NIGERIA: Know Your History

Nigeria was once revered and to an extent admired by many around the world. The country played an instrumental role in the ending of British Colonial rule in many African countries. It was the first sub-saharan African nation to have a television and a broadcasting service. The collapse of the South African Apartheid Regime was also as a result of the significant role Nigeria played as well as the end to the brutal civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. There are also several reports that Nigeria once used to offer aid to other African countries. Unfortunately, the glory of our past is what it is. Our past. The African Giant is now trembling. For the past 3 decades we have been plagued with seemingly endless crisis ranging from ethnoreligious conflicts, several coup d’états, economic recessions, poverty, unemployment and rampant insecurity.

The purpose of this paper is to simply assess how far we have come as a country within the past 60 years and the need to urgently set our house in order to ensure the next 6 decades are the highlight of our existence. This paper is structured in two phases, with the first phase scrutinizing the history of the country while looking at historical milestones from amalgamation in 1914 to the end of military rule in 1999. The second phase on the other hand proffers solutions that I believe would address the longstanding developmental challenges facing the country and I conclude with an attempt to galvanize hope for the country.

First Phase (1914 – 1959)

The appointment of Lord Frederick John Dealtry Lugard as High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria forever remains a turning point in our country’s history. Lord Lugard, who before being appointed High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria served under the imperial British East Africa Company. Shortly after beginning his mission in Buganda, he returned to Britain to argue for the retention of Uganda as a territory by the British and defend himself against accusations mounted against him regarding harshness and injustice.

In 1898, Lord Lugard arrived at Lokoja, after accepting a mission to work with the Royal Niger Company to beat the French in a race to sign a treaty for the exploration of the Middle Niger. To achieve the aforementioned objective, he established the West African Frontier Force with head office in Lokoja. Prior to the establishment of Lugard’s West African Frontier Force, it was becoming clearer that the Royal Niger Company could no longer effectively exercise enough authority over the land on which it had a charter, hence the revocation of its charter on December 27, 1899. On the 1st of January 1900, the land previously administered by the Niger Company was made a protectorate of the British Crown and was called Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. Lord Lugard, who was now a Colonel was named the High Commissioner of the new protectorate.

However, nearly a decade before Lugard’s appointment, Uthman Dan Fodio and his brother, Abdullahi along with his fellow Islamic clerics who had migrated from Mali and other Hausa states declared a Jihad on the then inhabitants of the Northern Nigerian lands. This Jihad continued till 1900 when the British took over control of the lands. As High Commissioner, Lord Lugard intensified the war by capturing a number of Northern cities and as early as March 1903, he had already told the British government to consider the unification of the northern and southern territories. He argued that while the Southern Protectorate made surplus which were transferred to London, annually, the Northern Protectorate had to depend on grants from the Crown to meet the requirements of her annual budgets. In 1912, Southern Nigeria had a revenue of £2.25M with its government running a surplus. On the other hand, Northern Nigeria with both a larger population and land mass had only about £500,000 of local revenue, including a grant of £70,000 from customs income in the south.

Four years later, in 1907, Fredrick Lugard was posted to the Hong Kong Colony as the Governor-General of the East Asian country. In 1912, he returned to Nigeria and was sworn in as the Governor of both the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and Northern Protectorate, albeit on different days. Having had a close relationship with the Colonial Secretary, Lord Lewis Harcourt, it became easier for the Governor to convince the British Government to merge the two protectorates. Thus, in 1913, the instrument which saw the two territories become one was signed. By the Order-in-Council of King George V on November 22, 1913, the protectorates were merged, and on January 1, 1914, Nigeria became a political entity identified as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria with Lord Frederick John Dealtry Lugard as Governor-General.

Barely 8 months into his tenure as Governor General of the new found West African Country, World War 1 began on the 28th of July. Despite the difficult economic and political global situation, Lord Lugard intitated the development of a port in Udi to export the recently discovered coal in the town in 1912.  When the port was completed, it was named ‘Port Harcourt’ after Lord Lewis Harcourt, whom Lugard had solicited in the unification of Nigeria.

Lugard as Governor General introduced the Native Authority System in the South and tried to introduce the indirect rule system using traditional rulers in Western Nigeria as well as Northern Nigeria and appointing Warrant Chiefs in the East. World War 1 ended on November 11, 1918 and the following year, Lord Lugard was recalled to London on retirement. Sir Hugh Clifford succeeded Lugard as Governor-General in 1919.

Before been appointed Governor-General of Nigeria, he had been Governor of the Gold Goast since 1912. On arrival in Lagos, Clifford had to cope with an anti-Lugard backlash from administrators in the East, who had complained to him that the native system in place in the region was failing. Although, he was not an instinctive democrat, Clifford, was surprisingly willing to give Nigerians a greater say in their own affairs. Along with other West African governors, he recommended to the new Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alfred Milner, not to see or make concessions to a deputation from the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA). This went to London in 1920 to press for an African Appeal Court and moves towards self-determination.

In 1922, Clifford produced a new constitution for Southern Nigeria, which set up a Legislative Council of 46 members with a small elective element. There were to be 27 official members, 15 appointed unofficial members and 4 members elected by adult males with an annual income of £100 or more – three from Lagos and one from Calabar, which was seen as a key commercial centre in Eastern Nigeria. Although the elected members were small, this presented a unique opportunity and indeed a stimulus for political organization, particularly in Lagos. Consequently, the first political party in Nigeria was formed in 1923 by Herbert Macaulay, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). The Ibibio State Union was also formed in Calabar for the single seat allocated to the city. Despite the 1922 Clifford Constitution being the first to permit African elections in the sub-saharan British Empire, Sir Hugh Clifford was still ruling Northern Nigeria by proclamation.

