Three Nigerians—the billionaire entrepreneur Tony Elumelu, the novelist Tomi Adeyemi, and the cardiologist Tunji Fusho—have been listed among TIME magazine’s 2020 list of “The 100 Most Influential People.” The profiles of Elumelu and Adeyemi are also written by Nigerians: Elumelu’s by fellow billionaire Aliko Dangote and Adeyemi’s by actor John Boyega. Fusho’s is written by TIME Editor-at-Large Jeffrey Kluger. A fourth Nigerian makes an appearance: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the profile writer of WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Tomi Adeyemi is the second Nigerian writer to make the list, after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in 2015.
Read the profiles below.
by Aliko Dangote
Amere handshake says a lot about Tony Elumelu. His gritty grip underlines his charming, tenacious personality: a man who hardly backs down from any challenge. The same engaging qualities have propelled him from a modest beginning in Nigeria to becoming chair of the United Bank of Africa, and one of the most innovative and ambitious business leaders of his generation.
He is a leading proponent of “Africapitalism,” a belief that Africa’s private sector can and must play a leading role in the continent’s development through long-term investments, as well as entrepreneurship and regional connectivity.
After deepening the financial market in Africa, he has found an equally important niche: giving a voice of hope to millions of youths across Africa. Tony has harnessed Africa’s youth bulge to catalyze development and protect the future, committing to investing $5,000 each in 1,000 young entrepreneurs per year across 54 countries in Africa. Having come so far, Tony still forges on, striking a fine balance between personal satisfaction and societal impact.
Dangote is the president of Dangote Industries Ltd.
by John Boyega
When someone told me about Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, describing it as a cross between Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia and Yoruba gods, I was shocked. It sounded like the best combination ever: How had I not heard of it? I read it, then I read it again, then I listened to the audiobook. I was being introduced to a world I couldn’t have imagined before. The characters were larger than life but with very human problems and issues. And the novel spoke to my self-identity and culture as a Nigerian, in its social commentary and in its depiction of both magic and oppression.
It’s so important to have representation within books like this. In school, I realized that only when my teacher considered my point of view did learning become easier. When my kids are growing up, they’re going to have these new classic heroes from an environment they know.
Tomi is the god of ideas. She’s inspiring a lot of young people to write. She creates the very world that we as actors get to play in. And the big-screen adaptation will hire a lot of people and bring more representation to our industry—all that comes directly from Tomi’s imagination. She is going to be very powerful when it comes to bringing stories and ideas to the forefront.
I would absolutely drop everything to be in the film. If I missed the opportunity to be a part of it, it would be like missing history.
Boyega is an actor who stars in the upcoming series Small Axe on Amazon
by Jeffrey Kluger
It’s not often an entire continent eradicates a disease, but on Aug. 25, 2020, that happened when Nigeria was declared polio-free, clearing the virus from its last redoubt in all of Africa. The person who did more than any other to drive polio to continent-wide extinction was Dr. Tunji Funsho, a former cardiologist and now the chair of Rotary International’s polio-eradication program in Nigeria.
Funsho could have retired years ago, but in 2013, with polio still paralyzing children across Nigeria, he decided to step up to lead the Rotarians’ effort. Together with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the WHO, the CDC and UNICEF, Funsho and Rotary helped lead National Immunization Days, getting millions of doses of the polio vaccine to children in cities and villages around the nation. They also sponsored health-education initiatives at community centers, mosques and even birthday parties. This summer, the country marked four years without a case of wild polio, qualifying it for its polio-free certification, leaving Afghanistan and Pakistan as the only places in the world in which polio remains endemic.
“Certification will be an achievement,” Funsho told TIME in 2018. “But we’re not in a hurry for that. We’re in a hurry to make sure no child is paralyzed.” In Nigeria and in Africa as a whole, that moment has arrived.
Kluger is a TIME editor at large.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.