Abubakar’s transition to civilian rule
Abacha died of heart failure on 8 June 1998 and was replaced by General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The military Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) under Abubakar commuted the sentences of those accused in the alleged coup during the Abacha regime and released almost all known civilian political detainees. Pending the promulgation of the constitution written in 1995, the government observed some provisions of the 1979 and 1989 constitutions. Neither Abacha nor Abubakar lifted the decree suspending the 1979 constitution, and the 1989 constitution was not implemented. The judiciary system continued to be hampered by corruption and lack of resources after Abacha’s death. In an attempt to alleviate such problems Abubakar’s government implemented a civil service pay raise and other reforms.
In August 1998 Abubakar appointed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections for local government councils, state legislatures and governors, the national assembly, and president. The NEC successfully held elections on 5 December 1998, 9 January 1999, 20 February, and 27 February 1999, respectively. For local elections nine parties were granted provisional registration with three fulfilling the requirements to contest the following elections. These parties were the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the All People’s Party (APP), and the predominantly Yoruba Alliance for Democracy (AD). Former military head of state Olusegun Obasanjo, freed from prison by Abubakar, ran as a civilian candidate and won the presidential election. The PRC promulgated a new constitution based largely on the suspended 1979 constitution, before the 29 May 1999 inauguration of the new civilian president. The constitution includes provisions for a bicameral legislature, the National Assembly consisting of a 360-member House of Representatives and a 109-member Senate.
The emergence of democracy in Nigeria on May 1999 ended 16 years of consecutive military rule. Olusegun Obasanjo inherited a country suffering economic stagnation and the deterioration of most democratic institutions. Obasanjo, a former general, was admired for his stand against the Abacha dictatorship, his record of returning the federal government to civilian rule in 1979, and his claim to represent all Nigerians regardless of religion.
The new President took over a country that faced many problems, including a dysfunctional bureaucracy, collapsed infrastructure, and a military that wanted a reward for returning quietly to the barracks. The President moved quickly and retired hundreds of military officers holding political positions, established a blue-ribbon panel to investigate human rights violations, released scores of persons held without charge, and rescinded numerous questionable licenses and contracts left by the previous regimes. The government also moved to recover millions of dollars in funds secreted to overseas accounts.
Most civil society leaders and Nigerians witnessed marked improvements in human rights and freedom of the press under Obasanjo. As Nigeria works out representational democracy, conflicts persist between the Executive and Legislative branches over appropriations and other proposed legislation. A sign of federalism has been the growing visibility of state governors and the inherent friction between Abuja and the state capitals over resource allocation.
Communal violence has plagued the Obasanjo government since its inception. In May 1999 violence erupted in Kaduna State over the succession of an Emir resulting in more than 100 deaths. In November 1999, the army destroyed the town of Odi, Bayelsa State and killed scores of civilians in retaliation for the murder of 12 policemen by a local gang. In Kaduna in February–May 2000 over 1,000 people died in rioting over the introduction of criminal Shar’ia in the State. Hundreds of ethnic Hausa were killed in reprisal attacks in south-eastern Nigeria. In September 2001, over 2,000 people were killed in inter-religious rioting in Jos. In October 2001, hundreds were killed and thousands displaced in communal violence that spread across the states of Benue, Taraba, and Nasarawa. On 1 October 2001 Obasanjo announced the formation of a National Security Commission to address the issue of communal violence. Obasanjo was reelected in 2003.
The new president faces the daunting task of rebuilding a petroleum-based economy, whose revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement. Additionally, the Obasanjo administration must defuse longstanding ethnic and religious tensions if it hopes to build a foundation for economic growth and political stability. Currently there is conflict in the Niger Delta over the environmental destruction caused by oil drilling and the ongoing poverty in the oil-rich region.
A further major problem created by the oil industry is the drilling of pipelines by the local population in an attempt to drain off the petroleum for personal use or as a source of income. This often leads to major explosions and high death tolls. Particularly notable disasters in this area have been: 1) October 1998, Jesse, 1100 deaths, 2) July 2000, Jesse, 250 deaths, 3) September 2004, near Lagos, 60 deaths, 4) May 2006, Ilado, approx. 150-200 deaths (current estimate).
