Oluṣẹgun Mathew Okikiọla Arẹmu Ọbasanjọ, GCFR , born on the 5 of March 1937 is a former Nigerian Army General and former President of Nigeria. A Nigerian of Yoruba descent, Obasanjo was a career soldier before serving twice as Nigeria’s head of state, once as a military ruler, between 13 February 1976 to 1 October 1979 and again from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007, as elected President. His current home is Abeokuta, the Capital City of Ogun State, where he is a nobleman and holder of the titles of the Balogun of the Owu Lineage and the Ekerin Balogun of the Egba clan of Yorubaland.
Early Life and First Time as Head of State
Ọbasanjọ was born in Ogun State; and grew up in Owu (Abeokuta). He enlisted in the Nigerian Army in 1958. His first name, Olusegun, means “The Lord is Victorious“. He trained at Aldershot, and was then commissioned as an officer in the Nigerian Army. He served at 1 Area Command in Kaduna and then became Chief Army Engineer, then commander of 2 Area Command from July 1967, which was redesignated 2 Division Rear, and then the Ibadan Garrison Organisation. He was also trained in DSSC, Wellington. During the Nigerian Civil War, he commanded the Army’s 3 Marine Commando Division that took Owerri, effectively bringing an end to the civil war.
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.
Heavy investment was planned in steel production. With Soviet assistance, a steel mill was developed at Ajaokuta in Kogi State, not far from Abuja. However there was a significant decline in agriculture and industries associated with agriculture.
Operation Feed the Nation.
In response to this the government embarked on a “Operation feed the Nation”, seed and fertilisers were given to farmers to increase nation-wide productivity in farming.
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. During Obasanjo’s regime, universal Primary education was introduced nationwide.
Transition to Democracy
Obasanjo served until 1 October 1979, when he handed power to Shehu Shagari, a democratically elected civilian president-hence becoming the first Military Head of state to transfer power peacefully to a civilian regime in Nigeria. In late 1983, however, the military seized power again.
Later Career and Second Presidency
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. The day Chief 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.
He succeeded in winning at least some Western support for strengthening Nigeria’s nascent democracy. Britain and the United States. Obasanjo also won international praise for Nigeria’s role in crucial regional peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The international community was guided in its approach to Obasanjo by Nigeria’s status as one of the world’s 10 biggest oil exporters.
Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003 defeating General Mohammadu Buhari and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu by more than 11 million votes.
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 (three times rejecting government change by coups d’état in Africa as the chairperson of the African Union).
Obasanjo’s second term was more effective than the first. He had been able to control the party and got effective support from the National Assembly. Many governors, mostly from his party, were either exposed or prosecuted for corruption. Some ministers and state officials were also dismissed or prosecuted for corruption. Also, the Senate President was removed at Obasanjo’s insistence, after he had been exposed for receiving cash for budget approval from a minister. The country witnessed the trial and dismissal 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 later.
He was able to attract technocrats and Nigerian expatriates to his administration. They were also able to plan various reforms in the country’s administration. They made effective contribution to the country’s economic planning and development. His administration had now established future planning and development for the country for the next five years.
Economic Growth and Debt Payment
Before Obasanjo’s administration, Nigeria’s GDP growth had been painfully slow since 1987, and only managed 3% between 1999/2000. However, under Obasanjo the growth rate doubled to 6% until he left office, helped in part by higher oil prices. Nigeria’s foreign reserves rose from $2 billion in 1999 to $43 billion on leaving office in 2007. He was able to secure debt pardons from the Paris and London club amounting to some $18 billion and paid another $18 Billion to be debt free.
In 2005 the international community gave Nigeria’s government its first pass mark for its anti-corruption efforts.
Cabinet (Federal Executive Council)
Obasanjo made frequent changes to his cabinet of Federal Ministers and Ministers of State during his two terms of office, and periodically split or combined ministries. He made a major cabinet reshuffle in June 2000, and in January 2001 dissolved his cabinet. In December 2004 he named 12 new ministers. in June 2005 he made another major cabinet reshuffle. In January 2007 a few months before leaving office he made yet another drastic overhaul.
Obasanjo is a member of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), an independent authority on Africa launched in April 2007 to focus world leaders’ attention on delivering their commitments to the continent. The Panel launched a major report in London on Monday, June 16, 2008, entitled Africa’s Development: Promises and Prospects.
Obasanjo was recently appointed Special Envoy by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has held separate meetings with DRC President Joseph Kabila and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.
He is married and blessed with children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.