Matthew Okikiola Ogunboye Aremu Obasanjo, GCFR, is a Nigerian politician and military leader who served as Nigeria’s President from 1999 to 2007. He was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from 1999 to 2015 and the African Democratic Congress (ADC) from 2018.
He was born in the Yoruba people’s Owu branch on March 5, 1937. Amos Adigun Obaluayesanjo Bankole was his father’s name, and Bernice Ashabi Bankole was his mother’s. In a family of nine, he was the firstborn. Only he and his sister, Adunni Oluwole, managed to survive childhood. The couple grew up in a low-income home. Because their father was a farmer, they were heavily involved in agricultural activities during childhood.
He enrolled in the village basic school at the age of eleven, and three years later, in 1951, he transferred to the Baptist Day School in Abeokuta’s Owu quarter. In 1952, he transferred to the town’s Baptist Boys’ High School. The government subsidised his school fees. Obasanjo excelled in school and became a dedicated Boy Scout.
Obasanjo rejected his forename of Matthew as an anti-colonial act in secondary school, despite no evidence that he was involved in any political groups at the time. Obasanjo’s father, meanwhile, had abandoned his wife and two children.
Obasanjo’s mother had to rely on commerce 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 took his secondary school exams in 1956 after borrowing money to cover the entry costs.
After finishing school, he relocated to Ibadan and began teaching. He took the University College Ibadan entrance exam there, but after passing, he discovered that he could not afford the tuition fees. Obasanjo subsequently decided to pursue a career as a civil engineer. To do so, he responded to an advertisement in the Nigerian Army for officer cadet training in 1958.
He was not just Nigeria’s President but also a well-known military figure. Here’s some background about his military and political pursuits.
At the age of 22, the former President became an orphan. His parents’ deaths, however, did not deter him from pursuing a military career, and he joined the Nigerian Army in 1958. In England and India, he got military education and training.
He was commissioned as a Nigerian Army officer after completing the required training. Between 1958 and 1959, he served in the Nigerian Army in Kaduna. In 1959, he was promoted to Second Lieutenant, and in 1960, he was promoted to Lieutenant.
He served as a lieutenant in the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, peacekeeping forces. After that, he joined the engineering unit, which was the Nigerian Army’s only one at the time, and rose through the ranks to become the unit commander. Olusegun was promoted to captain in 1963. He was assigned to the Indian Army Engineering School in Kirkee, where he worked. He was later promoted again, this time to the rank of Major.
Olusegun’s commitment to service was recognised. He enrolled at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, India, in 1965. Later, retired Colonel R.D. Palsokar mentioned him in the educational institution’s 40th-anniversary book.
He hailed the former President as the best Nigerian officer dispatched to Wellington and said he was well-liked by all. Obasanjo rose through the ranks again in 1967, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. From 1967 to 1969, he was assigned to the Second Area Command and served in Ibadan for two years. In 1969, he was promoted to colonel and posted to some different divisions, where he served throughout the year.
In 1970, he accepted the Biafran army’s surrender, bringing the civil war to an end. General Yakubu Gowon, the then-head of state, appointed him as the Federal Commissioner of Works and Housing in January 1975. He was named Chief of Staff in General Murtala Mohammed’s supreme headquarters in July of that year. In 1976, he was promoted to lieutenant-general.
Obasanjo as Military Head of State
Following Murtala’s death, General Olusegun Obasanjo was named President. He persisted in his efforts to restore civil administration and improve public service. He was the military head of state for three years, from 1976 to 1979.
When his term expired, he handed up control to civilian President Shehu Shagari, who was democratically elected. As a result, he became the first ruler of a military state to peacefully hand over control to a civilian government administration.
During his tenure as the Head of State, he achieved some positive results, such as free primary and secondary education, the construction of new housing units, and many others.
Obasanjo was not in support of the Abacha regime. Obasanjo visited Denmark in March 1995 for the United Nations Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen. He learned while there that Yar’Adua had been detained and that if he went to Nigeria, he would most likely meet the same fate. Despite this, he claimed he had done nothing wrong and consented to return.
His passport was confiscated at the Lagos Airport, and police hauled him up from his Ota home the next day. The police suspected Obasanjo of being involved in a plot by Brigadier General Lawan Guadabe to overthrow Abacha. While former US President Jimmy Carter personally phoned Abacha to beg Obasanjo’s release, Obasanjo was transported between multiple incarceration centres. Obasanjo was subsequently taken back to Ota and kept under house arrest for two months.