Between Lord Lugard’s resignation as Governor-General and the outbreak of the Second World War, a number of events which would go on to influence the country several years later took place. The depression in global trade in the 1920s hurt economic growth in and left power in the hands of British and European firms. The exactions of tax-gatherers, pushing people into the cash economy of the pound sterling, created strong resentment particularly in the Southeast. Campaigns by upcoming nationalists, producer and union groups began to gain traction. West African students in England exchanged ideas on political development and were inspired as they watched the India National Congress Party fight for the independence of the country.

In the 1920s, there was also the Mahdist protest in Borno, serious disturbances in Tivland and the famous Aba women riots which began in November 1929. The sudden outbreak of the violence, starting in Owerri province, defeated the complacency of the colonial government and led to reform of the native courts and an end to the imposition of warrant chiefs.  The Colonial government then decided to use Igbo clans as its bases of authority but soon found out that the clan unit was too small to be viable and each village was autonomous. It was this quagmire that eventually led the British to move away from traditional headship towards a merit based leadership system and public acceptance, thus giving the way for more democratic approaches in the East.

The newly formed and slightly empowered legislative council was only given law making responsibilities for the colony of Lagos and the southern protectorate. Members of the council possessed the power to propose any ordinance bills except those on finance which was the prerogative of the Governor. Nevertheless, the Governor still had veto power and was therefore empowered to disapprove laws passed by the council. He could also implement policies and decisions without the approval or backing of the council.

With the new constitution providing for political representation, Nigerians dissatisfied with the Herbert Macaulay led NNDP came together and decided to create the Lagos Youth Movement in 1933. Membership of the movement gradually enlarged largely due to the fact that several youths from Western and Eastern Provinces moved to Lagos in search of greener pastures. As a result of this new influx of members from other provinces, the name of the moment was changed to the Nigerian Youth Movement, which eventually constituted a big problem for the NNDP.

In an attempt to bring law and order to the front burner, Governor Sir Arthur Richards, who was appointed Governor General of Nigeria in 1943, authored a new constitution in 1945 which was to effectively replace the one put together by Sir Hugh Clifford. When the new constitution was presented before the legislative council, the Nigerian members of the council rejected it on the grounds that it lacked indigenous contribution in putting it together.

In spite of the opposition of the political class to the Richards Constitution, the letters of the document came to force on the 1st of January, 1946. The Richard Constitution defined Nigeria in terms of Regions for the first time: Northern, Western and Eastern Regions. The Richards Constitution did little for fostering democracy in Nigeria and provided for consultations with rather than real legislative or financial powers for Nigerians in the newly established regional assemblies. The new constitution provided for 41 members of the Legislative Council, whose purview would now cover the whole country. 28 of the 41-member Council were ‘unofficials’, meaning there were not employed by the Colonial Administration, and most of these were selected by the new regional councils. Members of the three regional councils, in each of which the unofficial had a majority of one, were selected by Native Authorities. However, in the North, a House of Chiefs was set up alongside the regional council, which all first-class chiefs were entitled to attend. This bicameral legislative system was only in existent in the North as Richards had been discouraged to set up a house of chief in the West on the grounds that the Yoruba chiefs did not have the semi-feudal authority their counterparts in the North did.

Although, the Richards constitution brought about relative change to Nigeria’s political-economic structure, it had a relatively short shelf-life, as new Governor Sir John Macpherson, who arrived in 1948, realized that political progress in the country had to be fast tracked.

The Year of 1948 was one filled with a number of significant events, both for the country and the Southwest Region. In June, 1948, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa was launched on the Palace grounds of the Ooni of Ife at an elaborate ceremony at which prominent Yorubas attended. Sir Adeyemo Alakija was named president of the group and Obafemi Awolowo its secretary. It was also during this same year that the foundation stone of the permanent site of the University College, Ibadan, later renamed University of Ibadan was laid in November and is presently regarded as the Foundation Day of the University. Similarly, the following month, Aliyu Barau Dikko, who had benefited from Western Education because he converted to Christianity and became the first medical doctor from the core north in 1948, brought youths together in the North to establish the movement of Arewa Youth.

In a bid to fortify Nigeria’s political structure and build on the successes recorded by Sir Arthur Richards, John Macpherson decided to include indigenous participation in a new constitution being drafted for the country. Meetings and consultations leading down to the final signing of the document were held at 5 levels – Village, District, Divisional, Provincial, and Regional levels before a draft was presented to a gathering of Nigerian delegates in Ibadan at a conference known as the Ibadan General Conference. The Macpherson Constitution, which was finalized in 1951, laid the framework for a regional system of government in Nigeria, which was buttressed by elections. It provided for a central council of ministers presided over by the governor. The council was made up of ministers from each of the three regions. Besides these ministers, there were six ex-officio members – a chief secretary, three lieutenant Governors, the Attorney General and the Financial Secretary. Supporting the institution of the Council of Ministers was a Central House of Representatives with 136 persons, and up to 6 special members chosen by the Governor to represent underrepresented communities or interests being overlooked.

