A few weeks back, the flamboyant publisher of Ovation International magazine, Chief Dele Momodu, declared his intentions to run for presidency come 2023. To articulate his plan, he granted a few interviews in which he described a select group of top prominent personalities as the owners of Nigeria. And that phrase instantly went viral. Many wondered what he meant by ‘those who own Nigeria’ and who these people he was referring to were.
According to the man fondly called Bob Dee, it is actually these individuals he described as owners of Nigeria who take certain critical decisions that determine a lot of key things for Nigeria and Nigerians. For instance, they decide who becomes president of Nigeria. And to some extent, they also sign off on who his deputy should be. This powerful clique also determines, when the government has hit a brick wall, the way forward for the country when its confronted with issues that threaten to bring chaos and anarchy of alarming proportions upon the land. So, now many people have been asking, who are these individuals who own Nigeria? Are they real or imagined? Do they really and truly wield the sort of enormous influence it is claimed they have on the country? Do they really have such a strong and scary grip on Nigeria as we have been made to believe? Can they, for instance, stop anybody, no matter how hugely popular and immensely wealthy, from becoming the next president to rule Nigeria? Are there a few silent but influential persons these owners of Nigeria are afraid to touch?
City People has found out a few things. The first thing we uncovered is that these so-called owners of Nigeria are a fearless group of extremely powerful and influential individuals. They are mostly retired military generals, most of who, at one point or another, ruled this country. To the majority of Nigerians and the undiscerning, it would appear that these former military rulers and heads of states have been relegated to the background in the scheme of things and as such have no say on who occupies Aso Rock and who gets the top positions in the county. But nothing can be farther from the truth. Yes, these men may have gone underground, choosing to leave the spotlight for the president and his team, but the enormous power and the influence they wield have not waned one bit. In fact, the truth is that, whenever any of these men sneeze from their various locations where they live an almost reclusive life, the government of the day catches a cold, no matter who the president is.
Let us run you through a few names in this powerful clique: General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, the self-styled military president features prominently within the clique. He ruled this country for eight years (27 August 1985-26 August 1993). He stepped aside after annulling the June 12 presidential election because he and ‘the owners of Nigeria’ decided MKO Abiola, the man adjudged to have won the election, was not, in their book, good enough to be president of Nigeria. Today, almost 30 years after he left office, IBB still plays a critical role in deciding who the next president of the country should be. This is why his Minna home is forever besieged by politicians, prominent Nigerians and presidential aspirants whenever an election year approaches. This period has been no exception, a handful of presidential aspirants have gone to seek his blessings already and many more are still expected to visit him in due time.
General Abdulsalami Abubakar is also another integral member of this clique. Unlike IBB who ruled Nigeria for about 8 years, Abdulsalami ruled for just a year (9 June 1998- 29 May 1999). He was generally regarded as a sincere and transparent ruler who came into office at a time Nigeria was facing one of its darkest moments in history. The June 12 presidential election had been annulled, IBB had handed over to late Chief Earnest Shonekan, an interim president, who in turn handed over to Sanni Abacha. Abacha wasted no time in arresting and detaining MKO Abiola who was fighting the government to recover his stolen mandate. Shockingly, Abacha died in office while MKO was still in detention. It was at this time that Abdulsalami came in. Mysteriously, MKO died under his watch and he was saddled with the responsibility to hand over to a democratically elected president. And of course, he and other members of the almighty clique who ‘own Nigeria’ decided it was best to hand over power to one of their own, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who himself was only just released from prison. And it didn’t matter to them that the majority of Nigerians didn’t want OBJ as their president. They had already decided it was going to be OBJ and no one could change that. Obasanjo became the first Nigerian to rule the country twice, first as a military ruler and then as a civilian President. Many have often made the mistake of describing Abdulsalami as one of the meekest and softest military rulers we have ever had. They say this because his brief one year reign was devoid of any acrimony between him and the citizenry and he stayed away from the draconian style of government that’s become a permanent feature of military rulers. But those who know him closely have dismissed this assertion. They warn that beneath that gentle facade and harmless disposition of the man lies perhaps the most ruthless general this country has ever produced.
General Olusegun Obasanjo remains perhaps the most visible of these powerful men who seem to own Nigeria. Within the clique, he commands some bit of respect as the only one amongst them to have ruled the country twice. First as a military head of state and then as a civilian President. As a civilian President, he ruled for 8 years and after completing his two terms he grudgingly left office following a failed attempt to rule for three terms. But ever since he left power in 2007, OBJ has hardly left the spotlight. He loves to draw attention to himself and remind everyone of the undeniable influence that he still has as far as Nigeria is concerned. This is why, like IBB, many political leaders and presidential hopefuls besiege him for his blessings and support. Indeed, it must be said that the most scathing criticisms of the Buhari government have come from OBJ. Only he could’ve said some of the things he has said about Buhari and his government and still be walking freely. To Buhari, OBJ is untouchable, he is one of the members of the clique holding Nigeria by its balls, a clique Buhari himself would be promptly admitted into once he relinquishes office next year and become the second man after OBJ to have ruled Nigeria twice.
