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Modern History of Nigeria

A leading oil and petroleum producer in the world, Nigeria organized as a loose federation of self-governing states in modern times. However, crippled with various hot debated issues during transitional tenure, the independent nation faced the overwhelming task of unifying a country with 250 ethnic and linguistic groups. As a result the foreign powers had vehemently been able to conquer the country.


Modern Nigeria dates from 1914, when the British Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were joined. British influence and control over what would become Nigeria grew through the 19th century. Unfortunately the British system of colonialism had done nothing to unify Nigeria or prepare it for independence.

The historical conflicts between north and south, and other inter-regional fighting, made the idea of a unified republic unworkable. By 1966 the dream of a flourishing democracy was floundering amidst a series of massacres, inter-regional hostilities and, finally, a military coup that installed the first of a series of military governments.

The Ibo responded by seceding from the federation and declaring the independent republic of Biafra, kick-starting an all-out civil war that lasted for nearly three years before federal Nigeria won and reintegrated Biafra. The war left behind nearly 1,000,000 dead and 'Biafra' as a byword in mass destruction and famine.

Independence

Nigeria was granted full independence in October 1960, as a federation of three regions (northern, western, and eastern) under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary form of government. Under the constitution, each of the three regions retained a substantial measure of self-government.

The federal government was given exclusive powers in defense and security, foreign relations, and commercial and fiscal policies. In October 1963, Nigeria altered its relationship with the United Kingdom by proclaiming itself a federal republic and promulgating a new constitution. A fourth region (the midwest) was established that year.

From the outset, Nigeria's ethnic, regional, and religious tensions were magnified by the significant disparities in economic and educational development between the south and the north.

Before independence a major reform done in 1922. As part of the constitution of the time, the British introduced the principle of direct election into the Legislative council.

In 1951, a new constitution elevated the provinces to regional status. The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) had control of the Eastern Region government, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) had control of the Northern Region, and the Action Group (AG) had control of the Western Region. By 1957, the Eastern and Western Regions attained self-governing status. In 1959, the Northern Region attained self-governing status.

A series of constitutions after World War II granted Nigeria greater autonomy; independence came in 1960. At that time, Northern and Southern Cameroon were given the option of staying as part of Nigeria or leaving Nigeria. Southern Cameroon decided to leave Nigeria, but Northern Cameroon stayed.

Also, on October 7, 1960, Nigeria was admitted to the United Nations as the 99th member. One of the earliest and most signification contributions to the UN was to furnish troops for the peacekeeping operating in Zaire in the early 1960s. Later on, the main thrust of Nigeria's activism on the world stage was to eradicate apartheid and racism from Africa.

In 1960, a Federal Government based on the Parliamentary system was created. More information about the government's history can be found in the Government section of this site. Only the parts that aid with the explanation of the history will be covered in this section.

Following nearly 16 years of military rule, a new constitution was adopted in 1999, and a peaceful transition to civilian government was completed.

Post Independence

Rocketing oil prices provided the Nigerian government with a chance to go on a spending spree of reckless proportions and the country quickly became a hotbed of foreigners rushing to Nigeria with their dash (bribe) money.

Corruption became de rigueur, crime rampant, and chaos spread like cancer. By the early 1980s the world recession sent oil prices plummeting again and plunged Nigeria into a cycle of massive debt, soaring inflation, large-scale unemployment and widespread corruption. In 1993 the country came under the iron-fisted rule of General Abacha.

But when the new republic incorporated a number of people with aspirations of their own sovereign nations had a high hope about the prospect of the country. Newly independent Nigeria's government was a coalition of conservative parties: the Nigerian People's Congress (NPC), a party dominated by Northerners and those of the Islamic faith, and the Igbo and Christian dominated National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became Nigeria's maiden Governor-General in 1960. Forming the opposition was the comparatively liberal Action Group (AG), which was largely dominated by Yorubas and led by Obafemi Awolowo. An imbalance was created in the polity by the result of the 1961 plebiscite.

The nation parted with its British legacy in 1963 by declaring itself a Federal Republic, with Azikiwe as the first president. When elections came about in 1965, the AG was outmaneuvered for control of Nigeria's Western Region by the Nigerian National Democratic Party, an amalgamation of conservative Yoruba elements backed heavily by the Federal Government amid dubious electoral circumstances. This left the Igbo NCNC to coalesce with the remnants of the AG in a weak progressive alliance.

