A Chronological History of Nigeria from the cradle to present-day existence is carefully explicated in this article. Happy reading!
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We will bring to bearing the various events from both the pre-literate and literate era in its chronological order of occurrence that transpired from time immemorial that contributed positively and negatively to Nigerian History.
The article is mainly concerned with Nigeria’s history summary and facts about Nigeria and shall give all the necessary details.
Contrary to the Western belief that Africa as a whole had no history before the coming of the Europeans, archaeological findings and oral tradition has submitted evidential reports supporting the fact that Nigeria and indeed Africa as a whole is a historical part of the world with evidence of the Terracotta figurines of the Nok culture, Igbo Ukwu, etc.
The article will take us on a ride through the historical highway of the largest nation in Africa, Nigeria, exploring every significant event such as early empires, exploration of the Niger Slave trade, Legitimate Trade, Missionary Enterprise, Colonialism/Imperialism, Independence, Coup d’etats and the four Republic of Nigeria’s self-rule.
History of Nigeria Before Independence
The history of Nigeria can be traced to prehistoric settlers (Nigerians) who were domiciled in the area in 1100 BC. multitudinous ancient African civilizations settled in the region that is today known as Nigeria.
Examples are; The Benin Empire, the kingdom of Nri, and the Oyo Empire. Most importantly, the account of the history of Nigeria will be incomplete without the inclusion of the Fulani Jihad which was championed by Usman Dan Fodio.
Prior to this time, archaeological research pioneered by Charles Thurstan Shaw showed that people were already living in some areas in south-eastern Nigeria like Nsukka, Igbo Ukwu, Afikpo, and Ugwuele.
Excavations in Afikpo, Ugwuele, and Nsukka show evidence of long inhabitations as early as 6,000 BC. These excavations revealed a 9th-century indigenous culture that created highly sophisticated work in bronze metalwork.
The stone ax heads, imported in great quantities from the north and used in opening the forest for agricultural development were revered by the Yoruba descendants of Neolithic pioneers as ‘’’ thunderbolts’’ hurled to earth by the gods.
The earliest identified iron-using Nigerian culture was that of the Nok culture that thrived between 900 BC and 200 AD on the Jos Plateau.
The Hausa Kingdoms in the History of Nigeria
The Hausa kingdom was a collection of states located around the Niger River and Lake Chad axis with its evolution tied to the Bayajidda legend.
The Bayajidda legend states that the Hausa states were founded by the sons of Bayajidda, a prince who got married to the last Kabara od Daura and heralded the end of the matriarchal monarchs that had previously ruled the Hausa people.
Upon the creation of Hausa kingdoms, the seven states of Hausaland divided up production and labor activities in accordance with their location and natural resources. While Kano and Rano are known as ’’Chiefs of Indigo’’ and were known for cotton production, Zaria, known as ’’Chief of Slaves’’ supplied the labor force.
Katsina and Daura were the ’’Chiefs of the Market’’ because they had access to the caravans coming across the deserts from the north.
Gobir, situated in the west was the’’ Chief of War’’ and was responsible for protecting the empire from the invasive Kingdoms of Ghana and Songhai.
Just as Islam arrived in the empire under the aegis of the Malian clerics via the caravan routes, the Fulanis in the 13th century also left their place of origin in Senegal River valley and penetrated the empire with their cattle, sheep, and goats. Some Fulbe converted to Islam and settled among the Hausas.
There they constituted a devoutly religious, educated elite who made themselves indispensable to the Hausa kings as government advisers, Islamic judges, and teachers.
In 1804, the Fulani jihadist launched an attack on the Muslims which lasted till 1808. The major reasons for the outbreak of the Jihad which was spearheaded by Uthman Dan Fodio are as follows;
- The quest by the Fulanis to take over the Hausaland
- High taxation was imposed by Muslim leaders.
- Islamic impunity.
- The luxurious lifestyle of Muslim leaders.
In 1808, the Hausa nation was finally conquered by Usman Dan Fodio and incorporated into the Hausa-Fulani Sokoto Caliphate.
Oyo Empire in the History of Nigeria
The Oyo Empire was one of the largest empires in West Africa before the 19th century. It shared a boundary with the River Niger to the North, Benin Kingdom to the East, Dahomey to the West, and Gulf of Guinea to the South. The empire began to crumble in the late 18th century and finally collapsed in the 19th century.
