Evidently, it is hard to imagine that there has ever been a time in Nigerian history when a worthy president was granted the reins of power. That would be an illusion, thus that isn’t exactly what this essay aims to discuss. Nigeria has historically been governed by corrupt presidents and governors. However, even in that case, some of them went to great lengths to try to ensure that the nation advances. The best Nigerian presidents ever were these people.
Here is the full list of all Nigerian presidents and their achievements from 1960 (independence) till date, with their pictures, tenure (year in office), and more.
|Names of Presidents
|Abubakar Tafawa Balewa
|Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi
|Murtala Rufai Mohammed
|Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo
|Alhaji Shehu Shagari
|Ernest Adegunle Shonekan
|Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo
|Umaru Musa Yar’Adua
|Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
|2015 till date
Best Presidents In Nigeria Ever and their Achievements
1. Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1960-1963)
Born into a commoner family in colonial Nigeria’s northern region, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa received training as a teacher. He was born in Bauchi State in December 1912.
Balewa holds the distinction of being the only person in Nigeria’s history to have been granted the title of Prime Minister. He is the first on the list of all Nigerian Presidents.
Balewa entered Nigerian politics in 1952 as the Minister of Works and later became the Minister of Transport.
In 1957, he was elected Chief Minister and formed an alliance government between the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons and the Northern People’s Congress.
He played an important role during the transition from colonial to indigenous rule in Nigeria.
His legacy was defined by the collaboration between different ethnic groups and his mediation of conflicts in Africa.
After years of colonial rule, the British Crown finally relinquished control of Nigeria. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa then became the country’s first prime minister and ruled alongside Queen Elizabeth II from 1960 to 1963, at which point Nigeria became a republic.
2. President Nnamdi Azikiwe (1963-1966)
Nnamdi Azikiwe became the first President of Nigeria when the country transformed into an independent republic, resulting in almost complete severance of ties with Britain.
Born on January 16, 1904 in Nnewi, Anambra State, Azikiwe is known for promoting modern Nigerian and African nationalism.
After a successful career in publishing, he entered politics with Sir Herbert Macaulay and helped establish the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), which later became the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC).
In 1947, Azikiwe was elected to the Legislative Council of Nigeria. He became the pioneer of opposition to the government of Obafemi Awolowo in 1951.
In 1960, he was sworn in as the first indigenous President of Nigeria.
During his tenure, Nigeria’s first constitution as a federal republic was declared in 1963.
He served as President for three years (1963-1966) before being ousted from government in a military coup. He passed away at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu.
3. Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (1966)
Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, who served as Nigeria’s first military Head of State, was born in 1924 in Umuahia, Abia State.
He joined the Nigeria Army in 1942 as a private and was promoted to Major General in 1964. He is the third President on the list of all Nigerian Presidents.
Aguiyi-Ironsi was a senior Nigerian officer in the military and led the 1966 military coup against Azikiwe’s government. The coup, initiated by Aguiyi-Ironsi and his army, resulted in the assassination of high-ranking politicians in the North and West of the country, including Balewa, the first Prime Minister.
Aguiyi-Ironsi came to power in the aftermath of the turmoil that gripped the country during the 1966 coup, which saw the assassination of Tafawa Balewa.
However, he was also Nigeria’s first military president to be executed in another coup, which was carried out by young soldiers dissatisfied with the previous coup.
During his short term, Aguiyi-Ironsi issued a series of decrees, including the Constitution Suspension and Amendment Decree No.1, which suspended most articles of the Constitution. Nevertheless, he did not tamper with the sections of the constitution that dealt with fundamental human rights, freedom of expression, and conscience.
4. General Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975)
General Yakubu Gowon, the next Nigerian President on the list, was born on October 19, 1934, in Kanke, Plateau State. He is a Ngas (Angas) from Lur, a small village in the present Kanke Local Government Area of Plateau State.
Gowon rose to power after the counter-coup against Aguiyi-Ironsi. Upon gaining power, he oversaw the execution of genocidal tactics against the Igbo people in the north, resulting in the deaths of more than 50,000 people.
In 1967, the Nigerian Civil War erupted after tensions reached a boiling point. Gowon’s administration was marked by the devastating effects of the Biafran War, which led to the deaths of over 100,000 soldiers and 1,000,000 civilians.
During his time in office, Gowon played a crucial role in bringing an end to the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran war). He also established the National Youth Service Corps program, which now has 37 orientation camps across the country. Additionally, he created 12 states and initiated the first National Development Plan, which aimed to modernize Nigeria’s infrastructure.
5. General Murtala Rufai Ramat Mohammed (1975 to 1976)
Murtala Muhammed, the fifth president on the list of all Nigerian Presidents, was born on 8 November 1938.
After joining the Nigerian Army in 1958, he rose through the ranks to become a General.
Murtala Mohammed, like many Nigerian leaders of his time, came to power through a coup d’etat. He was made the Head of Federal Military government in 1975, following a successful coup that overthrew the then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, while he was attending an OAU summit in Kampala on 29 July.
