Leadership and influence mattered even more in 2020–a year when we were all left confused and unsure of our next steps, no thanks to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), disruptions to the global economy and protests against police brutality back home in Nigeria.
In no particular order, the following individuals or torchbearers stood up to be counted when it most mattered; in a year when any kind of compass or fortitude would have made quite the difference…
2020 started as a tricky one for Nigerian superstar, Wizkid. He had touted his album, Made In Lagos for three years and it still hadn’t dropped. His December 2019 EP, Soundman Vol. 1 also left a lot to be desired.
Nonetheless, his stock kept rising higher and his stan base, Wizkid FC, gained more power as one of the most powerful stan bases in the world.
A little while later, he released the album and social media shut down. He had several release parties on Capital Xtra in the UK, he also took Afrobeats to another level with his experiential three-hour YouTube special.
More importantly, during the #EndSARS protests, he calmed a restless crowd in front of the Nigerian embassy in London. He was also vocal throughout and even confronted the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, on numerous occasions, via his Twitter account. ‘Made In Lagos’ continues to wax stronger after debuting at No. 80 on the Billboard 200.
It has also spent two straight months in the top 10 of the UK album charts on Apple Music.
A few years ago, Shola Akinlade graduated from University and got a job in a bank. Ezra Olubi, the more reserved and ubiquitous co-founder of Paystack, was his friend.
Together, they dreamed up a dense payment system for Nigeria. It was meant to build on the strides made by payment systems like Remita and Interswitch.
The company grew from Y Combinator funding into one of Africa’s most properly marketed companies.
Just after the Y Combinator phase, Akinlabi met one of the Co-founders of Stripe and they had lunch in San Francisco. There, a deal to get Stripe funding into Paystack was sealed.
A few years later, Stripe finally decided to acquire Paystack in a deal worth around $200 million – although the details remain unknown. Akinlabi and Olubi will stay on to manage the company.
3..Babajide Sanwo Olu
As the governor of Nigeria’s most populous state and commercial capital, Sanwo-Olu had a responsibility to lead by example and from the front, when the novel coronavirus hit home–and he did.
The governor was hands-on from the moment Nigeria’s index COVID-19 case was hospitalized at the infectious disease hospital in Yaba, Lagos.
Sanwo-Olu was front and center every other day as Lagos’ and Nigeria’s COVID-19 infections spiked and threatened to overwhelm healthcare workers and facilities.
The governor addressed the press periodically, preached COVID-19 safety protocols every opportunity he had, wore a mask in public and encouraged his team to do so as well, implemented public restriction measures on time and kept a busy city abreast of what the government was doing to keep a handle on the pandemic.
He has been the epitome of calm and preparedness as Nigeria battles the virus.
The governor has also been influential in implementing infrastructure projects and keeping the city safe in the wake of the #EndSARS violence and arson.
It used to be said of Nigerians that they couldn’t sustain a peaceful protest to save their lives, until the #EndSARS protesters came along in early October of 2020 and changed the game.
For two weeks, these young Nigerians protested against decades of police brutality and demanded accountability from the government, from Lagos’ chaotic streets to the pristine boulevards of Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja, with a level of organisation and financial prudence that is perhaps unprecedented in these parts.
They were dogged, they were unbowed and they were unbroken. They showed us all what it means to keep a protest movement going when your backs are against the wall.
There is a reason why Pulse Nigeria has just announced the #EndSARS protester as Person of the Year 2020.
Even though officially a New Zealander, Israel Adesanya has so much ‘Nigerian’ in him not to be considered one.
He wants to be considered one; he was born in Nigeria and raised in the West African country until he was 10, before moving to New Zealand with his family.
Nicknamed The Stylebender, he has since become one of the best mixed martial artists in the world and fights in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the sport’s biggest competition.
In 2020, he defended his UFC Middleweight belt with a memorable knockout win over feared Brazilian Paulo Costa.
With his ascendency in the UFC, Adesanya is inspiring a slew of upcoming Nigerian fighters and has made the sport more popular on this side of the world.
Feyikemi ‘FK’ Abudu was just another famous Twitter Nigeria user and podcaster before her involvement in the #EndSARS protest blew her into another realm of fame.
It was the sight of young Nigerians lying outside the Lagos State House of Assembly complex on the evening of the first day of the protest that kicked off her involvement in the movement.
The University College London trained engineer visited the scene of the protest and later used her popular Twitter account to solicit donations to help prepare food for the protesters who had stayed overnight. There was no going back after that.
After millions of Naira were raised, the 27-year-old continued to marshall social media for the most impactful Nigerian youth movement in recent history.
Just after FK Abudu began crowdfunding in support of the #EndSARS protest, more women joined in, including the Feminist Coalition–a group of Nigerian feminists–to advocate social, financial and political independence for women.
At the time, the group had no notable public project, but sensing the need for organised support for the protest, they swung into action.
The Feminist Coalition rose to the top of the #EndSARS conversation. They crowdsourced donations and provided protesters with food, water, masks, first aid kits, security, medical and legal aid through social media accounts and a dedicated website.
It was ridiculously well-organised, nothing like Nigerians have seen before, at least not on that scale.
The picture of Aisha Yesufu clad in her hijab, her fist raised, taking the knee on a balmy tarmac, while leading an army of protesters before a police cordon, became one of the most iconic images out of Nigeria in 2020.
The protest has become Yesufu’s life. And she was out there again in the rain and sunshine as young Nigerians protested decades of police brutality and extra-judicial killings.
In 2020, Yesufu admirably led the line once more like she’s done her entire life. We stan a fearless advocate of the masses.
We began 2020 scared for our lives, confused and unsure of how the year was going to pan out for us all.
In the morass of confusion and trepidation that engulfed the nation, our compatriots put on their scrubs and personal protective equipment and got to work–at the risk of their own lives.
In 2020, our frontline healthcare workers emerged as indisputable heroes of humanity, as an incurable virus ferreted us out of streets and offices.
They emerged as heroes without capes. We have them to thank for many more years to come.
Nigeria’s former minister of finance ended 2020 on the verge of a coronation as Director General of the World Trade Organisation.
Only U.S President Donald Trump and his bunch of protectionist, insular, myopic assemblage of White House characters, now stand in her way.
NOI has also peddled her influence globally as a member of the board of Twitter and Gavi–the vaccine alliance company–as she works tirelessly in cahoots with other global leaders to bring new COVID-19 vaccines to Africa and other low income continents.
In 2020, NOI reminded us of how powerful and influential she still is outside the power corridors of Nigeria.
By Pulse Nigeria