Structurally, the Alafin was the political head of the empire. He shared power with Oyomesi, a council of seven Chiefs headed by a Bashorun. Check and balances were strictly implemented in the empire to streamline the power of the Alafin.
For instance, in events of the death of the Alafin, his first son known as Arenu was forced to die with the father so that he will not succeed his father. It was the Bashorun in conjunction with the Oyomesi that choose the Alafin. In the course of time, a leadership crisis erupted in the empire.
In 1817, one Afonja who was the Kankafo (commander of the army) revolted against the Alafin stool/institution. In his bid to seize power, he sought for his friend Alimi who was a warrior of Usman Dan Fodio`s army and at the end, Abdulsalami, the son of Alimi became the Emir of Illorin.
In 1835, the capital of Oyo was captured and destroyed by the Jihadist. The destruction of the empire resulted in the mass dispersal of people to many places in Yorubaland like Ogbomosho, Oshogbo, Ife, Owu, and Egbaland. Meanwhile, before this event, the Yoruba’s has sold a few of their kinsmen as slaves. As a result of the fall of Oyo empire, the market and the coast became overcrowded with Yoruba people for sale.
Ife and Ijebu were accused of capturing Oyo people as slaves. Owu supported by Oyo refugees attacked and conquered Ife and Owu. The victorious Ife and Ijebu people moved into Egbaland turning Egba people into refugees also. The civil wars created problems of bitterness and suspicion between the branches of Yoruba families.
Exploration of the Niger
The River Niger is the principal river in West Africa and the third-largest in the African continent with 4.180 lengths. Most importantly, the river Niger was the major highway into the interior which the European traders, Missionaries, and administrators used to access the hinterlands.
In 1788, a body known as the African Association was formed in London by Joseph Banks as a think-tank that was involved in exploration. Between 1789 and 1793, three explorations or expeditions of the Niger had been undertaken by the African Association. In 1795, the association sponsored a Scottish Explorer Mungo Park who sailed from Gambia to Segu in Mali and ended in 1796.
Mungo Park returned in 1805, this time the exploration was sponsored by the British government. The crew was made up of 43 European and one African guide. They sailed from Gambia and built a boat at a place called Bussa.
The next exploration was undertaken in 1822 by Hugh Clapperton. This expedition was sponsored by the British government. Other members of the crew included Dr. Walter Oudney, Major Denham, including a carpenter known as Hilman.
This time around, they traveled from Tripoli to Libya across the Sahara. When they entered Nigeria, Denham explored Borno and Lake Chad area while Clapperton moved on to Kano and Sokoto. At Sokoto, Clapperton visited Sultan Bello to seek access to cross the River Niger but was denied access and he returned in 1825.
The next expedition was carried out by Hugh Clapperton and his servant, Richard Lander. They traveled from Badagry and accessed the Niger through Yoruba land. The two explorers crossed the Niger at a place called Bussa, eventually where Mungo Park died. Clapperton died in Sokoto in 1826.
Upon Clapperton`s death, Richard Lander and his brother John Lander finally broke the jinx and the mystery surrounding the River Niger in 1830. This time around, they sailed from Badagry to Bussa.
At Bussa, they sailed with a canoe from River Niger down to Brass in the heart of the Niger Delta, and by this phenomenon, the mystery surrounding the course and mouth of the River Niger was broken. This led to further exploration of the Niger River by MacGregor Laid, John Becroft, Dr. Henrich Barth, etc.
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Impacts of the exploration of the River Niger
a. The persistent and continuous expedition of the Niger resulted in the discovery of the mystery surrounding the course and mouth of the River Niger.
b. Trade was expanded into the interior.
c. The successful exploration of the Niger opened the pathway for the Christian missionaries to penetrate the interior.
Slave Trade in the History of Nigeria
Slave trade in Nigeria did not emerge upon the coming of the Europeans (Portuguese). It is believed that slavery existed within Nigeria where people were taken into slavery mostly for domestic purposes. The higher class who were mostly agricultural merchants acquire many slaves to work on their farmlands.
Some persons were sold into slavery as punishments for their shortcomings, like stealing, adultery, and non-adherence to the laws of the land. Also, there were cases where parents sold their stubborn and disobedient children into slavery.