The powers of the regional legislatures were also increased. They could make laws covering issues ranging from agriculture, animal health, fisheries, forestry, local industries, cooperative societies, education, social welfare, customary land tenures amongst others. The regional legislatures were further given authority to make financial provisions for policing and public relations.

Nigeria’s unity and cooperation amongst the newly administrative regions were threatened shortly after the signing of the Macpherson constitution. There were regional quarrels in 1953 over the Action Group’s (AG) demand for self-government in 1956 as well as conflict in 1954 over the status of Lagos. Northerners were afraid that an early independence for Nigeria meant handing over its people and culture to rule by the Southerners. Their anxiety was triggered by the fact that most civil service and business jobs in the North were dominated by Southerners. A constitutional crisis consequently ensued as members of the AG resigned from the central government in response to the North’s objection of independence. Tensions were running high in the country with Northern leaders insulted in Lagos and the death of nearly 50 people in Kano coupled with the threat from both the East and West to prevent Northern exports and imports going through the Southern ports.

Due to the differing views about Nigeria’s independence and what form it would take, a new constitution, known as the Lyttleton Constitution, was presented to Nigerians. The Lyttleton Consitution of 1954, gave more powers to the Regional Governments among others. With new powers, the regional governments began taking steps to advance education within their geographical space. In the West, the AG government led by Obafemi Awolowo campaigned for free primary education and upon winning the election began implementing the epoch making scheme that has defined the region till date. In order to ensure the success of the programme without comprising standard, critical projects were undertaken such as a massive teacher-training programme, expansion of teacher training facilities, the building of more secondary schools, the introduction of secondary technical education and secondary modern school. An outstanding feature and emphasis given to this programme by Awolowo and his team of highly gifted technocrats include the emphasis on increasing enrollment without compromising quality. This is evident in his government’s allocation to education. From 1954 to 1966, the education sector was allocated between 28.9% to 41.2%, the largest share of the region’s recurrent expenditure (S.A. Ajayi, 2008).

Based on the provisions of the Lyttleton Consittution, the Eastern and Western Regions were granted the authority to self-govern their territories in 1957, the North was not self-governing until a year after the declaration of independence.  Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a member of the Northern People’s Congress but a non-Hausa, became Nigeria’s first Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, Balewa took over the functions of overseeing the Army and the Police. In accepting his appointment, he dissolved the existing 1955 cabinet and set up an inclusive national government which comprised of two AG members, Chief Ladoke Akintola and Chief Ayodele Rosiji.

In May, 1958, the British War Office, London officially surrendered the control of the Nigeria Army to the government of Nigeria, signaling the British intention to indeed grant the country its independence. About a month afterwards, Honorable Justice Adetokunbo Ademola was appointed as Nigeria’s first ever indigenous Chief Justice of the country. The year, 1959, being the pen ultimate year of Nigeria’s independence saw a number significant events being recorded in the annals of Nigeria’s history. The first being the granting and acceptance of self-governance of Northern Nigeria, thereby making all three regions within the federation effectively self- governing. Further, on July, 1959, the Central Bank of Nigeria began operations in Lagos in a newly constructed head office at Tinubu Square, in Lagos. It was also in October of this same year that the Western Region made a landmark achievement with the first broadcast of the regional television. The Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) and Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS) were the first of its kind in the entire African continent and some parts of Europe. On the 31st of October, 1959, the WNTV started broadcasting.

Sir James Robertson, who had been appointed as Governor General in 1955, dissolved the Federal House of Representatives in preparation for the elections in December 12, 1959. In order to further their ambitions and the development of their peoples, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe resigned as premiers of their respective regions to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives. Sir Ahamdu Bello on the other hand opted to remain as premier of the Northern Region.

The outcome of the pre-independence election was largely along ethnic lines as the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) won 134 of the 174 seats allocated to the Northern Region, while the National Convention of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) won majority of the seats allocated to the Eastern Region, with the political party occupying 58 of the 73 seats allocated to it. The Western Region, which had been allocated 62 seats, won slightly more than half of the available seats with its representatives winning 33 seats. However, for a government to be formed, a party must have majority of the seats in the Federal House of Representatives, which amounted to at least 157 seats, and none of the parties had won that total amount. Thus, the NPC and the NCNC formed a coalition government and the AG, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo settled as the government opposition.

With the stage now set for a self-governing and independent Nigeria, the British House of Commons and House of Lords approved for Nigeria to become an independent nation within the Commonwealth of Nations, on September 12, 1960. On the 1st of October, 1960, Nigeria became an independent country with Princess Alexandra of Kent handing over the instrument of independence to Sir. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

Second Phase (1960 – 1966)

Following the declaration of independence in 1960, there was an era of optimism and hope within Nigeria and indeed the rest of the African continent. Artists and writers utilized the country’s history and achievements to find new inspiration for the birthed nation. In 1963, Fela Kuti, who had been studying in London, moved back to Nigeria with his band and began an everlasting career in music. Chinua Achebe, whose Things fall Apart (1958) gained critical acclaim and Wole Soyinka’s Dance of the Forests (196o) were also showing the world what the new African nation is capable of doing.

The Nigerian economy also experienced considerable boom during this early years of independence. Through the First National Development Plan (FNDP) successful attempts were made to diversify the monoculture nature of the Nigerian economy. Agriculture, which had at its peak constituted 63.4% of the Gross National Product (GNP), declined to 55.6% in 1966. While manufacturing grew from 3.6% of GNP in 1960 to 6.2% in 1966. Mining on the other hand, rose from 0.9% to 4.8% within the same period (T. Falola & M. Heaton, 2008).

