12th President of Nigeria In office
May 29, 1999 – May 29, 2007
5th President of Nigeria In office
February 13, 1976 – October 1, 1979
3rd Vice President of Nigeria In office
July 29, 1975 – February 13, 1976
President Murtala Mohammed Succeeded by Shehu Musa Yar'Adua
Born March 5, 1937 (1937-03-05) (age 70)
Political party: People's Democratic Party
General (rtd.) Chief Olusegun Aremu Okikiola Matthew Obasanjo was born March 5, 1937. A retired Nigerian Army General and former President of Nigeria. A Christian of Yoruba descent, Obasanjo was a career soldier before serving twice as his nation's head of state, once as a military ruler, between February 13, 1976 to October 1, 1979 and again from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007, as elected President. His current home is Ado-Odo/Ota.
Obasanjo was born in Nigeria, Ogun State, but he grew up in Owu, also in Ogun State, and he enlisted in the army in 1958. He trained at Aldershot, was commissioned as an officer, and fought against the Biafra secessionists in the Nigerian Civil War. Although he did not directly participate in the military coup of July 29, 1975, led by Murtala Ramat Mohammed, he supported it and was named Murtala's deputy in the new government.
As chief of staff of Supreme Headquarters, Obasanjo was Murtala Muhammed's deputy and had the support of the military. He had earlier commanded the federal division that took Owerri, effectively bringing an end to the civil war. Obasanjo became military head of state by accident. He was marked for assassination by coup ploters of 1976 coup lead by army col. Dimka. The Head of State, Gen. M Mohammed and other senior military officers were marked for death as well. But one Colonel was mistaken for Obasanjo and was subsequently killed together with Murtala. A low profile security policy adopted by Murtala in guarding very important persons allowed the plotters easy access to their targets. However, the coup was foiled because they missed Obasanjo, the then number two and Gen. Danjuma, chief of army staff and defacto number three man in the country. The plotters also failed to cut off the communication line, but were able to take over the radio station to make their announcement. Obasanjo and Danjuma where able to establish a chain of command and re-established security in Lagos, thereby regaining control. Obasanjo was made head of state in a meeting of the Supreme Military Council.
Keeping the chain of command established by Murtala Muhammad in place, Obasanjo pledged to continue the programme for the restoration of civilian government in 1979 and to carry forward the reform programme to improve the quality of public service. When Mohammed was assassinated in an attempted coup on February 13, 1976, Obasanjo replaced him as head of state, and initiated a transition to civilian rule.
The model for the second republican constitution, which was adopted in 1979, was modelled on the Constitution of the United States, with provision for a President, Senate, and House of Representatives. The country was now ready for local elections, to be followed by national elections, that would return Nigeria to civilian rule.
The military regimes of Murtala Muhammad and Obasanjo benefited from a tremendous influx of oil revenue that increased 350 percent between 1973 and 1974, when oil prices skyrocketed, to 1979, when the military stepped down. Increased revenues permitted massive spending; this spending, however, was poorly planned and concentrated in urban areas. The oil boom was marred by a minor recession in 1978-79, but revenues rebounded until mid-1981. The increase in revenues made possible a rapid rise in income, especially for the urban middle class. There was a corresponding inflation, particularly in the price of food, that promoted both industrialisation and the expansion of agricultural production. As a result of the shift to food crops, the traditional export earners — peanuts, cotton, cocoa, and palm products — declined in significance and then ceased to be important at all. Nigeria's exports became dominated by oil.
Industrialisation, which had grown slowly after World War II through the civil war, boomed in the 1970s, despite many infrastructure constraints. Growth was particularly pronounced in the production and assembly of consumer goods, including vehicle assembly and the manufacture of soap and detergents, soft drinks, pharmaceuticals, beer, paint, and building materials. Furthermore, there was extensive investment in infrastructure from 1975 to 1980, and the number of parastatals — jointly government- and privately owned companies — proliferated. The Nigerian Enterprises Promotion decrees of 1972 and 1977 further encouraged the growth of an indigenous middle class.
Plans were undertaken for the movement of the federal capital from Lagos to Abuja, a more central location in the interior of the country. Such a step was seen as a means of encouraging the spread of industrial development inland and of relieving the congestion that threatened to choke Lagos. Abuja also was chosen because it was not identified with any particular ethnic group.
Heavy investment was planned in steel production. With Soviet assistance, a steel mill was developed at Ajaokuta in Kogi State, not far from Abuja. The most significant negative sign was the decline of industry associated with agriculture, but large-scale irrigation projects were launched in the states of Borno, Kano, Sokoto, and Bauchi under World Bank auspices.
Education also expanded rapidly. At the start of the civil war, there were only five universities, but by 1975 the number had increased to thirteen, with seven more established over the next several years. In 1975 there were 53,000 university students. There were similar advances in primary and secondary school education, particularly in those northern states that had lagged behind.
Obasanjo served until October 1, 1979, when he handed power to Shehu Shagari, a democratically elected civilian president; this made Obasanjo the first leader in Nigerian history to surrender power willingly. In late 1983, however, the military seized power again. Obasanjo, being in retirement, did not participate in that coup, and did not publicly support it.
During the dictatorship of Sani Abacha (1993–1998), Obasanjo spoke out against the human rights abuses of the regime, and was imprisoned with the claim of planning a coup. He was released only after Abacha's sudden death on 8 June 1998. It was after his release from prison that Obasanjo announced that he was a born-again Christian.