The slave trade germinated a new leaf when the need arose for a labor force in the New World plantation. The first set of slaves that worked on the plantation were the red Indies.
They were too fragile and as a result, could not work effectively and most of them died of epidermis and malaria. Africa was the next and best answer to the New World plantation. Africans were perceived to be strong enough to work tirelessly on the plantation and also withstand the epidermis.
By 1471 Portuguese ships had toured the West African coast south as far as the Niger Delta, although they did not know that it was the Delta, and in 1481 emissaries from the King of Portugal visited the court of the Oba of Benin. For a time, Portugal and Benin maintained close relations.
Portuguese soldiers aided Benin in its wars; Portuguese even came to be spoken at the Oba’s court. Gwatto, the port of Benin, became the depot to handle the peppers, ivory, and increasing numbers of slaves offered by the Oba in exchange for coral beads; textile imports from India; European-manufactured articles, including tools and weapons; and manilas (brass and bronze bracelets that were used as currency and also were melted down for objets d’art).
The Portuguese, as a matter of fact, bought slaves for resale on the Gold Coast, where slaves were traded for gold. For this reason, the southwestern coast of Nigeria and neighboring parts of the present-day Republic of Benin (not to be confused with the kingdom of Benin) became known as the “slave coast.”
When the African coast began to supply slaves to the Americas in the last third of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese continued to look to the Bight of Benin as one of its sources of supply.
By then they were concentrating activities on the Angolan coast, which supplied roughly 40 percent of all slaves shipped to the Americas throughout the duration of the transatlantic trade, but they always maintained a presence on the Nigerian coast.
The Portuguese monopoly on West African trade was broken at the end of the sixteenth century when Portugal’s influence was challenged by the rising naval power of the Netherlands. The Dutch took over Portuguese trading stations on the coast that were the source of slaves for the Americas. French and English competitions later undermined the Dutch position.
Although slave ports from Lagos to Calabar would see the flags of many other European maritime countries (including Denmark, Sweden, and Brandenburg) and the North American colonies, Britain became the dominant slaving power in the eighteenth century. Its ships handled two-fifths of the transatlantic traffic during the century. The Portuguese and French were responsible for another two-fifths.
Most of these slaves were Igbo and Yoruba, with significant concentrations of Hausa, Ibibio, and other ethnic groups. In the eighteenth century, two polities–Oyo and the Aro confederacy—were responsible for most of the slaves exported from Nigeria. The Aro Confederacy continued to export slaves through the 1830s, but most slaves in the nineteenth century were a product of the Yoruba civil wars that followed the collapse of Oyo in the 1820s.
Nigeria kept its important position in the slave trade throughout the great expansion of the transatlantic trade after the middle of the seventeenth century.
Slightly more slaves came from the Nigerian coast than from Angola in the eighteenth century, while in the nineteenth century perhaps 30 percent of all slaves sent across the Atlantic came from Nigeria. Over the period of the whole trade, more than 3.5 million slaves were shipped from Nigeria to the Americas.
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Legitimate Trade in the History of Nigeria
After the suppression of the slave trade, a legal trade known as Legitimate was established where materials groundnut, ivory, and mainly oil palm were sold and not human beings. The new trade was difficult because it required a large capital, large labor to manage trade, as well as a large fleet of canoes and armed men for protection.
This factor led to the introduction of the Trust System, a system where goods are given out on trust to the European traders who will then carry the goods to the hinterland and exchange the goods with palm oil.
The Europeans had an advantage over the African traders since they were the ones that possessed the capital. They could manipulate the Delta traders to be indebted to them and not to trade with other supercargoes or Europeans at better trading conditions.
This brought about mistrust and armed conflict. There was sometimes conflict on the outstanding quantity of oil meant for the European traders, in the process when no agreement was reached, the European traders would cease the canoes belonging to the coastal traders. This practice was called Chopping.
The rise of ex-slaves to power like Jaja of Opobo also contributed to the trade of this era. The rise of these ex-slaves led to resistance and rivalry between the indigenous people and the Europeans. Subsequently, the European traders sent a memorandum to the British Government for the protection of their lives and property.
In reaction, Lord Palmers who was the British foreign secretary appointed a Consul, John Beecroft to protect British citizens and property in the Bight of Biafra and Benin from 30th June 1849. John Beecroft later established the Court of Equity to facilitate the settlement of trade disputes between whites and Africans.
