Independence Day: 20 political highlights of Nigeria’s 60-year journey

In 1960, about six years after Nigeria became a federation, and just a few months after elections into the Federal House of Representatives were held, Nigerian parliamentarians and regional leaders demanded full sovereignty from the British overlords. This was granted and on October 1, 1960, the country gained independence.
Highlights of some of the high points of Nigeria’s 60-year journey.

20- Nigeria’s first post-independence government was led by the Northern People’s Congress in alliance with the National Council of Nigerian Citizens. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa served as its Prime Minister.

19- Nigeria became a Republic in 1963. Nnamdi Azikiwe became its first (non-executive) President.

18- Nigeria’s first violent coup (first in a series) took place in January 1966. Mr Balewa was executed by the putschists.

17- A major-general, Aguiyi-Ironsi, headed the new military administration. His government immediately formed a unitary state, effectively abolishing the federation structure.

16- Predominantly northern troops in July 1966 sacked the new government. Mr. Aguiyi- Ironsi was killed in the bloodbath. A northern officer, Yakubu Gowon, assumed the leadership of the young nation. Mr. Gowon restored the federal structure and replaced the four regions with 12 states.

15- Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, a lieutenant-colonel, declared a separate state of Biafra in May 1967. His action was resisted by federal forces. This led to a series of hostilities and then a bloody civil war which ended in January 1970. Over a million lives were lost on both sides.

14- In 1975, a brigadier-general, Murtala Mohammed Murtala, deposed Mr Gowon. Mr Muhammed introduced economic and political reforms, added seven more states and initiated a program to restore civilian rule “in four years”.

13- Mr. Murtala was killed in an abortive coup in 1976. Olusegun Obasanjo, who would later serve as a civilian president, over two decades later, succeeded him. Mr. Obasanjo lifted the ban on political parties and led the country to its first multiparty polls in 1979.

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12- Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria, who was elected executive president in 1979, was re-elected in 1983.

11- Another military coup in 1983 put an end to Nigeria’s new democratic push. A major-general, Muhammadu Buhari, assumed leadership.

10- Mr. Buhari’s perceived severe austerity programme and harsh anti-graft campaigns led to a coup in 1985. Another major-general, Ibrahim Babangida, assumed power. Mr. Babangida repealed several decrees and promised to restore civilian rule by 1992. The general also allowed the formation of two political parties in 1989.

09- Babangida’s transition to civilian rule programme, which encapsulated elections into state assemblies (1991) and presidential primaries (1992, 1993) was truncated by him in June 1993. Businessman-politician, Moshood Abiola, of the Social Democratic Party, was clearly in the lead in the presidential polls, when they were annulled by Mr Babangida. Mr Babangida ‘stepped aside’ shortly after the subsequent riots which greeted his action.

08- In Nigeria’s seventh coup, Ernest Shonekan, who was drafted in to head an interim government, was sacked by another general, Sani Abacha, in November 1993. The dark-goggled general cancelled all political activities. He later clamped Mr Abiola in detention after the presumed winner of the 1993 polls declared himself president. Mr Abiola died in detention in July 1998.

07- For nearly five years, Mr Abacha, held the reins of power, clamping on dissension, and consistently postponing the return to civil rule. In April 1998, all five political parties adopted Mr Abacha as the sole candidate for the August election. Mr Abacha died two months later.

06- The then Chief of Defence Staff, Abdulsalami Abubakar, assumed leadership, promising to return the country to civilian rule. He released nine political prisoners including Mr Obasanjo, who had been imprisoned on charges of treason.

05- Mr Abubakar dissolved the principal entities set up by the Abacha regime, released detainees, and again set the nation on the path of restoring civil rule. A National Electoral Commission was formed in August 1998.

04- Nigeria returned to civilian rule in May 1999 when the just-released Mr Obasanjo, who contested under the Peoples Democratic Party, won over 62 per cent of the ballot to beat his closest rival, Oluyemi Falae. Mr Falae ran under the All People’s Party/Alliance for Democracy alliance.

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03- Before the military finally departed the political landscape, they published a new constitution in 1999, which has largely guided the nation’s sojourn till date.

02- The PDP led the country for 16 years under the administrations of Messrs Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua (who died in office) and Goodluck Jonathan.

01- Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general, who ran under the All Progressives Congress, beat the incumbent president Jonathan in 2015 in the presidential polls. Mr Buhari is serving his second term in office.