Nigeria History: from Olusegun Obasanjo to Sani Abacha


In July 1975, President Gowon was ousted in a bloodless coup and replaced by General Murtala Ramat Moḥammed who, by further decentralizing federal power, created seven new states. In February 1976 Murtala was assassinated in the failed coup attempt in which British high commissioner La Quesne was also involved, whose withdrawal the Nigerian government was asking in London. Olusegun Obasanjo became the new president. On the international political level, Nigeria’s orientation appeared favorable to an expansion of the network of relations with the outside world. On the internal level, efforts focused on improving basic infrastructures and on making the most of the country’s enormous resources, through an organic planning policy. In 1977, with the first free consultation after that of 1966, the Constituent Assembly, charged with drawing up the new draft federal constitution. Alhaji Shehu Shagari, leader of the National Party of Nigeria, elected president of the Republic in 1979, was reconfirmed in office in the subsequent elections in 1983. Mohammed Buhari, later proclaimed himself president.

But he too was deposed two years later, in August 1985, by General Ibrahim Babangida. After another coup d’etat (December 1985) was foiled, tensions of various kinds arose in the following years, exacerbated by the deterioration of the economy and its social effects: religious conflicts in the north of the country, student unrest, etc. In the face of pressure for the restoration of civil power, General Babangida allowed the start of a two-party system in 1989 (creation of the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention), but the result of the presidential elections held in 1993, negative for the outgoing president, made it clear that even a gradual democratization of the country was still to come. Not recognizing the electoral victory of the Social Democrat Moshood Abiola, Babangida had the ballot canceled, thereby unleashing the protests of his supporters. Forced to relinquish power due to popular pressure and disturbing signals from the army, Babangida gave up on a provisional government led by civilian Ernest Shonekan (August). It was, however, an experience destined to run out quickly as the Minister of Defense of that same executive, General Sani Abacha, carried out a coup d’etat (November 1993), eliminating all the institutions previously created to favor the transition and constituting a Provisional Governing Council (PRC), chaired by himself and made up of 7 soldiers and 4 civilians. After an initial slip, the opposition, which had tasted a phase of relative freedom during the transition phase, reorganized and formed a National Democratic Coalition (May 1994). Galvanized by the apparent resumption of a political dialectic and under the illusion of being able to count on some sectors of the army, Moshood Abiola proclaimed himself head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces, but the gesture only resulted in his arrest on charges of treason (June 1994). In reality, Abiola’s move created more than a few embarrassments for the coup leader Abacha as he was forced to intervene by force to stop the protests of the oil sector workers, who went on strike demanding the release of the social democratic leader. The adoption of the hard line, with the arrest of trade unionists and the massacre of demonstrators, it also opened cracks in the military hierarchies on which Abacha’s ax fell and dismissed the chiefs of staff of the navy and army (August 1994).

According to remzfamily, the repressive crackdown was confirmed with the complete militarization of the PRC and the arrest of the leader of the National Democratic Coalition, Ayo Opadokun (October 1994). In a strongly intimidated country, the only elements of dialectic, unfortunately dramatic, were represented by the bloody tribal clashes, such as those ignited between the Haussa and the Ibos (May 1995), while the despotic character of the regime that raged against any type of dissent. Accusing them of an attempted coup, never tried, Abacha got rid of the most uncomfortable generals (July 1995) and the most ruthless repression did not spare intellectuals and all kinds of opponents, as evidenced by the death sentence for the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa (November 1995) which cost Nigeria the suspension from the Commonwealth decreed by Great Britain. Even the Nobel Prize for literature, Wole Soyinka, fortunately sheltered in Paris since 1994, was charged and convicted in absentia for terrorism (1996). The wave of terror that swept over Nigeria involved the UN, whose General Assembly issued a harsh indictment against the Abacha regime. International isolation forced the Nigerian dictator to promise free presidential elections in 1998, but it was only an announcement: the signals he gave to the world were even more disturbing, such as the murder of Abiola’s wife (June 1996), guilty of having persevered in demanding the release of her husband. Between the end of 1996 and the first months of 1997, the city of Lagos became the scene of numerous bomb attacks against military targets, a signal of an opposition response in terms of armed struggle, and, at the end of 1997, the government declared that it had foiled a military coup organized by some sections of the army. In June 1998, the dictator Abacha died and General Abdusalam Abubakar took his place, promising, at the time of his inauguration, a new civil government for the country. In July 1998, the suspicion of a plot by the Nigerian regime induced by the sudden death of M. Abiola, still under house arrest, gave rise to new riots, which subsided with the confirmation by foreign doctors of the natural death of the opposition leader.

Nigeria History - from Olusegun Obasanjo to Sani Abacha