Missionary Enterprise in the History of Nigeria
Portuguese Roman Catholic priests who accompanied traders and officials to the West African coast introduced Christianity to the Edo Empire in the fifteenth century. Several churches were built to serve the Edo community and a small number of African converts. When direct Portuguese contacts in the region were withdrawn, however, the influence of the Catholic missionaries waned. By the eighteenth century, evidence of Christianity had disappeared.
Although churchmen in Britain had been influential in the drive to abolish the slave trade, significant missionary activity for Africa did not develop until the 1840s. For some time, missionaries operated in the area between Lagos and Ibadan.
The first missions were established by the Church of England’s Church Missionary Society (CMS). Other Protestant denominations from Britain, Canada, and the United States also opened missions, and, in the 1860s, Roman Catholic religious’ orders established missions.
Protestant missionaries tended to divide the country into spheres of activity to avoid competition with each other, and Catholic missions similarly avoided duplication of effort among the several religious orders working there. Catholic missionaries were particularly active among the Igbo; the CMS worked among the Yoruba.
The Christian Missionary Society initially promoted Africans to responsible positions in the mission field; for instance, they appointed Samuel Ajayi Crowther as the first Anglican bishop of the Niger. Crowther, a liberated Yoruba slave, had been educated in Sierra Leone and in Britain, where he was ordained before returning to his homeland with the first group of CMS missionaries.
The Anglicans and other religious groups had a conscious “native church” policy to develop indigenous ecclesiastical institutions to become independent of Europeans. Crowther was succeeded as bishop by a British cleric.
In the long term, the acceptance of Christianity by large numbers of Nigerians depended on the various denominations adapting to local conditions. They selected an increasingly high proportion of African clergy for the missions.
In large measure, European missionaries assumed the value of colonial rule in terms of promoting education, health, and welfare measures thereby effectively reinforcing the colonial policy. Some African Christian communities formed their own independent churches.
The missionaries gained power throughout the 1800s. They caused major transformations in traditional society as they eroded the religious institutions such as human sacrifice, infanticide, and secret societies, which had formerly played a role in political authority and community life.
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British Colonization of Nigeria
In the history of Nigeria, Colonial Nigeria was the area of West Africa that later metamorphosed into modern-day Nigeria, during the era of British rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. British influence in the region began with the abolition of the slave trade to British subjects in 1807. Britain annexed Lagos in 1861 and established the Oil River Protectorate in 1884.
British influence in the Niger area increased gradually over the 19th century, but Britain did not completely occupy the area until 1885. Other European powers acknowledged Britain’s dominance over the area in the 1885 Berlin Conference.
From 1886 to 1899, some parts of the country were ruled by the Royal Niger Company, authorized by charter, and governed by George Taubman Goldie. In 1900, the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate transited from company hands to the Crown.
In 1914, at the urging of governor Frederick Lugard, the two territories were amalgamated as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, while maintaining considerable regional autonomy among the three major regions.
Progressive constitutions after World War II provided for increasing representation and electoral government by Nigerians. The colonial period proper in Nigeria lasted from 1900 to 1960, after which Nigeria gained its independence.
Following military conquest, the British imposed an economic system designed to profit from African labour. The essential basis of this system was a money economy—specifically the British pound sterling – which could be demanded through taxation, paid to cooperative natives, and levied as a fine.
The amalgamation of different ethnic and religious groups into one federation created internal tension that persists in Nigeria to the present day.
How did Nigeria gain Independence (Independence and Post-independence in the History of Nigeria)
The amalgamation of 1914 saw the uprising of Western education and the development of a modern economy proceeded more rapidly in the south than in the north, with consequences felt in Nigeria’s political life ever since.
Following World War II, in response to the growth of Nigerian nationalism and demands for independence, successive constitutions legislated by the British Government moved Nigeria toward self-government on a representative and increasingly federal basis. On 1 October 1954, the colony became the autonomous Federation of Nigeria.
By the middle of the 20th century, the great wave of independence was sweeping across Africa. On 27 October 1958, Britain agreed that Nigeria would become an independent state on 1 October 1960.
Nigerian Independence 1960
The Federation of Nigeria was granted full independence on 1 October 1960 under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary government and a substantial measure of self-government for the country’s three regions. From 1959 to 1960, Jaja Wachuku was the First Nigerian Speaker of the Nigerian Parliament, also called the “House of Representatives.”