Unfortunately, the optimism and excitement that characterized the independence of Nigeria was short-lived as the structural and ideological divisions in the country became more threatening. These were evident in the subsequent political crisis, the incessant corruption amongst government officials and the dangerous breeding of anti-democratic ideas by young military officers within the ranks of the Nigerian army.

The Nigerian federation, which at its birth was always faulty, and a disproportionately large North, created continuous frictions between the powerful regional governments and also within the NPC-NCNC coalition at the center. The Northern Peoples Congress used its federal position to strengthen the appointments of Northerners in military, bureaucracy, and economic positions. These actions by the NPC seemed like an overture to northern domination by the Southerners.

The broader national crisis found its way to the Western Region, where the AG split at its party conference in Jos in 1962, thereby affecting its ability to govern the Region. There were disagreements over the attitude of some top officials of the party to the federal government, which was majorly made up of the NPC. Chief Samuel Akintola, who had become Premier of the Region after the resignation of Awolowo, wanted a more cooperative relationship with the Federal Government. This was, according to Awolowo, contrary to the stance of the party’s position on the policy of nationalization of basic resources, which the NPC was against. Moreover, Chief Awolowo had been trying to build local support of the party across the country, allying with minority tribes to make the opposition to the Federal Government more effective. Whereas, Chief Akintola wanted the AG to focus more on the Region, Yoruba heartland.

The situation in the Region worsened in May, 1962, when a physical fight broke out in the House of Assembly. It was not until the police were called into the House to disperse the honorable members did the fighting stop. Obafemi Awolowo who was in the gallery, rushed out and contacted the Prime Minister through the Commissioner of Police. Following discussions, the House was reconvened and fighting once again broke out. The Army and the Police who were on standby this time around moved in and drove the honorable members out and locked up the Assembly. Tafawa Balewa, being the Prime Minister, declared a state of emergency in the West, suspended the AG regional government and appointed Moses Majekodunmi as administrator of the Region.

Barely a month after the assumption of his position as sole administrator of the Western Region, Dr. Majekodunmi oversaw the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry to probe six statutory corporations in the region: the Western Nigeria Development Corporation, Western Nigeria Marketing Board, Western Nigeria Properties Corporation, Western Nigeria Television Service, National Bank of Nigeria, Western Finance Corporation. The mandate of the Commission of Inquiry was to probe the misuse of funds generated from these institutions for party purposes.

However, things took a turn for the worse when Awolowo and 26 other members of his party were arraigned before Hon. Justice George Sodeinde Sowemimo on charges that included treasonable felony, importation of arms, and ammunition into the country. According to the prosecution, members of the AG received military training under the government of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, with the objective of blowing up the Nigerian Federal Parliament while in session and arresting the Prime Minister. Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the other 26 AG party members were found guilty and sentenced.

With the precarious state of the country, it seemed things could only get better for Nigeria just 2 years after independence. However, this proved not to be the case in 1962, as a national census had both economic and political consequences for the country. Censuses during the colonial era had revealed that most Nigerians lived in the North, and this had been used as justification for the allocation both of parliamentary constituencies and of development resources. Mr. J.J. Warren, a British official was appointed to count the Nigerian population for the first time. The results of the census was never published but there were assumptions of the final figure in the regional papers, the West African Pilot, and Tribune, which suggested that more people then lived in the south than the north. This is however problematic, as Mr. Warren said the eastern figures were in particular inflated. The Federal Government did not extend his contract and took over the census itself. The revised population figures showed an impossible increase in population figures from 1952 to 1953. Whereas the total population a decade earlier was thought to be 30.4 million, it had gotten to 55.7 million within a decade. Most importantly though, was that the population of the north remained higher than that of the other regions with a claimed total of 29.8 million.

Following several commission of inquiries that called for more representation of minority groups in the decision making process of the country, the Midwestern State was created on the 9th of August 1963. It is worth mentioning that, there were calls for state creation in all regions of the polity. Interestingly and quite problematically, the demand for state creation in any particular region enjoyed the support of the opposition political parties in that region. To put into perspective, while the NCNC opposed the creation of a Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) State in the East, it vehemently supported the creation of the Midwest State in the West and the Middle Belt State in the North.

The state creation and the census crisis spiraled down into the 1964 election debacle, the year which marked five decades since the amalgamation of the country. There had been electoral malpractices in the 1959 elections, but the 1964 elections revealed that the events of the previous election were mere child’s play. The south had increasingly become hostile towards what they perceived as northern domination of Nigeria. The NCNC and the AG had made alliances with minority parties in the north in an effort to end the rule of the NPC and the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) in the North and West respectively. The newly formed alliance was called United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) while in an effort to counter this new establishment in the polity, the NPC and the NNDP formed a political alliance and called their new party, the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA).

Consequently, the 88 out of 174 seats in the northern region went unopposed to NNA candidates, and nearly a third in the west went to the NNDP. Following the conclusion of the elections, President Azikiwe refused to call on Balewa to form a government after the Igbo East boycotted the 1964 federal elections. However, due to the efforts of Sir. Adetokunbo Ademola, Azikiwe compromised and eventually formed a government with Tafawa Balewa. The scale of the electoral malpractices and corruption was unprecedented to the extent that no opposition candidate had been allowed to run in Balewa’s constituency, thereby allowing the PM to retain his seat unopposed.

The widespread dissatisfaction with the newly independent Nigeria polity was evident in the press, the labor movement and the military.

