PEOPLE OF THE YEAR (II): Movers and Shakers

PEOPLE OF THE YEAR (II): Movers and Shakers

Ejiofor Alike, Festus Akanbi in Lagos, Adedayo Akinwale and Michael Olugbode in Abuja

For the average Nigerian, the outgoing year is not the regular one. Much as each year always boasts distinguishing character traits, 2023 is peculiar. And this is in many respects.
The outgoing year has sent off a president and welcomed another. Politically, therefore, it has weathered one of the most inclement political climates.
Economically, it is still struggling with some of the choices of the past – either by omission or commission. Its social fabric, unfortunately, has never been independent of the two others.
Nevertheless, many Nigerians still recorded giant strides, both in politics and business. Yet, a lot more could barely survive, indicating their share of what the year had been dishing out.
The country conducted one of the most disputed elections during the year under review. But the presidential election was the most controversial.
In business, it was not all tales of woes. Many Nigerians recorded remarkable achievements and attained enviable heights in the year, despite the challenges in the operating environment.
Over all, 2023 has been one unforgettable year, which is the reason some of the active gladiators, who shaped the year – either for good or bad – deserve some mention.

Leadership and Governance

Bola Tinubu
President Bola Tinubu didn’t mealy-mouth about his aspiration and small wonder he described it as his lifelong ambition. That he is president today, was not a tea party. He invested his all into the project. Mines were planted in his way, yet he survived. He suspected fifth columnists in the ruling APC and was unambiguous about it. He told the world that “emi lo kan” after reminding former President Buhari that he “lu’le” a few times and didn’t make it until he stepped in. Today, he is president because of the power of dream and the imperatives of chasing after it.

Muhammadu Buhari
Former President Muhammadu Buhari might have made history by successfully handing over power to President Bola Tinubu on May 29. But it may not be out of line to say this was just another accident that shaped the life of the former Nigerian leader. Buhari gave an insight into what was going to be the character traits of his leadership, when he said in 2015, that he was for everybody and wasn’t for anyone. This attitude, however, typified his leadership for eight years he was in power. Anyone who got anything done in his government must have “grabbed it and run with it” and not because the president facilitated it. He was a different kind of leader, whose leadership style deserves a case study in political sciences.

Peter Obi
Soon after the 2023 general election, many people described Peter Obi as the ‘hero’ of the presidential election, because he not only shocked bookmakers, he also altered the political calculus of the country. Obi, whose OBIdient Movement became a menace to the establishment, gave the old hands a run for their money and years of political investments. He was believed to have mutilated the political extrapolations of the established order. Although many believed that his recalcitrance and insistence to run was largely informed by poor political reading, he nursed no regrets because he gave a good fight. He was the issue in the 2023 elections.

Atiku Abubakar
Atiku Abubakar has come to be known as a veteran presidential hopeful, having started contesting since 1993, and had contested in major elections since then, including2007, 2011, 2015, 2019, and 2023. Unfortunately, 2019 and 2023 were deemed his best bets, but he lost both to Buhari and Tinubu.
But more than anyone else, Atiku made the strongest and biggest political statement in the 2023 elections by testing the nation’s democratic tolerance and challenging her justice system, when he went all out to deconstruct the many mysteries around Tinubu. The outcome of this adventure notwithstanding, Atiku has secured a spot on the positive side of history.

Governors of the Year

Nasir el-Rufai
Former Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, was a major force in the countdown the 2023 election. Having served meritoriously in Kaduna for eight years, he hopped on the national space to be part of those who made things happen.
Apart from kicking against the imposition of a presidential candidate in the APC, he coordinated his colleagues for Tinubu, ahead of the party primaries, allegedly ditching even his own friends, because of his belief and change in projections.
Unfortunately, in spite of all, the senate declined his ministerial nomination on the grounds of alleged security report, forcing his sudden but temporary retirement. Although many people believed the decision to drop him was orchestrated by the president and for political reasons, he had since moved on into a private life, and shaken off the disappointment.