This disequilibrium and perceived corruption of the electoral and political process led in 1966 to several back-to-back military coups. On January 15, 1966, a small group of army officers, mostly southeastern Igbos, led by a collection of young leftists under Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna & Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu overthrew the government and assassinated the federal prime minister and the premiers of the northern and western regions. The head of the army was invited by the rump of the Balewa regime to take over the affairs of the country as head of state.

The federal military government that assumed power was unable to quiet ethnic tensions or produce a constitution acceptable to all sections of the country. Its efforts to abolish the federal structure greatly raised tensions and led to another coup in July.

The coup-related massacre of thousands of Igbo in the north prompted hundreds of thousands of them to return to the southeast, where increasingly strong Igbo secessionist sentiment emerged.

This coup was counter-acted by another successful plot, supported primarily by Northern military officers and Northerners who favoured the NPC, it was engineered by Northern officers, which allowed Lt Colonel Yakubu Gowon to become head of state. This sequence of events led to an increase in ethnic tension and violence. The Northern coup, which was mostly motivated by ethnic and religious reasons was a bloodbath of both military officers and civilians, especially those of Igbo extraction.

In 1967, Gowon moved to split the existing 4 regions of Nigeria into 12 states. However, the military governor of the Eastern Region (Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu) refused to accept the division of the Eastern Region.

Finally, in May 1967, Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, the military governor of the eastern region, who emerged as the leader of increasing Igbo secessionist sentiment, declared the independence of the eastern region as the "Republic of Biafra." The Nigerian side attacked Biafra on July 6, 1967 at Garkem signalling the beginning of the 30 month war that ended on January 1970.

The ensuing civil war was bitter and bloody, ending in the defeat of Biafra. In Jan. 1970, after 31 months of civil war, Biafra surrendered to the federal government. Over 1 million people had died in the war and during the early 1970s a lot of time was spend reconstructing the areas that were formerly part of Biafra.

Following the war, Nigeria became to an extent even more mired in ethnic strife, as the defeated southeast and indeed southern Nigeria was now conquered territory for the federal military regime, which changed heads of state twice as army officers staged a bloodless coup against Gowon and enthroned Murtala Mohammed; Olusegun Obansanjo succeeded the former after an assassination.

Around this time, the petroleum industry was booming, and the economy was recovering from the effects of the civil war, though there were still problems with inflation, high unemployment, decline in the price of peanuts and cocoa, and a drought. In 1971, Nigeria joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

During the oil boom billions of dollars generated by production in the oil-rich Niger Delta flowed into the coffers of the Nigerian state. However, increasing corruption and graft at all levels of government squandered most of these earnings. The northern military clique benefited immensely from the oil boom to the detriment of the Nigerian people and economy.

As oil revenues fuelled the rise of federal subventions to states and precariously to individuals, the Federal Government soon became the centre of political struggle and the centre became the threshold of power in the country. As oil production and revenue rose, the Nigerian government created a dangerous situation as it became increasingly dependent on oil revenues and the international commodity markets for budgetary and economic concerns eschewing economic stability. That spelled doom to federalism in Nigeria.

Following the civil war, reconciliation was rapid and effective, and the country turned to the task of economic development. Foreign exchange earnings and government revenues increased spectacularly with the oil price rises of 1973-74.

However, the prolonged drought in 1973 led to the death of thousands of livestock, the suffering of farms, and the fishing industry. This, in combination with the oil boom, made a lot of people move into away from the farms, and more towards the cities. Though the oil boom in the early 1970s brought a lot of revenue to Nigeria, this seemed to stay mostly in government.

In 1976, Nigeria was further broken down into 19 states, and plans to move the capital to Abuja were in the works.

The Second Republic

On July 29, 1975, Gen. Murtala Muhammed and a group of fellow officers staged a bloodless coup, accusing Gen. Yakubu Gowon's military government of delaying the promised return to civilian rule and becoming corrupt and ineffective. General Muhammed replaced thousands of civil servants and announced a timetable for the resumption of civilian rule by October 1, 1979. Muhammed also announced the government's intention to create new states and to construct a new federal capital in the center of the country.

