Nigera@57: Are You Sure You Really Know Your Country?
Nigeria is 57 years old. The country has indeed come a long way since attaining that memorable milestone in 1960.
Like most countries in Africa, Nigeria was also colonized by an imperial foreign power.
The present day Nigeria (plus or minus some territories) came into existence with formal amalgamation of conquered territories of the North and South by the British Colonial Governor – Lord Lugard in 1914.
Hitherto, the British had administered them as separate but related territories.
On October 1 1960, Nigeria became a fully independent member of the British Commonwealth, and on October 1 1963 it became a republic.
Nnamdi Azikiwe was elected the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In 57 years of independence from Britain, Nigeria has had six coups and three periods of civilian rule.
Internal unrest began almost as soon as Nigeria raised its own flag; but its roots lay in the complex ethnic composition of the regions.
It boiled over to resentment with the domination of the federal government by Northern elements, and culminated in a military coup on January 15, 1966.
Organized by a group of Eastern junior army officers, the coup led to the deaths of the Federal Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; the Premier of the Northern Region, Ahmadu Bello; and the Premier of the Western Region, S. L. Akintola.
By January 17, Maj. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Commander-in-Chief of the army, had suppressed the revolt and assumed supreme power.
He suspended the constitution and dissolved the legislature, established a military government, and appointed military governors to replace the popularly elected civilian governors in the regions.
On July 29, 1966, mutinous elements in the army, largely Northern army officers, staged a countercoup, killed Ironsi, and replaced him with Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon as head of the military government.
The July coup led to the massacre of thousands of Easterners residing in the Northern Region and to the exodus of more than one million persons (mostly Ibos) to the Eastern Region.
On May 28 1967, Gowon announced the division of the country into 12 states. The Northern Region was split into 6 states; the Mid-West, Western, and Lagos areas each became separate states; and 3 states were formed from the Eastern Region.
Rejecting the realignment, Eastern Region leaders announced on May 30, the Independent Republic of Biafra, with Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu as Head of State.
On July 6, the federal government declared war on the fledgling republic.
By the time the war ended on January 12, 1970, Biafra had been reduced to about one-tenth of its original 78,000-sq-km (30,000-sq-mi) area; a million or more persons had perished, many from disease and starvation; many more had become refugees at home or abroad.
In October 1970, with the civil war behind him, Gowon set 1976 as the target date for Nigeria's return to civilian rule.
Political change came slowly, however, and in October 1974, Gowon announced an indefinite postponement of plans for the transfer of power.
The regime's recalcitrance in this and other areas, including its failure to check the power of the state governors and to reduce the general level of corruption, led to Gowon's overthrow on July 29 1975.
His successor, Brig. Murtala Ramat Muhammad, moved quickly in dismissing large numbers of officials, many of them corrupt and inefficient; and in establishing an ombudsman commission.
One of his plans was to establish a new capital territory in the center of the country, at Abuja.
On 13 February 1976, Muhammad was assassinated in the course of an abortive coup.
He was replaced as head of the government by the former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, who pledged to carry on his predecessor's program.
In March 1976, a decree established a 19-state federation. Political party activity was again permitted in late 1978, and a new constitution took effect on October 1 1979, the day Shehu Shagari took office as President.
In August 1983, Shagari won re-election to a second term as President but was in December ousted in a military coup.
The new military regime, led by Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, provoked growing public dissatisfaction because of its increasingly authoritarian character, and a military coup on August 27, 1985 brought Maj.-Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida to power.
Assuming the title of President, Babangida promised greater respect for human and civil liberties; yet he banned Second Republic (1979–83) officials from participation in politics for 10 years.
To deal with Nigeria's economic troubles, stemming from the fall of world oil prices in the 1980s, Babangida inaugurated a "homegrown" Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) prompted by the IMF but not directed by them.
It involved cuts in public spending, decreased state control over the economy, stimulation of exports, devaluation of the currency, and rescheduling of debt.
A return to full civilian rule was pledged by 1992, with local elections on a nonparty basis, the creation of a constituent assembly, the establishment of two political parties, state elections, a national census, and finally presidential elections.
The heightened political activities, however, received a severe jolt on April 22, 1990 when an army Major, Gideon Okar, and some soldiers attempted a military coup d'etat which was quickly crushed.
The Presidential election, intended to finally usher in the Third Republic, was scheduled for December 5, 1992.
But on 17 November 1992, Babangida announced a further delay in the transfer of power until 27 August 1993 after he cancelled the presidential primaries held by political parties in the previous month on grounds of gross election malpractices.
A review of the electoral process and regulations led to the emergence of M.K.O. Abiola (SDP) and Bashir Tofa (NRC), both Muslim businessmen with ties to Babangida as the two presidential candidates.
The presidential election of June 12 took place amid a flurry of legal efforts to halt it and great voter confusion.
Abiola defeated Tofa handily, 58.4% to 41.6% according to unofficial result.
