Abdulsalami Abubakar (Born June 13, 1942) is a retired Nigerian Army General who was Military Head of State from 9 June 1998 until 29 May 1999. He succeeded Sani Abacha upon Abacha’s death. It was during Abubakar’s leadership that Nigeria adopted a modified version of the 1979 constitution, which provided for multiparty elections. Abubakar transferred power to president-elect Olusegun Obasanjo on 29 May 1999.
Nigeria had been ruled by military leaders since Muhammadu Buhari seized power from Shehu Shagari in a 1983 coup. Although democratic elections had been held in 1993, they were annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida. Reported to have had an initial reluctance to accepting the position, Abubakar was sworn in as president on 9 June 1998 after the unexpected death of Abacha. He declared a weeklong period of national mourning.
A few days after assuming office, Abubakar promised to hold elections within a year and transfer power to an elected president. He established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), appointing former Supreme Court Justice Ephraim Akpata as chairman. The INEC held a series of elections first for Local Government Areas in December 1998, then for State Assemblies and Governors, National Assemblies and finally for the President on 27 February 1999. Although efforts were made to ensure that the elections were free and fair, there were widespread irregularities that drew criticism from foreign observers.
Surprising some critics of the country’s military, Abubakar kept his word and transferred power to elected president Obasanjo on 29 May 1999. During his administration Nigeria adopted a new constitution May 5, 1999, which went into effect when Olusegun Obasanjo became president.
Abubakar’s legacy is mixed. A lecture circuit at Chicago State University in Chicago, Illinois, United States featuring him encountered opposition, because he had supported Abacha’s government. (Abacha’s administration was notorious for its human rights abuses). He was also sued in that country by other Nigerians who claimed he was responsible for the death of 1993 president-elect Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, who died in custody after being prevented by the military from taking office, and for the violation of the rights of others during his administration.
Abubakar helped in the Liberian peace movement by presiding over the 2003 peace talks between Charles Taylor and the opposing rebels. This is seen in the movie Pray the Devil Back to Hell.