Before the colonial period, the area that makes up modern Nigeria had an eventful history. More than 2,000 years ago, the Nok culture in the present Plateau state worked iron and produced sophisticated terra cotta sculptures. Linguistic evidence also shows that the Nigeria-Cameroon border area is the most likely origin of the Bantu groups of languages that now pervades most of sub-Saharan Africa.
In the centuries that followed, the area that is now Nigeria gave birth to a number of advanced and influential societies including Hausa city-states and kingdoms of Katsina, Kano, Zaria and Gobir in the northern region, Yoruba city-states and the kingdoms of Ife, Oyo and Ijebu in southwestern Nigeria, the southern kingdom of Benin and the Igbo communities of the east. In the northern cities of Kano and Katsina, recorded history dates back to approximately 1000 C.E. In the centuries that followed, these Hausa kingdoms and the Bornu empire near Lake Chad prospered as important terminals of trans-Saharan caravan routes.
In the southwest, the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo was founded around 1400 C.E. At its height, from the 17th to 19thcenturies, it attained a high level of political organization and extended as far as modern Togo. In the south-central part of present-day Nigeria, as early as the 15th and 16th centuries, the kingdom of Benin had developed an efficient army, an elaborate ceremonial court, and artisans whose works in ivory, wood, bronze and brass are prized throughout the world today.
In 1500 African peoples were a minority of the world's slave population. However, by the end of the 17th century they had become the majority. In the 17th through 19th centuries, the region was drawn into the web of the rapidly growing slave trade and other forms of trade with the European world. As many as 12 million of the 18 million slaves taken from Africa during this period hailed from the western part of the continent. The kingdoms and city-states of Nigeria were among the hardest hit.
The consequences of slavery are still being felt. The slave trade fostered wars not only between Africans and Europeans, but also between different African political and ethnic groups. It encouraged raiding, the exploitation of the weak, and the growth of sub-imperialism. Rulers or societies that were reticent about routine participating in this system were eventually dominated by African elites, backed by European power. The power of such elites, in fact, was developed and advanced by adherence to the slave trade system and its underpinning of imperialism.
In the early 19th century, the Fulani leader, Usman dan Fodio, launched an Islamic crusade that brought most of the Hausa states and other areas in the north under the loose control of an empire centered in Sokoto.
When the slave trade was abolished in the 19th century, trade in agriculture between Africa and Europe grew. However, the patrimonial relationships that grew during the slave trade remained in place. As a result, many of the societies that came to dominate further entrenched their positions. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the British expanded their trade with the Nigerian interior. In 1885, British claims to a sphere of influence in that area received international recognition, and, in the following year, the Royal Niger Company was chartered. In 1900, the company's territory came under the control of the British government, which moved to consolidate its hold over the area of modern Nigeria. In 1914, the area was formally united as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
Administratively, Nigeria remained divided into the northern and southern provinces, as well as Lagos colony. 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, increasingly federal, basis.
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. Smaller ethnicities, especially those from oil-producing regions, challenged the hegemony of the three larger ethnic groups. They argued that such a federal system robs them of access to the mineral and oil wealth in their own lands. As a result, the increase of regional powers led to secessionist movements by minority groups who felt they would be excluded from the benefits of membership.
On Jan. 15, 1966, a small group of army officers, mostly southeastern Igbos, overthrew the government. They also assassinated the federal prime minister and the premiers of the northern and western regions. A federal military government assumed power under the leadership of Gen. J.T.U. Aguiyi- Ironsi.
The new regime, however, was unable to quiet ethnic tensions or produce a new constitution acceptable to all sections of the country. In fact, its efforts to abolish the federal structure greatly raised tensions and led to another coup in July 1966, with Gen. Yakubu Gowon named the new head of the federal military government. The massacre of thousands of Igbos in the north prompted hundreds of thousands of Igbos to return to their homeland in the southeast, where the military governor of the Eastern region, Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, emerged as the leader of an increasingly strong Igbo secessionist sentiment.
In a move that gave greater autonomy to minority ethnic groups, the military replaced the four regions with twelve states. Ojukwu rejected attempts at constitutional revisions to quiet Igbo fears and insisted on full autonomy for the east. Finally, in May 1967, he declared the independence of the Eastern region as the "Republic of Biafra." The ensuing civil war was bitter and bloody, ending in the defeat of Biafra in 1970. Following the civil war, reconciliation was rapid and effective. 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.
On July 29, 1975, Gen. Gowon was overthrown in a bloodless coup by a group of military officers who accused him of delaying the promised return to civilian rule and allowing his government to become corrupt and ineffective. The new head of state, Gen. Murtala Muhammed replaced thousands of civil servants and announced a timetable for the resumption of civilian rule by Oct. 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.
