Politics and Conflict in Nigeria

Nigeria is a federal republic consists of 36 states. The country is located in West Africa and borders with Niger in the north, Chad and Cameroon in the east and Republic of Benin in the west. In the south, it lies on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa with 174 million inhabitants and has over 300 ethnic groups speaking 250 local languages. Nigeria is very heterogeneous and ethnically very divergent country. Whilst 50 percent of the population is Muslim, 40 percent is Christian and 10 percent of the population believes the indigenous beliefs. While the majority of Muslims live in the north, Christians live in the south. 9 states in the northern Nigeria have been ruled according to Islamic law since 1999.[1] The history of Islam in Nigeria goes back to the 9th century; Islam spread over the country through the Muslim traders came from the Arabic peninsula and North Africa.  Since Nigeria gained its independence in 1960 from Britain, it failed to establish functional state institutions to deliver the basic needs of the people, including security, education, medical care, transportation and water. For instance, the maternal and infant mortality rates of Nigeria in the world are the eleventh and the tenth. Life expectancy rate is around 50. While 78 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water at the urban areas, only 49 percent can drink clean water at the rural areas. While 30 percent of the population can benefit from the health care facilities at the urban areas, it is 24 percent at the rural areas.[2]
Nigeria is labeled as one of the poorest countries in the world[3] despite having mass natural resources. Its infrastructure is extremely poor. It is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.[4] Oil has been the most important source of the government revenues since 1970. Nigeria became a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1971 and produces natural gas, petroleum, coal, tin, iron, lead, zinc and limestone. It is the eight largest exporter of oil in the world and largest in Africa. However, more than 62 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty in Nigeria. Economic disparities between the Muslim north and the Christian south are extreme. While more than 70 percent live poverty in the north, only 27 percent live in poverty in the south and 35 percent in the Niger Delta.[5] 
As of 2014, Nigeria became the largest economic power of Africa and its GDP reached to 502 billion dollars in 2013. Its economy grows at a 6-8 percent per annum.[6] [7] With the adoption of the new constitution in 1999, the period of the 16 years of the military junta ended in the country. Corruption, poverty, mismanagement, and unequal distribution of the oil revenues have become the main driving factors behind the longstanding political, social and economic instabilities in Nigeria. In January 2014, Nigeria was elected as a non-permanent member at the UN Security Council for the period of 2014-2015.

The colonial history of Nigeria goes back to the fifteenth century. Portugal, the Netherlands, French and Britain were among the colonial powers in the country but particularly Britain had a profound impact on the current social, economic and political structure of Nigeria. It established Western education system and spread Christianity in the south but this created a significant disparity between north and south and led to the emergence of religious and political tension and marginalized the people in the north. Britain used the policy of divide-and-rule to prevent uniting Nigerian people during the British colonial period. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was huge difference between the northern and southern parts of the country. While political and economic change was so slow in the north, it was rapid in the south because of the route of the transatlantic slave trade.[8] At the beginning of the nineteenth century, two different historical events changed the country radically. The first was that Usman dan Fodio established the Sokoto Caliphate in Northern Nigeria between 1804 and 1808 which played a significant role in spreading Islam in north in the nineteenth century. The second one was that Britain abolished the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, however it continued until the 1860s. After 1860s, the new commodities such as palm oil have been found and replaced it. The shift in trade had significant economic and political consequences in Nigeria and then Britain increased its intervention in the political and economic affairs of Nigeria after 1860s.[9]

With the Berlin conference of 1885, the European colonial powers divided Africa among themselves to prevent their conflict of interest in Africa. After the conference, Britain established its protectorates in Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria. It founded the Royal Niger Company to colonize the country in the nineteenth century and controlled the major trading centers throughout the company.[10] British colonialism created Nigeria without any respect of socio-cultural dynamics of indigenous people and introduced Western political and social concepts on the local people. Frederick Lugard, the first high commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, used armed force to control the region and imposed the Western system on the indigenous people. Inconsistent, brutal and racial British colonial policies in the north led to the emergence of anti-Western thoughts and regional animosities. Furthermore, it strengthened nationalist sentiments and loyalty to the emirs of the Sokoto Caliphate. Nigeria became independence from Britain in 1960 and had 60 million of its population at that time. The first parliamentary elections in the country were held in December 1964, however military coups became a feature of political life of Nigeria and destabilized both political and economic stability. The period between 1966 and 1998 was known as the period of military junta in the country. In this period, eight military coups took place.

There are three important largest ethnic groups in Nigeria. The first is the Hausa ethnic group which live in the north and is mainly Muslims. The Hausa accounts for the 29 percent of the population. The second is the Yoruba ethnic group which is the half population of which is Muslim and the half is Christian and lives in the south-west. The Yoruba accounts for 21 percent of the population. The third ethnic group is the Igbo which is predominantly Christian and live in south-east. Igbo represents the 18 percent of the population in the country.[11] With the independence of Nigeria in 1960, the Hausa and the Igbo established a conservative political alliance and ruled the country from 1960 to 1966 but this political alliance excluded the Yoruba people. Importantly, the Igbo ethnic group got more benefits from power economically and politically. During the British colonial period, many Igbo worked in government and military.  The Yoruba ethnic group made an agreement with the Hausa and they together went to the election of 1965 by establishing the Nigerian National Alliance party. This political alliance also excluded the Igbo from power. The Nigerian National Alliance party won the election and came to power in 1965. However, military coups destabilized political stability in the country.

