In Nigeria’s political ‘Who Is Who’, there are certain men no one can just ignore. These are some of those men.
They make the world tick and broken look beautiful. With the world on their shoulders they make it look like a pair of wings. They are strong men with built-in attraction to spells and magic. Men with sticky thinking. They dot the firmament in sparkles and in rare numbers. They grind down the crusts and make it look beautiful. Like concrete, their cells in Nigeria come very thin but they rule and dominate, imbued with the rule of the wilds: to be bigger and tougher, to hurt or be hurt. Take a look at the exploits of Bola Tinubu, the domino trails of the politics of Olusegun Obasanjo, the thrilling courage of Atiku Abubakar or even the riveting politics, resoluteness and resilience of Nyesom Wike. Examine the Machiavellian antics of Ibrahim Babangida, the valve and onions in the bullish tendencies of Arthur Eze, the inspiring thrusts and fortress of James Ibori, the dynamo and single mindedness in the strides of Ayo Fayose, and the poise, pulsation and bulwark grace of Bukola Saraki. Not even the adroitness of T Y Danjuma can be put down. They all wear their strange beauty like war paints. They are “hands-on” conquerors, bold, feared, hard to diminish, each in his purpose.
Obasanjo, with a ragged breadth has won many battles in and out of office and still reigns. Tinubu soared high in office like the eagle but out here has demonstrated that his wings are not made of wax. Abubakar has glazed in unassailability never unstuck like the proverbial beetle. Silver years out on a limb; Babangida still holds the ace, never out in the cold. Think of the staying power of Eze, his hold on as many as three presidents and doing what people say he cannot do. They are never broken. Some, like Wike can rise from his ashes like the phoenix. Fayose’s ‘never die’ spirit echoes with his bravado. In jail and out of it Ibori makes things happen in Delta. When Saraki coughs Kwara catches cold. In Taraba and adjoining states, if you trifle with the towering personality of Danjuma you bite the dust. In Ernest Hemingway we learn that the ‘world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places’. They believe in cause and effect, seizing common occasions to ride on. The world shrinks in their palms. And once they set their hands on the plough their souls are on fire. And they march on.
Without a doubt, Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo is one of the most favoured among the past leaders who had ruled this country. Apart from being the longest serving elected civilian president under the present political dispensation, he still enjoins tremendous level of goodwill and respectability within the political class. In and out of office, he knows when to pull the string. While in power, he ruled with iron fist. Despite all the criticisms against his alleged profane use of power, Obasanjo had no cause to look back.
Even as a democratic leader, he did not hide his aversion to undue criticism. Within a short while after his swearing in, he literally ran all the founding members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who worked for his emergence out the party. No supporter of the party would forget in a hurry how Obasanjo plotted the removal of Chief Audu Ogbe as the chairman of the PDP for having the gut to write a letter to him complaining about the intrigues of Anambra State politics during the tenure of former governor Chris Ngige.
In his quick reply to the letter, Obasanjo declared Audu as betrayer, saying, “I am amused and not surprised by your letter of December 6, 2004 because after playing hide and seek games over a period of time, you have finally, at least in writing, decided to unmask and show your true colour.” What’s more! He ordered Ogbe to voluntarily resign and drafted in Col Ahmadu Ali as his successor. And, of course, the Garrison Commander played his role to the satisfaction of his benefactor. In the words of Ali, you must be 100 percent loyal to the national leader of the party or chicken out. And that was it.
Subsequently, prominent figures like vice president Atiku Abubakar, Alex Ekweme, the late Abubakar Rimi, among those who had the gut to show ambition for the presidency, were shown the way out of the party one after the other.
When in the run up to the last general election, the former president publicly announced his exit from the PDP and tore his membership card; many had expected that he would take a permanent retirement from politics. But contrarily, Baba Obasanjo is still very much visible in the political scene, playing the role of a kingmaker. His most recent outing being his meeting with the Minna Generals: Abdul Salami Abubakar (rted), Ibrahim Babangida (retd), over the health matter of President Muhammadu Buhari. The last is yet to be heard of the matter.
Other than his current position as the National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu earns a lot of respect for his capacity to take a peep into the future and act appropriately. His role in the merger arrangement that culminated in the formation of the party is still fresh in the memory of most Nigerians. For the first time in the history of Yoruba, he succeeded in breaking the traditional Berlin wall between the South-west and the power at the centre, leading the All Progressives Congress (APC) to a landslide victory in the last general elections.
