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Nigeria's First Lady


By Shola Adenekan


Stella Obasanjo, who has died aged 59, after plastic surgery, came into the limelight during the campaign to release her husband, Olusegun Obasanjo, now president of Nigeria, from jail. He had been charged with treason by the late General Sanni Abacha in 1995.


In addition to mobilising local support for her husband, she took the campaign for his release to the United Nations in New York. She was later at the forefront of his bid to win the presidential election. She travelled with him all over Nigeria, mobilising support among womens' organisations and the political grassroots.


Stella was born in the oil-rich city of Warri, in the Niger Delta. She was the eldest of the seven children of the first indigenous chairman of Unilever Nigeria, Dr Christopher Abebe. She read English at Obafemi Awolowo University from 1967 to 1969, before enrolling at the Pitman Institute in London, where she trained as a secretary.


In 1978, she married Obasanjo, then a senior army officer, who became the military head of state in Nigeria the following year. Obasanjo also had other wives prior to the marriage.


A colourful woman, known for her expensive clothes and jewellery, Stella will be remembered for her pet project, Child Care Trust, a charity for children and young mothers, which was supported by some international agencies. She also campaigned fervently against women trafficking.


However, she was also a highly controversial figure, and up to the time of her death was enmeshed in several media accusations, which included corrupt dealings in the contract for the last African Games held in Nigeria, the illegal sale of luxurious government properties in Lagos and allegations that her son had bought expensive flats in America with government money.


Stella won several awards and recognitions, locally and internationally, for her charitable deeds. She is survived by her husband and son.


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