Nigeria became independent on the 1st of Nigeria 1960, although the country was still under the ruler-ship of Queen Elizabeth II up until 1963 when the country became a republic. A Governor-General represented the Queen in Nigeria until 1st October 1963 when Nigeria became a federal republic under the 1963 Constitution.
Both the monarch and Governor-General were replaced by a ceremonial President under this new constitution. Thus, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe became the first President of Nigeria in 1963 but his role was mainly ceremonial.
At independence, the affairs of the government of Nigeria was handed over to Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who was elected as Prime Minister and remains till date the only Nigerian to serve this nation in that capacity.
In 1979, a new constitution was adopted and this constitution gave executive powers to the President, making the President head of both state and government. The current constitution in use by Nigeria, the 1999 constitution also regards the President as the Head of state and government.
Here is a full list of all Nigerian Presidents (including Prime Minister and Military Heads of State) from 1960.
1 Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa 1960-1963
2 President Nnamdi Azikiwe 1963-1966
3 Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi 1966
4 General Yakubu Gowon 1966-1975
5 General Murtala Mohammed 1975-1976
6 Major-General Olusegun Obasanjo 1976-1979
7 President Shehu Shagari 1979-1983
8 Major-General Muhammadu Buhari 1983-1985
9 General Ibrahim Babangida 1985-1993
10 President Ernest Shonekan 1993
11 General Sani Abacha 1993-1998
12 General Abdulsalami Abubakar 1998-1999
13 President Olusegun Obasanjo 1999-2007
14 President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua 2007-2010
15 President Goodluck Jonathan 2010-2015
16 President Muhammadu Buhari 2015-Present.
Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1960-1963).
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa is the first and only Prime Minister to ever govern the country. He led the country at a crucial time in its history, playing a key role in the transition from colonial to indigenous rule. Unfortunately, he met his untimely end during the military coup of 1966. His face is on the five Naira note for those interested in knowing what this great Nigerian looked like.
President Nnamdi Azikiwe (1963-1966)
Nnamdi Azikiwe is the first Nigerian to hold the title of President after the country became independent. His office was more of a ceremonial one as the Prime Minister then was considered the head of government. He took office on the 1st of October 1963 when Nigeria became a federal republic. His government only lasted 3 years as it was overthrown by the Military. This brought an end to the first republic and marked the military’s first incursion into governance in Nigeria.
General Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975)
Following the overthrow of the Azikiwe led government in 1966 by military personnel led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi took control of government as the most senior Nigerian officer in the military. The coup was bloody and led to the death of many senior and notable politicians from the North and West of the country including Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister.
Ironsi didn’t last long in office as his reign was ended after just 194 days in a counter-coup led by officers of the army who were unhappy with the way he handled the situation that led to him taking office. He was murdered in the counter-coup.
The death of Aguiyi-Ironsi paved the way for General Yakubu Gowon to rise to the highest office in the land. Gowon was in office during the Nigerian Civil war that broke out in 1967. The attempt by Eastern Nigeria to secede led to the war known as the Biafra War that caused the death of over 100,000 soldiers and 1,000,000 civilians.
After the civil war ended, the country enjoyed a period of oil boom in the early 1970s and Gowon embarked on a modernization of Nigeria. He created infrastructure such as an international airport, a sports stadium, and an art theatre to name a few. He was eventually deposed while away from the country in 1975. His stay in office lasted a total of 8 years and 362 days.
General Murtala Mohammed (1975-1976)
The deposition of Yakubu Gowon from office in a bloodless coup saw the emergence of General Murtala Mohammed as military Head of State. Mohammed in a bid to differentiate his administration from that of his predecessor removed many high-ranking politicians and officials from office. Many of those removed from office were made to face trials for corruption.
Unfortunately, his reign didn’t last long as he was assassinated on the 13th of February 1976 after just 199 days in office.
Major General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976-1979)
Major General Olusegun Obasanjo who was deputy to Mohammed took over affairs of government following the assassination of his boss. His administration gave way to civilian rule after holding general elections in 1979 and helping to create a new constitution for the country. Obasanjo handed over power to a democratically elected government led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari on the 1st of October, 1979.
President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983)
Thus the administration of Shehu Shagari ushered in Nigeria’s second republic. He had previously served as Minister of Economic Affairs in 1970, and later as the Minister of Finance both under the Gowon administration. Nigeria’s economy took a hit as booming oil prices cooled off in 1981. This, as well as lingering allegations of corruption and mismanagement, led to the overthrow of Shagari’s government in another military coup in 1983.
Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (1983-1985)
With Shagari’s government sacked, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari took over affairs of government. His justification for the military’s action was that the civilian government was hopeless and corrupt. The 1979 constitution was quickly suspended by the military government. The Nigerian economy during this time was not doing too well which meant that the Buhari regime had to quickly implement policies that encouraged economic stability. The regime also took on many Nigerians perceived as a threat to it. As a result, many Nigerians were detained, jailed or even executed.
General Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993)
The Buhari regime was seen as being too high-handed by many Nigerians, including senior military leaders. A bloodless coup was carried out which ended Buhari’s rule and brought General Ibrahim Babangida to office.
Babangida’s government suffered a failed military coup In 1990 before eventually holding Presidential elections in June 1993 to usher in civilian rule again. The result of this election was annulled which led to civil unrest and labour strikes in the country. Eventually, Babangida was forced out of office and handed over to Ernest Shonekan in 1993.
President Ernest Shonekan (1993)
Babangida handed over to Ernest Shonekan who headed an Interim National Government. Shonekan only lasted 3 months in office until he was overthrown by his own Secretary of Defence, Sani Abacha.
General Sani Abacha (1993-1998)
After taking control of the government, Sani Abacha immediately issued a decree that gave his government absolute power and immunity to prosecution. His government was famous for human right abuses and corruption which marred his remarkable economic achievements.
Under his watch, Nigeria’s foreign reserve increased from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997. The country’s debt was also reduced from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion in 1997.
Sani Abacha died under mysterious circumstances in 1998 and his death was widely celebrated by Nigerians who were happy to be rid of his regime’s iron-fist.
General Abdulsalami Abubakar (1998-1999)
Abacha’s death created a vacuum which had to be filled immediately. Power fell in the hands of General Abdulsalami Abubakar who was initially reluctant to ascend to the highest office in the land. Abubakar took charge and led the country through a difficult time. His administration created a new Nigerian constitution and soon gave way to a democratically elected government.
President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007)
General Abdulsalami Abubakar transferred power to a democratically elected government led by Obasanjo in 1999. Obasanjo had previously led the country as military Head of State. He won reelection in 2003 and served as President until 2007. He attempted to have the constitution amended to enable him to seek a third term in office but his attempt was rebuffed by the National Assembly.
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (2007-2010)
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua won the highly controversial 2007 presidential election and succeeded Olusegun Obasanjo as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Yar’Adua took ill and eventually died in office, paving way for his vice to succeed him as President.
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (2010-2015)
Goodluck Jonathan became the country’s President following the demise of his boss, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He completed Yar’Adua’s term and then contested the 2011 elections and won. Under his watch, terrorism rose in Nigeria and this, as well as other issues, were used against him by his opponents at the 2015 polls.
President Muhammadu Buhari (2015-Present)
Currently, Nigeria is led by President Muhammadu Buhari who after several attempts eventually realized his ambition of ruling the country as a civilian in 2015. He defeated then President Goodluck Jonathan at the 2015 polls. He again sought and won reelection in 2019.
This full list of all Nigerian Presidents from 1960 till date has been provided in this highly informative piece. It also provides a snippet of what each administration was like during its time.