Two militants of an unknown faction shot and killed Ustaz Ja’afar Adam, a northern Muslim religious leader and Kano State official, along with one of his disciples in a mosque in Kano during dawn prayers on 13 April 2007. Obasanjo had recently stated on national radio that he would “deal firmly” with election fraud and violence advocated by “highly placed individuals.” His comments were interpreted by some analysts as a warning to his Vice President and 2007 presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar.
In the 2007 general election, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, both of the People’s Democratic Party, were elected President and Vice President, respectively. The election was marred by electoral fraud, and denounced by other candidates and international observers.
Yar’Adua’s sickness and Jonathan’s successions
Yar’Adua’s presidency was fraught with uncertainty as media reports said he suffered from kidney and heart disease. In November 2009, he fell ill and was flown out of the country to Saudi Arabia for medical attention. He remained incommunicado for 50 days, by which time rumours were rife that he had died. This continued until the BBC aired an interview that was allegedly done via telephone from the president’s sick bed in Saudi Arabia. As of January 2010, he was still abroad.
In February 2010, Goodluck Jonathan began serving as acting President in the absence of Yaradua. In May 2010, the Nigerian government learned of Yar’Adua’s death after a long battle with existing health problems and an undisclosed illness. This lack of communication left the new acting President Jonathan with no knowledge of his predecessor’s plans. Yar’Adua’s Hausa-Fulani background gave him a political base in the northern regions of Nigeria, while Goodluck does not have the same ethnic and religious affiliations. This lack of primary ethnic support makes Jonathan a target for militaristic overthrow or regional uprisings in the area. With the increase of resource spending and oil exportation, Nigerian GDP and HDI (Human Development Index) have risen phenomenally since the economically stagnant rule of Sani Abacha, but the primary population still survives on less than $2 USD per day. Goodluck Jonathan called for new elections and stood for re-election in April 2011, which he won. However, his re-election bid in 2015 was truncated with the emergence of former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari, mainly on his inability to quell the rising insecurity in the country. General Muhammadu Buhari was declared winner of the 2015 presidential elections. General Muhammadu Buhari took over the helm of affairs in May 2015 after a peaceful transfer of power from the Jonathan led administration.
The Ibadan School dominated the academic study of Nigerian history until the 1970s. It arose at the University of Ibadan in the 1950s and remained dominant until the 1970s. The University of Ibadan was the first university to open in Nigeria, and its scholars set up the history departments at most of Nigeria’s other universities, spreading the Ibadan historiography. Its scholars also wrote the textbooks that were used at all levels of the Nigerian education system for many years. The school’s output appears in the “Ibadan History Series.”
The leading scholars of the Ibadan School include Saburi Biobaku, Kenneth Dike, J. F. A. Ajayi, Adiele Afigbo, E. A. Ayandele, O. Ikime and Tekena Tamuno. Foreign scholars often associated with the school include Michael Crowder, Abdullahi Amith, J. B. Webster, R. J. Gavin, Robert Smith, and John D. Omer-Cooper. The school was characterized by its overt Nigerian nationalism and it was geared towards forging a Nigerian identity through publicizing the glories of pre-colonial history. The school was quite traditional in its subject matter, being largely confined to the political history that colleagues in Europe and North America were then rejecting. It was very modern, however, in the sources used. Much use was made of oral history and throughout the school took a strongly interdisciplinary approach to gathering information. This was especially true after the founding of the Institute for African Studies that brought together experts from many disciplines.
The Ibadan School began to decline in importance the 1970s. The Nigerian Civil War led some to question whether Nigeria was in fact a unified nation with a national history. At the same time rival schools developed. At Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, the Islamic Legitimist school arose that rejected Western models in favour of the scholarly tradition of the Sokoto Caliphate and the Islamic world. From other parts of Africa the Neo-Marxist school arrived and gained a number of supporters. Social, economic, and cultural history also began to grow in prominence.
In the 1980s Nigerian scholarship in general began to decline, and the Ibadan School was much affected. The military rulers looked upon the universities with deep suspicion and they were poorly funded. Many top minds were co-opted with plum jobs in the administration and left academia. Others left the country entirely for jobs at universities in the West. The economic collapse of the 1980s also greatly hurt the scholarly community, especially the sharp devaluation of the Nigerian currency. This made inviting foreign scholars, subscribing to journals, and attending conferences vastly more expensive. Many of the domestic journals, including the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, faltered and were only published rarely, if at all.