Obasanjo, Nigeria and the World

Obasanjo, Nigeria and the World

John Iliffe


James Currey



This first full account of Obasanjo's life from 1937 to 2010 combines an analysis of an exceptionally vital and complicated man with a history of an exceptionally vital and complicated country.
Olusegun Obasanjo was Nigeria's military head of state (1976-9) and President (1999-2007). His career is made the focus for a history of Nigeria's first fifty years of independence (1960-2010) and of African continental affairs during the same period (Obasanjo having been an active opponent of apartheid and an architect of the African Union).
The most important African leader of his generation, Obasanjo has had an extraordinarily diverse career as soldier, politician, statesman, farmer, author, political prisoner, Baptist preacher, and family patriarch. As a soldier, he secured the victory in Nigeria's civil war. As military head of state, he returned the country to civilian rule. For the next 20 years he was ceaselessly active, before spending three years as a political prisoner.
Released from prison, Obasanjo served Nigeria as elected President from 1999 to 2007, until his growing authoritarianism and his manipulation of his successor's election ruined his reputation among many Nigerians. This book argues that the controversial end to his presidency must be understood in the light of his earlier career.
The author has used mainly published sources, especially Nigerian newspapers and political memoirs, as well as recently released FCO documents in Britain.

John Iliffe is a Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge. He retired as Professor of African History at Cambridge in 2006 and has published widely on African history including: A Modern History of Tanganyika; The Emergence of African Capitalism; The African Poor: A History; Africans: the History of a Continent; Honour in African History and The African Aids Epidemic: A History.

Nigeria: HEBN (PB)


January 2011
2 line illustrations
340 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781847010278
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
James Currey
BISAC BIO010000, POL053000, HIS001050
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Table of Contents

A man of controversy Part I MAKING A CAREER (1937-70)
Yoruba boy
Nigerian soldier
Coups & civil war PART II MILITARY RULE (1970-79)
Chance and power
State-directed development
African liberation
Return to civilian rule PART III PRIVATE CITIZEN (1979-99)
The farmer
The author
The statesman
The politician
The prisoner
The candidate PART IV FIRST PRESIDENTIAL TERM (1999-2003)
Containing conflict
Salvaging the economy
Restoring international relationships
President and politicians
The imperious presidency
Economic reform
Africa's elder statesman
Managing the succession


A comprehensive and engaging survey of Obasanjo's life and career from his birth in 1937 and humble origins to his retirement after 2007. (...) Iliffe's analysis of Nigerian politics makes excellent reading, and underlines just how difficult it is for anyone to manage the Nigerian state. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORY

There is little that John Ilife's clear and unvarnished biography (...) fails to uncover. SURVIVAL: GLOBAL POLITICS & STRATEGY

A nuanced biographical narrative stewed with Nigerian history in global context. (...) This is an imaginative and ambitious study. THE HISTORIAN

A rich and dispassionate biography (that) offers a revealing and remarkably comprehensive overview of postcolonial Nigerian history. JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORY

Will surely add to John Iliffe's reputation as one of the world's most acclaimed African historians. (...) The book is an ingeniously scripted history taking a thoughtful and often critical approach to governance in Nigeria under Obasanjo. THE ROUND TABLE

An important new biography. (...) Iliffe's biography is of a statesman but it is also an outstanding study of a half century of Nigerian politics. His book sets an admirably high as well as a new standard for African biography by which the work of his successors will have to be judged. THE CONTEMPORARY REVIEW

A scholarly and very highly recommended study of an international figure who has put Nigeria on the course it is today, for better or for worse. MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

John Iliffe's biography is the most authoritative, comprehensive and well informed account of Obasanjo's rule and personality up to now. H-SOZ-U-KULT

This is an important examination of possibly the most controversial personality in modern Nigerian politics. The strength of this study is that it is an outsider's calmer examination of a man who evokes such strong emotions that studies of him within Nigeria are necessarily tainted by widespread perceptions of who he is. - Abdul Raufu Mustapha, University of Oxford