PMB 5047, PORT HARCOURT     


















This paper examined the different military regimes and democratization process in Nigeria between 1975 –1999. The most dramatic changes in Nigerian politics since independence in 1960 have occurred under military rule.

      Having attained self rule from Britain under civilian administration, the democratic tradition which lasted just under six years from 1960 to 1966 was followed by a turbulent, anarchic period that led to two coups in 1966 and a bloody three years civil war from 1967 to 1970. This military interference in the political life of Nigeria was sudden, with military influence, increasingly extending from one coup d’état to another until they lost their capacity to shock, though not to disturb Nigerian opinion.

    This paper explores the origin of military regimes in Nigeria, dynamics and process of Nigeria’s past attempts at establishing a viable democratic system. The paper employs historical and descriptive approaches and relies solely on secondary sources of data.

    The paper recommends a modern political mechanism for the orderly transfer of power and suggests ways to enhance the leadership quality and democratization process in Nigeria.

Keywords: Military/Military regimes, democracy and democratization process.



          From the time of military takeover in January 1966, Nigerian military governments on many occasions had asserted their commitment to a return to civilian rule. With the notable exception of the regime of Major General Buhari, every military regime in Nigeria has evinced an intention to design and implement a programme of transition to an elected civilian government.

          On assumption of office Gen. Yakubu Gowon spoke in terms of an early return of the country to civilian administration. As a professional officer, he abhorred the damage done to the military establishments by its fragmentation along ethnic lines. After reinstating the old regional system, he organized meetings of regional opinion leaders to prepare the ground work for a constitutional conference. But the plunging of the country into a civil war in July 1987 following the secession of the former Eastern Region from the Nigerian federation, cast doubt over any thoughts Gowon and the Supreme Military Council may have entertained earlier about a speedy return to the barracks.

          As Kirk-Greene (1971) states, the early period of his administration witnessed the imposition of severe authoritarian measures, including strict control on trade unions, a ban on strikes, restriction on the mass media, etc. Even though the citizenry seemed to have embraced this as part of the necessary measures taken by a government in a period of crisis, democratic aspirations remained strong.

          Kirk-Greene (1971) further stated; the end of the war in January 1970 removed much of the rationale for continued military presence in Nigeria’s political life. Therefore, the polity eagerly awaited the announcement of a program for the restoration of democratic governance. Instead what they heard from the government was that the army was to remain in power for another six years to pursue a nine-point program of restructuring that would ensure, in Gowon’s words, “a period of lasting peace and stability”.

          The head of state then set the target date of October 1, 1976 by which time also genuinely national political parties would be organized and elections held. Although the nation was stunned and disappointed by the length of the transition, the setting of a definite date for the return to democratic rule was generally accepted by Nigerians. But as the target date for the army to relinquish power to civilian rule approached, Gowon became alarmed as he realized that little progress had been made on most of the points of his transition program. Also, he was being pressured by an increasingly narrow ruling circle of military leaders, together with a handful of civil servant advisors who sought to extend their stay in power, at a time the country was awash with the oil boom of the 1970’s.

          Hence Gowon shocked the people by announcing that the military would no longer be able to return to the barracks by October 1976. In his October 1, 1974 Independence Day message, Gowon said the date was “unrealistic” under the circumstances, and he argued that such a hasty disengagement would certainly plunge the country into total disorder (Adigwe, 1974).

          Therefore, on July 29 1975, Gen. Gowon, while out of the country for an official engagement, was relieved of his duties in a bloodless coup d’état led by Brigadier Murtala Mohammed. From its early hours, the new leadership confirmed its commitment to reforms. Murtala immediately undertook the most radical “clean up” exercise in Nigerian history to get rid of corrupt officials in the government bureaucracy. Most significant was his immediate response to mounting pressure for a return to civilian rule.

          He announced the specific date for October 1, 1979 to disengage the military from politics “The present military leadership”, Murtala assured the nation, “does not intend to stay in office a day longer than is necessary and certainly not beyond this date”. But despite the bloody assassination of Murtala in an unsuccessful Coup attempt on February 13, 1976, several aspects of the regime’s transitional program, including the creation of Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) to certify parties and regulate campaigning for the future of democracy in Nigeria were successfully executed by his successor, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo.

          The degree of commitment demonstrated by the Obasanjo regime to the democratization of Nigeria was particularly impressive and widely favored. As Claude Philips (1980) described it; the entire process was remarkably smooth when compared with the volatile political history of the country, mainly because the federal Military Government pursued policies designed to institutionalize new political behaviour… in view of the contempt shown for politics and politicians, one can only marvel at the dedication which Obasanjo and his colleagues displayed towards the return of civilian rule.

          On October 1, 1979, the transition reached its goal with the election and inauguration of Shehu Shagari as the new president of Nigeria. On December 31, 1983 in a bloodless Coup led by Maj. Gen. Buhari, Shagari government was overthrown. Buhari’s regime succumbed to yet another Coup on August 27, 1985, led by Maj. Gen. Babangida. He promised to return the country to democratic rule as soon as the anomalies of the Nigerian Political Economy were corrected. “Since the purpose of Military Intervention in politics is to save the nation from anarchy and disintegration”, Babangida explained, once that mission is accomplished, the military would have no reason to remain in power”.