On the 15th of January 1966, young army officers launched the first of Nigeria’s six coups. The coup plotters were successful in assassinating Balewa, Ahamdu Bello, Chief Akintola and many other senior military officers. General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi who was then the General Officer Commanding took over the running of the country.  Ironsi, as the country’s first military Head of State implemented policies that were centralist and anti-democratic. He passed Decree 33, which abolished 81 political parties and cultural organizations, and Decree 34, which abolished federalism in the country.

As it has been the story of Nigeria since amalgamation, the military takeover was viewed through the ethnic lens. Northerners were alarmed at what they saw as an Igbo takeover of the country they have controlled for many years, while the Igbos residing in the north were triumphant at the takeover. Accordingly, northern students and civil servants led violent anti Igbo riots. There were massacres, destruction of properties worth millions leading the retreat of the Igbo to safety in the East.

Third Phase (1966 – 1979)

These events formed the backdrop of the revenge coup plotted by Major Murtala Muhammed and Captain Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma on the 29 July. Aguiyi-Ironsi, who was being hosted by the Military Governor of the West, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, was killed alongside the Governor. For nearly 72 hours, the Nigerian polity was in a state of flux until Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon, who was then the Chief of Army Staff, took over as Supreme Commander on the request of the coup plotters.

Sadly at this juncture, the Nigerian State was barely standing. Igbos continued to be killed in the North, leading to the departure of millions of refugees. Simultaneously, Igbo soldiers posted in the North began to return home and the northern troops stationed in the East began to return to the North. In 1967, as a result of the unfolding events, both the eastern and the western region had threatened to secede from the federation. Gowon, who repealed Decree no. 34, was committed to the unity of the Nigerian Federation. However, he was to find securing the unity of the country difficult, especially with the Eastern part of Nigeria, whom one could say suffered the brunt of the crisis engulfing the country.

Lieutenant Colonel Ojukwu, the Military Governor of the East, had continuously been encouraged by Igbos to take them out of due to what they feared was an ethnic cleansing of their tribe. Gowon was however not willing rip up the territorial integrity of Nigeria and was adamant on keeping the East within Nigeria. He and Ojukwu met several times to therefore warn Ojuwku that any attempt to withdraw the East from the Nigerian Union would be met with stiff resistant. Thus, in a bid to avoid hostilities and douse the already tense situation, both parties decided to meet in Aburi, Ghana to hold talks in order to normalize the situation. Unfortunately, the talks refused to yield any fruits, as on the 30th of May 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Ojukwu declared the independence of the Eastern Region, renaming the region to the Independent Republic of Biafra.

According to T. Falola & M. Heaton (2008), Gowon and the Federal Military Government (FMG) could not allow the East to secede base on three fundamental reasons. The first being the fact that Gowon and the members of his cabinet believed in the practicability of the Nigerian Unity, the second is the uncomfortable truth that permitting the East to secede would serve as an open invitation to other groups within the country to follow suit.  The third reason and probably the most important was that the lands claimed by the new republic hosted 67% of Nigeria’s petroleum reserves.

Unsurprisingly, what followed was the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War, which lasted for more than two years, from 1967 – 1970, leaving nearly 3 million people killed (mainly due to starvation, a deliberate tactic employed by the FMG ) and another 3 million displaced as at when the republic ceased to exist.  With the war raging on, it became clearer that the Republic of Biafra had limited capabilities to handle the might of the Nigerian Army. However, the war lasted longer than both parties envisaged it would, mostly due to the external intervention of European powers.

On January 12, 1970, Major General Phillip Effiong, whom Ojuwkwu had handed over power to before absconding, surrendered to the Federal Military Government in Lagos, thereby signaling the official end of the tragic war. Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon, emphasized that there were to be no vengeance or reparations and there were no victors no vanquished in a war of brothers.

Post-war Nigeria experienced a significant oil boom which was both a curse and blessing for the country. Crude oil production grew from 417,000bpd in 1966 to over 823 million in 1974 (T. Falola & M. Heaton, 2008).  The increased national revenue as a result of the sales of crude oil facilitated the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation Agenda of the Gowon military administration. Unsurprisingly, it also made it easier for both civilian and military government officials engage in corrupt practices and rent seeking. According to many reports, all but two of the twelve military governors were corrupt or were involved in significant mismanagement of state resources (Richard Bourne, 2016).

In the latter days of the month of July 1975, while Gowon was attending an Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting in Uganda, Brigadier Murtala Muhammed, who had been among the coup plotters that brought Gowon to power, overthrew him in a bloodless coup. Murtala Muhammed, who was able to govern for only seven months, was assassinated in a failed coup on the 13th of February 1976. While, Head of State, he was able to reform the civil service to an extent, reduce corruption, and encourage indigenous participation in the Nigerian economy. The late Murtala Muhammed was succeeded by Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo who picked up from where the former left off. Obasanjo continued work towards transition to civilian rule that Murtala had earlier promised to accelerate. Lieutenant General Obasanjo was also responsible for the Land Use Act of 1978 which vested all land within the country into the hands of the Military Governors and later civilian Governors. Obasanjo, to his credit, had kept he and Murtala’s promise to hand over power to an elected civilian government on the 1st of October 1979.