Jaja Wachuku replaced Sir Frederick Metcalfe of Britain. Notably, as First Speaker of the House, Jaja Wachuku received Nigeria’s Instrument of Independence, also known as Freedom Charter, on 1 October 1960, from Princess Alexandra of Kent, The Queen’s representative at the Nigerian independence ceremonies.
The Federal government was given exclusive powers in defense, foreign relations, and commercial and fiscal policy. The monarch of Nigeria was still head of state but legislative power was vested in a bicameral parliament, executive power in a prime minister cabinet, and judicial authority in a Federal Supreme Court.
Political parties, however, tended to reflect the makeup of the three main ethnic groups. The Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC) represented conservative, Muslim, largely Hausa and Fulani interests that dominated the Northern Region.
The northern region of the country, consists of three-quarters of the land area and more than half the population of Nigeria. Thus the North dominated the federation government from the beginning of independence. In the 1959 elections held in preparation for independence, the Nigerian People’s Congress captured 134 seats in the 312-seat parliament.
Capturing 89 seats in the federal parliament was the second-largest party in the newly independent country the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC).
The National Council of Nigerian Citizens represented the interests of the Igbo- and Christian- dominated people of the Eastern Region of Nigeria and the Action Group (AG) was a left-leaning party that represented the interests of the Yoruba people in the West. In the 1959 elections, the Action Group obtained 73 seats.
The first post-independence national government was formed by a conservative alliance of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens and the Nigerian People’s Congress. Upon independence, it was widely expected that Ahmadu Bello the Sardauna of Sokoto, the undisputed strong man in Nigeria who controlled the North, would become Prime Minister of the new Federation Government.
However, Bello chose to remain as premier of the North and as party boss of the Nigerian People’s Congress, selected Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa , a Hausa, to become Nigeria’s first Prime Minister.
The Yoruba-dominated Action Group became the opposition under its charismatic leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo . However, in 1962, a faction arose within the AG under the leadership of Ladoke Akintola who had been selected as the premier of the West.
The Akintola faction argued that the Yoruba peoples were losing their pre-eminent position in business in Nigeria to people of the Igbo tribe because the Igbo-dominated National Council of Nigerian Citizens was part of the governing coalition and the Action Group was not.
The federal government Prime Minister, Balewa agreed with the Akintola faction and sought to have the AG join the government. The party leadership under Awolowo disagreed and replaced Akintola as the premier of the West with one of their own supporters. However, when the
Western Region parliament met to approve this change, Akintola supporters in the parliament started a riot in the chambers of the parliament. Fighting between the members broke out.
Chairs were thrown and one member grabbed the parliamentary Mace and wielded it like a weapon to attack the Speaker and other members. Eventually, the police with tear gas were required to quell the riot.
Federal Government Prime Minister Balewa declared martial law in the Western Region and arrested Awolowo and other members of his faction charged them with treason. Akintola was appointed to head a coalition government in the Western Region. Thus, the AG was reduced to an opposition role in their own stronghold.
In this section, we will look at the subtopics below:
Nigeria First Republic
Failure of the First Republic in Nigeria
Achievement of the First Republic
In October 1963 Nigeria proclaimed itself the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and former Governor-General Nnamdi Azikiwe became the country’s first President. From the outset, Nigeria’s ethnic and religious tensions were magnified by the disparities in economic and educational development between the south and the north.
The AG was maneuvered out of control of the Western Region by the Federal Government and a new pro-government Yoruba party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), took over. Shortly afterward the AG opposition leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was imprisoned to be without foundation.
The 1965 national election produced a major realignment of politics and a disputed result that set the country on the path to civil war. The dominant northern NPC went into a conservative alliance with the new Yoruba NNDP, leaving the Igbo National Council of Nigerian Citizens to coalesce with the remnants of the AG in a progressive alliance.
In the vote, widespread electoral fraud was alleged and riots erupted in the Yoruba West where the heartlands of the AG discovered they had apparently elected pro-government Nigerian National Democratic Party representatives.
On 15 January 1966 a group of army officers (the Young Majors) mostly southeastern Igbos, overthrew the NPC-NNDP government and assassinated the prime minister and the premiers of the northern and western regions.
