True and Sad Story of Nigeria’s Former First Lady, Stella Obasanjo’s Death

Stella Obasanjo's death
Stella Obasanjo

On the 23rd of October, 2005, the whole of Nigeria was thrown into a state of grief as the news reported Nigeria’s First Lady, Stella Obasanjo’s death. At first, there were different speculations about the cause of her death one of which was “her husband’s dealings with a secret cult” but it was later revealed that Stella Obasanjo’s death was caused by something else entirely.


highlifextra gathered that the Nigerian first lady was making preparations for her 60th birthday when she opted for cosmetic surgery at a private health clinic in Puerto Banús, Marbella, Spain.

US President George W. Bush (C), US First Lady Laura Bush (2nd-L), Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo (R), and Nigeria's First Lady Stella Obasanjo (2nd-R) are presented flowers by children at an arrival ceremony at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, 12 July 2003. via Getty Images)
US President George W. Bush (C), US First Lady Laura Bush (2nd-L), Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo (R), and Nigeria’s First Lady Stella Obasanjo (2nd-R) are presented flowers by children at an arrival ceremony at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, 12 July 2003. via Getty Images)

Inside sources revealed that the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, was not aware that his wife went for surgery in Spain. Obasanjo revealed this in his autobiography, My Watch:

“I found that part of her 60th birthday anniversary, which was unknown to me, was her operation for her tummy and her shape.”

Obasanjo also debunked the claim that “he sacrificed his wife, Stella Obasanjo, to be successful in his political career”. He said,

“Before the verdict in Spain, I was unaware of what I came to hear later that I might have caused the death of my wife to sacrifice her for success in my job. “That is how wicked and satanic some Nigerians can be in their rumours and mischief.”

highlifextra gathered that during Stella Obasanjo’s surgery in Spain, a tube used for removing fat had been mistakenly placed into her abdominal cavity which punctured her colon and lacerated her liver making her seriously ill the following day. This was made known during the court hearing.

Olusegun and Stella Obasanjo before her death
Olusegun and Late Stella Obasanjo

During the court hearing, prosecutors said the surgeon initially failed to answer his mobile phone, and then waited more than four hours before driving Stella Obasanjo in his own car to an intensive care unit, where she died an hour later.

It was concluded that Stella Obasanjo’s death was caused by the carelessness and negligence of the Spanish surgeon because simple blood tests or an ultrasound procedure would have detected the internal injuries which, with more time, could have been treated.

The surgeon /doctor (identified in court documents only by the initials A. M) was sentenced to a year in prison for causing homicide through negligence. He was also disqualified from practicing medicine for three years, and ordered to pay $176,000 (£108,000) in compensation to Stella Obasanjo’s son.

Stella Obasanjo's death
Stella Obasanjo’s casket being lowered into the grave.

Olusegun Obasanjo referred to the doctor who carried out the surgery on Stella as “careless” and narrated how he got justice for Stella Obasanjo’s death with the help of the Nigerian Embassy in Spain and the Spanish authorities,

“I instructed that the doctor and the clinic be prosecuted. The lost life cannot be brought back but the successful prosecution would prevent carelessness and loss of life in the future.”

Thanks for reading,


  1. Doctor jailed over former first lady’s lipo death”. Australian Broadcasting Company.
  2. Doctor sentenced in death of Nigeria’s First Lady in Marbella”. Typically Spanish
  3. Paul Ohia (22 September 2009). “Surgeon Jailed over Stella Obasanjo’s Death”. THISDAY ONLINE
  4. Nigerian President’s wife dies after plastic surgery operation in Spain”, The Independent

Hajia Gambo Sawaba – Story of The Woman Who Survived Forced Marriage at 13 to Become a Powerful Political Activist in The 1950s

Hajia Gambo Sawaba
Hajia Gambo Sawaba

Hajia Gambo Sawaba was a Nigerian politician and activist who was well known for her charitable causes one of which was fighting for the freedom of northern women.