On 15 January 1966, the Igbo officers staged a coup against the elected government and overthrew it. General Ironsi from the ethnic group of Igbo became the head of state in January 1966. The northern officers also countered it by staging a military coup against the General Ironsi and General Yakubu Gowon from the north came to power after the military coup in the country. In 1967, the Nigerian Civil War known as the Biafran War erupted as a result of ethnic, political and economic conflict. The discovery of oil in the south-east in the early 1960s changed the political and economic dynamics in Nigeria. The military governor of the region of south-east Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu proclaimed the independence of the region of south-east from Nigeria as a Republic of Biafra. The Igbo officer Colonel Ojukwu claimed that the north and west will benefit of oil discovered in the east-south and discriminate the Igbo people from power. He believed that the Igbo will create their own state and become more prosperous by using oil. France, Portugal, South Africa, and Tanzania were among the countries to recognize the independence of the Republic of Biafra. In January 1970, the Nigerian government control over the region of south-east. More than one million Nigerians died during the war and three million became refugees.[12]

In July 1975, the armed forces made a bloodless military coup against the president Yakubu Gowon and they appointed General Murtala Ramat Muhammad from the Hausa as president. In February 1976, Muhammad was assassinated and General Olusegun Obasanjo succeeded the previous one. In 1979, Nigeria adopted the Constitution of the United States which created an environment that people can freely go to elections and choose their political parties as a ruling party. The constitution also separated the powers among the executive, legislative, and judiciary. In 1979, the country went to national elections and the leader of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) Alhaji Shehu Shagaria won the election and became the president of the country. In 1979, the five political parties joined the elections freely. The period (1979-1983) is called as the second Republic of Nigeria. However, the first democratically elected government failed to bring peace and security and stop widespread corruption and crime throughout the country. Particularly, the coalition parties were not strong and there was not enough cooperation between the coalition government and the opposition parties. Also, oil prices increased significantly in the country. On 31 December 1983, a military coup under the leadership of Major General Muhammedu Buharia from the northern region again took place and overthrew the civilian government, claiming that the civilian government failed to restore political and economic stability and stop corruption and crime.[13]
In 1985, General Ibrahim Babangida seized the control and overthrew the government of Buharia. Babangida remained in power until 1993. In November 1993, General Sani Abacha controlled the state and stayed in power as a military dictator until 1998. During the period of Abacha, human rights violations were very high. After the death of Abacha, Major General Abdulsalami Abubakar came to power in June 1998. Local and presidential elections were held in the country respectively in December 1998 and February 1999 and the leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Obasanjo won the elections and became the president of the country. With the elections in the country, a long military period in Nigeria ended. After the civilian government was established, the government of Obasanjo faced serious challenges surrounding the country.[14]

In 2000, an upheaval emerged in the northern side of the country which desire to adopt Islamic law for their states’ administration. Also, ethnic divisions destabilised political and economic stability in the country. Since the transformation period in the country from the military junta to democracy in 1999, the country has suffered to maintain peace, security and stability. For instance, more than 10.000 Nigerians have been killed due to the sectarian violence since the democratic elections took place in 1999. When a Danish newspaper depicted Prophet Muhammed in September 2005, a conflict between the Muslims and the Christians appeared and 100 people died from the conflict. In 2001, the ethnic group in the State of Benue in the south-east started an upheaval against the government and to attack the international oil companies in the region of Niger-Delta where the oil is produced. They claimed that the local people are not benefiting from the oil revenues where the international oil companies produce. In April 2007, Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, the governor of the northern state of Katsina,  from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) came to power when the Senate rejected Obasanjo's candidate for the third time. On 5 May 2010, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian and the governor of the southern state of Bayelsa, came to power with the death of Yar’Adua. The military coups and the longstanding military periods in the country highly militarised the society.[15]  


[1] These states are Zamfara, Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Kebbi and Yobe. The Islamic law is also valid in the States of Kaduna, Niger, and Gombe where the majority of the Muslims live.
[8] Julius, O. Ihonvbere, “The Politics of Adjustment and Democracy: Nigeria”, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1994, pp. 8-15.
[9] Library of Congress - Federal Research Division, “Nigeria”, 2008, pp. 3-4.
[10] Scott P. Pearson, “The Economic Imperialism of the Royal Niger Company”, Stanford University, Food Research Institute, 1971, p. 85-6.
[11] Luke Uka Uche, “Mass Media, People and Politics in Nigeria”, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 1989, pp.7-15.
[12] Library of Congress - Federal Research Division, “Nigeria”, 2008, pp. 4-6.
[13] Martin, P. Mathews, “Current Issues and Historical Background: Nigeria”, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2002, pp. 5-10.
[14] Michael, Ogbeidi, “Political Leadership and Corruption in Nigeria since 1960: A Socio-economic Analysis”, Fall 2012,  Journal of Nigeria Studies, Vol., 1, No.: 2, pp. 6-11.
[15] Abimboloa Adesoji, “The Boko Haram Uprising and Islamic Revivalism in Nigeria”, Africa Spectrum, Vol. 45, No., 2 (2010), p. 96.

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