General Yakubu Gowon, General Theophilus Danjuma, are some of the other personalities within the clique. Apart from OBJ who forever courts publicity and the limelight, the others in this group have been relatively quiet. They have had little or nothing to do as far as the governance and direction of this country is concerned. But the moment an election year is just around the corner like it is now, these powerful men come into prominence again, as they gear up to play the role they have all been playing since they left office – decide who the next president of Nigeria would be. Every presidential aspirant bows to their wishes and demand. They pray and hope they get picked as the anointed candidate of this powerful clique. Indeed, everyone reveres them. They are held in awe. They fear nobody. But there is one presidential aspirant who also does not tremble before these men. He knows them very well and they know him too. He has interfaced with some, if not all of them, at one point or the other in the past. But they are wary of him because he is one of the very few Nigerians who can look them in the eyes and speak the truth to them. And this leaves them no choice but to be very cautious when dealing with him. His name is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the national leader of the APC and the most prominent presidential candidate at this time. Why would these powerful men who own Nigeria be wary of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, you may wonder? Let us offer to give you the answers for free.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not just appear on the political scene today. He has been around for well over two decades now and still counting. He was once a Senator before he was elected governor of Lagos state. Before he achieved these political feats, he was one of those who squared up against the military junta of Abacha after the annulment of June 12 and the unlawful detention of the acclaimed winner of the election, MKO Abiola. Tinubu was one of those who stood up against the tyrannical military regime from the trenches having gone into exile to escape the bullets of Abacha’s henchmen. During this period, Tinubu along with some members of his group, including NADECO at the time, had to engage some of the powerful military heads like IBB and General Abdulsalami who was in power at the time to secure the release of MKO. This gave the young Tinubu the rare opportunity at that time to come close to these powerful men and engage them fearlessly, not minding if he lost his life in the process. Tinubu would go on to express his disappointment with these men in interviews he had years after, lamenting how much they reneged on their promises and how they often reverted decisions they all took together during their various meetings. According to him, they were often changing the goal post every time they tried to negotiate with the generals over the release of MKO Abiola. This made him despise some of these men, and he often always didn’t conceal the fact from them whenever they met at public functions years after. They know he despises them and that he knows a lot about some of the hideous things they did during those dark years which are only known to a privileged few like Tinubu. They know that Tinubu is fearless and this does not make them the least comfortable with him.
General Obasanjo is also one man who can attest to the fearlessness of Asiwaju. In 2005, while Tinubu was governor of Lagos State and OBJ was president of the country, Obasanjo had seized the statutory allocation of Lagos State over Tinubu’s decision to create additional 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDA). President Obasanjo bullied, harassed and threatened to deal with Tinubu, but Tinubu was not the least intimidated. Unlike other governors who cowed and trembled at the sight of OBJ, Asiwaju showed great courage. He would not let the president intimidate him. Week in, week out, according to Tinubu, he would go to Aso Rock and sit right in front of OBJ’s office so he would see him whenever he was going into the office or coming out and he would say to him, ‘you this boy, you are still here? I’m I owing you anything?’ And he, Tinubu, would respond, ‘baba, it’s not me you’re owing money, it’s the people of Lagos State.’ It irked Obasanjo to no end that he could not intimidate Tinubu the way he intimidated others. Asiwaju was fearless. But in truth, that’s also one of the reasons why OBJ secretly admires and respects Tinubu till date. The immense popularity of Asiwaju is also a factor that makes him a candidate these so-called owners of Nigeria cannot dismiss with a wave of the hand. From the length and breadth of Nigeria, this man is popular. There is hardly any politician right now, amongst the presidential aspirants, that is as popular as Tinubu. Right now, he is the main issue in Nigerian politics. He is the one everyone is talking about. Even in the north, he has such a large following. His support base keeps growing every day across the country. He has friends in high places, within and outside the shores of the country. Some of these owners of Nigeria are his good friends while he’s not particularly close to others. One thing is pretty clear though, Asiwaju cannot be dismissed by this powerful clique, he is by far too popular among the people and one of the most fiercely followed for them to treat like a rookie.
The powers that be cannot possibly ignore Asiwaju’s massive political influence. He is no longer the young man they knew decades ago. Today, that young man has come of age. He has built bridges across the nation, with his political structure growing massively by the day. And his loyalists are everywhere, be it in the north, south, east and his own base, the west, Asiwaju’s staunch loyalists are everywhere. If truth be told, these days, they do not come any bigger than Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He is now by far the country’s biggest political juggernaut. This is the man that single-handedly brought two major political parties together, built APC from the very scratch and installed Buhari, one of their own, as President, after several failed attempts at the presidency. Perhaps only God can intimidate a man like that. Not man. And the powers that be know this.
Asiwaju’s enormous wealth is another factor that makes him a tough nut to crack for this powerful clique. It was until now that many have come to realize that the Jagaban Borgu is a man of immense means. He has perhaps the most intimidating war chest many have ever seen, including the powerful clique. To prosecute his electoral campaign, the man has been spending money like it is going out of fashion. He has left many absolutely speechless with the gigantic donations he has been making everywhere he goes, particularly in the north. Tinubu has been throwing N50 million naira donations around, leaving his co aspirants gasping for breath.
It will always be difficult if not totally impossible for anyone to cage a man of the status and means of Asiwaju. And that is not what the owners of Nigeria want. They will always prefer the man they can either coerce and he does their bidding or a man they can out rightly intimidate and knock into line. And Tinubu is not any of these. How will these powerful men embrace Asiwaju’s presidential ambition? Would he eventually get their support and blessings? He has already visited IBB, and from what we heard, the visit went well. But no one can tell for sure if he has IBB’s full support. And besides, there are other members of the clique he is yet to visit, how will they receive him? Will they pick him as their anointed candidate? Let us all wait, watch and see how things start to unfold. Like the Americans would say, ‘we ain’t seen nothing yet!’