9 Most Influential Politicians in Nigeria
The Nigerian political terrain is a steep one, with political juggernauts rising and falling from time to time. Despite this, there are a few who have not only managed to remain consistent but also enjoy cult support and followership from their region, states, specially formed cult followers and party members.
The influence of these politicians implies they are very valuable and can “deliver” in terms of vote, numbers or support.
In no particular order, we list out the most influential politicians in Nigeria:
1. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan served as the president of Nigeria from 2010 – 2015 before losing his reelection bid to Muhammadu Buhari. Jonathan’s loss came as a shock to many but that isn’t the main point. The fact that Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat to Buhari after the election result was announced when no Nigerian politician had ever done so makes him extra-ordinary.
Although Jonathan was regarded as a “weak politician” while as a president for “allowing women to overrun his government”. His concession made Nigerians and the international community see him in a different light. Today, Jonathan is often engaged by other African countries during elections to act as a peacekeeper and election observer. He is not only influential in Nigeria but Africa.
2. Abdulsalami Abubakar
Abdulsalami Abubakar is an elder statesman and a former Nigerian Head of State, specifically between 1998 – 1999 before he handed over to a democratic president, Olusegun Obasanjo that heralded the fourth republic.
Although Abdulsalami Abubakar is not directly involved in politics today or does not appear to be, he is one of the most influential politicians in Nigeria presently.
He is the Chairman of the National Peace Committee; a committee composed of influential Nigeria’s elders’ statesmen tasked with keeping the peace and ensuring free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. The NPC was formed prior to the 2015 elections in order to forestall anticipated chaos after the elections.
Earlier in 2021, some online news platforms linked Abdulsalami Abubakar to banditry in Niger State after residents of Kagara sighted a helicopter dropping foods and supplies to bandits terrorizing the area which coincidentally is where the former Head of State’s home is situated.
Although Abubakar denied the claim, it, however, did not dispel what the people of Kagara claim they saw.
3. Olusegun Obasanjo
Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo is a Nigerian politician, a former head of state who served from 1976 – 1979 and also president of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007.
Obasanjo is a highly respected politician, despite being out of politics for a while.
He is always one of the very first powerful politicians who decry situations for what they are. He was pivotal to the downfall of Goodluck Jonathan, a former governor of Bayelsa State he single-handedly brought in to be the vice-president of the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
In the build-up to the 2015 elections, Obasanjo singlehandedly threw the PDP in disarray after publicly tearing his party ID card. The same Goodluck Jonathan who had ostracized the former president started sending envoys to plead with the former head of state and president.
Unfortunately, “Ebora Owu” had made up his mind to see Goodluck Jonathan fall. Obasanjo anointed Buhari instead who went on to win the election.
Although Buhari turned out to be a total disaster as president, Obasanjo mended his differences with his former, ambitious vice president, Atiku Abubakar but could not stage another upset against a Buhari who enjoys cult followership in the North.
Obasanjo remains one of the highly respected politicians whose words are considered weighty when spoken.
4. Muhammadu Buhari
Muhammadu Buhari though means different things to different people, remains one of the most influential politicians in Nigeria, particularly in Northern Nigeria.
He was a military head of state from 1983 to 1985 and a president in the fourth republic.
Buhari’s leadership as head of state and president in a democracy is characterized by hardship, unrest and extreme poverty plunge, with over millions of Nigeria submerging below poverty rate. His presence since 2015 heralded Nigeria’s “poverty capital of the world”.
While his desperation for power led him to contest four times until he won against Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari revealed he has no plans for a better Nigeria and has violated almost all of his campaign promises, from putting an end to medical tourism, terrorism and banditry, specifically Boko Haram and making the Naira equal to the Dollar.
Despite all of his failures, Buhari is staunchly defended by Northerners and their elites who regard any dissenting voice as against Northern Nigeria.
5. Rabiu Kwankwaso
Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso is a Nigerian politician and former governor of Kano State, specifically from 1999 to 2003 and 2011 to 2015.
He commands the Kwankwasiyya movement, a cult-like political movement characterized by members’ wearing red caps with a horizontal stripe on them.
Although the movement’s influence has taken a hit since the ascension of Rabiu Kwankwaso’s then-deputy as governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje; the movement still serves as one of the most powerful and popular political movements in Northern Nigeria.
