Ranking the Best Nigerian President since 1960

Our ranking of the best Nigerian president (or head of state) may be very subjective. Still, we want to analyse the historical achievements and precedents of these head of states for posterity sake.

Some political analysts still harbour the idea that Nigeria has never been blessed with visionary and transparent leaders, but we hope this list will prove them wrong as we seek to explore the most inspiring Nigerian leaders. (Hint: They are just three.). Without further ado, let’s look at the best Nigerian presidents and heads of state.

List of the Best Nigerian President and Head of State

General Murtala Muhammed

Muritala Muhammed (November 8 1938 – February 13 1976)was Nigeria’s head of state in 1975. He led the country for less than 200 days, but Nigerians felt his impact during this period. He kicked out General Gowon, Nigeria’s 2nd Military leader while he was away from the country. His ascendance into governance was characterised by readiness and transparency. In fact, his style of governance was so ‘avant-garde’ and unique that he had so many enemies.

He lived a spartan lifestyle. It was said that he never moved into the official government house at Dodan Barracks. He rarely moved around with entourage or security escorts or convoys, and this was one of the contributory factors to his assassination. He was a populist and an idealist. He introduced the word ‘fellow Nigerians’ to the political lexicon.

His achievements are:

  • Fixing a definite plan for return to civilian rule. He set this date on October 1, 1979.
  • He announced a new constitution committee, to be chaired by Rotimi Williams in preparation for a return to civilian rule.
  • Setting up panels to investigate the asset of corruption officials.
  • Creation of an additional seven more states, through Ayo Irikefe’s panel.
  • Setting up a new Federal Capital Territory in Abuja at the central part of the country.
  • Retiring of corrupt public officials to sanitise the civil service and other government establishments.
  • He introduced a duumvirate pattern of government where the military would rule with civilians.
  • He emphasised the ‘Nigeria-first’ foreign policy. He backed the Soviet-supported Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, instead of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), due to South Africa support for the latter.

Unfortunately, he was assassinated at the age of 37 in 1976. He never lived to see his dream of a prosperous Nigeria come true.

Related: How Much is Nigerian President salary

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua

Ranking the Best Nigerian President since 1960

Yar’adua succeeded Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007, as the president of Nigeria. Though his term in office was cut short by death (again), he had so many remarkable achievements that have not been usurped by subsequent government.

Here are the reasons he remains one of Nigeria’s best president to date.

  • He was the first president to declare his asset, pushing his drive for transparency and an integrity government.
  • He launched the Niger-Delta Amnesty Programme, which led to the temporary cessation of kidnapping and violence in the region; hundreds of youths were trained in entrepreneurial skills.
  • He started the dredging of the Niger River. This hasn’t been done in more than 30 years.
  • He maintained a non-interference in judicial activities stance. This facilitated the independence of the now-strangulated judiciary.
  • He completed more than 15 major federal roadway he inherited from the government of Obasanjo.

Related: List of Senate Presidents in Nigeria From 1960 Till Date and Their Political Party

Olusegun Obasanjo

Fondly called OBJ, he had the rare privilege of ruling the country twice in 1976 as a military leader and in 1999 as a legitimate president elected by the populace. He is widely considered the greatest president in Nigeria. Here are some of his achievements:

  • Establishing anti-corruption agencies (EFCC and ICPC), this led to the arrest and trial of corrupt public figures and fraudsters.
  • He left a foreign reserve of more than 40 billion dollars. He met a foreign reserve of fewer than 4 billion dollars when he became president in 1999.
  • Debt relief of 18 billion. This made Nigeria debt-free.
  • He privatised the telecommunication industry, which led to its growth and expansion. Today more than 100 million Nigerians have a phone line.
  • He led a government of technocrats, with brilliant minds like Soludo and Iweala. They made contributions to the growth of the economy.

Why does Nigeria have bad leaders?

Nigeria’s problem stems from leadership failure. The political class, led by the successive presidents of the country, have contributed little in improving the lives of the Nigerian citizenry. Nigerian presidents have the problem of failure to rising up to their responsibility and none of them has been able to present an exemplary style of leadership (apart from the few listed above).

Another cause of Nigeria’s leadership crises can be attributed to the dearth of Nigeria’s moral values, leading to the poverty of value-based leadership. The truth is that a bad or corrupt society will not be able to produce sincere, honest and responsible leaders. Nigeria has always ranked low in the Transparency International corruption perception index.

Nigeria also suffers from weak institutions, which fuels corruption. In the daily life of every Nigerian, greed, sharp practices and lust for wealth and luxury take the order of the day. Most Nigerian politicians can’t even manage their own homes properly, they take advantage of a corrupt and weak electoral process, to steal their way to political offices. These leaders are always prepared to manipulate political institutions to have their way.

In Nigeria, political leaders are not elected or selected based on patriotic pedigree or transparent processes. They have no leadership qualities or competence. The electoral body (INEC) and the judiciary are morally bankrupt, hence incapable of managing the process of electing quality crops of political leaders.

Here’s how to solve the leadership crisis in Nigeria:

  • The different institutions involved in the election process must be empowered to be impartial and strictly adhere to the law. Those whose actions contravene the electoral act should be dealt with.
  • Nigeria needs strong institutions to promote social values and limit the behaviour of the political class. Political elites tend to take advantage of weak institutions for their selfish interest. It is important to strengthen the institutions to work in accordance with the rule of law.
  • Parochial grassroots politics is one of the reasons for Nigeria’s leadership problem. This type of politics revolves around fraud, patronage and impunity. There is a need for a change. Politics at the grassroots should be upheld accountability and transparency.
  • Our educational system should be invested heavily in, developed and positively transformed. This is where future leaders inculcate the right leadership skills.

Read: How Much is Nigerian President’s Salary

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