In the 1999 elections, the first in sixteen years, he decided to run for the presidency as the candidate of the People's Democratic Party. Obasanjo won with 62.6% of the vote, sweeping the strongly Christian Southeast and the predominantly Muslim north, but decisively lost his home region, the Southwest, to his fellow-Yoruba and Christian, Olu Falae, the only other candidate. It is thought that lingering resentment among his fellow-Yorubas about his previous military administration of 1976 to 1979, after which he handed power over to a government dominated by northerners rather than by Yorubas, contributed to his poor showing among his own people. May 29, the day Obasanjo took office as the first elected and civilian head of state in Nigeria after 16 years of military rule, is now commemorated as Democracy Day, a public holiday in Nigeria.
Obasanjo spent most of his first term travelling abroad visiting mostly western countries. He claimed, this was to polish the country image and re-establish the country to international scene after being battered and stained by the regime of Gen. Abacha.
His party, PDP, was established without him, as when he was called to contest the presidency he was languishing in prison. Thus, he was not able to control the party in the direction he wanted. The party became its own opposition with various infighting.
Some of the public officials like the National Assembly speaker and Senate president were involved in conflicts of self importance and the president had to battle many impeachment moves from both houses.
Obasanjo was effective in making changes to the party officials but lacked support in the National Assembly, but was able to pass anti-corruption laws, survive impeachment and got renomination.
Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003 in a tumultuous election that had violent ethnic and religious overtones, his main opponent (fellow former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari) being a Muslim who drew his support mainly from the north. Capturing 61.8% of the vote, Obasanjo defeated Buhari by more than 11 million votes. Buhari and other defeated candidates (including Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the former Biafran leader of the 1960s), claimed that the election was fraudulent. International observers from the European Union, and the U.S. National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute also reported widespread voting irregularities, including in the restive oil producing Niger delta where Obasanjo's party had without explanation won close to 100% of the votes.
However, a delegation from the Commonwealth of Nations — led by representatives of former colonial power and trading partner Great Britain and African nations that had undergone troubled elections of their own — were less critical in their assessment. Much more worrying was the increasing polarisation of Nigeria along geographic and religious lines. Obasanjo swept the South, including the south-west where he had lost four years earlier, but lost considerable ground in the North. For a nation in which ethnicity and religion ties in strongly to geography, such a trend was seen by many as particularly disturbing. Other commentators might simply note that in 2003, unlike 1999, Obasanjo was running against a Northerner and could therefore expect his support to erode in the North. Obasanjo won more Northern states than Buhari, but the later did wel in his region of NW, winning Kano and retainning other ANPP states.
Since leading a public campaign against corruption and implementing economic reforms in his country, he has been widely seen abroad as an African statesman championing debt relief and democratic institutions (thrice rejecting government change by coup in the continent of Africa as the chairperson of the African Union). Critics of his politics say that he has used the campaign to fight his enemies and not to transform Nigeria.
Obasanjo's second term have been more effective than the first term. He had been able to control the party and got effective support from the National Assembly. Many governors, mostly from his party, where either exposed or prosecuted for corruption. Some ministers and state officials too were dismissed or prosecuted for corruption. Also, Senate President was removed on his insistence, after been exposed for cash for budget approval from a minister. The country witnessed trial and dismisal of senior Naval officers for corruption and similar faith for the chief of police. Some governors too were removed for corruption, though, some judges reversed some decision.
He was able to attract technocrats and Nigerian expatriates to his administration. They were able to planned various reforms in the country administration. They made effective contribution to the country economic planning and development. His administration had now established future planning and development for the country for the next five years.
He played an important role in judiciary by not ignoring judgement against his government no matter how dubious the judgement his. No judge was victimised for this niether. Normally, Government, state of federal, always find a way of dismissing Juges that passed judgement against them, his administration never do that. The law council were given more independent in dismisal of corrupt or comprised judges.
He was not able to trickle down reforms and development effective to states and local government level, even in the states controlled by his party. The states and local governments are still riddled with corrupt officials. Also, he still did not find solution to provide police and security in the country.
It was on record that before his administration, Nigeria was on a long stretch recession since 1987 and only manage a growth rate of 3% between 1999/2000. The growth rate was doubled to 6% till he left office. Nigeria external reserve rosed from $2B in 1999 to $43B on leaving Office in 2007. He was able to secured loan forgiveness from infamous Paris and London club of total $10B. Most of these loans were secured and spent by past corrupt officials.
In 2005 the international community gave Nigeria's government its first pass mark for its anti-corruption efforts. However, a growing number of critics within Nigeria have accused Obasanjo's government of selectively targeting his anti-corruption drive against political opponents and ethnic militants, ignoring growing concerns about wide-scale corruption within his own inner political circle.
On October 23, 2005 (just hours after the crash of Bellview Airlines Flight 210), the President lost his second wife, Stella Obasanjo, First Lady of Nigeria. Obasanjo has many children, who live throughout Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Stella was not the first wife he lost. In 1987, his ex-wife Lynda was ordered out of her car by armed men, but was fatally shot for failing to move quickly. (Blaine Harden, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, p. 283)
Third Term Agenda
Obasanjo was embroiled in controversy regarding his "Third Term Agenda," a plan to modify the constitution so he could serve a third, four-year term as President. The bill was not ratified by the National Assembly. Consequently, President Obasanjo stepped down after the April 2007 general election.
He has become chairman of the board of trustees of the PDP, and from that position he could control nominations for government positions and even policy and strategy. As one Western diplomat said, "He intends to sit in the passenger seat giving advice and ready to grab the wheel if Nigeria goes off course.