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Olusegun Obasanjo
GCFR
Olusegun Obasanjo DD-SC-07-14396-cropped.jpg
Obasanjo in 2001
5th and 12th President of Nigeria
In office
29 May 1999 – 29 May 2007
Vice President Atiku Abubakar
Preceded by Abdulsalami Abubakar
Succeeded by Umaru Musa Yar'Adua
In office
13 February 1976 – 1 October 1979
as Military Head of State of Nigeria
Chief of Staff Shehu Musa Yar'Adua
Preceded by Murtala Muhammed
Succeeded by Shehu Shagari
3rd Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters
In office
29 July 1975 – 13 February 1976
Head of State Murtala Muhammed
Preceded by Joseph Edet Akinwale Wey
Succeeded by Shehu Musa Yar'Adua
Federal Minister of Defence
In office
1976–1979
Head of State Himself
Preceded by Illiya Bisalla
Succeeded by Iya Abubakar
Personal details
Born
Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo

(1937-03-05) 5 March 1937 (age 85)
Ibogun-Olaogun, Ifo, Southern Region, British Nigeria
(now Ibogun-Olaogun, Ogun State, Nigeria)
Political party Peoples Democratic Party
(1999–2015; 2018–present)
Spouse(s)
Esther Oluremi
(m. 1963; div. 1976)

  • Bola Alice (wife)
  • Lynda (ex-wife, deceased)
Stella Abebe
(m. 1976; died 2005)

Mojisola Adekunle
(m. 1991; div. 1998)
(deceased)
Children Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, amongst others
Alma mater
  • Mons Officer Cadet School
  • Royal College of Defence Studies
  • National Open University of Nigeria (PhD)
Nickname(s) Baba Africa, Baba Iyabo, Ebora owu
Military service
Allegiance  Nigeria
Branch/service  Nigeria Army
Years of service 1958–1979
Rank Nigeria-Army-OF-9.svg General
Battles/wars
  • Congo Crisis
    • 1960 Force Publique mutinies
  • Nigerian Civil War
    • Operation Finishing Touch

Chief Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Ogunboye Aremu Obasanjo, GCFR , (/ˈbɑːsən/; Yoruba: Olúṣẹ́gun Ọbásanjọ́ [olúʃɛ́ɡũ ɔbásanɟɔ]; born 5 March 1937) is a Nigerian political and military leader who served as Nigeria's head of state from 1976 to 1979 and later as its president from 1999 to 2007. Ideologically a Nigerian nationalist, he was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from 1999 to 2015, and from 2018 has been a member of the African Democratic Congress party (ADC).

Born in the village of Ibogun-Olaogun to a farming family of the Owu branch of the Yoruba, Obasanjo was educated largely in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Joining the Nigerian Army, where he specialised in engineering, he spent time assigned in the Congo, Britain, and India, rising to the rank of major. In the latter part of the 1960s, he played a senior role in combating Biafran separatists during the Nigerian Civil War, accepting their surrender in 1970. In 1975, a military coup established a junta with Obasanjo as part of its ruling triumvirate. After the triumvirate's leader, Murtala Muhammed, was assassinated the following year, the Supreme Military Council appointed Obasanjo as head of state. Continuing Murtala's policies, Obasanjo oversaw budgetary cut-backs and an expansion in access to free school education. Increasingly aligning Nigeria with the United States, he also emphasised support for groups opposing white minority rule in southern Africa. Committed to restoring democracy, Obasanjo oversaw the 1979 election, after which he handed over control of Nigeria to the newly elected civilian president, Shehu Shagari. He then retired to Ota, Ogun, where he became a farmer, published four books, and took part in international initiatives to end various African conflicts.

In 1993, Sani Abacha seized power in a military coup. Openly critical of Abacha's administration, in 1995 Obasanjo was arrested and convicted of being part of a planned coup, despite protesting his innocence. While imprisoned, he became a born again Christian, with providentialism strongly influencing his subsequent worldview. He was released following Abacha's death in 1998. Entering electoral politics, Obasanjo became the PDP candidate for the 1999 presidential election, which he won comfortably. As president, he de-politicised the military and both expanded the police and mobilised the army to combat widespread ethnic, religious, and secessionist violence. He withdrew Nigeria's military from Sierra Leone and privatised various public enterprises to limit his country's spiralling debt. He was re-elected in the 2003 election. Influenced by Pan-Africanist ideas, he was a keen supporter of the formation of the African Union and served as its chair from 2004 to 2006. Obasanjo's attempts to change the constitution to abolish presidential term limits were unsuccessful and brought criticism. In retirement, he earned a PhD in theology from the National Open University of Nigeria.