But the National Electoral Commission set aside the results on 16 June. A week later, Babangida annulled the election citing irregularities, poor turnout, and legal complications.
Abiola, backed largely by the Yoruba people, demanded to be certified as president-elect. Civil unrest followed, especially in Lagos.
After weeks of uncertainty and tension, Babangida resigned the presidency on August 26 1993. He handpicked a transitional council headed by Ernest Shonekan.
By mid-November, Gen. Sani Abacha forced Shonekan to resign and he installed himself as head of state.
On November 18, 1993, he abolished all state and local governments and the national legislature.
He replaced many civilian officials with military commanders. He banned political parties and all political activity and ordered strikers to return to work.
On June 11, 1994, Abiola proclaimed himself president and then went into hiding. He was arrested later that month.
Abiola remained in prison through June 1996, when his outspoken wife Kudirat Abiola was assassinated.
In March, 1995 Abacha ordered the arrest of former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo on suspicion of treason. Later in the month he dissolved labor unions and jailed their leaders.
Nigeria's political fortunes changed suddenly on June 8 when Abacha died of an apparent heart attack. General Abdoulsalami Abubakar took charge and promised to continue Abacha's transition.
On July 7, Abiola died of a suspected heart failure while still in custody.
Elections for president and the national legislature were held on February 27, 1999. Obasanjo (PDP) won the presidential elections with 62% of the vote, while Olu Falae, the candidate for the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All Peoples Party (APP), received 38%.
Power was handed over officially to the new government on May 29, 1999. Obasanjo assumed office as President, some two decades after he left office as a military ruler.
Two of the common credits of the OBJ regime were the reduction in foreign debt and the establishment of GSM mobile phone networks in the country.
Other things OBJ is remembered for is his campaign of privatizations and establishment of an anti-corruption agency, the EFCC.
However, his policies failed to unify Nigeria's ethnically and religiously diverse peoples as the country witnessed more ethnic strife.
For many, the general elections of 2003 were critical to finding solutions to these and other questions, and could move the country forward. Obasanjo again was reelected for a second term.
He handed over to Umaru’ Yar’adua, who won the 2007 presidential election.
Yar’Adua became the first president to publicly declare his assets, but was referred to as ‘go-slow.
Yar’Adua was handed two catastrophic problems by the predecessor Obasanjo government. Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND was wrecking havoc in the Southern creeks and Boko Haram had similarly evolved in the north east.
Through a combination of force and payoffs, President Yar’Adua persuaded all major militant leaders in October of 2010 to renounce violence and surrender their arms in exchange for amnesty, government subsidies, training opportunities, and promises of more money and development of the region.
Yar’Adua suddenly took seriously ill and eventually died on May 5, 2010.
His vice, Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in the following day after so much political intrigues.
The April 2011 presidential election was heralded as among the fairest in Nigeria's history, but they also was among the bloodiest.
The election left over 800 people dead .
The victims were killed in three days of rioting in 12 northern states. The violence began with widespread protests by supporters of the main opposition candidate.
Muhammadu Buhari, from the Congress for Progressive Change, following the re-election of incumbent Jonathan.
The crisis was also fueled by opinions that somebody from the North should have completed Yar’Adua’s tenure and not Jonathan.
Four years later, Jonathan’s goodluck expired as he suffered defeat in the 2015 presidential election, losing to Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress.
It was the first time in Nigeria’s history, that an incumbent President would suffered defeat in an election.
One reason why President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration suffered colossal failure was the Boko Haram menace.
Boko Haram started before Jonathan became President, but the inability of his administration to curtail the sect cast a huge doubt over his abilities.
Daily, Nigerians were greeted by news of bomb blast and gun attacks. Unfortunately, the Boko Haram menace was interpreted by Jonathan as an effort to rubbish his administration.
The situation became so bad with the abduction of over 200 school children by the sect on the night of 14 to 15 April 2014.
Also, the Nigerian army suffered countless humiliating defeats at the hands of terrorists.
The two biggest successes of President Buhari have been the war against Boko Haram and his aggressive fight against corruption.
Coupled with the military success against Boko Haram was the Buhari regime’s ability to secure the release of dozens of abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
21 were released last year and another 82 were recently released due to negotiations with the terrorists.
However, the past two years also witnessed much pain across the country due to other forms of insecurity.
The worst of these was the stepped up clashes between herdsmen and farmers in many states, leading to high losses of lives, destruction of whole villages and displacement of tens of thousands of people.
There was little to cheer for the economy as the country officially entered into economic recession for the first time in three decades.
In the midst of these challenges, President Buhari suffered bouts of ill health that rendered him mostly unable to exercise his presidential mandate since January this year.
In less than 500 days, Nigerans will head to the polls to decide who will lead for another four years. The politiking has begun and hopefully the West African nation would not be blinded by ethnic and religious sentiments.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!