However, the bloody nature of the Young Majors coup caused another coup to be carried out by General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. The Young Majors went into hiding. Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna fled to Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana where he was welcomed as a hero.
Some of the Young Majors were arrested and detained by the Ironsi government. Among the Igbo people of the Eastern Region, these detainees were heroes. In the Northern Region, however, the Hausa and Fulani people demanded that the detainees be placed on trial for murder.
The federal military government that assumed power under General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was unable to quiet ethnic tensions on the issue or other issues. Additionally, the Ironsi government was unable to produce a constitution acceptable to all sections of the country.
Most fateful for the Ironsi government was the decision to issue Decree No.34 which sought to unify the nation. Decree No. 34 sought to do away with the whole federal structure under which the Nigerian government had been organized since independence. Rioting broke out in the North.
The Ironsi government’s efforts to abolish the federal structure and rename the country the Republic of Nigeria on 24 May 1966 raised tensions and led to another coup by largely northern officers in July 1966, which established the leadership of Major General Yakubu Gowon.
The name Federal Republic of Nigeria was restored on 31 August 1966. However, the subsequent massacre of thousands of Ibo in the north prompted hundreds of thousands of them to return to the south-east where increasingly strong Igbo secessionist sentiment emerged. In a move toward greater autonomy for minority ethnic groups, the military divided the four regions into 12 states.
However, the Igbo rejected attempts at constitutional revisions and insisted on full autonomy for the east. On 29 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 on 30 May 1967.
The ensuing Nigerian Civil War resulted in an estimated 3.5 million deaths (mostly from starving children) before the war ended with Gowon’s famous “No victor, no vanquished” speech in 1970.
Following the civil war, the country turned to the task of economic development. Nigeria’s economy came through the war in better shape than expected. Problems exist with inflation, internal debt, and a huge military budget, competing with popular demands for government services.
Nigeria emerged from the war with a heightened sense of national pride mixed with an anti-foreign sentiment, and an intention to play a larger role in African and world affairs. British cultural influence is strong but its political influence is declining.
The Soviet Union benefits from Nigerian appreciation of its help during the war but is not trying to control it. Nigerian relations with the US, cool during the war, are improving, but France may be seen as the future patron.
Foreign exchange earnings and government revenues increased spectacularly with the oil price rises of 1973-74. On July 29, 1975, Gen. Murtala Mohammed and a group of officers staged a bloodless coup, accusing Gen. Yakubu Gowon of corruption and delaying the promised return to civilian rule.
General Mohammed replaced thousands of civil servants and announced a timetable for the resumption of civilian rule by 1 October 1979. He was assassinated on 13 February 1976 in an abortive coup and his chief of staff Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo became head of state.
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The second Nigerian Republic in the History of Nigeria
In the Second Republic in Nigeria, a constituent assembly was elected in 1977 to draft a new constitution, which was published on 21 September 1978, when the ban on political activity was lifted.
In 1979, five political parties competed in a series of elections in which Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was elected president. All five parties won representation in the National Assembly.
During the 1950s prior to independence, oil was discovered off the coast of Nigeria. Almost immediately, the revenues from oil began to make Nigeria a wealthy nation. However, the spike in oil prices from $3 per barrel to $12 per barrel, following the Yom Kipur War in 1973 brought a sudden rush of money to Nigeria.
Another sudden rise in the price of oil in 1979 to $19 per barrel occurred as a result of the lead-up to the Iran–Iraq War. All of this meant that by 1979, Nigeria was the sixth-largest producer of oil in the world with revenues from the oil of $24 billion per year.
In August 1983, Shagari and the National Party of Nigeria 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, leading to legal battles over the results.
On December 31, 1983, the military overthrew the Second Republic. Major General Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the leader of the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the country’s new ruling body. The Buhari government was peacefully overthrown by the SMC’s third-ranking member General Ibrahim Babangida in August 1985.
Babangida (IBB) cited the misuse of power, violations of human rights by key officers of the Supreme Military Council, and the government’s failure to deal with the country’s deepening economic crisis as justifications for the takeover. During his first days in office, President 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 plan, he announced pay cuts for the military, police, civil servants, and the private sector.
President Babangida demonstrated his intent to encourage public participation in decision-making by opening a national debate on proposed economic reform and recovery measures. The public response convinced Babangida of intense opposition to an economic recession.