Gen. Muhammed was assassinated on Feb. 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 30, plus the Federal Capital Territory with the new capital, Abuja.
A new constitution was published on Sept. 21, 1978, and the ban on political activity was lifted. Five political parties were formed and competed in a series of five elections, held July 7 to Aug. 11, 1979. 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. The elections were marred by violence, and allegations of widespread vote-rigging and electoral malfeasance led to legal battles over the results.
Four months later, on Dec. 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 and the constitution was suspended. Buhari charged the civilian government with economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, election fraud, and a general lack of concern for the problems of Nigerians. His government became increasingly authoritarian and proved unable to deal with Nigeria's severe economic problems.
In a peaceful coup on Aug. 27, 1985, the SMC's third ranking member, Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, replaced the Buhari government. Babangida cited the misuse of power, violations of human rights by key officers of the SMC, and the government's failure to deal with the country's deepening economic crisis as justifications for the takeover.
Although he did not reinstate the constitution, during his first few days in office President Babangida restored freedom of the press and released political detainees being held without charge. He announced stringent pay cuts for the military, police and civil servants and proceeded to enact similar cuts for the private sector. Imports of rice and maize were banned. Later, imports of wheat and many other products were also banned.
President Babangida opened a national debate on proposed economic reform and recovery measures. The public response convinced him of intense opposition to an economic recovery package dependent on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan and an apparent preference for self-imposed austerity. 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 decreed the establishment of two "grassroots" parties: the National Republican Convention (NRC), which was to be "a little to the right," and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which was to be "a little to the left." Babangida rejected other parties and they were not allowed to register. 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 trails 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. That same month, Babangida decreed that previously banned politicians would be allowed to stand in primaries scheduled for August 1992. These were canceled due to fraud, and subsequent primaries scheduled for September were also canceled. All announced candidates were disqualified from again standing for president once a new election format was selected. The presidential election was held on June 12, 1993, with the inauguration of the new president scheduled to take place Aug. 27, 1993, the eighth anniversary of President Babangida's coming to power.
In the historic June 12, 1993, presidential elections, which most observers deemed to be Nigeria's fairest, early returns indicated that wealthy Yoruba businessman and regional ethnic leader Chief M.K.O. Abiola would win a decisive victory. On June 23, however, Babangida, using several pending lawsuits as a pretense, annulled the election. This action threw Nigeria into turmoil.
Over 100 persons were killed in riots before Babangida agreed to hand over power to an "interim government" on Aug. 27, 1993. Babangida then had second thoughts and attempted to renege on his decision, but without popular and military support he was forced to hand over power to Ernest Shonekan. Shonekan was to rule until new elections, scheduled for February 1994. Although he had led Babangida's Transitional Council since early 1993, Shonekan was unable to tackle Nigeria's evergrowing economic problems.
With the country sliding into chaos, Defense Minister Sani Abacha quickly assumed power by a bloodless coup and engineered Shonekan's "resignation" on Nov. 17, 1993. He 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 Independence Day address on Oct. 1, 1995.
Following the annulment of the June 12 election, the United States and other nations, including European partners, imposed various sanctions on Nigeria. They included restrictions on travel by government officials and their families, the suspension of arms sales and military assistance, and the imposition of additional sanctions as a result of Nigeria's failure to gain full certification for its counter-narcotics efforts. In addition, direct flights between Nigeria and the U.S. were suspended in Aug. 11, 1993, when the secretary of transportation determined that Lagos' Murtala Muhammed International Airport did not meet the security standards established by the United States Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). However, the most significant international relationship of Nigeria, the export of oil, remained intact and both European (Shell) and American (Mobil and Exxon) companies continued with business as usual with the Abacha regime. As a result, many viewed the sanctions as a nominal statement of little consequence.
Given Nigeria's economic troubles, many Nigerians initially welcomed Abacha's takeover. However, 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. The government arrested NADECO members who attempted to reconvene the Senate and other disbanded democratic institutions. Most Nigerians boycotted the elections for delegates to the Constitutional Conference, which were held from May 23-28, 1994.
On June 11, 1994, using the groundwork established by NADECO, Abiola declared himself president. He was charged with treason and immediately went into hiding. He re-emerged and was promptly arrested on June 23. With Abiola in prison and tempers rising, Abacha convened the constitutional conference on June 27, but it almost immediately went into recess and did not reconvene until July 11, 1994.
On July 4, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) called a strike demanding that Abacha release Abiola and hand over power to him. Other unions then joined NUPENG's strike, which brought economic life in the Lagos area and much of the southwest to a standstill.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the country's umbrella labor organization, threatened to call a general strike on July 19, if the government did not release Abiola and the other political detainees. The NLC called off the strike on July 16, after the government assured the labor federation it would release Abiola and the other political detainees.