          Gen. Babangida’s political programme was promulgated in Decree no. 19 of 1987. This decree originally outlined a programme of transition, scheduled to begin in the third quarter of 1987, with the establishment of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the lifting of the ban on politics and the registration of two political parties in 1989. (Okoro, 2004).

          The presidential elections took place on 12 June, 1993. However, while the results were being collated and announced by NEC, the regime stopped NEC from continuing the collation or announcing any winner. On 23 June, 1993, Babangida annulled the elections. With the country sliding into chaos Sani Abacha assumed power and forced Shonekan’s resignation.

          On assumption of power in 1993, Gen. Abacha released a multiple-phase, political programme in 1996 designed to return the country to civil rule in October 1998. Gen. Abacha died of heart failure on 8 June 1998 and was replaced by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.

          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 INEC successfully held elections on 5 December 1998, 9 January 1999, 20 February and 27 February 1999, respectively. The former military head of state Olusegun Obasanjo freed from prison by Gen. Abubakar ran as a civilian candidate and won the presidential election. The Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) promulgated a new constitution based largely on the suspended 1979 constitution, before the 29th May, 1999 inauguration of the new civilian president. Nigerians tired of prolonged and crisis-prone military regimes, welcomed the change of government.

 Conceptualization of Military/Military Regimes, Democracy and Democratization Process.


          As Walton (2016) states, military also known collectively as Armed Forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare. It is typically officially authorized and maintained by a sovereign state, with its members identifiable by their distinct military uniform. It may consist of one or more military branches such as an army, navy and airforce. The main task of the military is usually defined as defense of the state and its interest against external armed threats.

          In broad usage, the terms Armed Forces and military are often treated as synonymous, although in technical usage a distinction is sometimes made in which a country’s Armed Forces may include both its military and other paramilitary forces (Ukpabi, 2004).

          However, a military regime is a form of government wherein the political power resides with the Armed Forces. The study of military regimes rose to prominence with the social sciences during the latter half of the twentieth century, thanks to the presence during the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s of a large number of military regimes around the globe. In 1979, fourteen military regimes held power in sub-Saharan Africa, nine in Latin America, five in the Arab states and North Africa, three in Southeast Asia, one in South Asia and one in East Asia. No single social science discipline dominated the research into military regimes. Political scientists, economists, sociologist and historians all devoted much time and energy to studying this form of government.

          To Ukpabi (2004), military regimes cannot simply be classified as governments dominated by the military, because they are seldom purely military

in composition, civilian bureaucrats and politicians generally play a role in the government, but the military always have the final say. The presence of civilians in military governments shows that military elites do not necessarily organize military regimes.

          Nevertheless, a military regime is always governed by a military officer, active or retired, with the support of the military establishment, and the political structure includes routine mechanisms for high-level military officers to influence policy and political appointments.

          Thus, military regimes in Nigeria emerge most often as products of political, economic and societal crises to replace weak executives and governments. The most popular mechanism used to achieve this is the military Coup d’état, wherein members of the Armed Forces remove a country’s president through the use of threat of force. Once the military regime is firmly in place, characteristic features of this form of government include an intact military hierarchy, and a military controlled security apparatus.

          On the other hand, democracy is a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting. Democracy embodies responsive and responsible governance, rule of law, human rights, civil participation and peaceful transfers of power through electoral processes.

          To Okoro (2004), democracy, is a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

          While democratization process is the transition to a more democratic political regime, including substantive political changes moving in democratic directions. It may be the transition from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy, a transition from an authoritarian political system to a semi-democracy or transition from a semi authoritarian political system to a democratic political system (Johnson, 1964).

          There is a general tendency to assume that “democracy refers to a fairly static concept and by corollary, that “democratization” represents the process of approaching this “democracy”.

          If we accept Okoro (2014) or similar, definition of democracy, than the goal of “democratic” elections and “democratization” can be considered the process by which the civil liberties and political rights necessary to achieve this goal are realized and maintained.

Gowon’s Democratic Process and Indefinite Timeline of Return to Civil Rule

          Addressing the country on the 10th anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence on 1 October 1970, Gen. Yakubu Gowon laid out plans for a return to civilian government in October 1 1976, but on the condition that a nine point program be fulfilled first. These points included the carrying out of a national development plan, the eradication of corruption in national life, the repair of damage from the civil war of 1967 – 1970, the adoption of a new constitution and the establishment of genuinely national political parties (Ukpabi, 2004).

          Although Nigerians were stunned and disappointed by the length of the transition, the setting of a definite date for the return to democratic rule was generally accepted by all. The intervening period (1970 – 1976) was dedicated to a programme of reconstruction, rehabilitation, reconciliation and reintegration. However, in another nationwide broad cast on 1 October, 1974, Gen. Gowon dismissed as “unrealistic” the 1976 deadline for a return to civilian rule in his speech making the 14th anniversary of Independence. The army could not honour its pledge to return to barracks in 1976 without plunging the nation into chaos. The deadline, he said was unrealistic, “it would indeed amount to a betrayal of trust to adhere rigidly to that target date”. The ban on politics scheduled to be lifted in October 1974 was to remain in force (Ojiako, 1979).

