Here at Vanguard Newspapers, the celebration of excellence has become an annual event, made more worthy in order to fulfil the yearnings of a people continuously in search of heroes that will better their lives in all ramifications.
This year, our awardees are aptly tagged “The Torchbearers,” for many of them really are pointing the way forward, especially in areas where some of their forebears could not see the trees for the woods, or vice-versa. Take President Muhammadu Buhari for example.
Here is a reserve general of the Nigerian Army that first tasted power through a military putsch, experienced incarceration for months after he was ousted in another putsch, and rebounded on the political scene seeking power through the ballot box. Contesting serially since 2003, he had lost repeatedly at the polls until last year when fate smiled on him. He is a living example of what tenacity, fortitude, and perseverance mean in human experience, and until future experience proves otherwise, he is the closest yet that Nigeria will have to America’s Abraham Lincoln.
And then, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, General Buhari’s predecessor. Almost everything that could be written about him has probably been written but he stands out as a Torchbearer because he not only conceded defeat before the final tally of the votes, but because, by that singular act, Dr Jonathan threw doomsayers off balance by declaring that his political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. This is profound because it is against the grain of political experience in Nigeria for an incumbent to lose election. By this, Dr. Jonathan earned for himself a reserve space among the world’s better appreciated statesmen.
Buhari’s coming to power through Jonathan’s electoral loss just did not happen; much credit for that will go to a man that is now serially celebrated in the country as a skilled political strategist and consummate planner. Enter Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos State, better known by the sobriquet, Jagaban, which is actually a traditional title bestowed on him in the Emirate of Borgu by the late Emir, Alhaji Haliru Dantoro, Kitoro III.
Alongside other political juggernauts (apology to late K.O. Mbadiwe), the Jagaban worked tirelessly and forged an unlikely political alliance from four legacy parties — Action Congress, a faction of the then ruling PDP, Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change, and the rump of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP. This alliance, which then became known as the All Progressives Congress, APC, became the nemesis of the ruling party, PDP, which had previously boasted that it would be in power for over 60 years. It is a lifetime achievement because previous alliances and coalitions to oust the ruling party from power in the First and Second Republics did not succeed. It is a major reason that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Jagaban Borgu is not just a Torchbearer, but a Hero of Democracy.
Again, in a country where people are also continually searching for role models, four elder citizens stand out. Otunba Michael Olasubomi Balogun, Founder of the FCMB Group is one. This Ijebu prince, from the onset had his eyes on the top and worked tirelessly to get there. When passed over for the post of managing director in favour of another at a merchant bank where he worked, the lawyer turned banker saw his opportunity and grabbed it, vowing to found a bank that will eclipse the one he was leaving. That turned prophetic; the bank finally disappeared into the mists of consolidation and banking reforms that started about 13 years ago, while the FCMB Group remains a strong and competing financial institution.
His octogenarian peer, David Dafinone is another role model. Coming into national limelight in the Second Republic, David Omueya Dafinone won election into the Senate in 1979 representing Bendel South Senatorial District. Scoring 59,632, votes, Dafinone of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, beat Thompson Salubi of the UPN who scored 24,874, and E.E. Idigbo of the GNPP who scored 20,767 votes. He would later soar into global fame when the Guinness Book of Records listed him as head of a family with the largest number of chartered accountants — all his six children took after him into the accounting profession. His accounting firm, founded in 1966, D.O. Dafinone & Co, is now run by his children, and has rebranded into Howarth Dafinone & Co.
Then there is the amazon among The Torchbearers, Chief Mrs Nike Akande, current President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Born Onikepo Adisa in Ibadan, Oyo State, Mrs Akande became Nigeria’s first female Minister of Industry after she was appointed twice in December 1997 and August 1998 under the General Abacha administration. Former President Goodluck Jonathan once described her as “an inspiration”, which indeed she is, given the fact that she has used her brains more than her beauty to get to where she is.
Our Businessman of The Year is Mr Jim Ovia, current chairman of Zenith Bank Plc. Fondly referred to in Vanguard as the man who took banking to the zenith, Ovia’s fondness for computer technology made him join hands with other investors to found Zenith Bank in 1990. Now, he has created a business empire spanning banking, telecommunications and real estate, with Zenith Bank the sixth biggest financial institution in Africa. He also founded Visafone, a CDMA operator recently acquired by transnational telco, MTN. Along the line, as Zenith grew, he also amassed personal wealth in excess of $850 million, making him the sixth richest man in Africa.
In governance, another role model is to be found in the person of Nigeria’s Vice-President in the Second Republic, Dr. Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme. His varied education is intimidating; apart from degrees in his profession, architecture, Dr Ekwueme also holds degrees in sociology, history, philosophy and law from the University of London, and later obtained a Ph.D. in architecture from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland before a BL (honours) degree from the Nigerian Law School. To serve Nigeria properly as Vice-President, his firm, Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners, the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria with 16 offices spread all over Nigeria was wound up. This enormous sacrifice in national service stands Dr Ekwueme out as a Lifetime Achievement Award winner.
It was not easy voting Governors of The Year; but in the case of Dr. Ibrahim Dankwambo, OON, Executive Governor of Gombe State, what qualified this accountant-turned politician is his loud quietude; he is very silent about his achievements. What’s more, he is the only PDP Governor, until the courts rescued Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba, to withstand the APC tsunami in Northern Nigeria.
His neighbour in the troubled North-East, Kashim Shettima comes in for his resilience in the face of daunting impossibilities. Managing a state with the peculiar challenges of Boko Haram, managing fallouts of suicide bombings and internally displaced persons, with thousands of children unable to go to school must be nerve-wracking for a state chief executive. Down south, there is the Comrade Governor, Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State.
The man came and demystified a long-held myth that Edo has no money, and somehow, under him, a dilapidated state started working again. Edo, a transit state through which millions of Nigerians must traverse to get to their states of origin, has witnessed rapid and tremendous transformations under this former labour leader. SIA, as he is fondly called is the Ogun State Governor who came determined to make a difference.
Senator Ibikunle Amosun identified what he called failures of governance, for which he said he is not blaming anybody because the problem was jointly created by leaders and the led. The focus on agropreneurship as an enabler, using the California (US) model is particularly attractive. Please follow the minds of our Torchbearers in individual conversations in today’s special edition.