List of the Past Presidents of Nigeria From Independence Till Date
The world is paying attention as Nigeria, popularly known as the Giant of Africa held its presidential election on the 25th of February 2023.
While the people of the country awaits the result, here’s a brief rundown of the past presidents of Nigeria from 1960 (independence) till date.
Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is often referred to as the “Giant of Africa” due to its international recognition and influence on the continent.
Throughout its history, Nigeria has been led by various presidents and military heads of state, each contributing to the growth and development of the country.
Many of the accomplishments celebrated today are a result of the foundations laid by past Nigerian leaders.
It is important to remember the contributions of these leaders, and this article aims to highlight the names and brief biographies of all the past presidents of Nigeria from 1960 to the present day.
Past Presidents of Nigeria since independence till date (1960 –present)
- Azikiwe Nnamdi (1 October 1963 to 16 January 1966)
- General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (16 January 1966 to 29 July 1966)
- General Yakubu Gowon (1 August 1966 to 29 July 1975)
- General Murtala Mohammed (29 July 1975 to 13 February 1976)
- General Obasanjo Olusegun (13 February 1976 to 1 October 1979)
- President Shehu Shagari (1 October 1979 to 31 December 1983)
- General Muhammadu Buhari (31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985)
- General Ibrahim Babangida (27 August 1985 to 26 August 1993)
- Ernest Shonekan (26 August 1993 to 17 November 1993)
- General Sani Abacha (17 November 1993 to 8 June 1998)
- General Abdulsalami Abubakar (8 June 1998 to 29 May 1999)
- Olusegun Obasanjo (29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007)
- Umaru Musa Yar Adua (29 May 2007 to 5 May 2010)
- Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (29 May 2010 to 29 May 2015)
- President Muhammadu Buhari (Current President)
1. Azikiwe Nnamdi (1 October 1963 to 16 January 1966)
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, born on November 16th, 1904 in Zungeru (present-day Niger State), was the first President of Nigeria, serving from 1963 until 1966, succeeding Queen Elizabeth II and succeeded by Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi.
He was a prominent statesman and a leading figure in the struggle for Nigerian independence in 1960.
Azikiwe, who is commonly referred to as the father of Nigerian Nationalism, played a pivotal role in achieving independence, along with other notable figures such as Ahmadu Bello, Herbert Marculey, and Awolowo.
Despite being born in Zungeru, Azikiwe identified as a typical Igbo man and had a remarkable ability to connect with people from all walks of life, including the Hausa people.
He received a comprehensive education in the United States, attending Storer College where he was known as Ben Azikiwe, as well as Howard University, Lincoln University, and the esteemed University of Pennsylvania.
After completing his education, Azikiwe returned to Nigeria and became a key member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, one of the political parties during the first republic.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe passed away on May 11th, 1996, at the age of 91, in Enugu State, where he was buried. His legacy as a nationalist leader and influential figure in Nigeria’s history is remembered to this day.
2. General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (16 January 1966 to 29 July 1966)
Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, born in Abia State, Nigeria, was the first Military Head of State of Nigeria.
He spent his formative years with his sister in Kano before joining the Nigerian Regiment at the age of 18.
Aguiyi-Ironsi is credited with introducing a unitary system of government in Nigeria, although his tenure was brief.
Despite his efforts, his administration was not well-received by many in the northern part of the country, and he was assassinated on July 29, 1966.
His death marked the end of his government and led to the ascension of Yakubu Gowon as the new leader in 1966.
3. General Yakubu Gowon (1 August 1966 to 29 July 1975)
General Yakubu Gowon is a prominent Nigerian leader who served as the country’s youngest military chief of staff at the age of 31.
He is also recognized for leading Nigeria during the Civil War. Gowon was born in Plateau State and was the fifth child among eleven siblings.
He was known for his strength, intelligence, and athletic abilities during his youth. In 1966, Gowon was appointed as the head of state of Nigeria, and during his tenure, his administration established the first 12 states in the history of the country.
4. General Murtala Mohammed (29 July 1975 to 13 February 1976)
General Murtala Mohammed, who became the 4th Head of State of Nigeria in 1975, was unfortunately assassinated in 1976 during Dimka’s abortive coup.
Despite his short time in power, Mohammed had significant plans for the country, including a goal to hand over power to a civilian government.
After his death, Olusegun Obasanjo took over power and made sure to carry out Mohammed’s plans, eventually handing over power to a civilian government.
In addition, Obasanjo implemented numerous reforms to help achieve the goals set forth by Mohammed for the betterment of Nigeria.
5. General Obasanjo Olusegun (13 February 1976 to 1 October 1979)
General Obasanjo Olusegun, also known as Baba Africa, is a notable figure in Nigeria’s history.
He was one of the past governors of Nigeria who played a significant role in the country’s growth and development. He was actively involved in the Congo Crisis and the Nigerian Civil War.
In 1958, Obasanjo joined the Nigerian Army, and his leadership is widely regarded as one of the most successful in the history of the country.
During his time as Head of State, many of the military’s accomplishments in Nigeria were achieved, making him a respected leader in the nation’s history.
6. President Shehu Shagari (1 October 1979 to 31 December 1983)
Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari was the first democratically elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He assumed office after a period of military coups and power struggles that followed Nnamdi Azikiwe’s regime.
Shagari was elected into office under the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) with Alex Ekwueme as his Vice President.
Prior to becoming President, Shagari had been an active participant in Nigerian politics since 1951.