Obasanjo has been described as one of the great figures of the second generation of post-colonial African leaders. He received praise both for overseeing Nigeria's transition to representative democracy in the 1970s and for his Pan-African efforts to encourage cooperation across the continent. Critics maintain that he was guilty of corruption, that his administrations oversaw human rights abuses, and that as president he became too interested in consolidating and maintaining his personal power.

Early life (1937–1958)

Matthew Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo was born in Ibogun-Olaogun, a village in southwest Nigeria. His later passport gave his date of birth as 5 March 1937, although this was a later estimate, with no contemporary records surviving. His father was Amos Adigun Obaluayesanjo "Obasanjo" Bankole and his mother was Bernice Ashabi Bankole. The first of nine children, only he and a sister (Adunni Oluwole Obasanjo) survived childhood. He was born to the Owu branch of the Yoruba people. The village church was part of a mission set up by the U.S. Southern Baptist Church and Obasanjo was raised Baptist. His village also contained Muslims and his sister later converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man.

Obasanjo's father was a farmer and until he was eleven years old, the boy was involved in agricultural labour. Aged eleven, he joined the village primary school, and after three years, in 1951, he moved on to the Baptist Day School in Abeokuta's Owu quarter. In 1952 he transferred to the Baptist Boys' High School, also in the town. His school fees were partly financed by state grants. Obasanjo did well academically, and at school became a keen Boy Scout. Although there is no evidence that he was then involved in any political groups, it was at secondary school that Obasanjo rejected his forename of "Matthew" as an anti-colonial act. Meanwhile, Obasanjo's father had abandoned his wife and two children. Falling into poverty, Obasanjo's mother had to operate in trading to survive. To pay his school fees, Obasanjo worked on cocoa and kola farms, fished, collected firewood, and sold sand to builders. During the school holidays he also worked at the school, cutting the grass and other manual jobs.

In 1956, Obasanjo took his secondary school exams, having borrowed money to pay for the entry fees. That same year, he began courting Oluremi Akinlawon, the Owu daughter of a station master. They were engaged to be married by 1958. Leaving school, he moved to Ibadan, where he took a teaching job. There, he sat the entrance exam for University College Ibadan, but although he passed it he found that he could not afford the tuition fees. Obasanjo then decided to pursue a career as a civil engineer, and to access this profession, in 1958 answered an advert for officer cadet training in the Nigerian Army.

Presidency (1999–2007)

First term

Seal of the President of Nigeria
Seal of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

On 29 May Obasanjo took the presidential oath in Abuja's Eagle Square. While appointing his new government, he selected an even number of ministers from the north and south of Nigeria, although the fact that a majority were Christian upset some Muslim northerners. Critics generally characterised Obasanjo's cabinet as being too old and conservative, as well as lacking in experience, especially when dealing with economic matters. During his first administration the levels of freedom experienced by Nigerians increased; freedom of the press allowed for considerable criticism of the president.

In the initial months of his presidency, Obasanjo retired around 200 military officers, including all 93 who held political positions, thus making a coup by experienced officers less likely. He also moved the Defence Ministry from Lagos to Abuja, ensuring it was brought under more direct government control.

Second term

Obasanjo was re-elected in a tumultuous 2003 election that had violent ethnic and religious overtones. His main opponent, fellow former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari, was Muslim and drew his support mainly from the north. Capturing 61.8% of the vote, Obasanjo defeated Buhari by more than 11 million votes.

In November 2003, Obasanjo was criticized for his decision to grant asylum to the deposed Liberian president, Charles Taylor. On 12 June 2006, he signed the Greentree Agreement with Cameroonian President Paul Biya which formally put an end to the Bakassi peninsula border dispute. Even though the Nigerian Senate passed a resolution declaring that the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the Bakassi Peninsula was illegal, Obasanjo gave the order for it to continue as planned.

In his second term, Obasanjo continued to ensure the expansion of the country's police force, which rose to 325,000 in 2007. Ongoing rural violence between Muslims and Christians in Plateau State led Obasanjo to declare a state of emergency there in May 2004, suspending the state government and installing six months of military rule. On 22 August 2005, the then governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, submitted a petition alleging corrupt practices against Obasanjo to the EFCC.

