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Stella Obasanjo’s Death Revisited: Final Hours Of How Nigeria’s Most Privileged First Lady Died In Spain

Stella Obasanjo’s Death Revisited: Final Hours Of How Nigeria’s Most Privileged First Lady Died In Spain


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When a beloved member of the ruling family passes away, the shock and sadness affect millions.

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While plenty high profile members of the ruling family in Nigeria have died over the years, the sudden death of Stella Obasanjo, Nigeria’s First Lady from 1999 until her death in 2005, was a shock to the entire nation.

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In this article, we take a closer look at the final hours of Nigeria’s former first lady, who was born into a privileged family, live a privileged life, and died under unfortunate yet privileged circumstances.


Stella was born into the influential Abebe family on November 14, 1945. Her father, Dr. Christopher Abebe, was the first African chairman of the United African Company (UAC). She became Nigeria’s First Lady in 1999, following the election of her husband as president.

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Photo Credit: Gettyimages

During her reign, she established Child Care Trust, for the care of underprivileged and/or disabled children. She also joined the Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation and on 6 February 2003, the mother-of-one declared the day the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. Stella was a political activist in her own right, supporting such causes as women’s liberation, youth as leaders of tomorrow, and the rehabilitation of a war-torn Nigeria.

News Of Her Dearh

Then president Olusegun Obasanjo, in the early hours of Sunday, October 23, 2005, lost his wife and Nigeria’s First Lady, Stella.

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Stella, who would have been 60 in November of that year, died in Spain after undergoing surgery.

Although then Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media Matters, Mrs. Oluremi Oyo, while breaking the news at a press conference, did not disclose the nature of the surgery, THISDAY gathered that the First Lady died of complications arising from cosmetic surgery to reduce fat from her body.

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Addressing State House Correspondents at about 9.30am on Sunday, Oyo said,

Obasanjo announces with deepest sorrow, the death, in the early hours this morning, of his beloved wife and First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo.

Mrs. Obasanjo died in Spain after undergoing surgery. She would have been 60 years old next month.

Oyo, while holding back tears, and saying that the First Lady’s death gives her deep sorrow, added that condolence registers have been opened at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja, State House, Marina, Lagos and President Obasanjo’s home in Abeokuta.

When asked what kind of surgery Stella underwent in Spain, she said that I cannot say.

Her Final Days 

Stella, THISDAY checks revealed, flew into Spain on Thursday, October 20, from Paris and breathed her last at about 4 am, October 23, at Marbella Hospital in Malaga, Spain.

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Sources told THISDAY that as a result of complications resulting from the surgery the First Lady had a massive asthma attack and fell into a coma/from which she did not recover.

Two Spanish newspapers and L’a Nacion Domingo said she had the surgery at Molding Clinic, near Banus Port before she was transferred to Legal Medicine Institute of Malaya, following post-surgery complications. While the two papers said she died at the Institute, a Spanish Radio reported that Stella’s remains was moved from Molding Clinic to USP Hospital of Marbella (Old Europe Clinic) after her death.

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The radio reported that medical personnel at USP Hospital tried resuscitation maneuvers but were not successful “given her advanced state of shock.”

The radio said an initial autopsy called ‘pre-survey’ of the corpse was conducted and samples took to the Legal Medicine Institute for final autopsy.

Her Final Hours

In a telephone interview with THISDAY on the day of her death, the then Nigerian ambassador to Spain, Dr. Kingsley Ebenyi, gave graphic details of Stella’s last moment.

According to him, Stella came into Paris Thursday in her usual vivacity, betraying no sign of illness. She was actually billed to represent the President at the 40th anniversary of Cardinal Francis Arinze’s ordination in the Vatican City on Saturday.

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But the first lady later told the ambassador that she would like to do a medical check up and that she had already made an appointment with the doctor.
Soon afterwards, both Ebenyi and Stella drove to the hospital in the same car. On Friday morning she was taken to the theatre.

The first lady was said to have been hale and hearty after the operation and she spoke with Ebenyi later that Friday.  Stella was said to have given the envoy go ahead to arrange for her hotel accommodation in Rome where she was being expected the next day.

Her condition, however, began to deteriorate that Saturday which necessitated that she remained in the hospital. The hospital later called to inform the ambassador that her condition was getting worse.

At 3am, the ambassador had woken the President up with a telephone call to inform him that his wife’s condition was deteriorating. Obasanjo who was said to have taken the news calmly then asked the ambassador to get details of what was wrong with her and brief him on the development.

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About one hour later, news came from the hospital that Stella had passed on.

Asked how he broke the sad news to the president, Ebenyi said he could not tell him directly.

I called him (President Obasanjo) at 3am to inform him that the first lady’s condition was getting worse. I woke him up from sleep and he said ok and that whatever the situation is I should let him know. This morning I was informed by the hospital that she had died. But I couldn’t call the president to break the sad news to him. Instead I called the ADC and told him so it was the ADC that told the president. I did not know how to break such news to him.

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“He (Obasanjo) later called me to ask for the details of what happened to her and what really went wrong.
The president was said to have requested that the remains be brought back immiediately.

Obasanjo was said to have spoken to the Spanish King urging that the autopsy be done as fast as possible so the body could be flown home.

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The surgeon, who carried out the operation was later arrested and sentenced to one year of imprisonment in September 2009 on a charge of “causing homicide through negligence”, disqualified from medicine for a period of three years and ordered to pay €120,000 (approximately US$176,000) in compensation to Stella Obasanjo’s only son, Muyiwa.

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Prosecutors had requested a two-year jail term and five-year disqualification. A request for compensation for the Nigerian government was also rejected.

Cause Of Death

The physician had misplaced a tube designed for a liposuction procedure into Obasanjo’s abdominal cavity. She sustained a punctured colon and lacerated liver and died two days after the surgery. The doctor did not immediately answer his mobile phone when called after performing the operation and reportedly left Obasanjo for four hours. Had she been hospitalised in time, it is thought she might have survived her injuries.

May her soul continue to rest in peace.

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