Obasanjo Biography [19990527]

Obasanjo Biography [19990527]

NIGERIA: Obasanjo Biography


1937: Born in Abeokuta, south-west Nigeria.

1958: Joined the army and received training in Nigeria and abroad. A 21-year military career included serving in the UN peacekeeping mission in the former Zaire and commanding the 3rd Marine Commando Division during Nigeria's 30-month Biafran civil war (1967-70).

1975: Appointed works and housing minister, later becoming chief of staff, supreme headquarters.

1976-79: Became Nigeria's military ruler following the assassination of General Murtala Muhammad.

1979: Presided over democratic elections, won by civilian northern politician Shehu Shagari. In doing so, Obasanjo became Nigeria's first military ruler to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian government.

1983: Shagari ousted from power, Obasanjo critical of subsequent military regimes.

1988: Founded the African Leadership Forum, based at his Otta farm.

1991: Failed in bid to become UN Secretary-General

1995: Tried for plotting coup against military leader General Sani Abacha and sentenced to life in prison. This was later commuted to 15 years after pressure from friends abroad, including South Africa's Nelson Mandela, former US President Jimmy Carter and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

1998: Released from prison after Abacha's death and returns to politics. Opinions differ on why Obasanjo decided to run for president so soon after coming out of jail. His critics saw him as a pawn of the military elite - previous military rulers visited Obasanjo as he was considering running, and supported his campaign. His supporters consider him to be independent-minded. Obasanjo himself claimed to have "found God" while in prison, which gave him the strength to run for the country again. He was reported to have said that his mission was to restore Nigeria and defeat separatism.

1999: Obasanjo won presidential elections on 27 February with 62 percent of the valid votes cast. His Party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), won about the same majority in the two houses of the National Assembly, state houses and the state legislature. Obasanjo's rival, Olu Falae of the combined Alliance for Democracy / All People's Party (AD/APP), challenged the result in court claiming that the PDP had bought votes, but lost.


In the run-up to the election, Obasanjo was characterised by political analysts as neither an economic nor political genius but a "safety-first" candidate with an important network of international contacts which will be useful for Nigeria.

When Obasanjo was last in office he gained international respect through his efforts to end white minority rule in South Africa and Zimbabwe, supporting neighbouring states such as Angola and Mozambique. After relinquishing power, Obasanjo retired to his second home at Otta, outside Abeokuta, where he enjoyed his image as a man of the people. During this period he continued to boost his international standing by writing books, joining the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, founding the African Leaders Forum and accepting places on numerous international commissions.

In view of Obasanjo's proven foreign policy credentials some local analysts feel that Nigeria's ability to maintain its existing level of military commitment in countries within the sub-region, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, is questionable. Whereas Nigeria's involvement under Abacha was to prove his value to a world that condemned him on every other front, Obasanjo is already well-regarded so he can afford for Nigeria to have a lower international profile, they argue.

A member of Obasanjo's campaign team is reported as saying: " The president-elect has so much foreign respect now because of what he did for Afica before, but our priority must be the problems at home. Times are very different from the 70s."

Obasanjo's argument that his own military background makes him uniquely qualified to keep the Army under control has carried more weight among the electorate than fears that he will not be his own man. He also won widespread credibility when he voluntarily handed over power to a civilian government in 1979. At a recent seminar on "Democracy, Good Governance and development in Nigeria" Obasanjo reportedly boosted his pro-democracy credentials by arguing that democratic rule should be a precondition for membership of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

One of Obasanjo's first tasks will be to form a government from among members of the new 109-member Senate and 360-member House of Representatives. He will then have to tackle some of the huge problems arising from years of military misrule.

One of the biggest questions posed by human rights groups over Obasanjo's presidency is whether he will restructure the military and bring it into line. According to these groups Nigeria's external reserves have fallen from US $7 billion in January to just over US$ 3 billion after an uncontrolled spending spree by the outgoing government of General Abubakar. The government says the reserves are more than US $4 billion.

Another major challenge for Obasanjo will be continuing unrest in the south-eastern region of the Niger Delta. Nigeria produces an average of two million barrels of high quality crude oil per day much of it form the Delta region. Human rights groups argue that they should be consulted on issues relating to the exploration of crude oil in the area, the laying of pipelines and other matters which have an impact on the local environment.

According to local news services, Obasanjo has indicated that he will fight state control and corruption and said this month that he would allow IMF officials into the Nigerian finance ministry and central bank to verify spending. He has also reportedly promised to help agriculture in an effort to diversify the oil-based economy. However, members of his team have reportedly been reluctant to divulge much information about his future plans.

Local political analysts report that failure to resolve Nigeria's long-standing problems could lead to renewed pressures for a disintegration in the country, particularly in the southwest, and a collapse of law and order. However, there is a general feeling among the population that the return of a democratically-elected government, the first since the military ousted short-lived elected administrations in 1966 and 1983, does at least give Nigeria a chance for the future.


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Item: irin-english-904

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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