General Muhammed was assassinated on February 13, 1976, in an abortive coup. His chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, became head of state. Obasanjo adhered meticulously to the schedule for return to civilian rule, moving to modernize and streamline the armed forces and seeking to use oil revenues to diversify and develop the country's economy. Seven new states were created in 1976, bringing the total to 19. The process of creating additional states continued until, in 1996, there were 36.

A constituent assembly was elected in 1977 to draft a new constitution, which was published on September 21, 1978, when the ban on political activity, in effect since the advent of military rule, was lifted. Political parties were formed, and candidates were nominated for president and vice president, the two houses of the National Assembly, governorships, and state houses of assembly.

Beginning in 1979, Nigerians participated in a brief return to democracy when Obasanjo transferred power to the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari. In 1979, five political parties competed in a series of elections in which a northerner, Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), was elected president. All five parties won representation in the National Assembly.

In August 1983, Shagari and the NPN were returned to power in a landslide victory, with a majority of seats in the National Assembly and control of 12 state governments. But the elections were marred by violence, and allegations of widespread vote rigging and electoral malfeasance led to legal battles over the results.

On December 31, 1983, the military overthrew the Second Republic. Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the leader of the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the country's new ruling body. He charged the civilian government with economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, election fraud, and a general lack of concern for the problems of Nigerians. He also pledged to restore prosperity to Nigeria and to return the government to civilian rule but was stymied in his attempt to deal with Nigeria's severe economic problems.

The military again seized power in 1984, only to be followed by another military coup the following year. Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida announced that the country would be returned to civilian rule, but after the presidential election of June 12, 1993, he voided the results. Nevertheless, Babangida resigned as president in August. The Buhari government was peacefully overthrown by the SMC's third-ranking member, Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, in August 1985.

Babangida moved to restore freedom of the press and to release political detainees being held without charge. As part of a 15-month economic emergency, he announced stringent pay cuts for the military, police, and civil servants and enacted similar cuts for the private sector. Imports of rice, maize, and wheat were banned.

Babangida led a national debate on proposed economic reform and recovery measures, which convinced him of intense opposition to an economic recovery package dependent on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.

The Abortive Third Republic

President Babangida promised to return the country to civilian rule by 1990; this date was later extended until January 1993. In early 1989, a constituent assembly completed work on a constitution for the Third Republic. In the spring of 1989, political activity was again permitted. In October 1989 the government established two "grassroots" parties: the National Republican Convention (NRC), which was to be "a little to the right," and the Social Democratic (SDP), "a little to the left." Other parties were not allowed to register by the Babangida government.

In April 1990, mid-level officers attempted to overthrow the Babangida government. The coup failed, and 69 accused coup plotters were later executed after secret trials before military tribunals.

The transition resumed after the failed coup. In December 1990 the first stage of partisan elections was held at the local government level. While turnout was low, there was no violence, and both parties demonstrated strength in all regions of the country, with the SDP winning control of a majority of local government councils.

In December 1991, gubernatorial and state legislative elections were held throughout the country. Babangida decreed in December 1991 that previously banned politicians would be allowed to contest in primaries scheduled for August 1992. These were canceled due to fraud, and subsequent primaries scheduled for September also were canceled. All announced candidates were disqualified from again standing for president once a new election format was selected.

In 1993, 300,000 Ogoni marched peacefully to demand a share in oil revenues and some form of political autonomy. They had formed an organization called MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People), and they also asked the oil companies to begin environmental remediation and pay compensation for past damage. They were a minority and felt that they were not being given their human rights, and they were being tortured just so the country could make money off the oil that was on their land.

This started a lot of opposition from the government, and the leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned on several occasions. In November of 1993, Abacha took over the government, and this is when the real trouble started for the Ogonis.

The military started terrorizing Ogoniland with arrests, rapes, executions, burnings and lootings. It is believed that the Shell oil company was working with the government, and that is part of the reason there were many protests worldwide to boycott them. In May 1994 Saro-Wiwa was abducted from his home and jailed along with other MOSOP leaders and charged with the murder of four Ogoni leaders.

