- Obasanjo, Olusegun
▪ 2000On March 1, 1999, retired general Olusegun Obasanjo was declared the winner of the presidential election in Nigeria after 16 years of military dictatorships. Less than a year earlier, Obasanjo had been serving a 15-year jail term, having been imprisoned in 1995 for his outspoken views of Gen. Sani Abacha's repressive regime. Following Abacha's unexpected death in June 1998, Obasanjo was released and subsequently sought the top office when the interim Nigerian leader, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, set a timetable for democratic elections. After his victory, Obasanjo said that among his political objectives were the alleviation of poverty, reduction of state corruption, and the restoration of dignity to Nigeria.Obasanjo was born March 5, 1937, in Abeokuta, north of Lagos, Nigeria, in the homeland of the Yoruba, one of Nigeria's three main ethnic groups. Brought up as a Christian, he attended Baptist Boys' High School and later worked as a teacher for a year. He joined the army in 1958 and received further education in England and at cadet school. Obasanjo rose quickly through the army ranks, and during the Nigerian civil war (the Biafra secession, 1967–70) he headed a commando unit that was instrumental in ending the fighting.In 1975 Brig. Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed seized control of the government but soon declared that he would relinquish power to civilian rule by 1979. The following year, however, Mohammed was assassinated, and leadership passed to his deputy, Obasanjo. Although Obasanjo's presidency was not without its controversies, he pushed forward Mohammed's timetable for a return to civilian rule. In 1979 he called the extremely close election (in which he chose not to run) in favour of another candidate from the northern, predominantly Muslim region, thereby angering his fellow Yoruba but gaining the respect of the Hausa-Fulani leaders in the north. In due course, Obasanjo became the first Nigerian military leader to cede power to civilian rule.Throughout the next several years, as Nigeria suffered considerable political unrest, Obasanjo worked as a diplomat, holding various positions through the UN and other organizations. In 1995 he was imprisoned for allegedly organizing a coup against Abacha. Following his release, Obasanjo joined the dominant People's Democratic Party and announced his candidacy for president. Just a few days before his 62nd birthday, he was declared the winner with about 63% of the vote. Obasanjo's stated goal of establishing a democratic, transparent, and corruption-free Nigeria drew the support of Western leaders. By late 1999, with his presidency still in its infancy, it remained to be seen if Obasanjo would be the leader who finally established stability in Africa's most populous country.Anthony L. Green
* * *▪ president of Nigeriaborn March 5, 1937, Abeokuta, NigeriaNigerian 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 (Gowon, Yakubu), 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 (Carter, Jimmy) 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 (Shagari, Shehu), 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 (Abacha, Sani), 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 (Abubakar, Abdusalam), 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 (Sharīʿah). 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.In 2006 Obasanjo came under domestic and international criticism for attempting to amend the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term as president; the proposed amendment was rejected by the Senate later that year. With Obasanjo unable to run, Umaru Yar'Adua was selected to stand as the PDP's candidate in the April 2007 presidential election. He was declared the winner, but international observers strongly condemned the election as being marred by voting irregularities and fraud. Nonetheless, Yar'Adua succeeded Obasanjo and was sworn in May 29, 2007.
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