Nigeria officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroonin the east, and Niger in the north. Its coast in the south lies on the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean. There are over 500 ethnic groups in Nigeria of which the three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.
The name Nigeria was taken from the Niger River running through the country. This name was coined by Flora Shaw, who later married Baron Lugard, a British colonial administrator, in the late 19th century. The British colonised Nigeria in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, setting up administrative structures and law while recognizing traditional chiefs. Nigeria became independent in 1960. Several years later, it had civil war as Biafra tried to establish independence. Military governments in times of crisis have alternated with democratically elected governments.
Nigeria, known as “the Giant of Africa”, is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world. Nigeria is roughly divided in half between Christians, who mostly live in the South and central parts of the country, and Muslims, concentrated mostly in the north. A minority of the population practice traditional and local religions, including the Igbo and Yoruba religions. Its oil reserves have brought great revenues to the country. It is listed among the “Next Eleven” economies. Nigeria is a member of both the Commonwealth of Nations, and theAfrican Union.
On 1 October 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Nigeria’s government was a coalition of conservative parties: the Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC), a party dominated by Northerners and those of the Islamic faith; and the Igbo and Christian-dominated National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became Nigeria’s maiden Governor-General in 1960. Forming the opposition was the comparatively liberal Action Group (AG), which was largely dominated by the Yoruba and led by Obafemi Awolowo.The cultural and political differences among Nigeria’s dominant ethnic groups: the Hausa (‘Northerners’), Igbo (‘Easterners’) and Yoruba (‘Westerners’), were sharp.
An imbalance was created in the polity by the result of the 1961 plebiscite. Southern Cameroon opted to join the Republic of Cameroon while northern Cameroon chose to remain in Nigeria. The northern part of the country was now far larger than the southern part. The nation parted with its British legacy in 1963 by declaring itself a Federal Republic, with Azikiwe as its first president. When elections were held in 1965, the Nigerian National Democratic Party came to power in Nigeria’s Western Region.
The disequilibrium and perceived corruption of the electoral and political process led in 1966 to several back-to-back military coups. The first was in January and led by a collection of young leftists under Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. It was partially successful; the coup plotters murdered Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premier Ahmadu Bello of the Northern Region and Premier Ladoke Akintola of the Western Region. Despite this, they could not set up a central government. President Nwafor Orizu was then pressured to hand over government to the Nigeria Army, under the command of General JTU Aguyi-Ironsi.
The coup was counter-acted by another successful plot, supported primarily by Northern military officers and Northerners who favoured the NPC, it was engineered by Northern officers, which allowed Lt Colonel Yakubu Gowon to become head of state. This sequence of events led to an increase in ethnic tension and violence. The Northern coup, motivated by ethnic and religious reasons, resulted in the deaths of many military officers and civilians, especially those of Igbo descent.
The violence against the Igbo increased their desire for autonomy. By May 1967, the Eastern Region voted to declare independence as a state called the Republic of Biafra, under the leadership of Lt Colonel Emeka Ojukwu. The Nigerian Civil War began as the Nigerian (Western and Northern) side attacked Biafra (South-eastern) on 6 July 1967 at Garkem. The 30 month war, with a long siege of Biafra and its isolation from trade and supplies, ended in January 1970. Estimates of the number of dead in the former Eastern Region are between 1 and 3 million people, from warfare, disease, and starvation, during the 30-month civil war .
During the oil boom of the 1970s, Nigeria joined OPEC, and the huge revenue generated made the economy richer, although the military administration did nothing to improve the standard of living of the population, or to help the small and medium businesses, or even invest in the infrastructure. As oil revenues fueled the rise of federal subventions to states, the federal government became the centre of political struggle and the threshold of power in the country. As oil production and revenue rose, the Nigerian government created a dangerous situation as it became increasingly dependent on oil revenues and the international commodity markets for budgetary and economic concerns; it did not build economic stability. That spelled doom to federalism in Nigeria.
Beginning in 1979, Nigerians participated in a brief return to democracy when Olusegun Obasanjo transferred power to the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari. The Shagari government became viewed as corrupt and incompetent by virtually all sectors of Nigerian society. The military coup of Muhammadu Buhari shortly after the regime’s fraudulent re-election in 1984 was generally viewed as a positive development by most of the population. Buhari promised major reforms, but his government fared little better than its predecessor. His regime was overthrown by another military coup in 1985.
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