Babajide Sanwo-Olu
The Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, appears the most challenged governor in Nigeria this era. His biggest nightmare, perhaps, is that the president is from Lagos, which thus permanently put him on his toes. While this has numerous advantages, it is a situation that challenges him all the time. Little wonder the election period was not fun for this obviously hardworking governor of Lagos. And still smacking from the dust raised by the EndSARS crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, Sanwo-Olu’s ability to still maintain such admirable calmness is, perhaps, why every Lagos governor is a different breed. He is not only delivering campaign promises, he is also providing leadership at the same time. This, without much ado, sets Sanwo-Olu apart.  

Godwin Obaseki  
Governor Godwin Obaseki is a warrior, no doubt. He successfully fought his re-election battle a few years ago, and he is about to face yet another big political and survival battle in a few months, when the succession tussle starts.
However, much of Obaseki’s achievements are as a result of his resolve to do the difficult things – dismantling age-longbottlenecks that have hindered growth among Nigeria’s sub-nationals. Today, he is nominated one of THISDAY’s Men of The Year because he is a governor, who made the hard choices at the most inauspicious time.

Peter Mbah
Starting good despite the distractions that fraught his path after the election is proof that the Enugu State Governor, Peter Mbah, will not only change his story but tell it by himself. With a solid background in the private sector, Mbah’s switch has been seamless because the desire to serve is evident, beyond the pecks of office.
Although there’s a legion of achievements and intentions already recorded against his name, Mbah has left no one in doubt that he’d ultimately put his name in gold. He has had a an impressive start to serving Enugu state.

Dave Umahi
The current Minister of Works, David Umahi, set an impressive record as Governor of Ebonyi State, where he set critical targets for himself and hit several milestones.
From the completion of over 20 roads within the capital city of Abakaliki, he also rebuilt many federal roads, especially the Afikpo-Abakaliki Road and the Nkalagu Road.
He recorded big in the areas of education, health, and workers’ welfare, among others. No wonder, his take-off as minister was though stormy, has since stabilised and hitting the right chord so far.

Abdulrasak Abdulrahman
Governor Abdulrasaq Abdulrahman, had a clear vision what to do ab initio. He wasted no time articulating the functional and organisational strategy for the ministries and the financial strategy of the state. And, from designing the roadmap for implementation of IPSAS to ensuring the preparation of the quarterly monitoring and evaluation report, he changed the face of the state in a manner that set him apart. He has touched practically all sectors of the state and is clearly putting his name in the sand of time.

Seyi Makinde
All politics, they say, is local. In Oyo State, even governance, is also local. For Governor Seyi Makinde, the past four years have been a testament to his commitment to serving his people. He’s not only shown that it was possible to focus on development and also meet other obligations to the people; he has proven that there’s nothing esoteric about governance and leadership. It’s all about commitment and dedication.
With projects sprawling all over the state, Makinde has consistently won the heart of his people and also earned their trust. He is every year their man.

Dapo Abiodun
The Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, is not everyone’s guy. But he has carried on regardless with the business of governance. From the launch of the Ogun Job Portal, to other groundbreaking initiatives (including road constructions) that address the need of the state, he has kept a particular pace and is unmoved by any distraction. Therefore, to the best of his ability, he has continued to do his bit with the resources available and for the collective good of the people of the state.

Alex Otti
From the banking hall as former Managing Director of the defunct Diamond Bank PLC, to politics, Mr. Alex Otti, is definitely living his dream of changing the Abia narrative. His love for the state was the reason he didn’t stop trying even after failing a few times, before he eventually made it. But immediately he assumed office, he’d since begun to change the face of the state to the delight of the people. It’s another good start from God’s own state and he is just beginning.

Business Leaders of the Year

Aliko Dangote
Dangote is a Nigerian businessman and industrialist. He is the founder and President of the Dangote Group, the largest industrial conglomerate in West Africa. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimated his net worth at $16.1 billion in November 2023, making him the richest person in Africa, the world’s richest black person, and the world’s 107th richest person overall.
The Dangote Group is one of the largest conglomerates in Africa, with international operations in Benin, Ghana, Zambia and Togo. The Dangote Group has moved from being a trading company to being the largest industrial group in Nigeria, encompassing divisions like Dangote Sugar Refinery, Dangote Cement, and Dangote Flour.
On 22 May 2023 in Lekki, Nigeria, Dangote commissioned the Dangote Refinery. The plant plans to export surplus petrol, turning Africa’s biggest oil producer into an export hub for petroleum products. A few days ago, the Dangote Refinery made further move towards commencement of production of refined petroleum products with the receipt of an additional one million barrels of bonny light crude supplied by the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL)

