Olusegun Mathew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo, GCFR, Ph.D.was Nigeria’s former civilian president between 1999 and 2007, and had served as Nigeria’s military Head of State from 1976 to 1979. He is reputed to be the first military ruler in Africa to hand over power to a civilian government.

Olusegun Obasanjowas born on 5thMarch 1937 to his father Amos Adigun Obaluayesanjo (meaning Obasanjo) Bankole and his mother Ashabi in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria. Obasanjo became an orphan at the age of 22 when he lost his mother in 1958 while his father followed a year later.

In 1948, Obasanjo enrolled into Saint David Ebenezer School at Ibogun, now under Ifo local government area of Ogun State, for his primary school education. From 1952 to 1957, he attended Baptist Boys’ High School(BBHS), Abeokuta, for his secondary school education, where he did excellently well. He later worked as a teacher.

Unable to afford college due to his family’s low financial status, Obasanjo enrolled in the army in 1958 at the age of 21 and received officer training in England. He attended 6-month short service commission training at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England.

He further trained at the Royal College of Military Engineering in Chattam and School of Survey in Newbury, Royal Defence Studies, London in England, Indian Defence College, Indian Army School of Engineering, Poona and the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. Furthermore, he was thereafter commissioned as an officer in the Nigerian Army.

Obasanjo rose quickly through the army ranks. During the Biafra conflict (1967–70) he was appointed to head a commando division that was stationed at the Biafran front in southeastern Nigeria. The conflict ended when Biafran forces surrendered to him in January 1970.

In 1975 Brigadier General Murtala Ramat Mohammed ousted General Yakubu Gowon, the military head of state at the time, but announced that he would relinquish power to civilian rule by 1979. The following year, however, Mohammed was assassinated during an unsuccessful coup attempt, and leadership passed to Obasanjo, his deputy.

During the three years he headed the government; Obasanjo emerged as an important African statesman and established ties with the United States. Obasanjo followed his predecessor’s timetable for a return to civilian rule and did not run for president when elections were held in 1979.

Voting was extremely close, but Nigeria’s Federal Electoral Commission declared Shehu Shagari, from the north, the winner over the strongest challenger from the south, Obafemi Awolowo, who was a Yoruba. The results were condemned by most of Obasanjo’s fellow Yoruba as well as others over allegations that the election had been rigged, but the outcome was upheld by the Supreme Court, and Obasanjo gained the respect of the Hausa-Fulani leaders in the north for handing over power to Shagari.

Over the next several years, Obasanjo’s international profile rose considerably, as he held various positions in the United Nations and other organizations. A vocal critic of General Sani Abacha, who seized control of Nigeria in 1993 and established a repressive military government, Obasanjo was imprisoned in 1995 for allegedly organizing a coup against Abacha.

Following Abacha’s death in 1998, Obasanjo was released. After the interim military leader, General Abdusalam Abubakar, pledged to hold democratic elections, Obasanjo announced his intention to run for president as the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He was declared the winner of the 1999 election with some 63 percent of the vote. There were widespread reports of fraud, however, and the results were strongly criticized by many, particularly the Yoruba, who had largely supported Olu Falae, Obasanjo’s opponent.

Obasanjo’s administration sought to alleviate poverty, reduce government corruption, and establish a democratic system. He also pledged to reform the military and the police. Perhaps one of the major achievements of his administration was settling the huge debt the country owed Paris Clubwhich was put at about 35 billion dollars.

When Obasanjo came on board in 1999, Nigeria’s external reserve was 3.7 million dollars and about 3 billion dollars was being used annually to servicethe debt. By the time he left government in 2007, Nigeria’s external reserve had risen to 45 billion dollars after paying all the debt.

In 2006 Obasanjo came under domestic and international criticism for attempting to amend the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term as president; the proposed amendment was rejected by the Senate later that year.

With Obasanjo unable to run, Umaru Yar’Adua was selected to stand as the PDP’s candidate in the April 2007 presidential election. He was declared the winner, but international observers strongly condemned the election as being marred by voting irregularities and fraud. Nonetheless, Yar’Adua succeeded Obasanjo and was sworn in May 29, 2007.

In 2008, Obasanjo was appointed by the United Nations as a special envoy for Africa and has since overseen democratic elections on behalf of the African Union and ECOWAS in countries across the continent.


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