Fourth Phase (1979 – 1983)

In preparation for the 1979 elections, General Murtala Muhammed initiated a Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) that eventually drafted the 1979 constitution which was voted on by members of a Constituent Assembly in 1978. The new constitution aimed to prevent the ethnic polarization that had plagued the previous republic and thus through the Federal Electoral Commission ensured that political parties participating in the upcoming elections were national in orientation. Political parties had to open membership to all Nigerians, situating their headquarters in the nation’s capital, with party emblems featuring national symbols rather than ethnic or religious ones, and finally maintaining branches in at least two-thirds of the State.

Despite over 50 political parties applying to participate in the 1979 elections, only 5 were approved for the elections by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO). The parties were; the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Cumulatively, there were five elections, for the Senate, the House of Representatives, Houses of Assembly in the state, for the governorship positions, and then the Presidency.

After the presidential election, the NPN candidate, Alhaji Shehu Shagari had a total of 5,688,857 votes while his closest rival, Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the UPN, garnered a total of 4,916,651 votes (Richard Bourne, 2016). Shagari was able to accumulate the requisite 25% of the votes in only 12 out of 19 states in the country, however, it was still less than the two-thirds required to win the presidency outright according to the new constitution. In Kano, Shagari won 19.4% of the total votes and Awolowo declared that as a result, a run-off election was to take place between himself and Shagari. Thus, there were mathematical arguments about what exactly two-thirds of 19 should be, but ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Shagari and awarded him the Presidency.

Shagari’s administration had no coherent policy besides investing in education, both at the primary level and establishing new universities in some states. His government is said to have been more inefficient than corrupt (Richard Bourne, 2016). However, it could be argued that the systemic inefficiencies existing since the first republic would have guaranteed the failure of any sitting president. Violence in the north as a result of inter religious conflicts in 1980 as well as economic mismanagement and massive electoral fraud in the 1983 elections set the stage for another military coup and the end of Nigeria’s second republic.

On December 31, 1983, Brigadier Sani Abacha went on radio to announce a new military coup d’état and the formation of a new Federal Military Government (FMG), with General Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State.

Fifth Phase (1984 – 1999)

Buhari and his chief staff, General Tunde Idiabgon ruled without consultation with senior military officers. It was their intention to run a ‘corrective’ government, clamping down on corruption and declaring a “war on indiscipline” and redirecting the economy before any thoughts of handing over to civilians (T. Falola & M. Heaton, 2008). General Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure as Military Head of State was characterized by widespread disregard of human rights and severe censorship of the media. He was toppled in August 1985, in a bloodless coup while in his home town of Daura in Kaduna State by Major General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

At this point, Nigeria was in  deep economic crisis, particularly with the failed attempt of the Buhari regime at rescheduling Nigeria’s external debt with the IMF. By 1985 the federal government was spending 38.7 percent of its total revenue just to service its debts and the only reasonable bail out was to reschedule the repayment period and reduce the annual amount. Buhari however would not agree with the Structural Adjustment Programme designed by the IMF because he perceived it as a means of further exploitation from the West.

However, bearing in mind the pledge he made to return the nation to democracy, Babangida set out to take a more conciliatory approach to governance. He opened investigations regarding human rights abuses perpetrated by the Buhari regime and overturned the jail sentences of many of those convicted under his predecessor’s regime. Babangida encouraged freedom of the press and established public debate on issues pertaining to the governance of Nigeria. In addition, he took the title ‘President’, rather than ‘Head of State’.

In addressing the nation’s external debt crisis, Babangida, still in the spirit of encouraging a public participatory and responsive approach, threw the issue regarding the adoption of the IMF inclined Structural Adjustment Programme open for public debate. Public opinion fell in favor of a ‘home-grown’ Structural Adjustment Programme; this would give room for monitoring of the programme through World Bank instead of IMF. In June 1986 Nigeria officially instituted a Structural Adjustment Program, opening the doors to debt rescheduling and new lines of credit. The debt rescheduling allowed the bulk of the repayment of existing loans to be pushed back to 1991 and later. It however goes without saying that as much as the SAP had positive impact on the Nigeria economy, in the same vein, it also had devastating effects especially on the average Nigerian.


The Babangida regime was also popular for its transition and handover plan to civilian rule, which he also tried to portray with his democratic moves at the beginning of his regime. Babangida established the Political Bureau, which drew the plan for the transition as well as the timeline. The Bureau submitted its report on March 1987 and projected the transition period to extend from 1990 to 1992. But this date was later  pushed back  to  January  2, 1993 and  finally  to  August  27, 1993. In the process of stalling, the Babangida regime designed its own form of “democracy” whereby rules were set and changed at will; he was practically in control of the “democratization” process.


The idea that an expanded and permanent political role should be institutionalized for the Nigerian military was first raised by Nigeria’s former president, Nnamdi Azikiwe who, in 1972 called for a power sharing arrangement between civilian and military leaders. He named this system of government diarchy.


“There should not be an immediate transfer of power to complete civilian rule; rather a modus operandi should be devised for a combined civil and military government that should rule this country on a democratic basis, for five years, after which period the continuation of such a regime should be reviewed in light of experience and reason.”


The efforts of the Babangida regime at practicing diarchy was more pronounced when he, as a military ruler superintended over civilian governors and elected legislatures at state and federal levels. The regime first banned certain groups of politicians called “old breeds”, under decree 25 (a lifetime ban on all former office-holders who had ever been convicted of corruption) of 1987 from joining political parties, and contesting political positions. The politicians of the first and second republics, as well as military and police officers who were also banned could participate in politics only after the period of the transition programme. In addition, religious fundamentalist and ideological extremists were not allowed to be involved in the transition.


