2023 Presidential Election: Picking Between Three Businessmen – By Israel Ojoko

The top three presidential aspirants for the forthcoming election have some skills that really excite me and make me wanna look forward to a better Nigeria come 2023. I am aware that many people do not expect anything new or a miracle of some sort from the options we have been given. I am in that category too, but after careful thought, I started thinking of a few positives or areas where the country could experience a little growth, no matter how small. This is not to give me any false hope because I know Nigerian politicians can not be trusted.

Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has been going in and out between military and civilian rules, making it difficult or impossible to have a leader with proven experience in running a successful business. We had that chance once in 1993, but it was not made to come to fruition, no thanks to another military takeover.

But what are the backgrounds, business, and leadership experiences of our past elected leaders? The candidates contesting the 2023 presidential election, are they presenting Nigeria with an opportunity to be led by someone trusted and tested?

Let’s take a trip to yesterday. Shehu Shagari, Nigeria’s first elected president, was only a school teacher before going into politics, he never had any business experience, except in politics, where he grew from becoming a member of the House of Representatives in 1954 to becoming the president in 1979.

Shagari, who took over from military head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo as elected civilian ruler, had served in every government (except Aguiyi-Ironsi’s) until then. When Obafemi Awolowo resigned as the Finance minister and as the effective vice-chair of the cabinet in 1971, Shagari replaced him in both roles. After his first four-year tenure, he won another election in 1983 but was ousted by the return of the military headed by Muhammadu Buhari.

For the first time, Nigeria, in 1993, had the chance of being led by an experienced and proven business mogul in the person of Moshood Abiola, but that did not see the light of the day. Abiola, a tested and trusted businessman owned businesses in agriculture, transportation, publishing, media, sport, and lots more. He was so successful that military heads of state like Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, and General Sani Abacha could not keep their eyes off him as he was a major figure as regards Nigeria’s economy. In fact, he was a close friend to Babangida who later betrayed him by annulling his election, and Olusegun Obasanjo who was his schoolmate at Baptist Boys High School in Abeokuta.

Abiola won his Social Democratic Party (SDP) primary, beating his eventual running mate, Babagana Kingibe in the primary. He went on to contest the national election where he defeated Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). As a matter of fact, the SDP was so strong that it won 57% of Senate seats and 53% of House of Representatives seats in the 1992 National Assembly election. Incidentally, Atiku Abubakar and Bola Ahmed Tinubu both worked with Abiola at the SDP in 1992.

But Abiola was denied the chance to become Nigeria’s president, and Nigerians, missing out on the privilege of being led by a tested businessman, were served with the bitter taste of military rule again, and this time, from the no-nonsense General Sani Abacha, someone who does not have experience in running a business.

There was to be a change of government in 1999, Obasanjo, who only had military experience and maybe his Ota farm and Abeokuta library dreams, was elected president of Nigeria. He only had a leadership test in the military and that was it. With Atiku Abubakar as his vice, Obasanjo won a second term to complete an eight-year leadership.

Musa Yar’Adua came close a bit following his stint as a director of many companies, including Habib Nigeria Bank Ltd, Lodigiani Nigeria Ltd, Hamada Holdings, and Madara Ltd, Vom, Jos. He was Chairman of Nation House Press Ltd, Kaduna, from 1995 to 1999. After pursuing his Master’s degree at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria in 1978, Yar’Adua got his first major job as a lecturer at the College of Arts, Science, and Technology in Zaria in his 20s.

Despite his uncontestable data in leadership, there is no record of Yar’Adua establishing a business from scratch and running it to the top.

Goodluck Jonathan never had any track record of operating a business or even heading one. Before his entry into politics in 1998, he worked as an education inspector, a lecturer, and an environmental-protection officer. He was sworn in as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa on 29 May 1999, alongside Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who came in as the governor of the state on the platform of PDP. Jonathan served as Deputy Governor until December 2005 before becoming the governor when his principal was impeached.

From there, he rose to become vice president, then acting president, then elected president of Nigeria.

