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Olusegun Obasanjo Biography: Inside The Life Of Former Nigerian President

Obasanjo, Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Ogunboye Aremu Obasanjo, GCFR, is a retired Nigerian general who served as Nigeria’s military Head of State from 1976 to 1979 and as civilian Nigeria’s president from 1999 to 2007. From 1999 to 2015, he was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and since 2018, he has been a member of the African Democratic Congress (ADC). He is a Nigerian nationalist ideologically. He is also one of Nigeria’s wealthiest politicians.

Early Life & Education

Olusegun, Matthew Aremu Obasanjo was born on March 5, 1937, in the village of Ibogun-Olaogun in Ogun State, Nigeria. His father was Amos Adigun Obaluayesanjo “Obasanjo” Bankole, and his mother was Bernice Ashabi Bankole. Obasanjo was raised in a Baptist church, and the village church was part of a mission established by the Southern Baptist Church of the United States. His village was populated by Muslims, and his sister later converted to Islam in order to marry a Muslim man.

Obasanjo’s father was a farmer, and the young Obasanjo worked on the farms until the age of eleven. At the age of eleven, he enrolled in the village basic school, and three years later, in 1951, he transferred to the Baptist Day School in Abeokuta’s Owu quarter. He transferred to the town’s Baptist Boys’ High School in 1952. The government subsidized his school fees. Obasanjo excelled in school and was an active Boy Scout. Although there is no evidence that Obasanjo was involved in any political organizations at the time, he rejected his given name “Matthew” in high school as an anti-colonial stance.

Obasanjo’s father, meanwhile, had abandoned his wife and two children. Obasanjo’s mother had to rely on trading to make ends meet after falling into poverty. Obasanjo worked on cocoa and kola fields, fished, collected firewood, and sold sand to builders to pay for his education. He also worked at the school over the summer, cutting the grass and doing other manual labour.

Obasanjo began his secondary school education in 1956, after borrowing money to cover the entry fees. The same year, he began courting Oluremi Akinlawon, the Owu daughter of a station master. They were engaged to be married by 1958. He moved to Ibadan after finishing school and began teaching. He took the University College Ibadan entrance exam there, but after passing, he realized he couldn’t afford the tuition. Obasanjo later decided to pursue a career as a civil engineer, and in order to do so, he responded to an advertisement for officer cadet training in the Nigerian Army in 1958.

Military Career

Obasanjo joined the army in 1958 and received officer training in England. He quickly rose through the ranks of the army. During the Biafra crisis, he was assigned to command a commando division stationed at the Biafran front in southeastern Nigeria (1967–70). Biafran soldiers surrendered to him in January 1970, effectively ending the conflict. The military head of state at the time, General Yakubu Gowon, was deposed by Brigadier General Murtala Ramat Mohammed in 1975, but he promised to hand over power to civilians by 1979.

Head of State

General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated the following year during an unsuccessful coup attempt, and his successor, Obasanjo, took over as president. During his three years as president, Obasanjo established ties with the United States and emerged as an influential African leader. When elections were held in 1979, Obasanjo followed his predecessor’s plan to return to a civilian administration by not running for president. Despite a razor-thin margin of victory, Nigeria’s Federal Electoral Commission declared Shehu Shagari, a northerner, the winner over Yoruba Obafemi Awolowo, the strongest candidate from the south.

The Supreme Court upheld the election results, and Obasanjo earned the respect of Hausa-Fulani leaders in the north for handing over power to Shagari. The majority of Obasanjo’s fellow Yoruba, as well as others, criticized the results, claiming that the election had been rigged. During the next few years, Obasanjo’s international stature grew significantly as he held numerous positions in the United Nations and other organizations. Obasanjo was imprisoned in 1995 on charges of plotting a coup against General Sani Abacha, who took over Nigeria in 1993 and established an oppressive military dictatorship. Obasanjo was released following Abacha’s death in 1998.

Civilian Presidency

Obasanjo announced his intention to run for president as a candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) after the interim military leader, General Abdusalam Abubakar, committed to organising democratic elections. With 63 percent of the vote, he was declared the winner of the 1999 election. However, there were several claims of fraud, and the results were roundly condemned and criticized by many, notably the Yoruba, who had primarily backed Obasanjo’s opponent, Olu Falae.