The ban provided a new crop of politicians, the new breed, who contested the non-party elections into local government council in 1987 and the Constituent Assembly in 1988. When the National Electoral Commission (NEC) subsequently released guidelines for political party formation, over 30 political associations sought to be registered. Of these, only 13 associations were registered but none was recognized on the long run. The Babangida regime banned all thirteen political association and decreed into existence two official parties: namely, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). The presidential candidates also emerged from these parties; The NRC nominated Bashir Tofa, a Kanuri businessman from Kano State while the SDP nominated Chief M. K. O. Abiola, a wealthy Yoruba businessman.


Despite all the events that played out in the process of the transition to civilian rule, especially the religious conflicts and Nigeria’s membership of the Organization of Islamic Communities as well as the ensuing riots. Nigerians laid aside their sentiments when it was time for the presidential election because this seemed like the opportunity they had long looked forward to and was eventually going to materialize. The June 12, 1993, presidential election is widely considered to have been the freest, fairest, and most peaceful election in Nigerian history to date. In the end, Abiola and the SDP mounted the more effective campaign and Abiola won 58 percent of the vote, even taking a majority of the vote in his opponent’s home base of Kano.


To the surprise of Nigerians, Babangida annulled the results of the elections a week later and that action initiated the end of the Third Republic. Although Nigerians were well aware of Babangida’s unpredictability, they were not prepared for this last card, which he pulled on June 17, 1993; canceling the elections.


Sixth Phase (1999-Present)

The sudden death of General Sani Abacha in June 1998 and the steps taken by his successor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, to hasten the process of the transition to democratic rule, raised hopes that Nigeria again might become a civilian government. General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over the reins of power on June 8, 1998. He constituted a new electoral body known as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This commission eventually registered three political parties-the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the All Peoples Party (APP) which later changed to All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).

During the political campaign that led to the 1999 presidential election, PDP brought in Obasanjo, a Yoruba, to be its presidential candidate. He defeated Alex Ekwueme in the nomination exercise while AD and APP nominated Olu Falae, meaning that the two presidential candidates were both Yoruba, an interesting political scenario.

The two presidential candidates emerged from the Southwest as consensus candidates of their respective political parties to placate the south westerners for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by their kinsmen. Obasanjo was also considered to have sold out to northerners; hence, he received little or no support in the Southwest. In Lagos, for instance, Obasanjo only had 12 percent of the vote (Irukwu 2005, p. 157; Wright 2006, p. 676; Ojo 2004, p. 76). Some members of the Ohanaeze leadership advised the Igbo people not to vote for Obasanjo and his party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The reason for this was that Olusegun Obasanjo never liked the Igbo. However, the advice was apparently turned down as at the end of the day, as the southeast geopolitical zone voted massively for Obasanjo and his party. In short, Abdul Salami Abubakar’s political administration was largely informed by the need to ensure ethnic compensation and the balance of power, especially at the centre.

These elections were contested by the three registered political parties: the PDP; the All People’s Party (APP) – later All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP); and the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Although these parties claimed to be national in outlook, each maintained dominance in specific geographical-ethnic domains. National returns showed Gen. Obasanjo and the PDP winning the election by a margin of 18 million votes to 11 million votes for Chief Falae and the AD/APP alliance. Obasanjo gained the majority of the vote in 27 states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. Falae won the majority in nine states, including all six in the Southwest zone. Thus, Obasanjo was sworn in as President on the 29 of May 1999, ushering in Nigeria’s fourth and present republic.

Between the periods of 1999 to the present moment, numerous security challenges have beleaguered Nigeria: secessionist movements, the Niger Delta Crisis, Herdsmen Farmers Clashes, Kidnapping, Banditry and the never-ending reign of terror of the Boko Haram terrorist group in the Northeast of the country. Of all the aforementioned, the terrorist group Boko Haram has most likely had the most devastating impact on the country.

The name ‘Boko Haram’ is loosely translated from the Hausa language to mean ‘western education is sinful’. This also extends to any western culture. It is for this reason that followers of this outfit advocate for a government based on Sharia as opposed to a democratic one. It is possible to count Wahhabism, Salafism and Islamic fundamentalism as the basic tenets of the Boko Haram’s ideology.

It is important to note that apart from the group targeting national events, markets and churches, they are sometimes engaged in sporadic bombings in major towns in Northern Nigeria including Kaduna, Zaria, Jos, Kano, Maiduguri, and in Damaturu. During such instances, the terrorists kill indiscriminately-Muslims and Christians alike. On August 26, 2011, the group struck its first high-profile international target within Nigeria when a suicide bomber crashed a car into the United Nations building in Abuja and detonated an explosive, which killed at least 23 people and injured more than 100 others.

With underlying insecurity challenges and an over reliance on oil generated revenue for decades, Nigeria plunged into a recession in 2016, recording a     -1.5% year on year GDP growth (PwC, n.d.). The effects of the recession thereafter had a negative effect on the lives of ordinary Nigerians with government cutting spending and investment in infrastructure and other critical social services declining. In the second quarter of 2017, the country officially exited the painful recession with a 0.55% growth rate. Sadly the growth rate experienced within the period of the exit of the recession was fragile and the country’s economy slumped back into a recession with consecutive negative quarterly GDP growth rate in 2020 (Yemi Kale, 2020). The recent recession is largely a consequence of the emergence of the nascent Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its attendant impact on the global economy. Due to the public health crisis posed by the virus, many countries, Nigeria included, instituted what is now widely known as a lockdown: the severe restriction of human movement and the near total halt of economic activity.