On Aug. 5, 1994, a government attempt to grant Abiola bail failed when it imposed "conditions" on his release. The NLC leadership insisted this was a temporary setback and the government would drop its case against Abiola on August 16. When the government continued the trial and kept Abiola in custody, many in the NLC called for a renewal of the general strike.
On Aug. 17, 1994, the government dismissed the NUPENG, NLC and PENGASSAN leaderships, placed the unions under appointed administrators, and arrested NUPENG Gen. Secretary Frank Kokori and a number of other labor leaders. Although striking unions returned to work, the government arrested opponents, closed media houses, and moved strongly to curb dissent.
Plans were made in mid-1994 for the creation of a National Constitution Conference to draft a new constitution for the political transition. In May, elections for the 273 delegates were held. Violent demonstrations were widespread later in the month as Abiola attempted to implement a new government, and the date set for the end of military rule passed. In September, Abacha more than doubled the size of his cabinet when he appointed 14 more senior military officers.
A timetable that set the creation of a new constitution by March 1995, as well as elections for 1996, was proposed in late 1994. Abacha attempted to revive the economy by implementing reforms that were intended to gain the support of the IMF and World Bank. In early 1995, Abacha attempted to eliminate dissent within his ranks by dissolving the Federal Executive Council and arresting more than 150 military officers; 80 were allegedly executed. Several members of the previous government were arrested in connection with the alleged coup.
A draft constitution was presented in June 1995 and the transitional timetable was to be announced in October. Prior to the October announcement, a new 'coup' was unveiled which resulted in the arrest of more than 40 officers. The transitional schedule was then extended from one to three years, with elections to be held in October 1998.
The 1990s brought about renewed claims of oppression by minority cultures in Nigeria. Ethnic communities in oil-producing regions began making ownership claims to the rich resources derived from their land. They challenged the right of the federal government to extract resources without the payment of rents and royalties.
There were several reasons for the local assertion at this time. First, the derivation principle was eliminated as an index of revenue allocation. Whatever small benefits local populations reaped from oil extraction were lost. Second, new units of local government were created and the leadership was exclusively from one of the three large ethnic groups. Third, development of the Delta region, the richest in oil, was slower than the rest of the country. Fourth, oil companies imported labor from other parts of the country, leaving the Delta region with the country's highest unemployment rate.
Ken Saro-Wiwa began a movement called the Survival of the Ogoni People in the early 1990s. The Delta Minorities Forum was formed making an impassioned plea in 1994 for the federal government to rectify what they viewed as regional exploitation. Specifically, they wanted the federal government to give local leadership to local ethnic groups and pay rent for oil extraction. The federal government viewed Ken Sawo-Wiwa as an agitator. His destruction of Shell oil facilities in protest was termed terrorism by the government. In October 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were executed for the murder of four local leaders. Human rights organizations decried this act as the worst form of scapegoat and oppression of free speech. The executions brought international condemnation, and European Union, United States and South African diplomatic representatives were withdrawn
A national electoral commission was established in December 1995. In January 1996, after the previously announced implementation date had expired, Abacha announced the constitution would not be implemented until the transitional period ended in 1998. The registration process for political parties began in July with only five of the 15 registrants approved. Local elections held in March 1997 were deemed fair, with the United Nigerian Congress Party (UNCP) securing the majority of seats.
In a decree issued in April, however, Abacha reserved the power to replace any mayor he decided did not act in accordance with "national interest." Following this statement, 22 pro-democracy groups formed the United Action for Democracy (UAD). The UAD demanded that Abacha not contest the elections, the release of all political prisoners, and the formation of a 'government of national unity.'
In July 1997, the transition timetable was amended; state assembly elections would be held in December 1997, and the National Assembly would be elected in April 1998. The gubernatorial elections were rescheduled to take place in August 1998, contemporaneous with the presidential elections. The UNCP dominated the state assembly elections, taking 65 percent of the 970 seats.
In December 1997, after the appointment of new Federal Executive Council, another coup attempt was thwarted, resulting in the arrest of several former cabinet ministers and many military officers. Over the next several months, significant pressure was put on the political parties. As a result of this pressure, all five registered political parties nominated Abacha as the sole candidate for presidential elections.
This move, however, did not result in the intended outcome of Abacha maintaining his power. In June of 1998, Abacha was found dead in his private quarters, presumably a victim of a heart attack. Shortly thereafter, the former Defense Minister, Abdulsalam Abubakar became the interim head of state.
Abdulsalam Abubakar took power on June 8, 1998. Abubakar was received with international appeals to move towards democracy by releasing all political prisoners, including Abiola, and restore civilian rule. At the end of June, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Nigerian Foreign Minister, Tom Ikimi, to encourage the government to set its course for democracy. Abubakar and the provisional ruling council met to form a new electoral commission and a council of state. He set the date for the transition of the elected government for May 1999, with elections to be held in early 1999. Abubakar also repealed trade union restrictions implemented by Abacha.