In terms of political strategy, Tinubu towers above his peers. This he had demonstrated as far back as 2003, when he emerged as the only survivor of Obasanjo’s political intrigues against the South-west governors in that general election. With his prodigious capacity to read events and peep into the future, he was the only governor who survived the massive incursion of the PDP into the South-west. This led him on a regular collision course with the PDP-controlled Federal Government, especially following the creation of additional 36 local council development areas for the state. The prolonged litigation battle that followed the creation of the additional local governments by the Tinubu administration is already a familiar story.
Stories have also been told of how Tinubu circumvented the Afenifere in his bid to secure second term ticket as governor of Lagos State. Unlike most governors elected on the platform of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Tinubu met a brick wall obtaining the ticket of his party (AD). Due to the power play intrigues, Tinubu literally became a protégé of AD leaders like the late Abraham Adesanya and Ayo Adebanjo. By the twilight of his first tenure, the Afenifere leaders had become so uncomfortable, feeling that the man they had made was becoming too difficult for them to control. They, therefore, felt the need to curtail his power. Consequently, there was an alleged plot to deny him the ticket of the AD for a second term.
Realising that the party was fast losing its pride of place in the politics of the South-west, Tinubu, a grassroots mobiliser, took a bold initiative of forming the Action Congress (AC). Within a few months, he transformed this new party as the credible opposition to the PDP in the country. In 2003, he sought re-election on the platform of the party and won alongside a new deputy governor, Femi Pedro. Since then, the AD has never remained the same, while the fault line in the Afenifere camp is also yet un-amenable.
Today, nearly all top functionaries in the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari from the South-west are the so-called Tinubu Boys. These include: Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, Minister for Solid Mineral, Dr Kayode Fayemi, FIRS’s Babatunde Fowler, and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to mention but a few.
Tinubu is such a person you cannot predict his next political move.
By virtue of his position, President Muhammadu Buhari is the leader of the APC. Even though he may not be visibly seen dishing out orders as ex-president Obasanjo did in his tenure, he has the final say on all matters that concern the party.
One of the cardinal points of the present administration is to fight corruption and ensure openness and transparency in the conduct of government’s business. And, of course, since he assumed power, he has been unwavering in his commitment to deal with the penance. As they say in political parlance, ‘the fear of Buhari is the beginning of wisdom.’ Even though many of his critics have attributed the dismal performance of the economy to the way and manner the anti-corruption war is being fought, his government has not had any cause to look back.
However, there is now a discordant tune on the raging war among some key members of the party, including the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola, who recently criticized the approach of the anti-graft crusade. This is coming on the heels of the president’s medical vacation. Nonetheless the divergence of opinion on the war, the administration is pushing on.
Meanwhile, Nigerians are awaiting the outcome of the probe panel set up to investigate the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir David Lawal and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency NIA, Ayo Oke. According to a close ally of the president who spoke with Sunday Sun, no one caught in the act would be allowed to go scot-free. A former minister of information, Prince Tony Momoh, speaking on the hard line position of the president on the anti-corruption crusade had this to day: “I think one mistake people make is their lack of understanding of what President Muhammadu Buhari makes with governance. If you are a minister; like my friend, Prof Jerry Gana would say, he will allow you to minister well. If you are a governor, you will govern well. If you are a teacher, you will teach well. He allows you to do your work, but bears responsibility because he cannot delegate responsibility, he can only delegate power and authority. My knowledge of him (Buhari) makes me conclude that he can never abandon his responsibility.”
Former governor of Delta State, James Ibori is keeping a cool head in his Oghara country home after serving a four-year jail term in the United Kingdom for money laundering and other related offences. Ibori’s conviction came after he had been discharged and acquitted of the same offence by the Nigerian judiciary.
Before he ran into troubled waters, Ibori was one of the movers and shakers of politics in Nigeria. He was said to have allegedly bankrolled election campaign of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. Many people believe that the plea bargaining option instituted by the Yar’Adua administration was to give him with a soft landing.
Since his return from the UK concerns have been raised about his post-prison life. But the excitement and jubilation that heralded his home coming last December has clearly shown that he still remains a man of the people. On arrival in Abuja before proceding to Oghara, the Director General of the State Security Service (SSS), Lawal Daura, was said to have allegedly had a brief talk with Ibori on how to achieve peace in the troubled Niger Delta region. The belief is that he could influence the Niger Delta militants to lay down their arms against the Federal Government.
For obvious reasons, Ibori may not be visible in the political scene. But recent developments in Delta State have shown that the man is still capable of pulling strings. For instance, there are speculations that the recent impeachment of the Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly might have been instigated by Ibori.
Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State represents the face of the opposition in the present dispensation. And as an ardent critic of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), he has remained a thorn in the flesh of the Buhari government.
However, some supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party have blamed the current crisis facing the party on Fayose, his counterparts in Akwa Ibom and Rivers State, Emmanual Udom and Nyesom Wike respectively for propping up Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the national chairman against the wish of the elders.
For now, the fate of the party is hanging in the balance, as the Supreme Court reserves the final judgment on the case between Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee and Sheriff’s faction. While the waiting game lasted, Fayose has vowed to dump the party should the judgment go in favour of the latter group.
Whichever way it goes, Fayose is certainly a strong force to contend with in the politics of 2018 and 2019, especially in Ekiti State. Sunday Sun reliably gathered that his predecessor, Dr Kayose Fayemi, is having his eyes on the governorship seat. Even with the advantage of the federal might, Fayose has minced no words in his determination to make Ekiti State an impregnable fortress for the APC.
Billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Prince Arthur Eze, is a political kingmaker in his native Anambra State and a major donor to political causes in the country. Eze, who is the founder and Chairman of Atlas Oranto Petroleum International Ltd, the largest holder of oil exploration blocks in Africa, also wields remarkable influence in the politics of the South-east geo-political zone and is often looked upon for direction. He is popularly known as the “godfather” among his loyalists. Although he is not into active politics, concentrating rather on his oil exploration business, which has earned him a place in the current list of top 10 richest Nigerians with a net worth of $5.7 billion, he has been close to the seat of power since the Gen. Sani Abacha junta, who was said to be his close friend.
He was a major financier of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) during the administrations of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. During the 2015 presidential election, he openly supported the re-election bid of former president Jonathan to the extent of declaring that anybody fighting Jonathan was fighting God and would perish. But shortly after the presidential election, which Jonathan lost to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, Eze was one of those who visited Buhari just weeks after the election to congratulate him. The visit had fuelled the speculation that despite being a well-advertised Jonathan’s supporter, he backed Buhari in the presidential election. His place as a close confidant and treasured donor to Nigerian politicians makes him one of the politicians in the country that cannot just be ignored, even though he is always in the background.
Gen. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retd) has been in the corridors of power since 1966 when, as a Captain in the Nigerian Army with the 4th Battalion in Mokola, Ibadan, he was involved in the counter-coup that claimed the life of the late head of state, Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. A politician, multi-millionaire businessman and philanthropist from Jukun in Taraba State, he was Nigerian Chief of Army Staff from July 1975 to October 1979. He was also Minister of Defence under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.
Danjuma, who is chairman of South Atlantic Petroleum (SAPETRO), a Nigerian oil exploration and production company established in 1995, is one of Nigeria’s richest men. He has played active roles in Nigerian politics since the restoration of democracy in 1999 and his political network cuts across the country. Although Danjuma has been close to Nigeria’s seat of power, that does not deter him from taking a principled stand on national issues and following through to the end.
In 2006, he was one of those that avidly opposed Obasanjo’s third term bid as civilian president despite his closeness to the former president. In 2010, then acting President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council and he had an unfettered access to Aso Rock. But in July 2014, Danjuma, who also served as Chairman of the Victims’ Support Fund Committee, which was created by the Jonathan administration to raise fund and supply
aids to victims of Boko Haram insurgency, publicly criticised Jonathan’s handling of the insurgency, noting that, “Boko Haram insurgents appear to be having the upper hand, as they choose where to strike and capture territory.” As it turned out, Jonathan’s perceived poor handling of the war against insurgency was one of the issues that cost him his re-election in 2015.
In his native Taraba State, Danjuma is widely seen as the political leader of the state. He has a firm grip on the state and plays a crucial role in the allocation of power. He is highly revered in the country’s political circles.
Atiku Abubakar made a foray into the Nigerian political arena in the early 80s and maintains a nationwide political network, which was initially built by his late friend and political mentor, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. He also enjoys tremendous wealth, which flows from his many flourishing businesses both within and outside the country. Atiku understands the media and knows how to use it to his own advantage. He has a formidable media team any politician can boast of.
He was a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and was elected as the governor of Adamawa State in 1998 on the platform of the party. However, before he could be sworn into office, former president Olusegun Obasanjo recognised his political worth and chose him as his running mate. Obasanjo won the presidential election and he served as the second elected vice president of the country from 1999 to 2007.
