Nigeria’s Past And Present Leaders From 1960 Till Date

Last updated on March 16th, 2024 at 07:10 pm


For the purpose of those looking for information on Nigeria’s past leaders for both informative and educative purposes, Nigerian Infopedia has researched about Nigeria’s former heads of states, presidents and leaders as deemed fit.


A List of Nigerian Past and Present Leaders from 1960 till date


He was the first prime minister of an independent Nigeria. Born a commoner in the north of colonial Nigeria, he trained as a teacher. Balewa entered into the Nigerian government in 1952 as Minister of  Works, and later served as Minister of Transport. In 1957, he was elected Chief Minister, forming a coalition government between the NPC and the National council for Nigeria and the Cameroons, led by Nnamdi Azikiwe.

He was overthrown and killed in a military coup in 1966, as were many other leaders, including his old companion Ahmadu Bello. His body was discovered by a roadside near Lagos six days after he was ousted from office. Balewa was buried in Bauchi. The Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University was created in his honour.


Born in 1904, he hails from Nnewi in Anambra State and died in 1996 at the University Of  Nigeria Teacher Hospital, Enugu. His portrait adorns Nigeria’s five hundred Naira currency note (N500). He was one of the leading figures of Nigeria’s nationalism. He also espoused African nationalism liberation and emancipation. Armed with a Master’s degree from the University Of  Pennysylvania, US, Zik became an instructor at Lincoln University. He later joined the African Morning Post in Accra, Ghana as Editor.

He went on to become one of the leading lights of journalism in Nigeria, He established the West African Pilot and the Zik Group of  Newspapers which published several newspapers across Nigeria. Following a successful career in publishing, he went into politics alongside Sir Herbert Macaulay, he co-founded the National Council Of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) which later became National Council of Nigeria Citizens(NCNC). In 1947, Zik was elected into the Legislative Council of Nigeria and in 1951, he became leader of opposition to the government of Obafemi Awolowo in the Western region House of Assembly in 1954, he became the premier. In 1960 he became the first Nigerian indigenous president.


JTU Aguiyi- Ironsi Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (1924- 1966) was a Nigerian Igbo political figure. He served as the First Military Head of state of Nigeria from 1966 until he was overthrown and killed in a counter coup on 1966. Major General J.T Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s  first military Head of State was born in 1924 in Umuahia, Abia State. He later joined the Nigeria Army in 1942 as a private and was promoted Major General in 1964.


He took over power after a counter military coup d’etat and was overthrown in another. He remains the youngest person to have ruled the country. His government fought to keep Nigeria one during the Biafran civil war (1967-1970), which broke out as a result of the aftermath of the regional tensions arising from the 1966 coups d’etat.

A Christian from Kanke Local Government Area of Plateau State, Gowon had a thorough bred career before the circumstances of the time thrust upon him a leadership role. He fought in congo (Zaire) as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in 1960 to 1961 and in 1963. Highlights of Gowon’s nine year old government included development of the country’s former capital, Lagos, Creation of  12 states, and expansion of government bureaucracy. He is also remembered for his indigenization policy of 1972, which is dedicated to seeking the face of God for the good of the country. An elder statesman in African politics, he is involved in the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme and the HIV Programme with Global Fund of Geneva.


He was a military ruler (Head of  Federal Military government) of Nigeria (1975- 1976). Mohammed opposed the regime of Johnson Aguiyi –Ironsi which took power after a bloody coup d’etat on 1966. In 1975, General Mohammed was made head of state by younger soldiers who wanted to ensure that Nigeria was returned to democratic rule. The armed forces chose thirty-eight-years old Brigadier (later General) Murtala Ramat Mohammed, a Muslim northerner, to succeed Gowon.