A month later, on July 7 - the eve of his release -- Chief Abiola died in prison at the age of 60. An autopsy revealed Abiola had died of a heart attack. Although he died in the presence of a visiting U.S. delegation, many still suspect foul play on the part of the Abubakar government. The people of Nigeria, who had elected Abiola president in the subsequently annulled elections of 1993, had been eagerly awaiting Abiola's release. News of his demise led to riots, which resulted in several deaths. The death of Abiola led to the centrality of Abubakar's power. Though he cancelled the August elections, the suspicions placed upon Abubakar led to significant pressure on him to schedule a new return to civilian rule. The elections took place in February 1999 with Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo the eventual victor.
Nigeria has been heavily involved in the conflicts plaguing other countries in the West African region. Specifically, the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia have utilized Nigerian negotiators and peacekeeping forces, under the aegis of entities such as the West African economic unit (ECOWAS) and the West African peacekeeping forces (ECOMOG). In this way, the post-Abacha era in Nigeria has been marked by a measure of moderation of policy issues-at least in the realm of foreign policy within the region.
Abubakar appointed a transitional cabinet of 31 ministers in August 1998. Most of the ministers that served under Abacha were replaced. Abubakar immediately began efforts to help the people recover from the years of political oppression under Abacha's regime and to implement measures to bring an end to widespread government corruption. An investigation into corruption under the Abacha regime was initiated in September 1998. Ismail Gwarzo was the first one to be implicated under the investigation, accused of embezzling more than $250 million. In November, it was determined that $1.3 billion had been stolen during Abacha's rule. This number more than doubled when the investigation later revealed that $2 billion, supposedly used for debt repayment to Russia for a steel plant, had been stolen.
In addition to the anti-corruption campaign, human rights investigators were invited to Nigeria in September 1998. In a report released in November, the U.N. announced that human rights abuses had dramatically declined under Abubakar.
In October, a draft constitution committee was established, including representatives from several regions of the country. Due to the secrecy of the constitutional proceedings, concerns that military control or Islamic Sharia law were being implemented were common. When the new constitution was unveiled in January 1999, however, it was generally accepted because of the increased authority granted to local and state governments.
The new budget, on the other hand, did not receive a favorable reception. When it was announced in January 1999, it was revealed that revenue would drop 50 percent due to oil prices, which doubled after eliminating price fixing in December. The budget also required the repeal of the new minimum wage introduced in September. However, the dual exchange rate (that had gave different rates to privileged people under the Abacha regime) ended.
Abubakar began preparations for general and presidential elections in August 1998. After the appointment of an election commission, local, parliamentary and presidential election dates were set for February 1999. Political party registration began in August. In September, General Olesugun Obasanjo, the first military ruler of Nigeria to hand power to a civilian government, announced that he would be running for president for the People's Democratic Party. Voter registration began in October.
In November, requirements for the registration of political parties for parliamentary and presidential elections were announced. Political parties were eligible for national elections if they were able to secure five percent of the vote in at least 24 of the 36 Nigerian states in the local elections. Even in the early stages of the electoral process, irregularities were observed. It was revealed that, in October, party representatives were attempting to bribe officials to obtain more voting cards and other irregularities were reported in the voter registration process.
The People's Democratic Party dominated the local elections in December 1998 and won state elections in 20 of the 36 states. The PDP also won the majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Some irregularities were noted in the elections although they were determined to be insignificant.
In January 1999, in preparation for the presidential elections, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) announced that it would be presenting a joint candidate with the All People's Party (APP). However, their inability to decide which party would provide the candidate revealed the weakness of the AD/ APP alliance. The National Electoral Commission rejected the merger, but allowed the alliance to nominate a joint candidate. Former Minister of Finance Olu Falae was chosen as the presidential candidate for the AD/APP.
Despite a shaky start, Obasanjo was clearly the favored candidate throughout the presidential campaign both for foreign investors and Nigerian civil society. As a man of many faces, he was the perfect compromise candidate. As a traditional chief he could relate to other traditional rulers. As a soldier he could win the support of the military. As a former prisoner convicted of an attempted coup, he could be seen as a champion against the old system, and as a former head of state he could be viewed as someone who has the domestic and international experience to fight change.
Obasanjo was completely absent from the hour-long televised debates with Olu Falae, thereby giving his opponent somewhat of a head start. However, Falae's support dwindled rapidly when infighting in the APP caused several members to switch their support to Obasanjo. Dr. Olusola Saraki, who had hoped to be the presidential candidate for the APP, led the group. Obasanjo won the presidency and has been in power to date.
Supplementary sources for this section include the following: AllAfrica, John Boye Ejobowah, Africa Confidential, APIC.