Atiku, however, had a frosty relationship with Obasanjo during his second term in office, which arose mainly from his ambition to succeed the latter in office. Meanwhile, Obasanjo, it was rumoured, had vowed never to allow him to taste the seat after he (Atiku) almost used his powerful political machinery to stop him from clinching a second term in office but for the intervention of notable members of the party. But in a bid to realise his ambition, Atiku defected to the defunct Action Congress (AC) in 2006 and was nominated as the presidential candidate of the party. He survived further attempts by Obasanjo and the PDP-led Federal Government to rubbish him and stop him from contesting the election. He, however, didn’t win the election.
On April 8, 2010, Atiku returned to the PDP with his associates and contested for the presidential ticket of the party in January 2011 but lost to former president Goodluck Jonathan. On August 31, 2013, Atiku led seven governors of the party and their loyalists to walk out of its national convention following a protracted crisis in the party. The action, no doubt, contributed to the awful performance of the PDP in the 2015 polls. He had rebuffed pleas from the leadership of the party to return to their fold. He joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) in February 2014.
Although Atiku could not realise his presidential ambition on the platform of the party in 2015, as he lost the party’s ticked to President Muhammadu Buhari, his contribution to the success of the party at the poll cannot be over emphasised. Atiku has defied all odds to remain irrepressibly relevant in the country’s political landscape till date.
The incumbent President of the Nigerian Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, is a political enigma of sort that cannot be shoved aside in any political setting he finds himself. Saraki came to political limelight riding on the wings of his father, Olusola Saraki, a top-notch Second Republic politician and former Senate Leader (1979-1983). In 2000, former president Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as his Special Assistant on Budget. In 2003, he ran for the office of governor of Kwara State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and won. He was re-elected for a second term in office in 2007.
Nevertheless, Saraki showed that his political teeth had become sharp enough in 2011 when he opposed his sister, Senator Gbemisola Rukayyat Saraki’s governorship ambition, which had the blessing of his father. The disagreement forced his father, who dictated the tune of Kwara politics to pull out of the PDP and float the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) in a bid to actualise the gubernatorial ambition of his daughter and maybe teach his son a bitter political lesson. Thus, he campaigned vigorously for Gbemisola with scores of his supporters, but she lost the election to her brother’s anointed candidate and the incumbent governor of the state, Abdulfatah Ahmed. The younger Saraki also made it to the Senate, literally demystifying his father politically.
From then on, Saraki has waxed in political strength. He is today wearing his father’s shoes as the new godfather of Kwara politics. He was instrumental to the defeat of the PDP in the 2015 general elections as he was one of the influential members of the party that defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2014. He effectively delivered Kwara to the APC in the 2015 polls and was re-elected into the Senate.
Saraki emerged as Senate president in June 2015 against the wish of his party’s leadership, having connived with the PDP caucus in the Senate to secure the coveted seat. Shocked by the development, his party’s leadership initially chose to dissociate with him. In fact, they sought to remove him from office by every means possible. But not even a case of alleged corruption instituted against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) by the Federal Government at the peak of the crisis could sway the tide against him. When it became obvious to those who wanted him removed that it was an impossible task, as he has succeeded in currying the support of both the APC and PDP caucuses in the Senate, they initiated a fence mending process. And he has remained firmly in charge as chairman of the National Assembly and Nigeria’s number three citizen. He is indeed one of the political heavyweights of the Fourth Republic.
Rivers State Governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, has had a no love lost relationship with the Federal Government since his victory in the 2015 general elections. And he has won all his court cases. Many people had thought that Wike, who contested the governorship of the state on the platform of the PDP, had robbed the APC of victory in the state with the support of the Federal Government, which was then controlled by the PDP. But events of the last two years do not corroborate such view.
The courts had nullified virtually all national and state elections conducted in the state in 2015. Although he succeeded in upturning the judgment of Court of Appeal nullifying his election at the Supreme Court and retaining his mandate, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had to conduct fresh elections into the vacated seats as ordered by the lower courts.
To the former Minister of State for Education, the fresh elections served the purpose of proving himself as a grassroots politician who is loved by his people and dispelling the speculation that the 2015 election was rigged in his favour. The APC only managed to win a few seats amid intimidating federal support, proving as many people had argued that he was the brain behind the electoral victories recorded by the Minister of Transport and former governor of the state, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, while steering the affairs of the state. Wike has indeed distinguished himself as an outstanding administrator, leader and politician. To the opposition in Rivers State, the fear of Wike is the beginning of political wisdom.