The presidential election was finally held on June 12, 1993, with the inauguration of the new president scheduled to take place August 27, 1993, the eighth anniversary of President Babangida's coming to power.

In historic June 12, 1993 presidential elections that most observers deemed to be Nigeria's fairest, early returns indicated that wealthy Yoruba businessman M.K.O. Abiola had won a decisive victory. However, on June 23, Babangida, using several pending lawsuits as a pretense, annulled the election, throwing Nigeria into turmoil. More than 100 persons were killed in riots before Babangida agreed to hand power to an "interim government" on August 27.

Babangida then attempted to renege on his decision. Without popular and military support, he was forced to hand over to Ernest Shonekan, a prominent nonpartisan businessman. Shonekan was to rule until new elections, slated for February 1994. Although he had led Babangida's Transitional Council since early 1993, Shonekan was unable to reverse Nigeria's ever-growing economic problems or to defuse lingering political tension.

By this time, the world was involved in the issue, and dismissed these charges as fraudulent. While Ken was in detention, he was denied legal or medical help (which if you do a lot of reading, is unfortunately common in Nigerian prisons), and he had 4 heart attacks while in jail. On October 31, 1995, the military government tried him and the other 8 people, and found them guilty of the murder of the 4 Ogoni people.

The sentence immediately drew an international outcry by concerned persons and organizations, including Earthlife Africa, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the United Nations, and others. They urged the government to spare the lives of the environmentalists, and they called on Shell to intervene, but on November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa and the others were executed anyway. Their execution resulted in more international outcry, a lot of which you can read more about on the web, and Nigeria was almost immediately suspended from the Commonwealth.

With the country sliding into chaos, Defense Minister Sani Abacha quickly assumed power and forced Shonekan's "resignation" on November 17, 1993. Abacha dissolved all democratic political institutions and replaced elected governors with military officers. Abacha promised to return the government to civilian rule but refused to announce a timetable until his October 1, 1995 Independence Day address.

Following the annulment of the June 12 election, the United States and other nations imposed various sanctions on Nigeria, including restrictions on travel by government officials and their families and suspension of arms sales and military assistance. Additional sanctions were imposed as a result of Nigeria's failure to gain full certification for its counter-narcotics efforts.

Although Abacha's takeover was initially welcomed by many Nigerians, disenchantment grew rapidly. A number of opposition figures united to form a new organization, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which campaigned for an immediate return to civilian rule. Most Nigerians boycotted the elections held from May 23-28, 1994, for delegates to the government-sponsored Constitutional Conference.

On June 11, 1994, using the groundwork laid by NADECO, Abiola declared himself president and went into hiding. He reemerged and was promptly arrested on June 23. With Abiola in prison and tempers rising, Abacha convened the Constitutional Conference June 27, but it almost immediately went into recess and did not reconvene until July 11, 1994.

On July 4, a petroleum workers union called a strike demanding that Abacha release Abiola and hand over power to him. Other unions then joined the strike, which brought economic life in around Lagos area and in much of the southwest to a standstill. After calling off a threatened general strike in July, the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) reconsidered a general strike in August, after the government imposed "conditions" on Abiola's release. On August 17, 1994, the government dismissed the leadership of the NLC. Although striking unions returned to work, the government arrested opponents, closed media houses, and moved strongly to curb dissent.

The government alleged in early 1995 that some 40 military officers and civilians were engaged in a coup plot, including former head of state Obasanjo and his deputy, retired Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua. After a secret tribunal, most of the accused were convicted, and several death sentences were handed down. The tribunal also charged, convicted, and sentenced prominent human rights activists, journalists, and others--including relatives of the coup suspects--for their alleged "anti-regime" activities. In October, the government announced that the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) and Abacha had approved final sentences for those convicted of participation in the coup plot.

In an October 1, 1995 address to the nation, Gen. Sani Abacha announced the timetable for a 3-year transition to civilian rule. Only five of the political parties which applied for registration were approved by the regime.

In local elections held in December 1997, turnout was under 10%. By the April 1998 state assembly and gubernatorial elections, all five of the approved parties had nominated Abacha as their presidential candidate in controversial party conventions.

