Childhood & Early Life
Muhammadu Buhari was born on December 17, 1942, in Daura, Katsina, Nigeria. His was an well-known family, belonging to the Fulani tribe. The Fulanis are the most widespread ethnic people and are primarily found in the Western African region. His father, Mallam Hardo Adamu, was the leader of a local group of Fulani people in the area. His mother, Zulaihat, was a housewife.
Muhammadu grew up with a lot of siblings. He was the 23rd child in the huge family. The family was already struggling financially when he was born. Additionally, the death of his father pushed the family into a lot of issues. Muhammadu was 4 years old when his father passed away. His mother took over the responsibility of raising the huge family entirely by herself.
He completed his primary education from local government schools and later attended the ‘Katsina Provincial Secondary School,’ from where he graduated in 1961. He was not academically good and aspired to join the military instead.
Following his high-school graduation, at the age of 19, he entered the ‘Nigerian Military Training College.’ In the mid-1960s, the college was renamed the ‘Nigerian Defence Academy.’ Following his preliminary training, he went through the officer cadet training, for which young Nigerian military aspirants were sent to the ‘Commonwealth’ countries.
In 1962, he was sent to be trained at the ‘Mons Officer Cadet School’ in England. He later also attended military training camps and institutions in India and the U.S.A.
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Military & Political career
Nigeria witnessed a bloody coup d’etat in 1966, in which the head of the government of northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello, was killed. Aguiyi Ironsi made himself the leader, which led to a counter-coup. Following this, he was replaced by General Yakubu Gowon. However, this political turmoil led to a bloody civil war in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Civil War broke out in 1967, and Muhammadu served in the ‘1st Division,’ taking commands from Lt. Col. Mohammed Shuwa. After the end of the war in 1970, he served as the brigade major in the military. In 1973, he was sent to India to attend the ‘Defence Services Staff College.’ He was later instated as the director of transport and supply at the ‘Nigerian Army Corps.’
Nigeria entered another bloody coup in 1975, which resulted in General Murtala Mohammed gaining power. Muhammadu was made the governor of the North Eastern State of Nigeria. He was given the task of improving the economic and social welfare of his region. The region was later divided into three parts, and Muhammadu was made the governor of the state of Borno.
However, even after two coups in a decade, Nigeria was yet to achieve political stability. The country was suffering from a bad economic condition, and the leaders had turned into dictators. The growing discontentment led to another coup, in 1976, in which General Mohammed was killed and his place was taken by his deputy, Obasanjo.
Muhammadu was then appointed as the chairman of the newly formed ‘Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.’ He became the federal commissioner for petroleum and natural resources. Huge investments in the pipeline and petroleum storage units followed, and a huge pipeline network was created during his tenure.
In the late 1970s, Muhammadu attended the ‘U.S. Army War College,’ eventually graduating with a master’s degree in strategic studies. By the early 1980s, Nigerian had become a fully functioning democracy, at least on paper.
The then-president, Shehu Shagari, was unable to fulfil his election promises. Corruption was rampant under his rule. The economy was going through a bad phase. Muhammadu was one of the military leaders who led another coup on the Shagari government, in December 1983, after which Muhammadu took over as the head of state.
Despite his initial efforts to curb corruption and improve the economic condition of Nigeria, Muhammadu’s government could not do much. A few strict measures were taken immediately, which included the establishment of a ‘Supreme Military Council’ and a ‘Council of States.’ A retrenchment exercise was carried out among the top-level civil and police officers.
However, of these measures, some were considered highly authoritarian in nature. One such measure was the power given to the chief of staff to detain those who were suspected of acting against the nation’s interests, without any proven charges and solely on the basis of doubt.
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The ‘National Security Organization’ was bestowed with powers that allowed them to crush the forces that were encouraging dissent. As a result, many journalists, opposition politicians, and social workers were intimidated, harassed, and jailed.
Muhammadu was most ruthless against corruption, and it is believed that within the first few months of his regime, more than 500 politicians and businessmen were jailed.
In 1984, he imposed the ‘Protection Against False Accusations Decree,’ which was considered the most repressive law ever in Nigeria.
Initially, the strict measures taken by his government were appreciated by the people of the country and his subordinates. However, over time, he got carried away. Hence, a wave of discontent began growing among his subjects. General Ibrahim Babangida led a coup against the Buhari regime in August 1985. Buhari was detained in a private bungalow in Benin.
However, his detention period came to an end in 1988, and he was set free. For the next 15 years or so, he led a civilian’s life. He also served as the chairman of the ‘Katsina Foundation’ and the chairman of the ‘Petroleum Trust Fund.’ His term in the latter organization was fairly successful.
In 2003, he decided to return to public life and contested in the presidential elections, representing the ‘All Nigeria People’s Party.’ However, he lost to his ‘People's Democratic Party’ opponent, Olusegun Obasanjo. The 2007 election, which he lost, was marred by many irregularities.
He decided to contest again in 2011 and lost yet again. This time, the election was appreciated, as it was concluded to be fair. In 2014, he joined the ‘All Progressives Party’ of Nigeria, the main opposition of the ruling ‘People's Democratic Party.’ The infamous Islamic terrorist organization ‘Boko Haram’ was a big election issue. Muhammadu’s military background and boldness made him a strong presidential candidate for 2015. He eventually won the election.
His term had a difficult beginning, with Nigeria falling into an economic recession in 2016. However, the final impression of his reign was mixed. He contested in the 2019 elections and won again.