The year 2023 was a remarkable one for Nigerian politics, as the country witnessed the emergence of new leaders, the consolidation of old ones, and the reshaping of the political landscape.
Here are 10 of the biggest political winners in 2023, who made headlines for their achievements, influence, and popularity.
– Bola Tinubu: The former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the All Progressives Congress became the president of Nigeria after defeating his main rival, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, in a keenly contested election.
Tinubu, who had been instrumental in the formation and success of the APC, campaigned on the slogan of “Emi lo kan” meaning, “It’s my turn” and promised to continue the legacy of his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari.
He also secured the support of some key PDP defectors, such as Nyesom Wike and Godswill Akpabio, who boosted his chances in the south-south and south-east zones.
– Nyesom Wike: The former governor of Rivers State became the minister of the Federal Capital Territory and has formed part of the most influential allies of President Tinubu, after he formed a group of five aggrieved governors in the previous administration that supported Tinubu’s presidential ambition.
Wike, who had been a vocal critic of the All Progressive Congress and Tinubu, surprised many when he announced his switch of allegiance during the campaigns, citing the need for a president from the south. He delivered Rivers State to the APC in the presidential election, breaking the dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party in the oil-rich state.
– Seyi Makinde: The incumbent governor of Oyo State was re-elected for a second term under the platform of the PDP, despite the APC’s onslaught in the south-west zone. Makinde, who had maintained an 18-22% budgetary allocation to education, improved the state’s infrastructure, health care, and security, and increased its internally generated revenue by over 90%, defeated his closest challenger, Teslim Folarin of the APC, by a wide margin. He also emerged as the leader of the PDP in the south-west, following the defection of some of his colleagues to the APC.
– David Umahi: The former governor of Ebonyi State and minister of Niger Delta Affairs declared his intention to run for president in 2023 on the platform of the APC, after resigning from his ministerial position. Umahi, who had defected from the PDP to the APC in 2020, citing the need for the south-east to be integrated into the mainstream politics, was seen as a strong contender for the presidency, with his track record of development and peace in Ebonyi State.
However, he later stepped down for Tinubu, who he described as a mentor and a friend, and became one of his key campaign coordinators in the south-east zone. He was compensated in Tinubu’s administration with the ministerial appointment as the Minister of Works.
– Festus Keyamo: The lawyer and politician was appointed Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development of Nigeria by Tinubu, in a last-minute appointment plot twist. Keyamo served as the Minister of state for Labour under the Muhammadu Buhari administration and has been a loyal member of the APC.
It was, however, surprising, when Tinubu’s first list of ministerial nominees exempted his name. Before his appointment he had begun to face trolls from online users for being left out.
Keyamo had been the spokesperson of the APC Presidential Campaign Council in 2023.
– Babajide Sanwo-Olu: The incumbent governor of Lagos State was re-elected for a second term under the platform of the APC, with a landslide victory over his rivals. Sanwo-Olu, who had been endorsed by Tinubu as his successor in 2019, continued to enjoy his support and mentorship in his second term. He focused on running a unified and inclusive government, where every voice was heard, and he sponsored several bills aimed at improving the lives of Lagosians. He also embarked on several projects in the areas of transportation, health, environment, education, technology, entertainment, and tourism.
– Femi Gbajabiamila: The lawyer and politician became the chief of staff to President Tinubu, after resigning as a member of the 10th House of Representatives, where he represented Surulere 1 Federal Constituency in Lagos State. Gbajabiamila was nominated by Tinubu as his chief of staff, following several hours of meetings and consultations. He was seen as a loyal and competent aide to the president, who would help him implement his agenda and liaise with the legislature and the judiciary.
– Godswill Akpabio: The former governor of Akwa Ibom State and senator representing Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District emerged as the Senate President for the 10th National Assembly. He had 63 votes to defeat his rival, Abdulazeez Yari of Zamfara West Senatorial District, who garnered 46 votes.
Akpabio, who had defected from the PDP to the APC in 2018, was seen as a key ally of Tinubu, who he supported in the presidential primaries and the general election.
– Alex Otti: The former managing director of the defunct Diamond Bank and governor of Abia State made history by winning the governorship election under the platform of the Labour Party, dislodging the 24-year reign of the PDP in the state. Otti, who had contested for the governorship twice under the All Progressives Grand Alliance and lost, switched to the LP in 2022 and secured the support of the masses, who were dissatisfied with the performance of the PDP. He won 10 of the 17 local government areas in the state and polled 175,467 votes, defeating his closest challenger, Okey Ahiwe of the PDP, who polled 88,529 votes.
– Abba Kabir Yusuf: The New Nigeria Peoples Party candidate for Kano State became the governor of the state, after defeating the incumbent deputy governor and APC candidate, Nasiru Gawuna, in a closely contested election. Yusuf, who had contested against Governor Abdullahi Ganduje in 2019 and lost, gained popularity after his appointment as commissioner of works from 2011 to 2015. He campaigned on the issues of education, health, and security, and promised to restore the dignity and prosperity of Kano State. He won 11 of the 44 local government areas in the state and polled 1,019,602 votes, while Gawuna polled 890,705 votes.