Abdul Samad Isyaku Rabiu
Abdul Samad Isyaku Rabiu, born on August 4, 1960, is a Nigerian billionaire businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder and chairman of BUA Group, a Nigerian conglomerate concentrating on manufacturing, infrastructure and agriculture, with revenue of over $2.5 billion.
In 2023, BUA Cement announced a reduction in the ex-factory price of its cement from N5,500 to N3,500, which has continued to receive commendation from Nigerians. The announcement came a few weeks after Abdul Samad Rabiu, the company’s chairman, met with President Bola Tinubu and promised to review the price of the product.

Mele Kyari
Mele Kyari is the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), a position to which he was appointed since July 2019. His appointment was renewed by President Bola Tinubu this year. Before his appointment by former President Muhammadu Buhari, Kyari served as Nigeria’s National Representative to OPEC and held a variety of management positions in the former NNPC’s Crude Oil Marketing Division.
He laid the groundwork for the enactment of the Petroleum Industry Act. Under his watch, the NNPCL few days ago announced mechanical completion of Area 5 Plant of the old 60,000 barrels per day Port Harcourt Refinery under construction, disclosing that the facility would resume production of petroleum products after Christmas. Phase Two of the refinery would be completed and brought back on stream by 2024, and resumption of production at the facility would help stabilise petroleum products supply and distribution and also lead to reduction in the price of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

Simbi Wabote
Simbi Wabote is the immediate past Executive Secretary, Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB). He championed local content administration in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry throughout his tenure as the Executive Secretary of the NCDMB following his appointment by President Muhammad Buhari in September 2016.
Wabote did a lot to expand local participation and made sure there was compliance with the Local Content Act. Prior to his appointment as NCDMB boss, he was an Executive Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) Nigeria Limited and the General Manager, Business and Government Relations for Shell Companies in Nigeria (SCiN). Wabote joined Shell in September 1991 as an Oil and gas Engineer after a short stint with the Banking industry in Nigeria.
He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and the Institute of Petroleum Studies (IPS). He holds a Masters Degree in Corporate Governance from Leeds Metropolitan University and a Bachelor of Technology (B. Tech) Degree in Civil Engineering from Nigeria’s premier University of Science and Technology, the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt.

Femi Otedola
Otedola, the billionaire businessman and Executive Chairman of Geregu Power Plc as well as a Non-Executive Director of FBN Holdings, has achieved numerous firsts. For instance, through his leadership and influence, FBN has added over N1.3 trillion ($1.3 billion) in shareholder wealth to investors with the rise in the holdco’s market capitalisation.
He is the largest shareholder at FBN Holdings, with major board seats. Geregu Power Plc has added N625 billion in market capitalisation this year alone making it one of the best performers on the NGX. In recent years, his philanthropic endeavours have made him akin to Robert Frederick Smith, the African-American billionaire founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners.
Augustine University, a private Catholic institution affiliated with the Lagos Catholic Archdiocese has been  receiving generous dose of Otedola’s heart. On 26th October, Otedola was inaugurated as the university’s chancellor, and he chose that moment to make yet another extraordinary and selfless gesture.
He granted N1 million donation to each of the 750 students of the university, an act that is consistent with his ongoing commitment to promoting education and societal well-being as a whole. His total contribution to the university so far has grown to N3 billion including the  N2 billion he committed to the construction of the university’s Faculty of Engineering four years ago.

