Recent History of Nigeria

Upon the election of Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigerians were euphoric, as it seemed they were finally free from military rule. The emergency was exacerbated by fuel shortages and extended power blackouts that left the country in darkness for weeks. The situation little improved under the new democracy. Obasanjo consolidated Nigeria's position as West Africa's political heavyweight and a key player in the Commonwealth, but the country was still beset by ethnic and religious violence, especially in Lagos, the Central Plateau and the southern oilfields.

It was not long before things deteriorated as several rival groups (religious and tribal), no longer threatened by army intervention, settled down to protracted conflict. In one night of carnage during the Sharia'a riots (over full implementation of Islamic law) in February 2000, over 300 people were killed in hand-to-hand rioting between Igbo Christians and Hausa Muslims in Kaduna.

Ethnic violence over the oil producing Niger Delta region, interreligious relations and inadequate infrastructure are current issues in the country.

Nigeria re-achieved democracy in 1999 when it elected Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba and former military head of state, as the new President ending almost thirty three-years of military rule (between from 1966 until 1999) excluding the short-lived second republic (between 1979-1983) by military dictators who seized power in coups d'état and counter-coups during the Nigerian military juntas of 1966-1979 and 1983-1998.

Although the elections which brought Obasanjo to power in 1999 and again in 2003 were condemned as unfree and unfair, Nigeria has shown marked improvements in attempts to tackle government corruption and to hasten development. While Obasanjo showed willingness to fight corruption, he was accused by others of the same.

Umaru Yar'Adua, of the People's Democratic Party, came into power in the general election of 2007 - an election that was witnessed and condemned by the international community as being massively flawed.

The Obasanjo Administration

The emergence of a democratic Nigeria in May 1999 ended 16 years of consecutive military rule. Olusegun Obasanjo became the steward of a country suffering economic stagnation and the deterioration of most of its democratic institutions. Obasanjo, a former general, was admired for his stand against the Abacha dictatorship, his record of returning the federal government to civilian rule in 1979, and his claim to represent all Nigerians regardless of religion.

The new President took over a country that faced many problems, including a dysfunctional bureaucracy, collapsed infrastructure, and a military that wanted a reward for returning quietly to the barracks.

The President moved quickly and retired hundreds of military officers who held political positions, established a blue-ribbon panel to investigate human rights violations, ordered the release of scores of persons held without charge, and rescinded a number of questionable licenses and contracts let by the previous military regimes. The government also moved to recover millions of dollars in funds secreted in overseas accounts.

Most civil society leaders and most Nigerians saw a marked improvement in human rights and democratic practice under Obasanjo. The press enjoyed greater freedom than under previous governments.

As Nigeria works out representational democracy, there have been conflicts between the executive and legislative branches over major appropriations and other proposed legislation. A sign of federalism has been the growing visibility of state governors and the inherent friction between Abuja and the various state capitols over resource allocation.

In the eight years since the end of military rule, Nigeria has witnessed recurrent incidents of ethno-religious, community, and resource-related conflicts. Many of these arose from distorted use of oil revenue wealth, as well as from flaws in the 1999 constitution. In May 1999, violence erupted in Kaduna State over the succession of an Emir, resulting in more than 100 deaths.

In November 1999, the army destroyed the town of Odi in Bayelsa State and killed scores of civilians in retaliation for the murder of 12 policemen by a local gang. In Kaduna in February-May 2000 over 1,000 people died in rioting over the introduction of criminal Shar'ia in the state. Hundreds of ethnic Hausa were killed in reprisal attacks in southeastern Nigeria. In September 2001, over 2,000 people were killed in inter-religious rioting in Jos.

In October 2001, hundreds were killed and thousands displaced in communal violence that spread across the Middle-Belt states of Benue, Taraba, and Nasarawa. On October 1, 2001, President Obasanjo announced the formation of a National Security Commission to address the issue of communal violence.