Despite spending only 200 days in office, Muhammed made several critical decisions, which earned him the status of a national hero.
He proposed the relocation of the capital territory from Lagos to Abuja and created seven new states in February 1976.
Furthermore, he scrapped the 1973 census that favored the north and reinstated the 1963 census as the official count.
He also implemented a foreign policy that focused on Africa.
6. President Olusegun Obasanjo (from 1976 – 1979 / 1999 – 2007)
In Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, on March 5, 1937, President Olusegun Obasanjo was born. He is without a doubt the greatest leader Nigeria has ever had. This has been supported by numerous internet media outlets and surveys of public opinion. Olusegun Obasanjo served as both the president and chief of the military. He was the nation’s General from (1976 – 1979). Nigerians saw little evidence of effective leadership in the nation throughout this era. This was brought about by ongoing reforms, advancements, and efficient governance.
Typically, Obasanjo receives praise for uniting the nation during his rule and bringing about peace, security, and stability. When Obasanjo, then a military general, established a commission to prepare a new constitution to transfer power to a civilian leader. This showed how much he believes in democracy.
7. Alhaji Shehu Shagari ( 1979-1983)
Shehu Usman Shagari, a Fulani, was born in 1925 in the northern village of Shagari, which was established by his grandfather, Ahmadu Rufa’i.
After defeating Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the 1979 presidential election, Shagari became the President of the second republic of Nigeria. He enjoyed part of Nigeria’s oil boom before the fall in oil prices began in 1981. He is the seventh president on the list of all Nigerian Presidents.
Shagari made housing, industry, transportation, and agriculture the priorities of his tenure, which led to the construction of a network of roads throughout the country. He also initiated a program to encourage the use of machinery in agriculture, and his government introduced the 6-3-3-4 education policy.
However, his efforts in all these sectors were later marred by allegations of widespread corruption, and he became a victim of numerous insults and criticisms. As the economy experienced a downturn, his government removed around 2 million immigrants, mostly Ghanaians, in an incident famously referred to as “Ghana-Must-Go.”
8. Major General Muhammadu Buhari (1983 to 1985)
Born on December 17, 1942, in Daura, Katsina State, Muhammadu Buhari was born into a Fulani family. His father, Hardo Adamu, was a Fulani chief, and his mother was named Zulaihat.
At the age of 20, in January 1963, Buhari was commissioned as a second lieutenant and became the Platoon Commander of the Second Infantry Battalion located in Abeokuta, Nigeria.
Buhari played a key role in the coup led by Lt. Col Murtala Muhammed to overthrow the then-head of state, General Aguiyi-Ironsi.
As the eighth president of Nigeria, Buhari was known for his unwavering commitment to anti-corruption campaigns and his reputation for being incorruptible.
Buhari’s strict campaign against indiscipline and corruption earned him the reputation of a “straightforward totalitarian.” During his administration, civil servants were required to do jump squats for showing up late to work, and soldiers forced civilians to form impeccable queues at public transport stations.
The “war against indiscipline” was Buhari’s signature program, and he also changed the color of the Naira to prevent its accumulation outside the banking system.
9. General Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993)
General Babangida was born on August 17, 1941 in Minna, Niger State. He attended the prestigious Government College Bida and later joined the Nigerian army, serving his country for 31 years.
Babangida came to power with the backing of loyal mid-level military personnel whom he had strategically positioned to further his aspirations for power. He is the ninth president on the list of all Nigerian Presidents to have held office to date.
During his regime, the notable effort of Babangida’s administration was the introduction of the austerity measure known as the Structural Adjustment Program. This involved the deregulation of the agricultural sector, the elimination of price controls, the privatization of public enterprises, and Naira devaluation to enhance the competitiveness of exports, among other measures.
Babangida’s government also opened up private broadcasting, established the Federal Road Safety Corps, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, and the National Directorate of Employment, among other achievements.
10. Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan (1993-1993)
Ernest Shonekan was born on May 9, 1936, and was appointed as the interim president of Nigeria by General Ibrahim Babangida in 1993. He grew up in Lagos, which was the capital of Nigeria at the time.
During his brief three-month administration, Shonekan worked to create plans for the transition to democracy and the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the peacekeeping mission in Liberia.
Shonekan’s presidency was marked by the annulment of Military Decrees 2 and 54, which allowed for the detention of individuals without arrest warrants and the seizure of assets at the government’s discretion. He also released a large number of political detainees. Known for his personal discipline and quiet demeanor, Shonekan was considered weak in his ability to control the military.
As a result, General Sani Abacha, who was then the defense secretary, led a palace coup to remove Shonekan from power.
11. General Sani Abacha (1993-1998)
Abacha, a Kanuri from Borno, was born and raised in Kano, Nigeria. He attended the Nigerian Military Training College and Mons Officer Cadet School, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1963.
While Abacha’s government was marked by human rights abuses and corruption, his legacy is often praised for his economic achievements. During his time in office, he increased Nigeria’s foreign reserves from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997. Additionally, Abacha reduced Nigeria’s debt from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion in 1997.
