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Monday, February 15, 1999 Published at 10:52 GMT

Nigeria: A history of coups

Major-General Babangida ruled Nigeria from 1985 to 1993

The first Nigerian national election took place in 1964, four years after the country gained independence from Britain.

It wasn't a propitious start - the election was marked by boycotts, malpractice and violence. The Nigerian National Alliance won a large majority in the election after the main opposition grouping, the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), refused to take part .

A supplementary election held in the Eastern Region in March 1965 led to the UPGA winning every seat.

[ image:  ]
A military coup in 1966 brought Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, an ethnic Ibo from the Eastern Region, to power. However, he was killed a few months later, and was followed by Lt-Col Yakubu Gowon from the Christian North.

Relations became extremely poor between the federal government and the Ibos of the Eastern Region. In 1967, the Eastern Region proclaimed its independence as the Republic of Biafra.

Violence between the federal government troops and the forces of Biafra broke out. It is estimated that up to a million people died in the war, mainly through starvation, before the federal forces forced a Biafran surrender in 1970.

Coup after coup

Increasing opposition to continuous delays from Yakubu Gowon's over the holding of free elections led to his overthrow in a bloodless coup in 1975. He was replaced by Brigadier Murtala Ramat Muhammed who was assassinated a year later and followed by Lt-Gen Olusegun Obasanjo.

In 1979, Nigerians voted for a new bicameral national assembly - the Senate and the House of Representatives. Alhaji Shehu Shagari, of the National Party of Nigeria, was elected President, and a civilian government took office. He was re-elected in 1983.

However, by the end of 1983, the civilian government was overthrown by a military coup led by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. His regime was itself deposed in 1985 by a military coup led by Major-General Ibrahim Babangida.

Promises of civilian rule

President Babangida pledged to transfer power to a civilian administration in 1990 though in 1987, this transitional period was extended until 1992.

A comprehensive timetable to democracy was published, local government elections were held, and a draft constitution was drawn up. Political parties were legalised in 1989.

A military coup was attempted in 1990, but was suppressed on the same day.

Elections to the bicameral National Assembly were held in 1992. Presidential elections were due to be held later in the year, but electoral irregularities led to their postponement.

When the presidential elections were finally held in June 1993, confusion over the election meant that only around 30% of the registered electorate actually voted. The initial results from the elections indicted that Chief Moshood Abiola had won the majority of votes in 19 states and he declared himself president.

A couple of days later, however, the results were annulled by the ruling National Defence and Security Council, and Mr Babangida said that the polls had been marred by widespread irregularities. The annulment of the election was condemned internationally.

[ image: General Abacha installed his own regime in 1993]
General Abacha installed his own regime in 1993
Mr Babangida established an Interim National Government, and then declared that the transition to civilian rule could not be completed by August 1993. He resigned and was replaced by Chief Shonekan, who was to supervise the organisation of local elections to be held later in 1993 and a presidential election to be held in early 1994.

However, within a couple of months, Mr Shonekan resigned and General Sani Abacha, the vice-president, assumed power. He dissolved all existing organs of state and installed his own regime.

Supreme executive and legislative power was vested in the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), and General Abacha became both the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Head of State.

In 1995 the Nigerian junta announced a three-year programme for transition to civilian rule, whereby a new president was to be inaugurated in October 1998, following elections at local, state and national level. A new Constitution was to be formally adopted in October 1998.

General Abacha was formally adopted as the presidential candidate of all five recognised political parties in Nigeria.

After his death he was swiftly replaced by General Abdulsalami Abubakar who made equally fast moves to release political prioners and announce a transition to democracy.

A month after General Abacha's death the United Nations General-Secretary Kofi Annan arrived in Nigeria to seal Chief Abiola's release. Less than a week later, the opposition leader was dead.

Since then General Abubakar has announced that the "era of coups" is over and given a transition date of 29 May 1999 to hand over power to a civilian president.

Presidential elections are scheduled for the end of February with international monitors praising local and state elections which have already successfully taken place.

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Abiola: Millionaire turned politician

Profile: How General Abubakar emerged from the shadows

Obituary: Abacha leader with an iron grip

Abiola's death captures world headlines

Nigeria's ethnic divisions

From Our Own Correspondent

Analysis: What next for Nigeria?

Abacha's uniting shadow