6. Atiku Abubakar
Atiku Abubakar was vice president to Olusegun Obasanjo who was the first president of the fourth republic from 1999 to 2007. He is ambitious and has contested in five (5) presidential campaigns, all of which he has lost from 1993 to date.
Atiku while as vice president, worked against his principal who eventually sacked him after being the first vice president to defect from the ruling party. However, the sack was annulled by the court.
Atiku is one of the very few politicians who have jumped between parties the most.
In 1993, he came third at the Social Democratic Party primaries, losing to MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe. In 2017, he contested the PDP primaries but lost to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who went on to become the president. Atiku moved from the PDP after his loss only to return in 2010 to contest the PDP primaries against Goodluck Ebele Jonathan but lost again. Not satisfied, he switched to the APC in 2014 where he contested the party’s primaries but was second best to Buhari and Kwankwaso. He moved yet again to the PDP in 2018 where he won the party’s primaries, reunited with his former boss, Obasanjo and contested in the 2019 general elections only to lost to Buhari, having won 11.2 million votes and won 17 states as against Buhari’s 15.1 million votes.
Despite losing serially, Atiku remains one of the most influential politicians in Nigeria whose presence in the political space is seen as a threat to some of Buhari’s allies. He is projected to run again in 2023 but the opposition has questioned his legitimacy as a Nigerian in order to slow him down and possibly prevent him from running.
Atiku, on his part, has lied severally about certain election periods being his last but the former vice president who seems desperate for power has proven to be a liar with no intention of keeping that simple promise.
8. Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Bola Tinubu is undoubtedly one of the very few most prominent, influential and feared politicians in today’s Nigeria. He is so dogged and resilient that he has managed to wrap almost the entire Southwest region under his apron.
Dubbed “Jagaban”, Tinubu’s influence is one of fear and certainty. The former Lagos State governor from 1999 to 2007 is one of the most politically relevant characters who ended up becoming kingmakers.
He has been responsible for handpicking his cronies into political offices, including all governors of Lagos State since 2007 and was also responsible for the ascension of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as the country’s vice president. Osinbajo was the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice during Tinubu’s time as governor in Lagos.
Tinubu’s family, reportedly controls Lagos; from advertising to local markets, malls and complexes, transport companies, media houses and even an auditing firm; Alpha Beta Consulting, a Lagos government tax contractor.
Although, Tinubu has denied severally that he has no hand in the consulting firm but previous directors of the company have said otherwise. An ex-MD of the company, Mr. Dapo Apara had recently asked a Lagos State High Court to stop Tinubu from controlling Alpha Beta. Alpha Beta, over the years, has been linked to alleged launderings and transfers of billions of Nairas reportedly to other companies, namely TVC, LAWMA, etc., all reportedly owned by Tinubu in the past.
Tinubu was the game-changer and one of the deciding factors who abruptly ended Jonathan’s presidential ambition and even made a serial losing Muhammadu Buhari a national appeal who eventually won the 2015 presidential election. Tinubu reportedly bankrolled the APC’s first presidential election.
Tinubu’s influence spreads across the entire Southwest, particularly Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti and Osun where his cronies head as governors. He is the neural link between Southwestern Nigeria and the North.
In terms of links to corruption, no other politician has been linked to brazen corruption, undocumented transactions amounting to billions of Naira come close to Tinubu in recent times. Strangely, the former number one Lagos politician has never been found guilty or prosecuted.
The kingmaker is currently rumoured to also contested in 2023 as the president of Nigeria but there are suggestions in certain quarters that the political Messi whose political body feint technique is second to none might play Osinbajo as his Trump card.
9. Ibrahim Babangida
The “Evil Genius” and political “Maradona” has a place on our list and there is no doubt he is one of the most influential politicians in Nigeria despite being out of Nigeria’s active political space since 1993.
Ibrahim Babangida, a now-retired army General ruled Nigeria from August 1985 to August 1993 when he resigned serves as an official political consultant just as Obasanjo.
He is one of the very first persons ambitious politicians tend to visit before publicly making their intentions known. It is almost as if the idea is to get his approval and blessings.
The Minna-born politician has been known to periodically receive politicians, including aspiring and incumbent presidents in his Niger State Mansion.
Despite his many atrocities as a military ruler, including being allegedly responsible for the death of Dele Giwa, Ibrahim Babangida in today’s Nigeria is considered of the country’s elder statesmen.