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5 West African Presidents Who Got Assassinated

Current fourth-year undergraduate studying Civil Engineering in China.

1. Thomas Sankara: Burkina Faso

A revolutionary figure in West Africa, Thomas Sankara was assassinated October 15th, 1987, in a coup by his then-deputy Blaise Compaore, who became president after his death. There was no proof linking Compaore to his death, and Thomas Sankara's death was officially attributed to natural causes.

Compaore was ousted from office after his regime fell in 2014. In 2015, a new investigation was opened by the then-temporary government into the death of Sankara. A body believed to be Sankara's was discovered riddled with bullets, which further proved that he was indeed assassinated and did not die of natural causes.

An international arrest warrant was issued against Blaise Compaore, who has been in exile in Ivory Coast since he was ousted. However, he denies the allegations and refuses to stand trial.

Car in which Murtala Mohammed was killed.

Car in which Murtala Mohammed was killed.

2. General Murtala Mohammed: Nigeria

General Murtala Mohammed, the then-Head of State and chief commander of the armed forces of Nigeria during the military regime, was assassinated in Lagos on February 13th, 1976.

His black Mercedes saloon car was accosted by armed men led by Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka, who succeeded in the assassination of Tafawa Balewa. The only person left alive was the orderly who was in the car with Tafawa Balewa, Michael Otuwu, who lived to tell the story.

Believing the coup was a success, Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka headed to NBC to tell the news of the successful assassination and also to explain why to the nation, but he was almost arrested before the second part of his speech. He escaped but was later found on the 15th of May 1976, after which he and his men were publicly executed.

It has been said that General Murtala Mohammed would have escaped the assassination unharmed had he not opened the door of his vehicle. Another round of bullets was sprayed on the vehicle after the first round had ebbed, which finally led to his death.

Other people, such as General Olusegun Obasanjo and Danjuma, who left their offices later were also targeted for an assassination but managed to avoid it. This may have been due to the radio broadcast of the assassination, as well as the fact that they did not leave their respective offices as early as Murtala did.

Joao Bernardo Vieira

Joao Bernardo Vieira

3. Joao Bernardo Vieira: Guinea-Bissau

Joao Bernardo Vieira was assassinated on March 2, 2009. The official report says he was killed by unidentified soldiers and was apparently severely beaten before he was shot multiple times to seal his death.

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He was a formal military leader who gained power after a bloodless coup in 1980, and he ruled until 1984 before running again and ruling for the second time. He was ousted in 1999. He gained back power in a democratic election for the third time in 2005 after returning from exile.

He died a day after his archrival, army chief of staff Gen Batista Tagme Na Waie, was killed in a bomb attack inside his own home. Many people agreed that these two deaths were not a coincidence. It was rumored that Vieira's death was a retaliation for the bomb blast. The funeral was held in Bissau on the 10th March 2009.

He was highly suspected of being in the drug trade.

4. Sylvanus Olympio: Togo

Sylvanus Olympio was the first president of Togo after he led Togo to gain its independence in 1960. He became president in 1961 but was assassinated on January 13th, 1963. He also established a separate currency for Togo, thereby also making them independent of the West African franc. This made white supremacists unhappy with him.

He was shot down outside the United States embassy in Lomé while fleeing from a group of eight Togolese militants led by Emmanuel Bodjolle under the direction of Sergeant Étienne Eyadéma Gnassingbé. He had reportedly tried to gain entry into the embassy for safety but found out that the embassy was closed. Fortunately for him, he had sent his family to safety before his death.

It was the first successful coup recorded in Africa at the time in postwar sub-Saharan Africa.

Niger flag.

Niger flag.

5. Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara: Niger

Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara came into power through a military coup after removing the first democratically elected president from office. He was assassinated on April 9th, 1999, by his own military convoy while trying to board a plane at the Niamey airport in the capital city of Niger.

He was assassinated because he was dissident in his post and refused to resign despite being called upon to do so numerous times. Many workers in the country had remained unpaid due to the crushing debt the country was under, which also helped lead to the assassination.

He was buried the following Sunday by close family members and chosen officials. The then-Prime Minister, Mr. Ibrahim Hassane Mayaki, said the death was the result of an "unfortunate accident."

Maïnassara's widow, Clemence, and five of her children who had sought refuge in the French embassy were granted asylum in Senegal.


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Naomi Adeniji

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