Obasanjo aspired to alleviate poverty, eradicate government corruption, and establish a democratic system as Nigeria’s first civilian leader in 15 years. He also stated that the military and police would be reformed. During his presidency, however, religious and ethnic unrest became a major worry, as violent occurrences increased and most Muslim-dominated states in the north and centre of the country implemented Shariah law. The severe response of Obasanjo to ethnic conflict in the south drew widespread condemnation.

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Indeed, despite receiving the pragmatic support of leading Yoruba politicians this time around, Obasanjo faced a shrinking power base heading into the 2003 presidential election, due to his overall authoritative style, the corruption that was still evident among government officials, and a strong challenger Muhammad Buhari, a northerner who was a former general and former military head of state. Despite this, Obasanjo was re-elected in April 2003, receiving more than 60% of the vote, but there were widespread accusations of voting anomalies and claims of fraud, as there had been in previous elections.

Obasanjo drew domestic and international condemnation in 2006 when he attempted to modify the constitution to allow him to run for a third term as president; the proposed amendment was later rejected by the Senate. Because Obasanjo was unable to run, Umaru Yar’Adua was chosen as the PDP’s presidential candidate in April 2007. Although he was declared the winner, international monitors slammed the election as tainted by fraud and voting irregularities. Nonetheless, Yar’Adua succeeded Obasanjo on May 29, 2007, and was sworn in.

Post-presidency (2007 – present)

Politics

Obasanjo rose to the post of chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, with authority over nominations for government positions, as well as policy and strategy. “He aims to sit in the passenger seat giving guidance and ready to grab the wheel if Nigeria goes off course,” one Western diplomat said.   In April 2012, he voluntarily resigned as chairman of the PDP’s board of trustees.  He then dropped out of the PDP’s political activities. Obasanjo wrote to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2014, urging that he mediate on behalf of the Nigerian government for the release of the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents.

During a news conference on February 16, 2015, he announced his departure from the ruling party by ordering a PDP ward chairman to destroy his membership card. He became renowned as the navigator of the APC, a newly established opposition group. He wrote to serving President Muhammadu Buhari on January 24, 2018, pointing out his flaws and asking him not to run for office in 2019. All of his letters to current presidents have so far predicted their downfall. His political outfit, the “Coalition for Nigeria Movement” (CNM), was established in Abuja on January 31, 2018. On May 10, 2018, the movement forms the African Democratic Congress (ADC) as a political party to realize its vision of a new Nigeria.

During a book event for former President Goodluck Jonathan‘s book “My Transition Hours” on November 20, 2018, he officially confirmed his return to the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party. He announced his retirement from partisan politics on January 22, 2022, after receiving National delegates of the People’s Democratic Party at his home in Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria.

Personal Life

Obasanjo had a polygamous lifestyle. He married his first wife, Oluremi Akinlawon, in London in 1963, and they had their first child, Iyabo, in 1967. Oluremi was not satisfied with the way Obasanjo had other women’s affairs and claimed that he mistreated her. In the mid-1970s, they divorced. He married Stella Abebe, his second wife, in 1976 after meeting her on a trip to London. They had three children together. The President’s wife, Stella Obasanjo who was also the First Lady of Nigeria then, died on October 23, 2005, the day after she had an abdominoplasty in Spain. In 2009, the doctor was sentenced to a year in prison in Spain for carelessness and had to pay $176,000 in restitution to her son.

Controversies

Obasanjo was allegedly accused by a Nigerian parliament committee in March 2008 of allocating $2.2 billion in energy contracts without due procedure during his eight-year administration. Because the leadership of the power probe committee manipulated the entire process, the report of this investigation was never recognized by the full Nigerian parliament. Chief Obasanjo was not indicted, according to any official record.

Further Education

Obasanjo defended his PhD thesis at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) in December 2017. He now has a doctorate in theology.

Books Written by Olusegun Obasanjo

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

Net Worth

According to Buzz Nigeria, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has a net worth estimated at $1.6 billion, which is roughly N663 billion. It was reported that his sources of income came from his career in politics and investments in various big businesses. This has made him one of the richest politicians in Nigeria.

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