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. This led to a political media uproar in Nigeria and the bill was not ratified by the National Assembly. Consequently, Obasanjo stepped down after the April 2007 general election. In an exclusive interview granted to Channels Television, Obasanjo denied involvement in what has been defined as "Third Term Agenda". He said that it was the National Assembly (Nigeria) that included tenure elongation amongst the other clauses of the Constitution of Nigeria that were to be amended. "I never toyed with the idea of a third term," Obasanjo said.

Obasanjo was condemned by major political players during the Third Term Agenda saga. Senator Ken Nnamani, former President of the Nigerian Senate claimed Obasanjo informed him about the agenda shortly after he became President of the Nigerian Senate. “Immediately, I became Senate President, he told me of his intentions and told me how he wanted to achieve it. I initially did not take him seriously until the events began to unfold.” He also insinuated that Eight Billion Naira was spent to corrupt legislators to support the agenda. “How can someone talk like this that he didn’t know about it, yet money, both in local and foreign currencies, exchanged hands,” he asked. Femi Gbajabiamila corroborated Nnamani's account but put the figure differently, “The money totaled over N10 billion. How could N10bn be taken out of the national treasury for a project when you were the sitting President, yet that project was not your idea? Where did the money come from?” In the following quotes, Nnamani said President George W. Bush warned Obasanjo to desist from his plan to contest presidential election for the third term: “If you want to be convinced that the man is only telling a lie, pick up a copy of the book written by Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary to the Government of the United States of America. It is actually an autobiography by Rice. On page 628 or page 638, she discussed Obasanjo’s meeting with Bush, how he told the former American President that he wanted to see how he could amend the Constitution so that he could go for a third term. To his surprise, Bush told him not to try it. Bush told him to be patriotic and leave by May 29, 2007.”

Post-presidency (2007–present)

Politics

Obasanjo Mugabe
Obasanjo visits Robert Mugabe -Zimbabwe General Election 2013

He became chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, with control over nominations for governmental 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." He voluntarily resigned as the chairman board of trustees of the PDP in April 2012. Afterwards, he withdrew from political activities with PDP.

In March 2008, Obasanjo was "supposedly" indicted by a committee of the Nigerian parliament for awarding $2.2bn-worth of energy contracts during his eight-year rule, without due process. The report of this probe was never accepted by the whole Nigerian parliament due to manipulation of the entire process by the leadership of the power probe committee. It is not on any official record that Chief Obasanjo was indicted.

In May 2014, Obasanjo wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan requesting that he should mediate on behalf of the Nigerian government for the release of the Chibok girls held by the Boko Haram militants.

On 16 February 2015, he quit the ruling party and directed a PDP ward leader to tear his membership card during a press conference. He was later to be known as the navigator of the newly formed opposition party, the APC.

On 24 January 2018, he wrote serving President Muhammadu Buhari highlighting his areas of weakness and advising him not to run for office in 2019. To date all his letters to incumbent presidents have preceded their downfall.

On 31 January 2018, his political movement called "Coalition for Nigeria Movement" (CNM) was launched in Abuja. On 10 May 2018, the movement adopts a political party, African Democratic Congress (ADC), to realise its dream of a new Nigeria.

On 20 November 2018, he officially announced his return to the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP during a book launch “My Transition Hours,” written by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

On 22 January 2022, he declared that he has retired from partisan politics, he stated this after receiving National delegates of the People's Democratic Party [PDP] in his residence in Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria

Diplomacy

Obasanjo was appointed Special Envoy by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. He held separate meetings with DRC President Joseph Kabila and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

During the Zimbabwean election of July 2013, Obasanjo headed a delegation of African Union election observers.

In 2022, Obasanjo mediated peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front under the auspices of the African Union, culminating in a ceasefire of the Tigray War on November 2, 2022.

Further education

In December 2017, Obasanjo defended his Ph.D. thesis at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). He now holds a Ph.D. in theology. That was about two years after he completed his master's degree in the same course.