An Hausa, trained at the British Military Academy at Sandhurst, Murtala Muhammed had command of several field forces in the country and he played a prominent role in rallying northern officers behind the 1996 coup that fell Ironsi. Murtala Muhammed was however killed in 1976 in an abortive coup attempt when his car was ambushed in traffic in Lagos while returning from prayers. He was succeeded by chief of staff Olusegun Obasanjo, who completed the plan of an orderly transfer to civilian by handing power to Alhaji Sehu Shagari in 1979. His portrait currently adorns Nigeria’s twenty Naira (N20) currency note.


He was a Chief of Staff during Muritala Muhammed’s regime before he was named as a military leader in the country. He handed over power to a civilian government, Alhaji Sehu Shagari and he became elected civilian president in 1999.The division he headed during the nation’s civil war,  3rd marine commando, helped bring the war to an end, when it took Owerri, in the eastern region of Nigeria.

Obasanjo’s first time in power was marked by improvement in education, through the universal primary education policy and other programmes, and attempted to expand the country’s industrial base with huge revenues from the oil boom at the time. He also established the Operation Feed the Nation, a programme designed to encourage farmers in the country. In 1979, Obasanjo handed over power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Obasanjo was born in 1937 in Ogun State. He grew up in Owu, Abeokuta, and enlisted in the Nigeria Army in 1958.He trained at Aldershot, a military city and centre in Hampshire.


Nigeria’s Second Republic President and first elected President of Nigeria to exercise full executive powers, after the handover of power by General Olusegun Obasanjo’s caretaker Government. Shagari rose from very humble origins to the highest political seat in the country. He taught briefly before going into Politics in 1954 as elected member of the Federal House of Representatives. He made housing, industries, transportation, and agriculture the major goals of his regime, launching large scale housing programme that built estates, like the Shagari Estate.

In industries, Shagari completed the Delta Steel Complex in 1982, and invested heavily on the Ajaokuta Steel Complex and the Steel Rolling Mills. Shagari initiated an Economic Stabilization Programme meant to protect the country against any shortfalls in oil revenue after the highs of the 70’s and to guide the economy towards positive growth. Key objectives of the programme included reduction of import licence and government spending and the upward review of custom duties.

Shagari was born in 1925 in Shagari village, Sokoto State. Shagari was considered a Champion of Democracy and Government due to his programmes target at improvement of the lives of the great majority. Although, there was rampant corruption under Shagari’s administration, including an election marked by accusations of fraud, coupled with a decline in world oil price, led to a drastic declination in the nation’s finances under Shagari’s watch, while religious and political violence became so endemic that his overthrow by General Muhammadu Buhari on New Year’s Eve in the 1983 was actually looked upon with relief by most of Nigeria Public at the time.


Born in 1942. His ethnic Background is Fulani and a Muslim by faith. His family is from Katsina State. Buhari first came to lime light in 1975 when he became the Minister for Petroleum And Natural Resources under the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo. Before then, he was the Governor of the newly created North Eastern State of Nigeria during the regime of Murtala Mohammed. He later became the head of the newly created Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in 1977. Major General Buhari and Major General Tunde Idiagbon were selected to lead the country by middle and high rank military offices after a successful military coup d’etat that overthrew civilian President Shehu Shagari in 1983.

Buhari was appointed Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed forces and Idiagbon was appointed as Chief of General Staff. Buhari justified the military’s seizure of power by castigating the civilian government as “hopelessly corrupt” and his administration subsequently initiated a public campaign against indiscipline known as “War Against Indiscipline” (WAI). Later, he became the leader of the All Nigerian People Party(ANPP), contesting and losing presidential elections to the ruling PDP candidates in 2003 and 2007 elections. Also in 2011 he became the leader of CPC contested and loosed in presidential election to PDP.


Born in 1941 in Minna, He is popularly known as IBB. He introduced the concept of military president into the Nigerian political lexicon and till date remains the country’s only military leader addressed by that title. He maintained a firm grip on power and tried to abrogate the unpopular policies he inherited in office. Babangida’s regime was popular for its liberal economic policies. He tried to introduce the culture of debate into politics, with the open deliberations that preceded his lunching of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund(IMF) supported Structure Adjustment Programme (SAP).