He was a prominent figure in the NPN, and played an instrumental role in the development of the country even before his election as President.
7. General Muhammadu Buhari (31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985)
Muhammadu Buhari, the current president of Nigeria, has had a long and storied career in both military and politics.
Born in 1942 to a Fulani family, Buhari’s military career began when he was just 19 years old as a student at the Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC).
Rising quickly through the ranks, Buhari was appointed Platoon Commander of the Second Infantry Battalion in Abeokuta at the young age of 20, earning the title of second lieutenant.
Later on, he served as the Military Head of State in Nigeria from 1983 to 1985, during which he became known for his tough stance against crime and corruption, and his efforts to curb these problems in the country.
8. General Ibrahim Babangida (27 August 1985 to 26 August 1993)
General Ibrahim Babangida, also known as IBB, was a prominent leader of Nigeria and was considered by many to be one of the country’s best military presidents.
He assumed power by removing Muhammadu Buhari during a military coup and ruled until 1993 when he resigned.
Born on August 17, 1941, Babangida was raised by his parents until he joined the Nigerian Army on December 10, 1962.
During his time in power, he was often associated with military coups and seen as a key figure in their planning and execution. Despite this, many consider his leadership to have been transformative for Nigeria.
Also read: List of the Current Presidents of Each African Countries (2022)
9. Ernest Shonekan (26 August 1993 to 17 November 1993)
Babangida’s military regime led to the establishment of a transitional government in Nigeria. In response to pressure to hand over power to a civilian government, Babangida appointed Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan as the interim president.
Shonekan, a lawyer by profession, was the first Nigerian president to come from a legal background.
Prior to his appointment, he served as the chief executive of the United African Company of Nigeria PLC, one of Nigeria’s largest conglomerates.
During Shonekan’s administration, Moshood Abiola served as his vice president. However, their government was short-lived as the military took over power once again.
10. General Sani Abacha (17 November 1993 to 8 June 1998)
Abacha is a notorious figure in the history of Nigeria, known for his dictatorial rule during his time as the military head of state from 1993 until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1998.
Prior to his presidency, Abacha served as a platoon and battalion commander during the Nigerian Civil War.
Abacha’s government was marked by its tyrannical nature, and his policies and decisions were heavily criticized both in Nigeria and abroad.
Despite this, there were some positive achievements during his leadership, although they were often overshadowed by his oppressive tactics.
11. General Abdulsalami Abubakar (8 June 1998 to 29 May 1999)
General Abdulsalami Abubakar is a notable figure in Nigerian history, having played a prominent role in the Nigerian Civil War and the 1978 South Lebanon conflict.
Born in 1942 to Abubakar Jibrin, a well-known personality in Minna, Niger State, Nigeria, Abubakar received his education in Nigeria and served in both the Nigerian Air Force and Army from 1963 to 1966 and 1966 to 1999, respectively.
Abubakar’s most significant role came in 1998, when he assumed the position of de facto President of Nigeria following the sudden death of General Sani Abacha.
During his brief stint as leader, Abubakar oversaw the transition from military to civilian rule in Nigeria, leading to the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.
12. Olusegun Obasanjo (29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007)
Olusegun Mathew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo remains a prominent political figure in Nigeria today, having served as the country’s president from 1999 to 2007. During his tenure, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua served as his vice president.
Before and during his presidency, Obasanjo was an active member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In his first term, he was known to have traveled frequently abroad. Through these travels, he was able to garner support from Western countries in strengthening Nigeria’s democracy.
13. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (29 May 2007 to 5 May 2010)
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was declared the winner of the Nigerian presidential election held on 21 April 2007, succeeding Olusegun Obasanjo as president of Nigeria.
Before his presidency, he was the governor of Katsina State. Interestingly, Yar’Adua’s father was also a politician and a National Vice Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
Yar’Adua had been actively involved in the development and growth of Nigeria even before his presidency. He was a member of the 1988 Constituent Assembly, among other political roles he had played.
Unfortunately, Yar’Adua died due to an illness he had been receiving treatment for outside the country. He returned to Nigeria on 24 February 2010, but his vice president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, assumed the presidency after his death.
14. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (29 May 2010 to 29 May 2015)
Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, also known as GEJ, is a former governor of Bayelsa state and president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He served as vice president under Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s regime and succeeded him as president after Yar’Adua’s death.
During his presidency, Jonathan promised to continue implementing the seven-point agenda policy framework of his predecessor.
Despite some positive achievements, his government was heavily criticized for not being able to effectively tackle the country’s security challenges.
In 2015, Jonathan lost the presidential election to Muhammadu Buhari and peacefully handed over power to the newly elected president, stating that “Nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian.”
Currently, Jonathan serves as the chairperson of the newly inaugurated International Summit Council for Peace (ISCP) and is widely regarded as an ambassador of peace.
15. President Muhammadu Buhari (Current President)
Muhammadu Buhari currently holds the position of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having assumed office in 2015 after winning the presidential election under the All Progressives Congress (APC) party, defeating the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
While some citizens may view President Buhari’s regime as a failure, others believe that he is performing well as the country’s leader. His vice president is Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law.
It is worth noting that President Buhari previously served as the Governor of Borno State for a brief period from February 3, 1976, to March 15, 1976.
He hails from Daura, Katsina State, and comes from a Fulani family. Sadly, his father passed away when he was only four years old. President Buhari’s administration has placed a strong emphasis on eradicating corruption in the country.