And what makes everything worse is Nigeria has a president who can’t be bothered to deal seriously with the issues. Buhari’s poor attitude has inspired the question of what might have been if we had a different president.
We decided to go down memory lane and reflect on what could have been if the people on this list won the president’s seat. Some of them didn’t perform in the elections as well as expected and some of them were so close, but got no cigar.
Obafemi Awolowo — 1979
Obafemi Awolowo [Image source: Britannica]
Awolowo was a former minister of finance and three-time contender for Nigeria’s highest political office. His closest call was in the 1979 presidential election running on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Just like the forthcoming 2023 presidential election, the 1979 contest was also a three-horse race.
Awolowo finished second with 29.18% of the votes, just behind the winner, Shehu Shagari, with 33.77% of the votes. Although he fought hard to overturn the result, the Supreme Court ruled against him. His consolation is becoming the face on Nigeria’s ₦100 note.
Moshood Abiola — 1993
MKO Abiola [Image source: The Nation]
MKO Abiola was a businessman and politician who contested the 1993 presidential election as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was quite popular and regarded as the winner of the election having polled 58.36% of the popular vote.
However, one thing football has in common with politics is, the match is never over until the referee blows the final whistle. In MKO’s case, the referee — General Ibrahim Babangida — swallowed the whistle. Babangida’s military government annulled the election and Abiola died in prison for fighting for his mandate.
Olu Falae — 1999
Olu Falae [Image source: Osun Defender]
When Nigeria’s Fourth Republic began in 1999, Olu Falae, a former minister of finance, ran against Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler. Falae ran on the joint ticket of the Alliance for Democracy and the All People’s Party against Obasanjo’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Unfortunately for Falae, two heads were simply not better than one as he only polled 37.22% of total votes compared to Obasanjo’s 62.78%. Falae had seen enough and that would be the last time he ever ran for president.
Odumegwu Ojukwu — 2003
Ojukwu [Image Source: Britannica]
Ojukwu is mostly remembered for his role in the Nigerian Civil War as the president of the breakaway Republic of Biafra. But he also ran for president of Nigeria in 2003 as the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), finishing third with 3.29% of the votes cast.
While we may never know what might have been, it certainly would have been fascinating to have a president who had fought against Nigeria and for Nigeria. At least, everything would’ve been balanced.
Nuhu Ribadu — 2011
Nuhu Ribadu [Image source: Blerf]
The first chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) makes this list not so much because he was close, but because he had a very audacious run.
As a third force candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) contesting in the 2011 presidential election, he managed to finish third with more than two million votes. Given the brutal history Nigerians have with the police, it’s quite impressive to see a former police officer get that kind of love. At least it’s a massive step up from collecting egunje.
Atiku Abubakar — 2019
Atiku Abubakar [Image source: Punch]
If there’s one lesson Atiku Abubakar has taught us, it’s that if at first you don’t succeed, try again. And again. And again. Ad infinitum.
Atiku has run unsuccessfully for president five times going all the way back to 1993. His closest run was in 2019, running as the candidate of the PDP, when he polled 41.2% of votes. While that translated to over 11 million votes, it simply wasn’t enough to defeat Buhari. He’s on his sixth run in 2023 and maybe his village people will finally remove their hand from his matter.