Nigeria in 2021 and Beyond

Nigeria as a country has faced several challenges since its creation in 1914, as examined from the foregoing. However, the greatest obstacle we have faced to actualizing the vision of the Nigeria we all want is disunity. This can be clearly identified in various historical moments in our country’s history. In our struggle for independence, when Anthony Enahoro moved the motion for independence in parliament, his motion was supported by members of parliament from the south but rejected by members from the North. Similarly, once independence was finally bestowed on us, political parties were created and operated along ethnoreligious lines. With just 6 years following independence, the country experienced its first military coup d’etat that spiraled into several ethnic centric conflicts across the country which was made worse by the ensuing civil war that left and continues to leave a scar on our country. There are numerous recent examples to call upon just to depict how disunited we are as a country. Although, difficult to accept, conflict is a natural aspect of man’s life. We as individuals, ourselves are conflicted and when we come into contact with other humans it generates a reaction, sometimes positive and other times negative. However, the pressing question for the country as it continues to celebrate it’s 60th anniversary is how can we improve our interaction with each other. In other words, what can be done to effectively ensure Nigerians are more united now than ever?

I believe the answer to the century old question is restructuring. Restructuring is a term that has dominated the Nigerian political space for decades but is only recently gaining more traction after the 2015 election which the now ruling party promised to follow through. There are a plethora of definitions of what restructuring is, I however choose to define it in the context of Nigeria’s politics and development as the “deliberate and continuous effort to ensure both political and economic power is brought closer to the people”.  It is also worth mentioning at this point that restructuring Nigeria can be identified as a double-edged sword answer to our developmental challenges and the persistent question of our unity. Indeed, both issues work hand in hand, if the question of our country’s unity is addressed, we are in a better position to solve our developmental challenges. Correspondingly, by tackling Nigeria’s numerous developmental challenges, we are taking a gigantic leap towards unifying the country.

There are a million and one ways to ensure that economic and political power gets to the woman selling fish in Opobo and the man rearing his cattle in Daura. To start with, we must resist every urge to “Nigerianize” individuals living within the confines of the territorial space named Nigeria. Identity is a powerful concept that has unfortunately been misused by those who wish to continue to see Nigeria disunited so as to profit from the consequent disarray. We should instead recognize and respect the rich diversity that exists in every nook and cranny across the country. There are over 250 different ethnic groups in Nigeria and unfortunately due to colossal systemic failure, over 70% of them would feel marginalized. The burning question therefore is, how do we unite a marginalized population and consequently develop sustainably?

In restructuring Nigeria, it is imperative to create opportunities where everyone, every ethnic group and every socio-economic group feel like they belong to Nigeria and Nigeria belongs to them. These opportunities may take the form of entertaining requests by a set of States to merge together to form a Region or creating more States for groups that agitate for such. Since independence and indeed prior to independence, the Nigerian State has approached development wholly from the top to the bottom and the result of such a method is evident for us all to see. A bottom-up approach to development which will be underpinned by the recognition and respect of the diversity of the peoples of Nigeria, would lead to the Nigeria we have all been envisioning for decades. A Nigeria where businesses, families and individuals would feel safe and secure, where majority of what we consume is produced within the country, where our children can attend educational institutions and compete with their peers in the United States and the United Kingdom and a Nigeria where socioeconomic development is broad based.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the legal instrument that put in place the present political and economic structure that we struggle with. There is no gainsaying the fact that the constitution that brought us here was designed with the hope of us being better off at this point in time. It is now evident that the constitution has failed to take us to where we ought to be. That being said, it is not surprising, considering the fact that the constitution which presently dictates how the country is governed and consequently how economic resources are distributed, was practically given to us by military governments whose purview are not democratic and development oriented.

The Constitution unfairly concentrates power in the center (the federal executive, federal legislature and to an extent the judiciary), while leaving just residual powers to State governments and more crucially local governments. In the 1st and 2nd Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the exclusive and concurrent legislative list makes provisions for the powers of the federal legislature and state legislature. In particular, the security of the 200 million Nigerians is vested in the hands of the federal government. Mineral resources situated in States and Local Government are also unfortunately situated in the hands of the federal government. The provision of infrastructure for the construction and operation of railway is also within the purview of the Federal Government as well as for the arbitrary distribution of public revenue between the Federation and the State. For instance, the southwest region contributes more than half of all VAT collected in Nigeria, with Lagos in particular contributing nothing less than 55%, yet the region receives the lowest percentage of Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC), according the data available as at 2019 from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Nigeria, like we say in this part of the world, is God’s Own Country, and with God, nothing is impossible. We as a country have gone through a number of travails, but we have not come this far just to stop. We must persist in our journey to ensure broad based development despite the hardships and challenges we would face on the way. As I have attempted to demonstrate in this paper, this cannot be achieved without restructuring and unifying the country. It is in every region’s interest and advantage that we stay united on everybody’s terms and it is clearer today that the unity we aspire to cannot be achieved with the present system, one akin to a quasi-federalism, that strangles sub-national governments, and mutes minority voices thereby limiting their access to critical socioeconomic services that are essential for a broad based development. We are too significant as a country to fail, not just for ourselves, but the continent and the world at large.

Nigeria, after 6 decades of being in existence, must as a matter of survival restructure immediately.

DAWN Commission

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