Personal life

Obasanjo lived a polygamous lifestyle. Obasanjo married his first wife, Oluremi Akinlawon, in London in 1963; she gave birth to his first child, Iyabo, in 1967. Iyabo had a close relationship with her father. Oluremi was unhappy that Obasanjo maintained relationships with other women and alleged that he beat her. They divorced in the mid-1970s. That decade, Obasanjo began a common-law relationship with NTA reporter Gold Oruh who bore him two children. He married his second wife, Stella Abebe, in 1976, having met her on a visit to London. He married Stella in 1976, and she bore him three children.

Obasanjo's other partners include businesswoman Lynda Soares who was murdered by car thieves in 1986. On 23 October 2005, the President lost his wife, Stella Obasanjo, First Lady of Nigeria the day after she had an abdominoplasty in Spain. In 2009, the doctor, known only as 'AM', was sentenced to one year in jail for negligence in Spain and ordered to pay restitution to her son of about $176,000. He was largely private about his relationships with these women. Some of his children were resentful that he gave them no special privileges and treated their mothers poorly. One of his sons, Adeboye Obasanjo is a brigadier general in the Nigerian army.

Secretary Blinken Meets with African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo (51581405896)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Obasanjo in October 2021

Ethnically, Obasanjo is Yoruba, a cultural identification he reflected in his speech and choice of clothing. However, he always foregrounded his Nigerian identity above his Yoruba one, repeatedly stating that "I am a Nigerian who happens to be a Yoruba man. I am not a Yoruba man who happens to be a Nigerian." Throughout his life he expressed a preference for rural over urban life. He has been a lifelong teetotaller. He has been characterised as having a sense of discipline and duty, and emphasised what he saw as the importance of leadership. He was meticulous at planning, and Iliffe called him an "instinctively cautious man". Obasanjo always emphasised the importance of deferring to seniority, a value he had learned in childhood. Iliffe described Obasanjo as a man with "great physical and intellectual energy" who "exercised power with skill and ruthlessness, sometimes unscrupulously but seldom cruelly". Erfler similarly stated that, although Obasanjo could appear "boorish and dull", he had a "sharply perceptive mind" and the capacity to be "tough and ruthless". He had, according to Iliffe, a "remarkable capacity for work". He was cautious with money, living modestly and seeking financial security by investing in property. He is softly-spoken.

In his sixties, Obasanjo would regularly work 18 to 20 hour days, getting very little sleep. He would start each day with prayers. Obasanjo suffers from diabetes and high blood-pressure. He enjoyed playing squash.

Obasanjo's writings after his imprisonment reflected his commitment to Biblical literalism. He called the Darwinian theory of evolution a "debasing, devaluing and dehumanising" idea. After his release from prison his writings placed far less emphasis on traditional culture as a guide to morality, calling on fellow Nigerians to reject much of their pre-Christian "way of life." Iliffe noted that Obasanjo's born-again Christianity was "strikingly orthodox" and was aligned with mainline Baptist teaching. He rejected the prosperity gospel that was taught by some Pentecostalists in Nigeria. Providentialism also became a key part of his worldview after his imprisonment.

In addition to a variety of other chieftaincy titles, Chief Obasanjo is the holder of the title of the Olori Omo Ilu of Ibogun-Olaogun. A number of other members of his family hold or have held chieftaincies as well.

Books by Olusegun Obasanjo

  • My Watch Volume 1: Early Life and Military
  • My Watch Volume 2: Political and Public Affairs
  • My Watch Volume 3: Now and Then
  • My Command
  • Nzeogwu
  • The Animal Called Man
  • A New Dawn
  • The Thabo Mbeki I know
  • Africa Through the Eyes of A Patriot
  • Making Africa Work: A handbook
  • Forging a Compact in U.S. African Relations: The Fifth David M. Abshire Endowed Lecture, 15 December 1987.
  • Africa in Perspective
  • Letters to Change the World: From Pankhurst to Orwell.
  • Not my Will
  • Democracy Works: Re-Wiring Politics to Africa's Advantage
  • My Watch
  • Challenges of Leadership in Africa
  • War Wounds: Development Costs of Conflict in Southern Sudan
  • Guides to Effective Prayer
  • The Challenges of Agricultural Production and Food Security in Africa
  • Addressing Africa's Youth Employment and food security Crisis: The Role of African Agriculture in Job Creation.
  • Dust Suspended: A memoir of Colonial, Overseas and Diplomatic Service Life 1953 to 1986
  • L'Afrique en Marche: un manuel pour la reussite économique
  • Africa's Critical Choices: A Call for a Pan-African Roadmap
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