The rights and status of women in Northern Nigeria have to date remained a delicate issue to comprehend or solve although progress is being made. In more recent times, the #MeToo campaign has found its way into the region. Locally known as #AweraMeToo, the movement has stirred up a lot of controversy with women revealing their abusers amidst arrest of activists.

But before the #MeToo campaign or bravery of women in the north to stand up for themselves or go to the extremes of being called a feminist, only a handful of women risked their lives to be in the limelight and stand up for women issues such as early marriage, education and childbirth and one of such women is Hajia Gambo Sawaba.

Who Was Hajia Gambo Sawaba?

As a young girl, Gambo Sawaba, who was then known by her birth name Hajaratu Gambo, became popular both at home and in school for her feisty nature that made her never back down or give up a fight even if it meant a physical one. A personality trait that would lead her to become a pioneering feminist and activist in Northen Nigeria.

Born on February 15, 1933, she was the 5th of six children and was given the name Gambo as tradition demands that the name is given to a child who follows twins. Hajia Gambo’s father was a Ghanaian immigrant who was originally known as Theophilus Wilcox, but later changed his name to Isa Amartey Amarteifio. In 1910, he moved to Zaria to work with the Nigerian Railway Corporation where met his wife Fatima Amarteifio who he married after converting to Islam.

Up until her father’s death in 1943, Hajia Gambo received an education but had to stop at the age of 10 to support her mother who also died 3 years later when she was just 13 years old. She was quickly married off against her will to Abubakar Garba Bello, a World War II veteran who is said to have left and never returned after she got pregnant.

Her early struggles did not make her timid but rather made her more courageous and her experiences feeding into the desire of helping other your girls and women like her who were being oppressed by the society they found themselves in.

At the age of 17, Hajia Gambo took the risk of joining one of the strongest opposing political parties the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) that believed that the Northen Peoples Congress (NPC), which was the strongest party at the time with international support was taking advantage of and oppressing the people.

Hajiya Gambo Sawaba And M.K.O. Abiola
Hajiya Gambo Sawaba And M.K.O. Abiola

She was one of the very few women to be part of the party but what made her unique was the fact that she was young and less educated. Soon after joining NEPU, she was made the female leader in the NEPU Zaria branch and started her vigorous campaign against child marriages and forced labour while advocating for Western education to be fully established in the North and for girls to gain access to it.

She became very popular and targeted by several men and political leaders in power after she walked up the podium in Zaria at a lecture full of men to boldly face them and give a talk, challenging to support women and their rights. Despite gaining several enemies for that, she also gained the nickname Sawabiya which meant the redeemer.

Throughout her career, Hajia Gambo Sawaba was the target of several attacks and escaped many death traps as a means to silence her. In several articles written about her, it is said that she was arrested and jailed over 16 times and exiled from Kano at a point.

Her first arrest was in Kano where she went to meet women to educate them about their rights and get them to join NEPU. She was arrested and sent to jail with two hundred other women for not getting legal permit to hold the meeting.

Soon after her release, she started speaking on the bad state of the prisons and started a campaign for women to be able to attend and speak on issues which was not the case due to the Purdah system.

At a point in time, she was asked to leave Kano by the Emir or face punishment for disturbing social peace and progress.

Greatly influenced by Fela Kuti’s mother, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, the two became very good friends and Mrs Kuti became Hajia’s mentor.

She went on to hold the position of Deputy Chairman of the Great Nigerian Peoples Party and paved the way for several women from the North to become vocal in the political scene in Nigeria.

Hajia Gambo got married again to Hamidu Gusau but the two would later divorce due to different interests and fights. Hajia was unable to settle in any other marriage or relationship and died on October 14, 2001 at the age of 71.

  • Face2Face Africa
  • Paul, Mamza. “Nigeria’s Unsung Heroes (10). Feminism As a Prowess: The Profile of Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo and Hajiya Gambo Sawaba”. Gamji.
  • Funmilayo Ransome Kuti –
  • A Brief History Of Hajiya Gambo Sawaba -The Fearless Politician Who Fought For The Freedom Of Northern Women In Spite Of Several Imprisonments –