He administered an eight years political transition prgramme that, though did not culminate in the enthronement of civil democracy but succeeded in throwing up new crop of leaders in various spheres of the country’s political life. He departed from office under heavy popular pressure in 1993, after his annulment of elections held that year which was widely said to have been the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s Post Independence History.


Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan was born in 1936 in lagos, South-West Nigeria. He was a British trained Nigerian Lawyer, Industrialist and politician. He was appointed as interim president of Nigeria by Nigeria General Ibrahim Babangida in 1993. Babangida resigned under pressure to cede control to a democratic government.

Shonekan’s transitional administration only lasted three months, as a palace coup led by General Sani Abacha via Shonekan’s “resignation” forcefully dismantled the remaining democracy institutions and brought the Government back under military control.


General Sani Abachi (1943 to 1998) was a Nigerian politician and military leader.He was the de facto president of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998.

Abacha’s Political Life: Abacha was a Muslim of Kanuri extraction. He was instrumental in the two bloodless military coup d’etat brought and removed General Mohammadu Buhari from power in 1983 and 1985. When General Ibrahim Babangida was named President and Commander in Chief of the Armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1985, Abacha was named Chief of Army Staff. He was later appointed minister of defence in 1990.

Abacha took over power from the caretaker government of chief Ernest Shonekan, which was put into place by General Ibrahim Babangida after his annulment of the popular March 12, 1993 elections (won by Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola). This caused a massive popular uproar. Abacha’s government was accused of human rights abuses and violations, especially after the hanging of Ogoni activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Auta tribunal. His regime suffered stiff opposition internally and externally from pre-democratic activists who made the regime unpopular.

General Abacha died at the age of 54 of an alleged heart attack at the Presidential Villa Abuja, and was buried on the same day without an autopsy fueling speculation that the General may have been poisoned by political rivals. After his death, Sani Abacha’s name is often used in 419 scam letters as the source for ‘money’ that does not exist.

His Sudden Death: There is a wide held believe amongst Nigerians that Abacha allegedly died due to an overdose of Viagra. General Abacha served during the controversial execution of Ken Saro Wiwa. In 1995, Saro Wiwa was hanged by Abacha, resulting in the immediate suspension of Nigeria from the commonwealth of Nations.


Born in 1942, Abubakar became Nigeria’s 8th military head of state in 1998. he was born in Minna, Niger State in Northern Nigeria. He schooled locally and outside Nigeria, he also served locally and outside Nigeria, before he emerged as Head of State in Nigeria. Abubakar is one of the few generals in Nigeria who rose to the top without holding political office. He has previously held Military Positions, and had, in general, stayed out of the political limelight.

His wife, Fatima, was a high court Judge. Abubakar was appointed Head of State upon the sudden death of his predecessor, Sani Abacha. He notably re-established the democracy tradition in Nigeria, organizing a general corruption-free election that resulted in 1999 ascension of Olusegun Obasanjo as the democratically elected leader of the  country as opposed to its previous rule(1976 to 1979) as inheritor of the power structure of coup leader, Murtala.


He became the elected president on May 29, 1999. He also conducted the country first civilian to civilian hand over on May 29, 2007. He is the first Nigerian to have ruled twice as a military Head of State and later as an elected leader.


Umaru Musa Yar’Adua biography (1951 – 2010) Yar’Adua was born into an aristocratic Fulani family from Katsina state. He started his education at Rafukka Primary School in 1962. In 1971, he received a Higher School Certificate from Barewa College. He attended Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria from 1972 to 1975, attaining a Bsc in Education and Chemistry, and then returned in 1978 to achieve an M.Sc Degree in Analytical Chemistry.

In the presidential election held in 2007, Yar’Adua won but was strongly criticized by observers, as well as the two primary opposition candidates, Mohammed Buhari of the All Nigeria’s peoples party (ANPP) and Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress (AC). After the election, Yar’Adua proposed a government of National unity. By March 2007, two opposition parties, the ANPP and the Progressive Peoples Alliance(PPA), agreed to join Yar’ Adua’s government. In 2007, Yar’Adua publicly revealed his declaration of assets (becoming the first Nigeria leader to do so). This disclosure, which fulfilled a pre-election promise he made, was intended to set an example for other Nigerian politicians and discourage corruption.