Abdulrazaq Isa
Abdulrazaq Isa is the Chairman and Co-Founder of Waltersmith Group of Companies. Waltersmith Petroman Oil is the promoter of the modular refinery in Imo State. The refinery in Ibigwe, Imo State would produce diesel, naphtha, heavy fuel oil (HFO) and kerosene within its first phase, and subsequently produce petrol within its second phase.
Five states in Nigeria’s south east region would have daily supply of 271 million litres of refined petroleum products from the 5,000 barrels per day (bpd) modular refinery. Isa had explained that Waltersmith decided to build the modular refinery to address incessant pipeline vandalism and theft of its crude oil within its operational bases.
He said part of the company’s growth plan is to significantly expand the refinery’s production capacity to 50,000 barrels of crude oil per day. He is a seasoned entrepreneur and astute international businessman with over 30 years of experience in business, financial services and the oil & gas industry. He started his career in banking, gathering over 15 years first with African International Bank Nigeria Ltd, then Chartered Bank Nigeria Plc (now Stanbic IBTC) and co-founded Safetrust Savings & Loan Ltd (now a subsidiary of Sterling Bank plc). He established Waltersmith with interest in several sectors of the economy including Oil and Gas Upstream and Midstream, Real Estate, Hospitality, Agriculture and Manufacturing.

Gbenga Komolafe
Since 2021, when he was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), Mr. Gbenga Komolafe, has continued to take gradual, but steady steps towards reforming the commission in line with his promise when he assumed office. The engineer from Ondo state, has shown that he is a round peg in a round hole as he continues to take critical decisions to ensure that NUPRC’s mandates are achieved. He contributed significantly to midwifing the PIA.
He is a sound and versatile technocrat with robust and successful career. A Fellow of Nigerian Society of Engineers, Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria and member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Komolafe’s expertise as a seasoned engineer and lawyer has no doubt been instrumental in giving the regulatory body the needed impetus to achieve its mandate.
He was Group General Manager, Special Duties at the NNPC, Group General Manager, Crude Oil Marketing Division and Executive Director (Commercial) Pipelines and Petroleum Marketing Company (PPMC). In addition, he was General Manager, Operations, Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF), General Manager, Operations of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), among several others.
Aside being an engineer, Komolafe, has degrees in law, industrial and labour relations and is a recipient of various awards. He is an expet in institutional process study and designs to curb revenue leakages and attainment of optimum national productivity.

Bankers of the Year

Benedict Okey Oramah
For his exemplary leadership, Oramah, the award-winning President of Afreximbank on December 3, received the FORBES AFRICA Magazine Person of the Year. Amongst many initiatives under his visionary leadership, Afreximbank launched the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS), a historic project for cross-border payments in local African currencies.
He is a resilient risk-taker and articulated so well what a new united Africa should, and would look like. With the award, Oramah joined a prestigious list of high achievers, who had previously received the Forbes award, including Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Dr. James Mwangi, CEO, of Equity Group; Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President, African Development Bank; Aliko Dangote, CEO, Dangote Group; Mohammed Dewji, President, MeTL Group; and Thuli Madonsela, former Public Protector of South Africa. Through Afreximbank’s annual Intra-African Trade Fair, Oramah has continued to attract capital and investments to the continent.

Herbert Wigwe
Wigwe, the Group Chief Executive of Access Holdings Plc, without any doubt, ticked all the boxes as a remarkable leader, builder, dreamer, philanthropist, and financial services executive.
Under his watch, Access Bank UK, the wholly owned subsidiary of Access Bank Plc, recently received approval to commence operations in Hong Kong through Access Bank UK, with regulated operations in the UAE, and Paris.
This is in addition to the bank’s presence in Angola, Cameroon, Gambia, and Sierra Leone and its consumer, private, and business banking business in Tanzania, through a deal with Standard Chartered Bank.
Wigwe is also building a $500 million eponymous university, to produce a set of fearless leaders, in his hometown, Isiokpo, Rivers State Nigeria.

Ebenezer Onyeagwu
Onyeagwu is recognised for the superlative performance of Zenith Bank this year. Under his supervision, the bank has continued to grow in all metrics. Zenith Bank was listed as the only Nigerian company in the World Finance 100 companies for 2023.
Zenith Bank’s inclusion in this elite list underscored the bank’s outstanding achievements and resilience in a dynamic and competitive global market. Notably, Zenith Bank stands as the lone Nigerian company and one of just three African companies to earn a place on this esteemed list for 2023, alongside industry titans such as Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet.
In the first nine-month period of the year, Zenith Bank whose total comprehensive income for the period increased by 412.55 per cent to N647.74 billion from N126.37 shone brilliantly.
He has served Zenith Bank Plc in various capacities, like the Executive Director in charge of Lagos and South-South Zones, and was responsible for strategic groups/business units of the bank, including Financial Control and Strategic Planning, Treasury and Correspondent Groups, Human Resources Group, Oil and Gas Group, and Credit Risk Management Group.

