Former President - Nigeria
CHAIR - Eminent Persons Group
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was twice Nigeria’s Head of State over the course of a long, compelling political and military career. He began in the army in 1958 at the age 21 and was eventually made Minister for Works and Housing in 1975, later becoming Chief of Staff under military ruler General Murtala Muhammad’s government. When Muhammad was assassinated in 1976, Chief Obasanjo succeeded him as president, vowing to restore civilian rule once the conditions for democracy were established. In October 1979, he handed power to Shehu Shagari, a democratically elected civilian president, becoming the first leader in Nigerian history to surrender power willingly.
Chief Obasanjo was a critic of the human rights abuses under the dictatorship of Sani Abacha, which took power forcefully in 1993. Two years later he was accused, tried and imprisoned on trumped up charges of planning a coup, until his release after Abacha's sudden death in June 1998.
He ran for President in 1999 – the first democratic elections in Nigeria in sixteen years – as the candidate of the People's Democratic Party. Chief Obasanjo won the elections and was later also re-elected for a consecutive term in 2003. This period was characterized by a commitment to the rule of law, economic and political reform. He worked to rebuild institutions wrecked by decades of neglect, repression and mismanagement. He created the country’s first Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which led to the prosecution of public officials for the misuse of public funds.
While 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. He stepped down after the April 2007 elections – won by Umaru Yar’Adua.
He has since taken on critical roles in the interest of developing Africa, including his appointment in 2008 as the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region. He continues to be an integral actor in mediation efforts in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, while also having served as the African Union’s Special Envoy for Togo’s 2010 Presidential elections, as well as South Africa’s presidential polls in 2009.
As the Special Envoy for ECOWAS, his role in diffusing the crisis that threatened civil war in Cote D’Ivoire 2011 was vital, as it was in Senegal during controversial presidential polls in March 2012, where he promptly led the joint African Union and ECOWAS mission to resolve the standoff.
Chief Basanjo is a member of the African Progress Panel (APP), an independent authority on Africa launched in April 2007 to focus world leaders' attention on delivering their commitments to the continent. He founded the Olusegun Obasanjo Foundation in February 2013, a UK based charity that has a mission of advancing Human Security for All. The Foundation has wide ranging initiatives of feeding Africa, youth empowerment, education for girls and a health initiative focused on non-communicable and water borne diseases.