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Olusegun Obasanjo Biography

Quick Facts

Nigerian general, President, politician, and diplomat.
Birth Date 
March 5, 1937.
Home Town
Abeokuta Ogun, Nigeria.
Place of Birth 
 Abeokuta, Ogun state, Nigeria
Full name 
Olusegun Obasanjo 
Nigerian general, politician, and diplomat, who was the first military leader in Africa to hand over power to civilian rule. He served as ruler of Nigeria (1976–79) and as president (1999–2007).

Obasanjo attended Baptist Boys’ High School and later worked as a teacher. Unable to afford college, he joined the army in 1958 and received officer training in England. Obasanjo rose quickly through the army ranks, and during the Biafra conflict (1967–70) he headed a commando division that was stationed at the Biafran front in southeastern Nigeria. The Biafran forces surrendered to him in January 1970.

In 1975 Brigadier General Murtala Ramat Mohammed seized control of the government then led by General Yakubu Gowon, but he announced that he would relinquish power to civilian rule by 1979. The following year, however, Mohammed was assassinated, and leadership passed to Obasanjo, his deputy. During the three years he headed the government, Obasanjo emerged as an influential statesman.
He established ties with the United States, and in 1978 U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited the country. Obasanjo continued to push forward Mohammed’s timetable for a return to civilian rule and chose not to run for president when elections were held in 1979. Voting was extremely close, but Shehu Shagari, from the predominately Muslim northern region, was declared the winner. The results angered Obasanjo’s fellow Yoruba, but he gained the respect of the Hausa-Fulani leaders in the north.

Over the next several years, Obasanjo worked as a teacher at the University of Ibadan and as a diplomat, holding 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. After Abacha’s death in 1998, Obasanjo was released and joined the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

When the interim leader, General Abdusalam Abubakar, pledged to hold democratic elections, Obasanjo announced his candidacy for president and in 1999 was declared the winner with some 63 percent of the vote. Nigeria’s first civilian leader in 15 years, Obasanjo sought to alleviate poverty, reduce state corruption, and establish a democratic system. He also pledged to reform the military and the police. Religious and ethnic strife, however, became a central concern during his presidency as incidents of violence mounted and as most Muslim-dominated states adopted Sharīʿah law. Obasanjo faced an eroding power base as the Hausa, Fulani, and Igbo who had voted for him felt he favoured his own Yoruba ethnic group, which had not supported him in 1999. Obasanjo was elected to a second term in April 2003, winning more than 60 percent of the votes cast. 
Olusegun Obasanjo served as President of Nigeria from May 1999 to May 2007. It was the culmination of a life spent on the front line of African politics. In 2008 he 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. He has since emerged as an advocate for investment into the country and with the launch of his Foundation will tackle issues critical to advance across the Continent.

Leadership was first thrust upon him in 13th February 1976 when he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt that killed Nigeria’s military ruler, Murtala Mohammed. As deputy he took over as head of state and vowed to restore civilian rule once the conditions for democracy were established. True to his word he gave way to Shehu Shagari , the winner of elections held in 1979, to date the only voluntary handover from military to civilian rule in Nigerian history.

Obasanjo’s elected term in office was characterized by a commitment to the rule of law, economic and political reform. He worked to rebuild institutions wrecked by decades of neglect, repression and mismanagement. This included the appointment of key, reform minded technocrats such as the finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and education minister Obiageli Ezekwesili – both internationally respected leaders in their fields.

Selecting Charles Soludo as Governor of the Central Bank paved the way for consolidation in the country’s banking sector, transforming it into one of the most dynamic industries on the continent. Liberalisation of the telecommunications sector has allowed Nigeria to become Africa’s largest and fastest growing markets for ICTs.

He created the country’s first Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which secured in excess of 275 convictions, including high profile members of Nigeria’s elite, recovering a total of $5bn in assets. This was the first time in the country’s history that public officials were prosecuted for the misuse of state funds.

With high oil prices, Obasanjo’s government oversaw a doubling of Nigeria’s average economic growth rate to 6 per cent.Foreign reserves rose from $3.7 billion in 1999 to $45 billion in 2007. Sound economic stewardship helped Obasanjo secure $18 billion in debt relief from Western creditors and his government used burgeoning state revenues to pay down a further $12 billion in dues leaving Nigeria almost debt free.

He is also a role model for the youth of Africa. He established the African Leadership Forum, which organises workshops advocating African solutions to African problems through better leadership, state capacity building and the encouragement of private enterprise. The Presidential Library complex he is building in his home town of Abeokuta will be the first of its kind in Africa – an enduring testament to his leadership, and a model for the rest of the continent.

Outside of Nigeria he has been central in the regeneration and repositioning of the African Union. Together with former South African president Thabo Mbeki he lead the creation of the African Peer Review Mechanism designed to engender and promote the ideals of democracy and good governance, and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

After serving his country for eight years and restoring the respect of its continental peers and the international community, Obasanjo stepped down in 2007. His role as Africa’s ambassador-at-large has continued..

In 2008 he was appointed special Envoy on the Great Lakes region by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and continues to be an integral actor in mediation efforts in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Obasanjo has also served as the African Union’s Special Envoy for Togo’s 2010 Presidential elections, as well as South Africa’s presidential polls in 2009.

As the Special Envoy for ECOWAS, his role in diffusing the crisis that threatened civil war in Cote D’Ivoire 2011 was vital. When democracy was once again threatened in Senegal during controversial presidential polls in March 2012, he promptly led the joint African Union and Ecowas mission to resolve the standoff, paving the way for a smooth transition and pulling one of Africa’s oldest democracies back from the brink.

Outside the political arena Obasanjo has been a catalyst in driving Africa’s economic transformation. The region is now amongst the fastest growing in the world, rapidly becoming the destination of choice for international investors looking to emerging and frontier markets. Using his experience as a successful farmer and businessman in Nigeria he is actively engaging this community to facilitate more investment into the continent. Obasanjo will achieve this vision through the Africa Investment Council (AIC) a platform of distinguished leaders working to provide advocacy, thought-leadership, collaboration and best-practices on sustainable investment into Africa. He is presently an advisor to New World Capital; an investment advisory firm providing interested parties with market access, investment advisory and co-investment opportunities across the continent.

President Obasanjo is also Founder of the Olusegun Obasanjo Foundation, a UK based charity that has a mission of advancing Human Security for All. The Foundation has wide ranging initiatives of Feeding Africa, Youth Empowerment, Education for Girls and a health initiative focused on non-communicable and water borne diseases.

As Africa assumes an increasingly central role in international policy and business the continent will continue to have an unwavering advocate in Obasanjo.

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