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Nigeria Political History

By Yusta Seghete, published on 22 Oct 2020

Nigeria, one of the most affluent countries in Africa.

It was discovered by the Portuguese and eventually colonised by the British and achieved her independence in 1960, before its big oil discovery in the 1970s.

1963-1966:  When Nigeria became a Republic in 1963, Nnamdi Azikiwe was elected President of the Federal Republic.  However, there was a great controversy over the 1963 population census, which the Igbo thought the Hausa-Fulani numbers were overestimated in order to give the Northern region more representation in the federal parliament.

January 16, 1966- 1966: In January of 1966, some Igbo army officials staged a coup d'etat to overthrow the government.

A decree was issued in March of the same year to abolish the federation, and unify the federal and regional civil servants.

July 29, 1966 - July 25, 1975: northern officers staged another coup, killing Aguiyi-Ironsi, the first Military Head of State of Nigeria and many other Igbo officials. The Muslim officers chose Yakubu "Jack" Gowon (who was a Christian) as the new ruler. Gowon had not actually been involved in the coup, but they felt he would be the best compromise candidate to head the Federal Military Government. His first steps included restoring Federalism, and releasing Awolowo from prison.

October 1979 – 1983: Shehu Shagari was democratically elected the new president in the 1979 elections, though many felt that he did not meet the requirements for winning. He stayed in power for his entire term, and he was re-elected in 1983.  Again, many people were convinced that the elections were rigged and that his running mate, Obafemi Awolowo had actually won; violence erupted in many areas, and every election was contested in court afterwards.

July 25, 1975 - February 13, 1976: Another coup took place on December 31st of 1983.  This time round, many Nigerians felt that the nation had deteriorated into shameless corruption and economic mismanagement. Shagari was placed under house arrest, and Muhammadu Buhari was named the new leader.

Buhari set out to try to revive the economy, giving this priority over returning the country to civilian rule. He also restricted freedom of the press, suppressed criticism of the government, and outlawed many political and labour organizations. Additionally, he declared a War Against Indiscipline to deal strictly with indecent public behaviour, inadequate sanitation, corruption, and smuggling, while encouraging patriotism. His fiscal policies made it difficult for many companies to run profitably, and eventually led to high inflation. His inflexibility led to increasing discontent.

August 27, 1985- August 27, 1993: Yet another coup that took place on August 27, 1985. This time Ibrahim Babangida was named Chairman of the Federal Executive Council. A new constitution was set up in 1990, and the country was to return to civilian rule in 1992. Babangida again claimed fraud, and annulled the results of the second election, which was believed to be the first fair election held in the history of Nigeria. 

Hundreds were killed in demonstrations, human rights and pro-democracy activists were arrested, and opposition newspapers were shut down. Internal and external pressure mounted, and finally on August 27, 1993, Babangida resigned.  Ernest Shonekan, a civilian, was appointed President.

August 27, 1993 - November 17, 1993: Ernest Shonekan's rule was the shortest in history, lasting less than 3 months. He was appointed the interim president of Nigeria by general Ibrahim Babangida.  Ernest was later overthrown by Sani Abacha on November 17, 1993. Abacha is believed to have been instrumental in both the 1983 and the 1985 coups, and was Babangida's defence minister.

In 1995, Abacha announced a three-year program of transition to civilian rule. On March 1, 1995 there was another attempted coup by Lawan Gwadabe. Also suspected as part of this coup were Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, who were sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment for this.

June 8, 1998 - May 29, 1999: After Abacha died, Abdulsalam Abubakar took his place, and set up a transition program that would lead the country back to democracy by May 29, 1999.

May 29, 1999 - May 29, 2007: After the death of Abacha, Obasanjo, who was supposed to serve a 25-year term, was released from prison by Abubakar, and was subsequently encouraged to run for president in the upcoming elections. After a series of primaries, Obasanjo was declared the new democratically elected president, and was inaugurated as the new civilian president on May 29, 1999.

29 May 2007 - The 2nd President of Nigeria's Fourth Republic. He served as governor of Katsina State in northern Nigeria between May 291999 and May 282007 . He was declared the winner of the controversial Nigerian general election of 2007, held on April 21, and was sworn in on May 29, 2007. He is a member of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP).

2010 May - President Umaru Yar'Adua dies after a long illness. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, already acting in Yar'Adua's stead, succeeds him.

2011 March - Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan wins presidential elections.

2015 March - Muhammadu Buhari wins the presidential election, becoming the first opposition candidate to do so in Nigeria's history.

2019 February - Presidential elections held after last-minute delay of a week. Incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari won his re-election bid defeating his closest rival Atiku Abubakar by over 3 million votes. The elections were the most expensive ever held in Nigeria, costing ₦69 billion (US$625 million) more than the 2015 elections.




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