Muhammadu Buhari was only renowned for his anti-corruption fight when he was a military head of state. He had no other pedigree aside from his military training which he obtained from the age of 19 when he enrolled in the Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC) in 1962. His fight against corruption as a military leader made most Nigerians vote for him in 2015.

But 2023 presents us with something spectacular, something huge, something different, something promising or believed to be promising. Though all the three main contestants already have a taste of governance as Vice presidents and governors, they have carved a niche for themselves to become successful businessmen in one field or the other.

Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate has ventured into real estate, transportation, farming, and logistics businesses. Though some of those failed, his logistics business is one of the most successful in Nigeria today. This may not be a surprise following his 20 years of active service at the Nigeria Customs where he rose to the rank of Deputy Director.

Atiku and his partners have successfully grown Intels Nigeria Limited to provide broad services for the oil and gas industry including agency services, cargo services, port management, and support services on shore bases. The company also provides equipment, including cranes, forklifts, pipe handlers, generators, trucks, trailers, and other specialized services, port facilities, equipment, and personnel services

Atiku is the founder of the American University of Nigeria (AUN), a private university in Yola. originally named the ABTI American University of Nigeria in 2004 when it was established before it was renamed AUN, it is regarded as the first American-style institution of higher learning in sub-Saharan Africa. Atiku is a man of many commitments.

Peter Obi has been a businessman from the get-go. Like a typical Ibo (Igbo) boy born in the eastern part of Nigeria, venturing into business is non-negotiable, not even when he was born into a trading family.

He went to school and grew in the corporate world to hold leadership positions in some private establishments like Next International Nigeria Ltd, Chairman, and director of Guardian Express Mortgage Bank Ltd, Guardian Express Bank Plc, Future View Securities Ltd, Paymaster Nigeria Ltd, Chams Nigeria Ltd, Data Corp Ltd and Card Centre Ltd. He was even the youngest chairman of Fidelity Bank Plc.

However, Obi does not have a running business known to the public domiciled in Nigeria. His controversial firm, Gabriella Investment, which was later renamed PMGG Investments Limited, located on the British Virgin Island, has done more harm than good to the image of the former Anambra State governor over accusations of tax evasion and failure to declare assets while he was in public office.

Nevertheless, Obi’s track record in growing and managing big businesses is there for all to see, while his popularity has continued to spread.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu was born by the late Abibatu Mogaji, a trader that later became the Iyaloja of Lagos State. Little wonder the Jagaban has a business mindset.

Though he is widely known for his political journey and the structure he built over the years, Tinubu is a business mogul with establishments in various sectors ranging from oil and gas to media, transportation to hotels.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting in the United States in 1979, Tinubu worked with American companies Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, Haskins, & Sells, and GTE Services Corporation. He returned to Nigeria in 1983 and was employed by Mobil Oil where he grew through the ranks to become an executive of the company.

It is believed that Tinubu is a major shareholder with Oando PLC, a Nigerian multinational energy company operating in the upstream, midstream, and downstream, and headed by his nephew, Adewale Tinubu. It is also believed that Tinubu owns Television Continental (TVC), a broadcasting TV station, Radio Continental, and The Nation newspaper, a publishing news media.

Some residents of Lagos believe that the former Lagos governor owns the prestigious Oriental Hotel domiciled on the eyebrow island part of Lagos among other hospitality businesses. There has not been a direct claim to these businesses by Tinubu himself, but it is not news to many.

If any of Atiku, Tinubu, or Obi becomes president, they will have no excuse but proof to Nigerians their expertise in business management and bring it to solve the country’s deep economic problems. The economy must improve, we must grow what we eat, workers must be paid their salaries as at when due, hospital equipment must be upgraded from those obsolete ones replaced with modern facilities, graduates must find jobs, the roads must be motorable and security of lives and property anywhere in the country must be a top priority.

My only hope is that what happened in 1993 will not repeat itself 30 years after when Nigerians were denied the opportunity to have a president who has been tested and trusted in the founding and running of successful businesses.

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