The Abortive Third Republic in Nigeria
Head of State Babangida promised to return the country to civilian rule by 1990 which was later extended until January 1993. In early 1989 a constituent assembly completed a constitution and in the spring of 1989 political activity was again permitted.
In October 1989 the government established two parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP); other parties were not allowed to register.
In April 1990 mid-level officers attempted unsuccessfully to overthrow the government and 69 accused plotters were executed after secret trials before military tribunals.
In December 1990 the first stage of partisan elections was held at the local government level. Despite the low turnout, 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 state legislative elections were held and Babangida decreed that previously banned politicians could contest in primaries scheduled for August. These were canceled due to fraud and subsequent primaries scheduled for September also were canceled.
All announced candidates were disqualified from standing for president once a new election format was selected. The presidential election was finally held on 12 June 1993, with the inauguration of the new president scheduled to take place on 27 August 1993, the eighth anniversary of President Babangida’s coming to power.
In the historic 12 June 1993 presidential elections, which most observers deemed to be Nigeria’s fairest, early returns indicated that wealthy Yoruba businessman M. K. O. Abiola won a decisive victory. However, on 23 June, Babangida, using several pending lawsuits as a pretense, annulled the election, throwing Nigeria into turmoil.
More than 100 were killed in riots before Babangida agreed to hand power to an interim government on 27 August 1993. He later attempted to renege this decision, but without popular and military support, he was forced to hand it over to Ernest Shonekan, a prominent nonpartisan businessman. Shonekan was to rule until elections scheduled for February 1994.
Although he had led Babangida’s Transitional Council since 1993, Shonekan was unable to reverse Nigeria’s economic problems or defuse lingering political tension. With the country sliding into chaos Defense Minister Sani Abacha assumed power and forced Shonekan’s resignation on 17 November 1993.
Abacha dissolved all democratic institutions and replaced elected governors with military officers. Although promising restoration of civilian rule he refused to announce a transitional timetable until 1995.
Following the annulment of the June 12 election, the United States and others imposed sanctions on Nigeria including travel restrictions on government officials 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 counternarcotics efforts. Although Abacha was initially welcomed by many Nigerians, disenchantment grew rapidly. Opposition leaders formed the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which campaigned to reconvene the Senate and other disbanded democratic institutions.
On 11 June 1994 Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola declared himself president and went into hiding until his arrest on 23 June. In response, petroleum workers called a strike demanding that Abacha release Abiola and hand over power to him.
Other unions joined the strike, bringing economic life around Lagos and the southwest to a standstill. After calling off a threatened strike in July the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) reconsidered a general strike in August after the government imposed conditions on Abiola’s release.
On 17 August 1994, the government dismissed the leadership of the NLC and the petroleum unions, placed the unions under appointed administrators, and arrested Frank Kokori and other labor leaders. The government alleged in early 1995 that military officers and civilians were engaged in a coup plot.
Security officers rounded up the accused, including former Head of State Obasanjo and his deputy, retired General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. After a secret tribunal, most of the accused were convicted and several death sentences were handed down.
In 1994 the government set up the Ogoni Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal to try Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and others for their alleged roles in the killings of four Ogoni politicians. The tribunal sentenced Saro-Wiwa and eight others to death and they were executed on 10 November 1995.
On 1 October 1995 Abacha announced the timetable for a three-year transition to civilian rule. Only five political parties were approved by the regime and voter turnout for local elections in December 1997 was under 10%. On 20 December 1997, the government arrested General Oladipo Diya, ten officers, and eight civilians on charges of coup plotting.
The accused were tried before a Gen Victor Malu military tribunal in which Diya and five others- Late Gen AK Adisa, Gen Tajudeen Olnrewaju, Late Col OO Akiyode, Major Seun Fadipe, and a civilian Engr Bola Adebanjo were sentenced to death to die by firing squad.
Abacha enforced authority through the federal security system which is accused of numerous human rights abuses, including infringements on freedom of speech, assembly, association, travel, and violence against women. Abubakar’s transition to civilian rule.
Abacha died of heart failure on 8 June 1998 and was replaced by General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The military Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) under Abubakar commuted the sentences of those accused in the alleged coup during the Abacha regime and released almost all known civilian political detainees.
