Nigeria gained independence on 1 October 1960 with a population of 36 million people. Arguably, the most populous country in Africa, the nation has produced exemplary leaders whose contributions to national development will never be forgotten.
- Nnamdi Azikiwe (Governor-General 1960-1963, President 1963-1966).
Azikiwe was known as “the Great Zik of Africa”. He was one of the leading figures of Nigerian Nationalism and the first Nigerian Head of State. During his tenure Nigeria’s first constitution as a federal republic – the 1963 Constitution was promulgated.
His famous quote:
‘My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life’s work is done. My country is now free and I have been honored to be its first indigenous head of state. What more could one desire in life?’
- Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (January 1966 – July 1966).
Aguiyi-Ironsi introduced the Unitary System of Government. He was known for his penchant for unusual adornments and had a staff that was the shape of a crocodile.
- Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975).
Gowon ended the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran war), created 12 states and established the National Youth Service Corps programme. He also launched the first National Development Plan and built a modern infrastructure in Lagos.
‘The trouble with military rule is that every colonel or general is soon full of ambition. The navy takes over today and the army tomorrow.’
- Murtala Mohammed (1975-1976).
Murtala Mohammed took a tough stand on indiscipline, created the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as Nigeria’s new capital after Lagos, created 7 more states bringing the total to 19 and renamed them by removing references to their geographical location. He pursued a dynamic foreign policy that was Africa centric.
‘Africa has come of age; it’s no longer under the orbit of any extra-continental power. It should no longer take orders from any country, no matter how powerful. Gone are the days when Africa will ever bow to the threat of any so-called superpower’
- Olusegun Obasanjo (1976-1979).
Obasanjo reformed agriculture with the ‘Operation Feed the Nation’ programme, was the first Nigerian head of state to hand-over power willingly and hosted FESTAC 77, the largest cultural event ever held on the African Continent.
He built the Warri refinery and Murtala Mohammed International Airport, set up the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and introduced Universal Free Primary Education (UPE).
He also inaugurated the constituent assembly that resulted in the promulgation of the 1979 Constitution.
‘When I left office in 1979, I was about the only one who had really left office on my own.’
- Shehu Sagari (1979-1983).
Shagari was known for his food sufficiency programme “Green Revolution”, launched large-scale housing programmes that built estates like the Shagari Estate.
He completed the Delta Steel Complex, and invested heavily in the Ajaokuta Steel Complex and the Steel Rolling Mills.
Shagari was considered a Champion of Democracy.
- Mohammadu Buhari (1983-1985).
“War Against Indiscipline” was the hallmark of Buhari’s administration. He was known to be incorruptible and championed anti-corruption crusades. He also changed the color of the Naira to stem its being hoarded outside the banking system.
‘I have around 150 cattle because I am never comfortable without cows. I have a house each in Kaduna, Kano, Daura and one in Abuja, which I borrowed money to build. I never had a foreign account since I finished my courses in the USA, India and the UK. I never owned any property outside Nigeria. Never’.
- Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993).
Babangida introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the Option A4 voting system and Open Ballot System.
He launched primary healthcare programmes aimed at extending immunization to all parts of Nigeria, created additional states, bringing the total number to 30. He built the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, made significant developments in Abuja and started the privatization and commercialization of public enterprises.
‘A society that does not correctly interpret and appreciate its past cannot understand its present fortunes and adversities and can be caught unawares in a fast changing world.’
- Ernest Shonekan (August 1993-November 1993).
Shonekan’s tenure as president was known for the abrogation of the offensive Military Decrees 2 and 54 which allowed for the detention of people without arrest warrants and the seizure of assets at the whim of government.
He also freed a lot of political detainees. He was known for his calm and personal discipline.
- Sani Abacha (1993-1998).
Abacha was known for the Constitutional Conference and toughness in governance.
His administration also marked Nigeria’s golden age in sports with the Super Eagles winning the African Cup of Nations and the under-23 team (football) and Chioma Ajunwa (long jump) both winning gold in the 1996 Olympics.
‘This regime will be firm, humane and decisive. We will not condone nor tolerate any acts of indiscipline, any attempt to test our will, will be decisively dealt with.’
- Abubakar Abdulsalam (1998-1999).
Abdulsalam returned Nigeria to democracy after 20 years of military rule; he ensured a quick transition programme and constructed the Eagle Square in Abuja.
He also promulgated the 1999 Constitution which is currently in use.
‘It is quite clear from the efforts we have made to reach out to the people that Nigerians want nothing less than true democracy and a united and peaceful country.’
- Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007).
Obasanjo stabilized democracy during his second coming as head of state. He embarked on Pensions Reform, established the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He secured debt relief for Nigeria from theParis and London Club, introduced Global System of Mobile (GSM) and had an extensive privatization programme of public enterprises
‘My gut feelings and my faith tell me that until God shuts a door, no human can shut it’
- Umaru Musa Yar’adua (2007-2010).
The 7-Point agenda constitutes Yar’adua’s most important policy framework. He also initiated the amnesty programme for Niger Delta Militants.
- Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015).
Jonathan re-based the Nigerian Economy making it the largest in Africa.
He established Almajiri Model Schools and embarked on reforms of the agricultural and power sectors.
Jonathan invested in sports resulting Nigeria winning the African Cup of Nations, the African Women’s Championship, the Under-17 World Cup and 11 Commonwealth Games gold medals.
He also deepened democracy by conducting credible election and conceding defeat in the 2015 presidential election.
‘My brothers and sisters, we are all winners. In this context there are no victors and no vanquished. We have demonstrated, even in our diversity, the progress of Nigeria remains paramount for all’
Muhammadu Buhari (2015- Ongoing)