Segun Agbaje
Segun Agbaje is the Group Chief Executive Officer of Guaranty Trust Holding Company Plc (GTCO), a multinational financial services group, that offers retail and investment banking, pension management, asset management and payments services.
Agbaje through his innovations, drive the banking arm of the holdco, GTBank to become one of the fast-growing banks in the country. Again, through his leadership, the institution has continued to look for new ways to meet every customer’s needs and to help communities thrive by creating faster, cheaper, safer and products for people and businesses through every stage of life. Agbaje is a professional banker par excellence who has garnered relevant banking experience across key banking functions.

On the Global Stage

Donald Trump
American 45th president, maverick Donald Trump, has continued to defy gravity – figuratively speaking – as several attempts to pull him tend to gravitate upward. Faced with daunting lawsuits, including criminal charges across the United States, the polls in his favour are surging, priming the ex-US president to stage a potential comeback on the platform of the Republican party. He still remains the presidential aspirant to be.
Trump is the first ex-president in American history to be charged with criminal charges and be vilified on a large scale on several fronts, including his businesses, sex life, and allegation of insurrection against the US government.
Despite the daunting circumstances, his support base has not dwindled, and he is expected to get the Republican nod for the next presidential election. In some 20 states, there are lawsuits about whether Trump should be on the ballot if picked by the Republican as its standard-bearer.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu’s hawkish disposition has come to the fore as an Israeli leader leaning to the far right in the wake of the intriguing and devastating Hamas attack and kidnap of more than 200 people on Israel’s soil, despite the Israeli sophisticated intelligence and military power. Since the intriguing attack and abduction, leaving Israel and its inhabitants reeling, Netanyahu’s army has launched an unforgivable bombardment against Palestine, pounding Gaza to its foundation.
Netanyahu considered an uncompromising and warmongering statesman, has seen Israel build settlements sprawling into Palestine. Analysts have noted that when the Israel-Hamas war ends, the focus will return to Netanyahu’s capacity to continue presiding over the affairs of Israel following the precise surprise attack Hamas successfully launched on Israel. So far, Netanyahu has remained unpacified to let Gaza and Palestine breathe as the Israeli army continues to bombard the region and engage Hamas in violent combat, leaving in its trail a new humanitarian crisis and a conflict likely to include other Arab actors.

Vladimir Putin
Putin’s Russia has survived some of the most severe sanctions ever placed on a nation. Yet, the Russian president has stayed put in his determination to fully execute its so-called special military operation in Ukraine. Though in dire economic situations, Putin and Russia have continued to attack Ukraine and have sought novel means to expand its economic possibilities and stability by courting China, Iran, and even Afghanistan.
Putin was also able to put down a rebellion by his former chef and ally, the head of the mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prighozin. Prighozin had marched into Russia with his troops in rebellion against Russia’s military chief in what was considered a mutiny. That soured the relationship between Putin and Prighozin with a fatal consequence. First, Prighozin was banished to Poland. Later, he found his way back into Moscow and finally met his Waterloo in a bombed aircraft he was flying. Putin has successfully shut down any opposition against him.

Narendra Modi
Modi is India’s 14th prime minister and has ruled since 2014. The anti-Muslim bigotry in India is often laid at the foot of Modi for his staunch promotion of Hindu nationalism and posture against Muslims, who often fave frightening violence in India. Any scrutiny of his anti-Muslim stance has always incurred the wrath of Modi. While portraying himself as a global leader, Modi has lived at home as a tribal strongman working in cahoots with other Hindu nationalists. His stranglehold on India seems to remain firm and stronger.
In 2023, Modi used the G20 Summit to burnish his global image as a leader and present India as a country that can offer the world some form of leWadership. His national party, BJP, goes to the poll in 2024. Modi’s party remains in pole position to win the 2024 general election as the Indian prime minister remains largely popular and dominant in the country’s politics and on the international scene.

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