ILLNESS AND DEATH: President Yar’Adua left Nigeria in 2009, and was reported to be receiving treatments for pericarditis at a clinic in Saudi Arabia. In 2010, the supreme court of Nigeria ruled that the federal executive council (FEC) had 14 days to decide on a resolution about whether he is capable of discharging the function of his office. On 2010, the senate decided that presidential power be transferred to Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, and that he would serve as acting president, with all the accompanied powers, until Yar’Adua returned to full health.

The power transfer has been called a ‘coup without the word’ by opposition lawyers and lawmakers. However, there are others that felt the power vacuum will lead to instability as a political military take over. On 24 february 2010, Yar’Adua returned to Abuja. His state of health was unclear, but there was speculation that he was still on a life support machine. Yar’Adua died on 5th  of  2010 at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.An Islamic Burial took place on 6th in his hometown.


Early Life, Education And Personal Life: Jonathan was born in Otueke in Ogbia Local Government Area of the then eastern region, later River State, now Bayelsa State. He holds a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree in zoology in which he attained Second Class Honours, Upper Division.He also holds an M.Sc in Hydrobiology/Fisheries biology and a Doctor Of Philosophy(Ph.D) in zoology from the University of Port-Harcourt. He is married to Patience and has two children. Jonathan is an Ijaw.

Presidential Race: In 2006, Jonathan was selected as running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua for the ruling PDP presidential ticket in 2007 election.

Vice Presidency: Following the PDP’s disputed electoral victory, militants blew up Jonathan’s country house in Otueke Bayelsa State, two policemen were killed in the attack. Jonathan was not present at the time, after taking office, Yar’adua publicly declared his assets, and in 2007, Jonathan also did so.

Acting President: In 2010, a federal court handed Vice-President Jonathan the power to carry out State affairs in the presidents continued absence. In 2010, the Senate determined that the presidential power should be transmitted to the Vice- President. He will serve as Acting President, with all the accompanied powers, until Yar’Adua has returned to full health. The Power transfer has been called a “coup without the word” by opposition lawyers and law makers.Jonathan remains the Acting president while Yar’adua continues ro recover.

President: Following Yar’adua death in 2010. Jonathan was sworn in as Yaradua’s replacement, becoming Nigeria’s 14th head of state. He states that he came to office under very sad unusual circumstances. In 2010, the National assembly approved President Goodluck Jonathan’s nomination of former Kaduna’s State Governor, Nnamdi Sambo, an architect, for the position of Vice- president in 2010. Jonathan dissolved the country’s cabinet while he appointed his own cabinet.

Elected President:  On 16th  March 2011, Jonathan emerged as elected president, and was sworn in 29th  March 2011.The election was marred by bloodshed and the death of ten Corp members killed by suspected Boko Haram gang members.


Born in 1942 was the President of Nigeria from 29 May 2015 to 29 May, 2023. He is a retired Nigerian Army major general and was Head of State of Nigeria from 1983 to 1985, after taking power in a military coup d’état. The term Buharism is ascribed to the Buhari military government.

He unsuccessfully ran for the office of President in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 general elections. In 2014, he emerged as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress for the March 2015 general elections. Buhari won the election, defeating the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. This marked the first time in the history of Nigeria that an incumbent president lost to an opposition candidate in a general election. He was sworn in on 29th, May 2015.

Buhari has stated that he takes responsibility for anything over which he presided during his military rule, and that he cannot change the past. He has described himself as a “converted democrat”.


He is the current president of Nigeria.

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Oluchi Chukwu

Oluchi is a seasoned Information blogger, content developer and the editor of Nigerian Queries. She is a tech enthusiast who loves reading, writing and research

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