late Dora Akunyili, former Director-General of the National Agency for Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC), was on the front page in the United States following a visit to her studio by the former US First Lady, Michelle Obama. Works of the wave making Nigerian international artist sold for millions of dollars at auctions. She got another recognition when she made the list for the 2019 Time Magazine “100 Next”.

Mercy Eke
Newly minted celebrity Mercy Eke was catapulted from relative obscurity to stardom after winning the 2019 edition of the Big Brother Naija reality TV show. The 26-year-old Mercy won the grand prize of N60 million, including an SUV worth N25 million. The reality TV show ended with the ‘Pepper Dem’ star emerging from the final five housemates who had endured 99 grueling days of little contact with the outside world; no phones, no access to radio, TV and other devices to keep them abreast of events outside the house.

With 2019 being a phenomenal year for David Adeleke aka ‘Davido’, having sold out London’s prestigious O2 Arena, infiltrated Billboard’s Hot R&B chart with his massive single “Fall,” which set a record as the longest charting Nigerian pop song in Billboard history, as well as being one of America’s most saluted songs of this year. 2019 saw Davido extending the frontiers of his international networks with multiple collaborations to show for it. Songs like ‘Blow My Mind’ with American singer, Chris Brown, and ‘Risky’, with Jamaican DJ, singer/songwriter, Popcaan, which he released recently justified his eight months stay in the foreign land.

Wizkid sure made an impact in the year under review. For most of 2019, Wizkid’s released singles and features, stealing stars away from the 2019 Headies same day he was performing in UK and selling out the O2 Arena in London for the second time and performing all over the world. However, left his fans parched and hung up on the earlier released songs and his quotable verse on Beyonce’s Brown Skin Girl track in the Lion King: The Gift album which earned him a Soul Train award and a Grammys nomination for 2020.

Tiwa Savage
African Number 1 Bad Girl Tiwa Savage is up for a fresh start in her music career as witnessed in 2019, following her exit from her former label Mavin Records. She also was among the African acts that featured on Beyonce’s project, The Lion King: The Gift album. The afropop diva dropped her much anticipated single “49-99” which is her first release under her new record label (Universal Music Group) where she got signed few months ago.

Mo Abudu
Mosunmola ‘Mo’ Abudu pushed a number of highly successful movies from her stable in 2019. She also made history by becoming the first Nigerian to chair the International Emmy Awards at its 47th Gala in 2019. This ground-breaking news comes six months after she got elected as a director of the International Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences, made of members from over 60 countries.

Regina Daniels
Young Nollywood diva Regina Daniels was a major 2019 sensation following her marriage to billionaire businessman and politician, Ned Nwoko. Regina Daniels and Ned Nwoko’s marriage became a subject of widespread debate with industry observers accusing her of marrying her much older partner for his money. In a recent interview, both couple claims there union was nestled on the altar of love, leaving many to ask what kind of love will nest a 59 year old man with a 20 year old woman.

Kunle Adewale

Anthony Joshua
Six months after losing his world titles to Andy Ruiz, Anthony Joshua reclaimed the world titles from the Mexican with a well-earned unanimous decision victory with the judges’ scorecards reading 119-109, 118-110 and 118-110 for a wide victory for the Nigeria descent. With the victory Joshua now ranked alongside the likes of Muhammad Ali as two time world heavyweight champion.

Samuel Chukwueze
Nigeria winger Samuel Chukuweze may not have won the 2019 Kopa Trophy Award designed for the best U-21 footballer in the world, but the fact that he was nominated was a great feat. The 20-year old therefore became the first Nigerian to be nominated for the award. Chukuweze has been so impressive this season for Spanish side, Villarreal that he has become a target for Chelsea boss Frank Lampard in the January transfer window.

Samson Siasia
Nigeria soccer fans were shocked at the announcement that Siasia, former Super Eagles player and Coach of Olympics Eagles had been slapped with a lifetime ban by the World football governing body for agreeing to receive bribes and for match fixing and was equally fined CHF 50,000. Siasia is in the Court of Sports Arbitration, struggling to overturn the verdict.

Ese Brume
When it was almost certain that Nigeria would return home empty handed from the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Ese Brume had other ideas as she delivered when it mattered most. She leaped to bronze on the final day of the competition after jumping her best mark of 6.91m to ensure the country doesn’t leave Doha without winning a medal. The former Commonwealth Games champion, with that feat, became the first Nigerian athlete to win a World Championships medal, since Blessing Okagbare’s silver and bronze medals six years ago in Moscow.

Odion Ighalo
After he was blamed for Super Eagles exit from the 2018 World Cup in Russia for missing two glaring chances that would have ensured Nigeria qualification the knockout phase of the Mundial, Odion Ighalo bounced back to emerge as the highest goal scorer of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt with five goals. The 30-year-old helped the Super Eagles finish third in Egypt. With this feat, Ighalo becomes the sixth Nigeria after Segun Odegbami, Rasheed Yekini, Julius Aghaowa, Jay-Jay Okocha and Emmanuel Emenike to win this prize. Ighalo is in the list for the 2019 CAF African Player of the Year.

Amaju Pinnick
Amaju Pinnick, who rose to power after emerging President of the Nigeria Football Federation in 2014, survived a damaging corruption case motivated by some aggrieved members of the Association. But he did not survive as the first vice-president of Confederation of African Football (CAF). The former Delta State FA Chairman was removed from his role and replaced by South Africa’s Danny Jordan.

Phillip Osondu
Former Nigeria’s Under-17 Golden Eaglets’ star boy, Philip Osondu died towards the end of 2019. The Canada ’87 U17 player died in Belgium at the age of 48 after taking self to the hospital to be examined. Osondu was said to have felt unwell at work and decided to visit the hospital where he subsequently died. Osondu played regularly for the youth teams of Nigeria, but never featured for the senior team.
In 1987, he participated in the World U-16 tournament in Canada in which Nigeria reached the final, but then lost on penalties to the then Soviet Union. He was voted the best player of the tournament and was awarded the Golden Ball. He played in Belgium for teams, including RSC Anderlecht and RWDM.