Pending the promulgation of the constitution written 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 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 Abubakar appointed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections for local government councils, state legislatures and governors, the national assembly, and the president. The Nigerian Electoral Commission successfully held elections on 5 December 1998, 9 January 1999, 20 February, and 27 February 1999, respectively.
For local elections, nine parties were granted provisional registration with three fulfilling the requirements to contest the following elections. These parties were the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the All People’s Party (APP), and the predominantly Yoruba Alliance for Democracy (AD).
The former military head of state Olusegun Obasanjo, freed from prison by Abubakar, ran as a civilian candidate and won the presidential election. The PRC promulgated a new constitution based largely on the suspended 1979 constitution, before the 29 May 1999 inauguration of the new civilian president.
The constitution includes provisions for a bicameral legislature, the National Assembly consisting of a 360-member House of Representatives, and a 109-member Senate.
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The fourth Republic in the History of Nigeria
The emergence of democracy in Nigeria in May 1999 ended 16 years of consecutive military rule. Olusegun Obasanjo inherited a country suffering economic stagnation and the deterioration of most 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 holding political positions, established a blue-ribbon panel to investigate human rights violations, released scores of persons held without charge, and rescinded numerous questionable licenses and contracts left by the previous regimes.
The government also moved to recover millions of dollars in funds secreted to overseas accounts. Most civil society leaders and Nigerians witnessed marked improvements in human rights and freedom of the press under Obasanjo.
As Nigeria works out representational democracy, conflicts persist between the Executive and Legislative branches over 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 state capitals over resource allocation.
Communal violence has plagued the Obasanjo government since its inception. 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 , 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 south-eastern 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 states of Benue, Taraba, and Nasarawa.
On 1 October 2001 Obasanjo announced the formation of a National Security Commission to address the issue of communal violence. Obasanjo was reelected in 2003.
The new president faces the daunting task of rebuilding a petroleum-based economy, whose revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement. Additionally, the Obasanjo administration must defuse longstanding ethnic and religious tensions if it hopes to build a foundation for economic growth and political stability. Currently, there is conflict in the Niger Delta over the environmental destruction caused by oil drilling and the ongoing poverty in the oil-rich region.
Two militants of an unknown faction shot and killed Ustaz Ja’afar Adam, a northern Muslim religious leader, and Kano State official, along with one of his disciples in a mosque in Kano during dawn prayers on 13 April 2007.
Obasanjo had recently stated on national radio that he would “deal firmly” with election fraud and violence advocated by “highly placed individuals.” His comments were interpreted by some analysts as a warning to his Vice President and 2007 presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar.
In the 2007 general election, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, both of the People’s Democratic Party, were elected President and Vice President, respectively. The election was marred by electoral fraud, and denounced by other candidates and international observers.
Yar’Adua’s sickness and Jonathan’s successions Yar’Adua’s presidency was fraught with uncertainty as media reports said he suffered from kidney and heart disease. In November 2009, he fell ill and was flown out of the country to Saudi Arabia for medical attention. He remained incommunicado for 50 days, by which time rumors were rife that he had died.
This continued until the British Broadcasting Corporation aired an interview that was allegedly done via telephone from the president’s sickbed in Saudi Arabia. As of January 2010, he was still abroad.
In February 2010, Goodluck Jonathan began serving as acting President in the absence of Yaradua. In May 2010, the Nigerian government learned of Yar’Adua’s death after a long battle with existing health problems and an undisclosed illness.
This lack of communication left the new acting President Jonathan with no knowledge of his predecessor’s plans. Yar’Adua’s Hausa-Fulani background gave him a political base in the northern regions of Nigeria, while Goodluck does not have the same ethnic and religious affiliations.
This lack of primary ethnic support makes Jonathan a target for militaristic overthrow or regional uprisings in the area. With the increase in resource spending and oil exportation, Nigerian GDP and HDI (Human Development Index) have risen phenomenally since the economically stagnant rule of Sani Abacha, but the primary population still survives on less than $2 USD per day. Goodluck Jonathan called for new elections and stood for re-election in April 2011, which he won.
However, his re-election bid in 2015 was truncated by the emergence of former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari, mainly on his inability to quell the rising insecurity in the country. General Muhammadu Buhari was declared the winner of the 2015 presidential elections.
General Muhammadu Buhari took over the helm of affairs in May 2015 after a peaceful transfer of power from Jonathan’s administration.