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Life Updated: May 01, 2023

Ten Most Famous Nigerian Personalities In History

By Rasheed Olajide Awoniyi
May 01, 2023
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In Africa, Nigeria dominates in all ramifications, ranging from notable personalities to a vibrant economy, natural resources and of course certain social vices. 

It cannot be denied that Nigeria as a country maintains the status of being the giant of Africa. 

However, Nigeria wearing this crown as the giant of Africa didn't just sprout from nowhere, the honourable title bestowed on Nigeria became only possible by great Nigerian nationalists who have fought for the greatness of Nigeria. 

Nigeria, in its 109 years of existence (from 1914 amalgamation), has produced notable individuals who with their god-given talent and abilities have been able to make their name known across the globe.

Let's take a look at ten of the most famous Nigerians in history. 

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1. Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, and critic who is widely regarded as a pivotal figure in contemporary African literature. 

Things Fall Apart (1958), his first novel and magnum opus, holds a pivotal place in African literature and is still the most widely studied, translated, and read African novel.

Achebe studied at the University of Ibadan, where he became outspokenly critical of how Western literature portrayed Africa. 

After graduation, he moved to Lagos and worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS), gaining international attention for his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart.

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Through his writing, he was a constant advocate for fairness and equality in Nigerian society. 

During the Nigerian civil war, he openly supported the secessionist Biafra movement and even accepted a position as head of the Biafra Broadcasting Service, putting his life and career at risk. 

Following the civil war, he continued to draw attention to Nigeria's corrupt political system, most notably in his book The Trouble with Nigeria.

Achebe was a professor of languages and literature at Bard College in New York for nineteen years. 

He also received the 2007 Man Booker International Prize, and he was a Professor of African Studies at Brown University from 2009 until his death. 

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Achebe's work has been extensively studied, and a large body of scholarly work on the subject has emerged.


2. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian economist who has been the World Trade Organisation's Director-General since March 2021. 

She is the first woman, Nigerian, and African to lead the international organisation, making her selection historic.

Okonjo-Iweala was the first Nigerian woman to serve two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria, first under President Olusegun Obasanjo from 2003 to 2006, and then again under President Goodluck Jonathan from 2011 to 2015. She later served as Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs from June to August 2006.

Okonjo-Iweala also held numerous positions at the World Bank, eventually rising to the position of managing director. 

She also worked for the African Development Bank (AfDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in various capacities.


3. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo

Nigerian statesman and retired military officer Olusegun Obasanjo presided over the country as its head of state from 1976 to 1979 and then as its president from 1999 to 2007. 

He has been hailed as one of the outstanding figures of the second generation of African leaders following colonialism.

Before enlisting in the Nigerian Army, where he attained the rank of major, Obasanjo received the majority of his education in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

A military takeover that created a junta in 1975 included Obasanjo as a member of its ruling triumvirate. 

The Supreme Military Council named Obasanjo as president after the death of Murtala Muhammad, the triumvirate's leader, the following year.

He maintained Murtala's policies while serving as head of state, which earned him public support.

Most notably, he restored democracy in Nigeria by supervising the 1979 election and handing over control to Shehu Shagari, the newly elected civilian president.

Obasanjo entered electoral politics as the PDP candidate for the 1999 presidential election, which he easily won. 

He was also re-elected in 2003 as a result of his populist policies.  Obasanjo is lauded for overseeing Nigeria's transition to representative democracy in the 1970s, as well as his Pan-African efforts to promote cooperation across the continent.

 

4. Fela Kuti

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti is Nigeria's most famous musician and the father of Afrobeat. 

He was an outspoken supporter of human rights, as many of his songs are direct attacks on dictatorships, specifically the military governments of Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Many regard him as one of Africa's most challenging and charismatic musicians.

From the 1970s until his death, Fela was heavily involved in African political activism. 

He condemned the corruption of Nigerian government officials as well as the mistreatment of Nigerian citizens.

He blamed colonialism for the African people's socioeconomic and political problems. 

His protest songs were inspired by the realities of corruption and socioeconomic inequality in Africa.

Fela was arrested over 200 times and spent time in jail, including a 20-month stint following his arrest in 1984. 

In addition to jail time, the corrupt government sent soldiers to beat Kuti, his family, and friends, as well as destroy his home and possessions.

Although the circumstances surrounding his death still remain a mystery, most news outlets say he died as a result of AIDS-related complications on August 3, 1997.

 

5. Nnamdi Azikiwe

Nnamdi Azikiwe, also known as "Zik," was the first indigenous president of Nigeria from honour1960 to 1966.

He was a statesman and political figure from Nigeria. 

Zik has earned the moniker "father of Nigerian nationalism" for his role in the country's independence.

Azikiwe studied in the United States during his formative years at Storer College, Columbiahonourersity, the University of Pennsylvania, and Howard University. 

