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Olusegun Obasanjo

Last Updated: 11/20/2006 12:09:25 PM

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Nigeria’s civilian president and former military leader, who is on course to perform the first civilian handover to another civilian government in the history of the country.....

Olusegun Obasanjo
Olusegun Obasanjo

Olusegun Obasanjo was born March 5, 1937 in Abeokuta, Ogun, Nigeria. He is a member of the Yoruba ethnic group and a born-again Christian. Obasanjo graduated from Baptist Boys High School, but his parents could not afford higher education for him, so he joined the military at age 18. He went to military schools in Nigeria and England and became an officer.

In 1975, Obasanjo participated in a military coup of Nigeria led by Murtala Ramat Mohammed. He became second in command of Mohammed’s government, and when Mohammed was assassinated the next year, Olusegun Obasanjo became head of state.

In 1979, Nigeria adopted a democratic constitution similar to that of the United States and Obasanjo stepped down from power. He was the first Nigerian to voluntarily surrender power to a civilian government. He entered civilian life as a pig and poultry farmer.

In 1983, the military again took over the government. Obasanjo did not participate in this coup and did not support it. Sixteen years of military rule followed for Nigeria. Obasanjo criticized one dictator, Sani Abacha, for human rights abuses and was jailed. He was released from jail after Abacha died. He claimed that he became a Christian while in jail.

In 1999, Nigeria finally reinstituted free elections. Obasanjo ran for President and won with 62.6% of the vote. He won again in 2003, with 61.8% of the vote. Supporters wanted him to run again in 2007, but the Nigerian Senate rejected the Constitutional amendment that would have been necessary for Obasanjo to run for a third term. He will step down from the Presidency in May, 2007. It will be another first for Obasanjo and Nigeria: the first time a civilian head of state turns leadership over to another freely elected civilian head of state.

Obasanjo’s government has worked to end the corruption that has impoverished Nigeria and to make much-needed reforms. Obasanjo is respected throughout Africa as a reformer, and served as President of the African Union from 2004-2006.

Since the 2003 elections, however, Obasanjo has been increasingly criticized. The 2003 elections were anything but peaceful, and the final vote split along religious lines (Obasanjo’s opponent, Muhamadu Buhari was Muslim). The election was challenged and, although international observes found evidence of election-rigging on both sides, they concluded that Obasanjo won anyway.

Opponents say that many of Obasanjo’s reforms favor people of his own party and not the Nigerian people. In addition, the country struggles with increasing religious unrest and ethnic violence.

Obasanjo’s first wife, Lynda, was murdered in 1987 while his second wife, Stella, died in 2005 of complications from surgery. Obasanjo has several children, who live in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States.


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