Obasanjo's transfer of power to an elected civilian leader in 1979 increased the nation's respect for him. His support of Shagari over Chief Awowolo, however, a fellow Yoruban, caused Obasanjo to lose the support of his ethnic group. He enjoys widespread support from many in the Hausa-speaking north.
After being imprisoned for allegedly plotting a coup attempt against General Sani Abacha in 1995, human rights groups began a public campaign for his release. Following the execution of Saro Wiwa, Nigeria was expelled from the Commonwealth of Nations. The death of Abacha and the ascendance of Abubakar opened the opportunity for a transition to democracy. Upon release from prison, Obasanjo decided to recommit himself to politics by running for the presidential nomination of the People's Democratic Party. His close relationship with the military and his commitment to democracy helped him capture his party's nomination in February 1999. Obasanjo defeated Chief Olu Falae by garnering 63% of the popular vote.