In 1934, he returned to Africa and started working as a journalist, promoting African and Nigerian nationalism before eventually transitioning into politics.

The Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa languages are indigenous to Nigeria's three largest tribes, and Azikiwe is the only president to be able to speak them.  

He was the first Nigerian to be appointed to the British Privy Council by Queen Elizabeth II in 1960. In 1980, he received the highest national honour bestowed upon a Nigerian, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).


6. King Sunny Ade

King Sunday Ade is a Nigerian Juju Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who is widely regarded as one of the most famous Nigerians in history. 

He is regarded as one of the first African pop musicians to achieve international success and has been dubbed one of the world's most influential musicians.

He formed his backing band, known as the African Beats, in 1967. 

Sunny Ade signed to Island Records in 1982 after achieving national success in Nigeria during the 1970s and founding his label.

He achieved international success with the albums Juju Music (1982) and Synchro System (1983).

In 1984, his Sychor System album earned him a Grammy nomination, making him the first Nigerian to receive the prestigious award. 

His 1998 album Odu was also nominated for a Grammy in the World Best Music Album category.

Sunny Ade is the current chairperson of the Nigerian Musical Copyright Society.

 

7. Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka is an English-language Nigerian playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist. 

He was the first Sub-Saharan African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986 for "fashioning the drama of existence in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones."

Soyinka was born in Abeokuta and went on to study at Government College in Ibadan, University College Ibadan, and the University of Leeds in England. 

He worked for the Royal Court Theatre in London after studying in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. 

He went on to write plays that were staged and broadcast in both countries.

He was also involved in Nigeria's political history and the country's struggle for independence from British colonial rule. 

In 1965, he stormed the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and demanded that the Western Nigeria Regional Elections be cancelled. 

During the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, he was arrested and imprisoned in solitary confinement for two years by the federal government of General Yakubu Gowon.

He taught at several universities around the world, including Obafemi Awolowo University, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and NYU's Institute of African American Affairs.

He also taught at Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, and Yale universities.


8. Pastor E. A. Adeboye

Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye is a Nigerian pastor and General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, and he is without a doubt one of Nigeria's most famous people. 

In 1956, he began his education at Ilesha Grammar School in Ilesha, Osun State, and later attended the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) in Nsukka.  

He did, however, finish his first degree at the University of Ife, graduating in 1967 with a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics.

Adeboye joined the Redeemed Christian Church of God in 1973 and worked as an interpreter before being ordained as a pastor by Pa. Josiah Akindayomi in 1975. 

In 1981, he was appointed General Overseer of the church. He worked part-time at Unilorin for three years before quitting his university job to preach full-time. 

Pastor Adeboye resigned as General Overseer in 2017 as a result of new legislation that limited non-profit leadership to 20 years of service and being under the age of 70.

In 2008, Newsweek named him one of the world's 50 most powerful people, and in 2019, New African magazine named him one of the top 100 most influential Africans.


9. Muhammadu Buhari

Muhammadu Buhari, a Nigerian politician and retired army major general, has been the country's president since 2015. 

He was also the country's military head of state from December 31, 1983, to August 27, 1985, after seizing power in a military coup.

Buhari completed his primary and secondary education in Kastina State before enrolling in the Nigerian Military Training College at the age of 19. From 1962 to 1963, he also received officer cadet training at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England. 

In January 1963, he fully joined the Nigerian military, rising to the rank of Major General and taking part in numerous events such as the 1966 July counter-coup and the Nigerian Civil War, among others.

Major-General Buhari led a military coup that overthrew the Second Nigerian Republic in 1983. 

Buhari's presidency was marked by severe economic hardship, abuse of power, and violations of human rights. 

The authoritarian policies of his military regime are referred to as Buharism.

After three previous unsuccessful bids, he emerged as the All Progressives Congress party's presidential candidate for the 2015 general election. 

Buhari defeated incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in the election. 

It was the first time in Nigerian history that an incumbent president lost a general election. 

In 2019, he was re-elected, defeating his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar.


10. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer and feminist who has become one of Africa's most prominent authors in recent years. 

Purple Hibiscus (2003), her first novel, received widespread critical acclaim and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book in 2005.

Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), Americanah (2013), the short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), and the book-length essay We Should All Be Feminists (2014), Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (2017), Zikora (2020), and Notes on Grief (2021) are among her other works. 

Through her literary work, such as Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Adichie has also been able to bring global attention to the inequalities women face in Nigerian and global society. 

She received a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2008. She received the PEN Pinter Prize in 2018 and was named one of the BBC's 100 Women of 2021.

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Rasheed Olajide Awoniyi

Rasheed is a Prolific Content Writer who also has a niche in all Genres of Literature, Academic Pape...

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