Nigeria gained her independence from the British in the year 1960. Since then, a number of people have been in the country’s leadership position. Some of these Nigerian leaders ruled as military Heads of State while others ruled as civilian Presidents. In fact, some have ruled both as military Heads of State and as civilian Presidents.
Of these leaders, five have died in Office. Three of them were assassinated, one died mysteriously, and the fifth died of health issues.
Nigerian Leaders From 1960 Till Date (2018)
- Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa
- Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe
- Gen. Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi
- Yakubu Gowon
- Murtala Mohammed
- Olusegun Obasanjo
- Shehu Shagari
- Muhammadu Buhari
- Ibrahim Babangida
- Ernest Shonekan
- Sani Abacha
- Abdulsalam Abubakar
- Musa Yar’Adua
- Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
Olusegun Obasanjo has had the opportunity of ruling Nigeria both as a military Head of State and as a civilian President. The same goes for Muhammadu Buhari, who happens to be the current President of Nigeria.
So, how about knowing which of these many leaders did not get to complete their tenures owing to death? This post focuses on these leaders and the explanations of what led to their deaths while in power.
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Nigerian Presidents/Heads of State/Prime Minister Who Died In Office
1. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa is the first on our list. He was Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, ruling between 1960 and 1966. He was also the first Nigerian Head of Government to die while still in Office.
Born in 1912, Balewa was a victim in the first recorded military coup in Nigeria in 1966. This coup was led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu. Balewa was assassinated in the coup on 15th January 1966, after six years in Office. This also makes him the longest-serving leader as at the time of death.
2. Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi
Aguiyi-Ironsi was assassinated in 1966, the same year Tafawa Balewa was. He was born on 3rd March 1924, and died on 29th July 1966. It is believed that his assassination was a result of the fact that Nigerians were starting to lose confidence in his government. Another school of thought was that it had to do with a problem which occurred while Tafawa Balewa was ruling.
It was reported that Aguiyi-Ironsi hijacked power to become Head of State. However, he did not last in that ruling position as he was assassinated just seven months later. A group of Northern military Officers conspired against him and killed him.
The series of events and circumstances surrounding his death have remained a controversial subject in Nigeria. His body was later discovered in a forest.
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3. General Murtala Mohammed
Murtala Mohammed was born on 8th November 1938, and died on 13th February 1976. He is someone whose face Nigerians still get to see virtually every day. He is the face of the 20 Naira note.
Murtala Mohammed became Head of State in July 1975, and ruled for just seven months. After an abortive military coup which took place on 13th February 1976, he was assassinated alongside his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Akintunde Akinsehinwa.
The coup was led by Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka, and Murtala Mohammed was 37 years of age when he was murdered.
4. General Sani Abacha
Sani Abacha was Nigeria’s military Head of State for about five years. His administration (between 1993 and 1998) was alleged to have been ruthless, abusing human rights across the country. So, it was a cause for jubilation among Nigerians when his death was announced in June 1998.
The cause of Abacha’s death has also been a subject of controversy. Some sources claim that he was poisoned with an apple by two Indian prostitutes. This is the widespread story about the cause of his death. However, according to Hamza al-Mustapha, a former Army Major and Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, Abacha became sick the day before his death. Hamza said that the sickness started after the Head of State shook hands with one of President Yasser Arafat of Palestine’s security operatives at the Abuja International Airport. He eventually died despite efforts to save him.
Abacha was buried the same day he died, according to Islamic rites. No autopsy was carried out on him, but the cause of death was ruled as a heart attack.
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5. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is the only civilian President on this list, ruling Nigeria for three years before his death. He was elected and sworn into power in 2007, and died in 2010 due to a medical condition.
Even before he died, there were speculations and rumours that he had been unwell before becoming President. It is believed that he was imposed on Nigerians by Olusegun Obasanjo, a past military and civilian ruler in Nigeria.
Yar’Adua left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia on 23rd November 2009, to seek medical attention. He was said to be afflicted with pericarditis, a disease involving the inflammation of the membrane covering the heart. He returned to Nigeria on 24th February 2010, and made no public appearance until his death was officially announced on 5th May 2010.
After Yar’Adua’s death, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (who was the Vice President) took over power as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
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Author: Vincent Abolarin
Vincent is a Nigerian blogger with special interest in the history and current happenings in the country. When he is not blogging, he enjoys reading and playing computer games.