30 interesting facts about Nigerian leaders


How much do you know about Nigerian leaders? Who was instrumental in founding Nigeria’s Central Bank? Or, did you know that former military Head-of-State and President, Olusegun Obasanjo had no shoe when he wooed his first wife? Do you also want to know the states that have produced the most elected Presidents in Nigeria’s history? Then read along…

Nigerian Leaders

1. As I write this, no President/Head-of-State has been born in/after 1960, the year Nigeria got her independence from Britain.

  1. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is the only military Head-of-State/President whose exact date of birth is unknown. He assumes March 5, 1938, as his birthday. He was shoeless when he wooed his first wife, Remi and he’s also the only president to lose his wife and First Lady, Stella, while in office in October 2005.
Alvan Ikoku (August 1, 1900 – November 18, 1971).
  1. Former Presidents Obasanjo and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan are the only deputies to succeed immediately to the Presidency on the occasion of their principal’s death.

Obasanjo on February 14, 1976, after the assassination of Murtala Muhammed and Jonathan on May 6, 2010, after the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua after a long battle with illness.

  1. Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari are the only Nigerian leaders in the country’s history to rule as both a military Head-of-State and a civilian President. Obasanjo ruled as a military man from February 14, 1976, to September 30, 1979, and as a civilian from May 29, 1999, to May 29, 2007, while Buhari ruled from December 31, 1983, to August 26, 1985, as a military man, and May 29, 2015, to date as a civilian.
General Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerian Head of State, 1983-1985. Issued Decree No. 20 in 1984.

Obasanjo and Buhari are also the only Heads-of-State to have divorced their wives.

  1. The two Presidents who succeeded Obasanjo, first as military Head-of-State in 1979, and as a civilian President in 2007, did not complete their tenures. Shehu Shagari’s second term was cut short by a military coup on December 31, 1983, while Yar’Adua died during his first term in office on May 5, 2010.

Sir Ahmadu Bello (1909-1966), Premier of the Northern Region of Nigeria (1954-1966).
  1. The two Presidents were from the North-West of Nigeria; Shagari was from Sokoto State while Yar’Adua was from Katsina State. They two Nigerian leaders were Fulanis. They were both Muslims. They were both teachers.
  2. While soldiers were dying at the battlefront during the Civil War, General Yakubu Gowon was getting married in Lagos to his sweetheart, Victoria Zakaria. He remains the only bachelor to become Head-of-State and the youngest at 31 years, 288 days, and also the first to get married while in power. Gowon also ruled the longest (uninterrupted) for 9 years.
  3. Sir Ahmadu Bello was killed with his wife in 1966 by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu. His great-grandfather was the great jihadist from Sokoto, Usman Dan Fodio. The largest university in West-Africa and the second-largest in Africa is named after him.
  4. Chief Ernest Shonekan and Olusegun Obasanjo are the only South-Westerners ever to rule the country. The two Nigerian leaders are from Abeokuta in Ogun State. Both are Christians.
  5. The man on the ten naira note, Alvan Ikoku and his son, Samuel Goomsu Ikoku were political rivals. Samuel won an election against his father in the Eastern Regional Assembly elections on March 15, 1957.
  6. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was not supposed to be Prime Minister in 1959, but Ahmadu Bello, as the leader of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). Bello bequeathed to Balewa the position and referred to him as “my lieutenant in Lagos”.
  7. The man on the one naira note, Herbert Heelas Olayinka Badmus Macaulay was the first Nigerian civil engineer and the first to institute a political party in Nigeria. His mother, Abigail, was the daughter of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the son of Thomas Babington Macaulay, who founded Nigeria’s first secondary school. Macaulay was also a direct ancestor of Stella Ameyoh Adadevoh, the woman who stopped the Ebola plague.
  8. Generals Murtala Mohammed and Sani Abacha remain the only Nigerian leaders who were both born and buried in Kano.

Murtala Mohammed as Nigeria’s Head-of-State had no convoy nor escorts. He was the youngest Nigerian leader to die in office and the only one before the age of 40 after he was gunned down during February 13, 1976, abortive coup. He was only 37.

Murtala Mohammed.
  1. Murtala Mohammed as Nigeria’s Head-of-State had no convoy nor escorts. He was the youngest Nigerian leader to die in office and the only one before the age of 40 after he was gunned down during February 13, 1976, abortive coup. He was only 37.
  2. General Sani Abacha was born on a Monday. He also died on a Monday. Abacha was born on Monday, September 20, 1943, and died on Monday, June 8, 1998.
  3. Niger, Katsina, and the Ogun States are the only states to have produced two Nigerian leaders who have ruled the country. Check fact 26.
  4. Umar Musa Yar’Adua was the first elected President to die while in office.
  5. During the civil war, Biafran Head-of-State, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu slept every day with his boots on.
  6. Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was Nigeria’s first Military Head of State. He joined the army when he was only 18.
  7. Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh founded the Central Bank of Nigeria in 1959 as the federal Minister of Finance. He was the only federal minister killed in the January 15 coup of 1966.
  8. As of April 2020, Christians have ruled Nigeria for 25 years and 9 months while Muslims have ruled for 34 years and 11 months. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is a Muslim.
General Sani Abacha.
  1. Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan is the only civilian Head-of-State without a political party to rule Nigeria. He was also the only unelected leader and the only one to resign from office on November 17, 1993.
  2. Shonekan, a British-trained lawyer, ruled Nigeria the shortest; 2 months and 21 days while Olusegun Obasanjo ruled, as both military and civilian Head-of-State, ruled Nigeria the longest for 11 years, 228 days. However, General Yakubu Gowon ruled Nigeria the longest at a stretch; 8 years, 362 days.
  3. Every Nigerian Head of State with an Ogun State indigene as his deputy, whether removed or sustained, died in office. Read the full story here.
  4. All Nigerian leaders that were civilian presidents were once teachers, except Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari.
  5. No other state has produced more Nigerian leaders as Heads-of-State than Niger (Ibrahim Babangida, Abdussallam Abubakar), Katsina (Muhammadu Buhari, Umar Musa Yar’Adua), and Ogun (Olusegun Obasanjo, Ernest Shonekan) States.
Chukwuemeka Ojukwu taught Murtala Mohammed infantry tactics and military law in Teshie, Ghana. Student fought teacher during the Civil War.
  1. In 1966, Nigeria had no Head-of-State for three days (July 29 to August 1).
  2. Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola (1910-1966) was the first man to import a bullet-proof car into Nigeria in 1964; an £8000 Mercedes Benz.
  3. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan remains the first (and only) incumbent President to be defeated in an election in March 2015.
  4. The only Nigerian Heads-of-State who could speak the country’s three major languages (Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba) fluently were Igbos; Nnamdi Azikiwe and Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi.


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