Under his government, the number of Nigerian states was increased to 36, and the quantity of local governments was increased to 774.
However, Abacha’s administration was also responsible for the cold-blooded murder of Kudirat, the wife of the winner of the June 1993 election, Abiola.
12. General Abdulsalami Abubakar (1998-1999)
Abdulsalam Abubakar was born on 13 June 1942 in Minna, Niger State, Nigeria, to Abubakar Jibrin and Fatikande Mohammed.
He attended Minna Native Authority Primary school from 1950-1956, and later Kaduna Technical College before joining the Nigerian Military.
After the death of Abacha, Abubakar was hesitant to accept the leadership of Nigeria but was sworn in as President on 9 June 1998 to avoid civil conflict, as he was known for his peaceful nature and commitment to Nigeria’s best interests.
Upon assuming office, Abubakar promised a democratic transition within a year and established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He fulfilled his promise, and on May 29, 1999, former military president, Obasanjo, was sworn in as a civilian President, marking a peaceful transition of power from military to civilian rule.
Abubakar’s greatest achievement was the establishment of INEC and the subsequent transfer of power to civilian government, which earned him over 12 prestigious awards and medals.
13. Chief Olusegun Mathew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo (1999-2007)
After ruling as a military head of state from 1976 to 1979, Olusegun Obasanjo made a significant political comeback by becoming the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
In 1999, he won the presidential election by defeating Olu Falaye and marking Nigeria’s return to civilian rule. Obasanjo won 62% of the vote and the election day is now celebrated as Democracy Day, a public holiday in Nigeria.
Obasanjo is the twelfth president on the list of all Nigerian Presidents, and one of two to have ruled twice in the country.
During his presidency, Obasanjo focused on reassuring potential investors, especially those in the USA and UK, that the oil industry was stable, and that Nigeria was a fair and democratic country.
In 2003, he was re-elected for a second term with 61% of the vote, defeating former military leader Muhammad Buhari. His administration is credited with increasing Nigeria’s foreign reserves from $2 billion in 1999 to $43 billion when he left office in 2007.
Obasanjo stabilized democracy during his second term as head of state, and introduced the Pensions Reform. He also established the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
14. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (2007-2010)
Yar’Adua was born into an aristocratic Fulani family in Katsina, where his father served as a Minister for Lagos during the First Republic.
He began his education at Rafukka Primary School in 1958 and later obtained a Higher School Certificate from Barewa College in 1971.
Subsequently, he attended Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and graduated with a B.Sc. degree in 1975.
In 2006, Yar’Adua emerged as the presidential candidate of the ruling PDP for the April 2007 election, and he won amidst controversies surrounding the election.
During his time in office, Yar’Adua battled with pericarditis, an inflammation of the pericardium, which prevented him from effectively carrying out his Presidential duties.
This led to his absence from public life, creating a dangerous situation for the nation.
Despite these challenges, Yar’Adua is known for his 7-Point agenda, which was a key policy framework during his administration.
He also initiated the amnesty program for Niger Delta Militants, aimed at addressing the conflict and violence in the region.
Yar’Adua is the fourteenth president on the list of all Nigerian Presidents.
15. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan (2010-2015)
Jonathan, born in 1957 in what is now Bayelsa State, hails from a family of canoe traders. He earned a B.Sc. degree in zoology with second-class honors, an M.Sc. degree in hydrobiology and fisheries biology, and a Ph.D. degree in zoology from the University of Port Harcourt.
Upon becoming acting President following the death of Yar’Adua, whom he deputized, Jonathan made electoral reforms and anti-corruption the main focus of his government. However, the fight against Boko Haram insurgency dominated most of his administration’s efforts.
Nonetheless, Jonathan’s administration succeeded in containing the insurgency by the end of his tenure. Jonathan was commended for not interfering with election results in the country.
He was also credited with revitalizing the country’s dormant railway sector during his regime, and telecommunications and internet penetration increased under his rule. His administration was praised for handling the Ebola crisis effectively, preventing a larger catastrophe.
After winning the presidential election in 2011, Jonathan was unable to secure a second term in 2015.
Buhari, a former military dictator who transitioned to democracy, made a successful bid for the presidency in 2015 after three previous unsuccessful attempts.
He was inaugurated on May 29, 2015, and became the second former military leader to be elected President in Nigeria.
Buhari ran as the candidate of the APC, an alliance of several opposition parties, and his victory marked the first time an incumbent president had been defeated in Nigeria’s democratic history.
As of now, he is the final president on this list of all Nigerian Presidents which means his tenure is ending in few weeks as the forth coming election for the next president of Nigeria.
Buhari’s administration also implemented the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), which helped the country recover from its worst recession in 29 years despite a drop in oil prices.
Who will be the next president of Nigeria? In couple of weeks to come, either Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Peter Obi, or Atiku one of these costestant shall be the president of Nigeria and the tenure shall be effective this year.
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