What Happened After the Nigerian Military Promised to Bring Back Civilian Rule in 1993?

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Located in West Africa, Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, achieved independence in 1960. Prior to that, it was under British rule, having long been of interest to the colonial powers of Europe. Today Nigeria has a flawed but functioning democracy. However, the country has been through several periods of military rule since independence. The year 1993 and the events leading up to it still resonate among Nigerians today.

1 Before 1993

Emerging as a constitutional democracy in 1960, the newly independent Nigeria soon fell under military rule, seeing three coups and a civil war within a period of 10 years. The country experienced a second period of democratic rule from 1979 to 1983, before returning again to military control. The dictator Major General Muhammadu Buhari, was overthrown in 1985 by his third-in-command, Army Chief of Staff Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida promised a return to democracy, increasing freedoms and promising elections in 1990. Local elections went forward that year, but the contest for president was delayed, finally being scheduled for June 1993.

2 Attempt at Democracy

The presidential election took place on June 12, 1993, with businessman M.K.O. Abiola emerging as the apparent winner. But 11 days later, Babangida used his powers as dictator to order the election voided. The country fell into chaos, and it was only after more than 100 people died in riots that Babangida agreed in August to hand over power to a so-called "interim government." Ernest Shonekan, a non-partisan businessman from Babangida's Transitional Council, became the country's new ruler while awaiting new elections in February 1994. However, Shonekan's interim government continued to rule by decree while failing to make effective headway with the country's economic and political problems, and only made limited improvements to civil rights in the country.

3 The Abacha Administration

On November 17, 1993, Shonekan was forced out of power by Sani Abacha, Nigeria's Minister of Defense. Abacha quickly consolidated military control of the country, and would go on to lead as a dictator for the next five years despite numerous protests, international sanctions and an alleged coup attempt. His administration was marked by increasing suppression of all dissent, and when he finally announced a transition back to democracy beginning in late 1995, no one was able to take these elections seriously.

4 Return of Democracy

Abacha died on June 8, 1998, and his successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, took immediate steps to reduce human rights abuses and begin a real move back to civilian rule. Elections began later that same year, and in May 1999 Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military leader who had led the 1979 transition to democracy, was inaugurated as the new president of Nigeria. Since then, Nigeria has experienced various problems with corruption, violence and flawed elections, but none of the outright dictatorship characteristic of earlier decades.

Evan Centanni specializes in world cultures and human geography. He grew up in Oregon, but has since lived in two other countries and traveled to many more. Centanni is editor of Political Geography Now at www.polgeonow.com. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies and linguistics from the University of Oregon.