In 2003, he was re-elected in contentious and highly flawed national elections and state gubernatorial elections, which were litigated over two years.

Since 2004, an insurgency has broken out in the Niger delta, Nigeria's oil-producing region. The desperately impoverished local residents of the delta have seen little benefit from Nigeria's vast oil riches, and rebel groups are fighting for a more equal distribution of the wealth as well as greater regional autonomy. Violence by rebel groups has disrupted oil production and reduced output by about 20%. Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil producers and supplies the U.S. with one-fifth of its oil.

In Aug. 2006 Nigeria handed over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, in compliance with a 2002 World Court ruling.

Since 2006, violence, destruction of oil infrastructure, and kidnappings of primarily expatriates in the oil-rich Niger River Delta has intensified as militants demanded a greater share of federal revenue for states in the region, as well as benefits from community development. For many reasons, Nigeria's security services have been unable to respond to the security threat, which is both political and criminal.

In May 2006, the National Assembly soundly defeated an attempt to amend the constitution by supporters of a third presidential term for President Obasanjo. This measure was packaged in a bundle of what were otherwise non-controversial amendments. Nigeria's citizens addressed this issue in a constitutional, democratic, and relatively peaceful process.

Civilian Transition

Country’s first transition from one democratically elected president to another, the April 2007 national elections—were marred by widespread allegations of fraud, ballot stuffing, violence, and chaos. Nigeria missed an opportunity to strengthen an element of its democracy through a sound electoral process.

In the presidential and national legislative elections on April 21, 2007 more than 35 political parties participated. Just days before the election, the Supreme Court ruled that the election commission’s decision to remove Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a leading candidate and a bitter rival of President Olusegun Obsanjo, from the ballot was illegal. Ballots were reprinted, but they only showed party symbols rather than the names of candidates.

Umaru Yar’Adua, the candidate of the governing party, won the election in a landslide, taking more than 24.6 million votes. Second-place candidate Muhammadu Buhari tallied only about 6 million votes. International observers called the vote flawed an illegitimate. The chief observer for the European Union said the results “cannot be considered to have been credible.”

Analysis of the process by most international observers did not conform to what Nigeria's National Electoral Commission (INEC) reported. U.S. and international observers reported overall a seriously flawed process with credible reports of malfeasance and vote rigging in some constituencies.

The scope of violence that occurred also was regrettable. There were considerable degrees of difference in the conduct of elections among states, but serious differences were also observed within states during the two polling dates. The main opposition parties, All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) and the Action Congress (AC), as well as numerous smaller political parties and the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) filed petitions to challenge the results of gubernatorial elections in 34 of Nigeria's 36 states.

INEC's principal problems included politicization and lack of independence, lack of transparency in its operations and decision-making, and persistent failure to make adequate logistical arrangements for both voter registration and polling. With INEC's certification of the ruling party's presidential ticket as the winner with over 70% of the vote, Nigeria experienced its first transition of power between civilian administrations when President Obasanjo stepped down on May 29, 2007.

Newly-elected President Umaru Yar'Adua, a moderate and a respected governor from the northern state of Katsina, pledged publicly to make electoral reform, peace and security in the Niger Delta, and continued electoral reform his top priorities.

Although much reform remains to be implemented, the Yar'Adua administration has attempted to distance itself from its predecessor and shown unprecedented restraint in allowing the legislative and judicial branches to operate free from influence. In October 2007 Patricia Etteh, the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, resigned over allegations of corruption, after intense legislative and public pressure.

As of mid-February 2008, electoral tribunals and the courts had nullified at least six gubernatorial, nine Senate, 11 House, and 14 state-level House of Assembly elections from April 2007. On February 26, 2008 a tribunal upheld the results of the April 2007 presidential election. It observed that the election was indeed flawed, the evidence of rigging was not substantial enough to overturn the election results. Two of the leading opposition candidates have appealed that ruling to Nigeria's Supreme Court.

Last Updated on Sunday 3rd August 2008