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Friday, April 24, 1998 Published at 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK



World: Africa

Khaki shadow over ballot box
image: [ The Nigerian military government chose to relocate the capital from Lagos to Abuja ]
The Nigerian military government chose to relocate the capital from Lagos to Abuja

There are four major keys to Nigerian politics: oil, religion, tribalism and the army.

Oil was discovered in southern Nigeria in 1952, eight years before it became independent from Britain, and until recently this helped to cushion the country from the poverty suffered elsewhere in Africa.

But Nigeria began experiencing chronic fuel shortages in early 1998, despite being one of the largest oil-producing nations in the world.


[ image: A group of Nigerian Muslims conduct an impromptu prayer session at a petrol station]
A group of Nigerian Muslims conduct an impromptu prayer session at a petrol station
In 1994, oil provided 97% of the country's total export earnings. This enormous wealth has led to corruption both in the military and among elected politicians.

'Most corrupt nation in the world'

A report on corruption, published in July 1997 by the Berlin-based organisation Transparency International, listed Nigeria as the most corrupt nation in the world.

Nigeria is almost four times the size of Britain and contains 103 million people, divided into dozens of ethnic groups.

The most significant groups are the Muslim Hausa/Fulani in the north, the Yoruba in the south-west and the predominantly Christian Ibo in the south-east.

In 1967, a bitter civil war broke out when the Ibo, aggrieved at their treatment by the federal government in Lagos, declared the independent Republic of Biafra.

One million died in civil war

The war lasted for three years and a million people, mostly Ibo, were shot dead or died of starvation before the federal forces defeated the Biafrans.

The conflict highlighted the tribal fragmentation of the country and, like rulers in other parts of Africa, the army has often played on this fear to justify a tough, centralised and undemocratic regime.

Nigeria has been ruled by military governments for all but 10 years since independence.

The last period of democracy ended in December 1983, three months after Alhaji Shehu Shagari was re-elected president.

Systematic corruption

Major-General Muhammad Buhari, who led the coup, accused Shagari and his acolytes of systematic corruption.

Maj-Gen Buhari's successor, Major-General Ibrahim Babangida, made tentative progress towards reintroducing civilian rule and political parties were legalised in 1989.

Under the Babangida regime Lagos, the bustling over-crowded port city in the south-west, ceased to be the capital. A new capital city, Abuja, was built in the centre of the country using the country's vast oil revenues.

Maj-Gen Babangida, citing ethnic and religious tensions, decided to create two entirely new parties - the Social Democrats and the National Convention - whose manifestos were designed to appeal nationally rather than on regional or religious grounds.

First polls for nine years

Elections to the National Assembly, the first for nine years, were held in July 1992.

Presidential elections were due to be held in December 1992 but were postponed for six months.

When they were finally held in June 1993 only 30% of the registered electorate voted because of administrative confusion.


[ image: Chief Moshood Abiola has been in custody since 1994]
Chief Moshood Abiola has been in custody since 1994
Initial results indicated the millionaire Chief Moshood Abiola, running on the Social Democratic Party ticket, had won the majority of votes and he duly declared himself president.

Election annulled

But the ruling National Defence and Security Council annulled the election and claimed the polls had been invalidated by widespread irregularities.

The annulment of the election was condemned internationally and Maj-Gen Babangida resigned shortly after the failure of his democratic experiment.

In November 1993, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Sani Abacha, came to power and immediately took a hardline with supporters of democracy.


[ image: General Abacha...will stand for president]
General Abacha...will stand for president
He banned political parties, dismantled the democratic structures and arrested Chief Abiola.

International pressure

Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth in 1995 after going ahead with the execution of several activists from the Ogoni tribe, including the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Under international pressure Gen Abacha was forced to produce a three-year timetable for the transition to democracy in 1995.

Local elections were held in March 1997, after a delay of six months.

In October 1997, a Commonwealth leaders' summit in Edinburgh, Scotland, decided to take no further action against the Abacha regime. The decision was criticised by Nigerian dissidents.


[ image: Commonwealth leaders at the October 1997 summit decided to take no further action against Nigeria]
Commonwealth leaders at the October 1997 summit decided to take no further action against Nigeria
In December 1997, voting took place for state assemblies.

The United Nigeria Congress Party won almost 67% of seats in state assemblies and 31 out of 40 seats in the commercial capital Lagos.

The Democratic Party of Nigeria came second, with almost 21% of the vote.

They are two of five political parties that have been allowed to organise by the military regime. All are broadly pro-Abacha.

Turn-out in the elections was estimated at between 30% and 35%, despite the urgings of the army and state-controlled media organisations.

Legislative elections are due to be held on April 25, 1998 followed by presidential elections in August 1998.

Abacha to stand for president

The handover of power to a civilian administration is due to be implemented by October 1, 1998.

General Abacha has indicated he will stand for the presidency, despite persistent rumours about the poor state of his health.

On April 20, 1998, all five political parties announced they would back Gen Abacha in the presidential elections. No other candidate has been put forward.

Chief Abiola remains incarcerated awaiting trial for his "treasonable" decision to declare himself president in 1993.

His wife, Kudirat, was murdered in 1996 and pro-democracy campaigners claim she was assassinated by agents of the military.
 





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