Public reaction to this development in the transition program was apathy and a near-complete boycott of the elections. On December 21, 1997, the government announced the arrest of the country's second highest-ranking military officer, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya, 10 other officers, and eight civilians on charges of coup plotting.

Abacha, widely expected to succeed himself as a civilian president on October 1, 1998, remained head of state until his death on June 8 of that year.

Abacha died of a heart attack in 1998 and was succeeded by another military ruler, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, who pledged to step aside for an elected leader by May 1999.

The PRC, under Abubakar, commuted the sentences of those accused in the alleged 1997 coup in July 1998. In March 1999, Diya and 54 others accused or convicted of participation in coups in 1990, 1995, and 1997 were released. Following the death of former head of state Abacha in June, Nigeria released almost all known civilian political detainees, including the Ogoni 19.

During the Abacha regime, the government continued to enforce its arbitrary authority through the federal security system--the military, the state security service, and the courts. Under Abacha, all branches of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses. After Abubakar's assumption of power and consolidation of support within the PRC, human rights abuses decreased.

Abubakar's Transition to Civilian Rule

During both the Abacha and Abubakar eras, Nigeria's main decision-making organ was the exclusively military Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) which governed by decree. The PRC oversaw the 32-member federal executive council composed of civilians and military officers. Pending the promulgation of the constitution written by the constitutional conference in 1995, the government observed some provisions of the 1979 and 1989 constitutions.

Neither Abacha nor Abubakar lifted the decree suspending the 1979 constitution, and the 1989 constitution was not implemented. The judiciary's authority and independence was significantly impaired during the Abacha era by the military regime's arrogation of judicial power and prohibition of court review of its action. The court system continued to be hampered by corruption and lack of resources after Abacha's death. In an attempt to alleviate such problems, Abubakar's government implemented a civil service pay raise and other reforms.

In August 1998, the Abubakar government appointed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections for local government councils, state legislatures and governors, the National Assembly, and president.

In the meantime, oil troubles continue to plague Nigeria. Environmental activists are still speaking up and protesting against oil companies in parts of Nigeria because it is ruining their environment. These protests and attacks have led to oil production losses of over 400000 a day in September and October of 1998.

INEC held a series of four successive elections between December 1998 and February 1999. Former military head of state Olusegun Obasanjo, freed from prison by Abubakar, ran as a civilian candidate and won the presidential election. Irregularities marred the vote, and the defeated candidate, Chief Olu Falae, challenged the electoral results and Obasanjo's victory in court.

The Feb. 1999, free presidential elections led to an overwhelming victory for Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, a former member of the military elite who was imprisoned for three years for criticizing the military rule. Obasanjo's commitment to democracy, his anticorruption drives, and his desire to recover billions allegedly stolen by the family and cronies of Abacha initially gained him high praise from the populace as well as the international community.

The PRC promulgated a new constitution, based largely on the suspended 1979 constitution, before the May 29, 1999 inauguration of the new civilian president. The constitution included provisions for a bicameral legislature, the National Assembly, consisting of a 360-member House of Representatives and a 109-member Senate. The executive branch and the office of president retained strong federal powers. The legislature and judiciary, having suffered years of neglect, are finally rebuilding as institutions and beginning to exercise their constitutional roles in the balance of power.

But within two years, the hope of reform seemed doomed as economic mismanagement and rampant corruption persisted. Obasanjo's priorities in 2001 were symbolized by his plans to build a $330–million national soccer stadium, an extravagance that exceeded the combined budget for both health and education. In April 2003, he was reelected.

Nigeria's stability has been repeatedly threatened by fighting between fundamentalist Muslims and Christians over the spread of Islamic law (sharia) across the heavily Muslim north. One-third of Nigeria's 36 states is ruled by sharia law. More than 10,000 people have died in religious clashes since military rule ended in 1999.

In 2003, after religious and political leaders in the Kano region banned polio immunization—contending that it sterilized girls and spread HIV—an outbreak of polio spread through Nigeria, entering neighboring countries the following year. The Kano region lifted its ten-month ban against vaccination in July 2004. On Aug. 24, there were 602 polio cases worldwide, 79% of which were in Nigeria.

Last Updated on Sunday 3rd August 2008