Revealed: How Buhari Saved Obasanjo’s Life During the Nigerian Civil War


A lot of things went down between July 6, 1967 – January 15, 1970, the duration of the Nigerian civil war.

One of which is that President Mohammadu Buhari was an active member of the Nigerian army and he saved the life of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Buhari’s biography was presented in Abuja on October 3rd, 2016, and the author, John Paden sheds light on the relationship between the above-mentioned duo.

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According to John Paden, an American professional of international studies, Buhari helped to save the life of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo during the Sani Abacha regime in 1995. In the biography ‘Muhammadu Buhari: The Challenges of Leadership in Nigeria,’ he wrote that Abacha arrested Shehu Yar’Adua and Obasanjo for planning a coup to remove him from power.

Read excerpts from a chapter subtitled ‘Civic Contributions’:

“In 1995, Abubakar, who was Abacha’s chief of defense staff, announced that seven people had been arrested for planning coup. One of the alleged plotters was Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, a close colleague of Buhari’s and a charismatic figure on his own right.

“Shehu had met with Obasanjo in Kano, just before Obasanjo had planned to leave the country. Both were arrested and sentenced to death. Buhari himself intervened and saw Abacha, cautioning against extreme measures in an effort to save Obasanjo and Yar’Adua.

Civil war
Buhari and Obansanjo as young Soldiers

“Other domestic and international figures also intervened, including former US president Jimmy Carter, and the death sentences were commuted. Shehu, however, died in prison under mysterious circumstances. Abacha was becoming a despised figure domestically and internationally.

“Given Buhari’s reputation for probity, in 1996 Abacha asked Buhari to serve as chairman of the PTF. Buhari had no brief for Abacha, but was convinced that the PTF could serve the welfare for ordinary Nigerians if managed well. As Buhari has said many times subsequently, he agreed to take the position “not for the sake of Abacha, but for the sake of Nigeria.”

Paden also wrote that Buhari hated school and was always reluctant to go there. He preferred everywhere else to the four walls of a classroom. Here’s what he wrote in a chapter subtitled ‘Schooling and Leadership Values’:

“In part because of love for the outdoors, Buhari was a reluctant student in his early years. He would often skip school altogether, although this always resulted in beatings with a cane by the schoolmaster. Only with the encouragement of Waziri al-Hasan and Mamman Daura did he eventually settle down and take his studies seriously.

“The early years of schooling were conducted in Hausa; thereafter, English was used. Buhari began to do very well in English, mathematics, and Arabic, as well general studies. Buhari also became involved in cross-country running, in which persistence and endurance were key. Buhari would spend nine years at boarding school, and fortunately, he had good teachers.”

Buhari and Obj: civil warBuhari and Obansanjo

Paden explained that Buhari learnt how to be a leader at an early age and got most of the lessons from his British teachers, who took him and the other children as his own.

“An American Peace Corps teacher in the school also impressed Buhari and the other boys with his love for biology. Most important, the simple student dress code meant that students looked much the same, except for an occasional student with a wristwatch. The British teachers made a point of disregarding the status of the fathers of the boys. Every boy had to make it on his own.

“The point became clearer when he was eighteen years old and entered a merit-based competition, sponsored by the Elder Dempster shipping line, for selected secondary students to spend a summer holiday in Britain. At that time, many of the northern elite were sending their sons to the prestigious Barewa College, and it was not clear that Buhari had a chance against such competition. Buhari had been class monitor in second form.

“He was house prefect in fifth form. In sixth form, he was house captain and head boy of the school. His performance in his studies was excellent. But his leadership potential was outstanding. He was chosen for the summer scholarship to visit Britain . . . ”

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The truth is Paden did justice in making Buhari’s biography an interesting read, even more interesting than the person being read about. To get the full gist of all that went down during the civil war and more, get your copy of Mr. president’s biography.

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