Obasanjo spent the following four months at the Ikoyi Centre, where he was kept in solitary confinement at first. He was relocated to Lagos’ largest prison, Kirikiri, where he was treated for hypertension and diabetes in the prison hospital. Kirikiri’s conditions were overcrowded and dirty, prompting Obasanjo to say that he would not want it on his worst enemy.
There, Bello-Fadile apologised to Obasanjo for incriminating him, and Obasanjo accepted his apology. Smuggled out of prison and published, a memo by Bello-Fadile outlining the situation helped prove Obasanjo’s innocence.
After Abacha’s untimely death in June 1998, military commanders named Lieutenant General Abdulsalami Abubakar as his successor. Abubakar authorised Obasanjo’s release a week later, sending a jet to return him to Ota. Abubakar abolished Nigeria’s existing parties and institutions and declared a plan to install a civilian president in May 1999, eager to return the country to civilian governance.
Obasanjo moved into the presidential palace at Aso Rock in May after having it exorcised. He took the presidential oath in Abuja’s Eagle Square on May 29, 1999. While appointing his new government, he chose an equal number of ministers from the north and south of Nigeria, causing some Muslim northerners to be offended by the fact that the majority were Christians.
Obasanjo’s cabinet was widely criticised as being too old and conservative, as well as lacking in expertise, particularly when it came to economic issues. Nigerians’ degrees of freedom rose during his first administration, and press freedom allowed for significant criticism of the government.
Obasanjo was re-elected in a stormy 2003 election with ethnic and religious overtones. His primary opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim who gathered support primarily from the north, was a fellow former military ruler. Obasanjo defeated Buhari by more than 11 million votes, receiving 61.8 percent of the vote.
Obasanjo’s second term saw him continue to expand the country’s police force, which reached 325,000 in 2007. In May 2004, Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in Plateau State, suspending the state administration and putting the state under military authority for six months due to ongoing rural violence between Muslims and Christians. On August 22, 2005, Orji Uzor Kalu, the then-governor of Abia State, filed a case with the EFCC claiming fraudulent activities against Obasanjo.
He was criticized for wanting to change the constitution to serve three terms in office.
The outstanding member of the second generation of independent African leaders who dedicated themselves to consolidating their postcolonial states,” wrote John Iliffe of Obasanjo. Obasanjo’s presidency, he said, had four key accomplishments: he partially curbed Nigeria’s domestic upheaval, he kept control of the military, he assisted in the formation of the African Union, and he liquidated the country’s external debt. In December 1999, he had an approval rating of 84%; by 2001, it had dropped to 72%; and by September 2003, it had dropped to 39%.
Obasanjo is also an author. He has written several books. Some of which are:
- 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
- The Animal Called Man
- A New Dawn
- Challenges in Leadership in Africa
- The Thani Mbeki I Know
- Not My Will
- Africa in Perspective
Obasanjo was known for his polygamy. Oluremi Akinlawon, Obasanjo’s first wife, married him in London in 1963 and gave birth to his first child, Iyabo, in 1967. Iyabo and her father have a close bond. Oluremi was enraged that Obasanjo had affairs and claimed that he abused her. In the mid-1970s, they divorced. Obasanjo began a common-law relationship with NTA reporter Gold Oruh during that decade, and they had two children together. He married Stella Abebe, his second wife, in 1976 after meeting her on a trip to London and they had three children together.
Businesswoman Lynda Soares, who was murdered by auto thieves in 1986, was one of Obasanjo’s other partners. The President’s wife, Stella Obasanjo, the First Lady of Nigeria, died on October 23, 2005, the day after she had an abdominoplasty in Spain. In 2009, the doctor, who only went by the initials ‘AM,’ was sentenced to a year in prison in Spain for carelessness and compelled to pay $176,000 in restitution to her son.
He kept his interactions with these women completely private. Some of his children were enraged that he didn’t give them any particular treatment and mistreated their mothers.
Obasanjo is one of the richest politicians in Nigeria. Aside from being a former President and Head of State, he is an entrepreneur. Obasanjo is the owner of the Otta Farms and Oil blocks in and outside the country. His net worth is estimated at N664 billion ($1.6bn).
The politician was born on March 5, 1937. He is 85 years old as of today.
Regardless of one’s opinion of Olusegun Obasanjo, he is a remarkable Nigerian politician. Although not everyone agreed with his beliefs and conduct, he was able to carve a name for himself in the military and politics, and his impact will be felt for a long time.