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Who is the longest serving head of state in Nigeria?

by Thomasina Oseye
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longest-serving head of state in Nigeria

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When discussing the history of Nigeria’s head of state, one name stands out for its remarkable tenure and influence.

Yakubu Gowon, who held the position from 1966 to 1975, served as the longest-serving head of state in the country’s history.

In this article, we will delve into Gowon’s tenure, his achievements, and the circumstances surrounding his departure from office.

Early Life and Rise to Power

Yakubu Gowon was born on October 19, 1934, in Pankshin, Plateau State, Nigeria. He joined the Nigerian Army in 1954 and quickly rose through the ranks due to his dedication and leadership skills.

In January 1966, a group of young military officers overthrew the government in a coup, leading to a period of instability in Nigeria.

Gowon, then a lieutenant colonel, was appointed as the head of state by his fellow officers. At just 31 years old, he became the youngest person to hold the position in Nigeria’s history.

His tenure began on August 1, 1966, and would last for almost nine years, making him the longest-serving head of state in the country.

Accomplishments and Policies

During his time in office, Gowon implemented various policies and initiatives aimed at stabilizing Nigeria and promoting national unity.

One of his most significant achievements was the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1973.

This program aimed to foster integration and understanding among young Nigerians from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Gowon also introduced the “Three Rs” policy, which stood for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Reconciliation.

This policy aimed to rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil War, which took place from 1967 to 1970.

The war had caused immense damage to infrastructure and displaced millions of people, and Gowon’s policy sought to address these challenges.

Furthermore, Gowon’s administration implemented economic reforms and invested heavily in infrastructure development.

His government focused on diversifying the economy, with an emphasis on agriculture, manufacturing, and mining.

These efforts helped to strengthen Nigeria’s economy and lay the foundation for future growth.

Challenges and Departure from Office

Despite his achievements, Gowon’s tenure was not without its challenges. One of the most significant events during his time in office was the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafra War.

The war, which lasted from 1967 to 1970, was fought between the Nigerian government and the breakaway state of Biafra.

While Gowon’s government eventually emerged victorious, the war took a toll on the country’s resources and strained its unity.

Additionally, allegations of corruption and mismanagement of funds tarnished Gowon’s reputation and led to growing discontent among the Nigerian people.

In July 1975, while Gowon was attending an Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in Uganda, a group of military officers led by General Murtala Muhammed staged a coup and overthrew his government.

Gowon went into exile in the United Kingdom and remained there until 1983 when he returned to Nigeria.

Legacy and Later Life

Yakubu Gowon’s tenure as Nigeria’s head of state left a lasting impact on the country.

Despite the challenges he faced, his policies and initiatives played a crucial role in stabilizing Nigeria after a period of turmoil.

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and the “Three Rs” policy are still in place today, highlighting the enduring influence of Gowon’s administration.

After his return to Nigeria, Gowon dedicated his efforts to promoting peace and reconciliation.

He has been actively involved in various initiatives aimed at fostering unity and development in the country.

His commitment to national unity and his contributions to Nigeria’s history make him a respected figure both at home and abroad.


Yakubu Gowon’s tenure as the longest-serving head of state in Nigeria’s history marked a significant period of stability and progress for the country.

His policies and initiatives aimed at national unity, economic development, and post-war reconstruction continue to shape Nigeria’s trajectory to this day.

Despite the challenges he faced and his eventual departure from office, Gowon’s legacy as a statesman and leader endures.

This article was updated 5 months ago


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