          The government, Gowon said, had not abandoned the idea of a return to civilian rule, but it would “be utterly irresponsible to leave the nation in the lurch by a precipitate withdrawal which will certainly throw the nation back into confusion”. Gowon regretted that from all information at his disposal, from the general attitude, utterances and manoeuvers of some individuals and groups and from publications during the past few months, “it was clear that those who aspire to lead the nation on the return to civilian rule have not learnt any lesson from past experience” (Ojiako, 1979).

          Gowon added that the Military Government, which came to power in a Coup d’état in 1966, had not abandoned the idea of returning to civilian rule. But, he said it had responsibilities to lay the foundations of a political system that would stand the test of time and ensure orderly transition to civilian government (Ukpabi, 2004).

          Referring to the political ambitions of some Nigerians, Gen. Gowon expressed fear that “it would not take them long to return the old cutthroat politics that once led this nation into serious crises”.

Therefore, on July 29 1975, Gen. Gowon, while out of the country for an official engagement was overthrown in a palace coup and Brigadier (Later General) Murtala Ramat Mohammed became the new military leader of Nigeria. Two days after assuming power, the new regime decided inter alia, to review the political programme (Oyeleye, 1981).

Murtala Ramat Mohammed/Olusegun Obasanjo Guided Democratic Process and Return of Civil Rule in 1979. 

 From its early hours, the new military leadership of Gen. Murtala confirmed its commitment to reforms. Most significant was his immediate response to mounting pressure for return to civilian rule.

            As Otoghagua (1999) States, in October 1975, Gen. Murtala Mohammed announced a five- stage, four years transition programme to hand over to a democratically elected government in October 1, 1979; promising that ‘the present military leadership does not intend to stay in office a day longer than necessary, certainly not beyond this date’.

The five stage programme includes;

  1. Appointment of constitution drafting committee to work on preliminary draft.
  2. Creation of new states.
  3. Election into a constituent assembly on October, 1977.
  4. Reunification of the draft constitution by the constituent assembly by October, 1978, and lifting of the 1966 ban on politics and political parties and
  5. Conduct of states and federal general elections by October, 1979.

            The transition programme announced by Murtala was preceded by a major debate in the Nigeria media. This debate was closed by the Independence Day broadcast of Gen. Murtala in October 1, 1975.

            It is important to quote the relevant portion of that speech in which the political programme was announced:

“The Supreme Military Council has approved a five- stage programme designed to ensure a smooth transition to civil rule by those elected by the people of this country. During the first stage, the states issue will be settled and any new states created will be fully established. The committee on states will submit its report in December 1975 and the preliminary steps for the establishment of new states will be completed by April 1976. Meanwhile, a drafting committee on the constitution will be appointed this month and will have up to September 1976 to complete its work on a first initial (sic) draft constitution. In stage II, the newly created states will be given time to settle down before the entire federation embarks upon a systematic and deliberate re-organization of the local government set-up. This re-organization will lead to elections at local government level on individual merit without party politics. Arising from this, there will then be a constituent assembly, partly elected and partly nominated. The purpose of this assembly is to consider and accept the draft constitution… This second stage will last two years… It will be completed by October 1978. Stage III will be a preparatory stage for elections. The ban on political activities will be lifted in October 1978.Political parties can then be formed in preparation for the final stages in which election will be held into legislatures at state and federal levels, as prescribed by the new constitution.  The two elections make up stages IV and V. These two stages are expected to be completed within one year and we intend to hand over power to a democratically elected government of the people by 1st October, 1979. (Awa, 1994).

True to its word, the regime constituted and (all male), 50- members, constitution drafting committee (CDC) three days later. The CDC was inaugurated on 18th October 1975 by Gen. Murtala and given it terms of reference which included;

  1. The creation of political institutions which ensure maximum participation and consensus and orderly succession to political power.
  2. The elimination of cut- throat political competition based on a system of winner- takes- all.
  3. The development of consensus politics and government, based on a community of all interests rather than the interest of sections of the country.
  4. The elimination of over- centralization of power in a few hands and the decentralization of power as a means of diffusing tension.
  1. A careful definition of the powers and duties of the leading functionaries of government.
  2. The creation of a system of government in which the president and vice- president are elected with clearly defined powers, and are accountable to the people.
  3. The evolution of a free and fair electoral system which ensures adequate representation of the cross – section of the nation at the centre (Ukpabi, 2004).

But, despite the bloody assassination of Murtala in an unsuccessful coup attempt on February 13 1976, several aspects of the regimes transitional program, including the creation of powerful Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) to certify parties and regulate campaigning for the future of democracy in Nigeria were successful executed by his successor, Gen. Obasanjo.

The regime conducted the first set of elections under its transition programme- the local government elections- on a zero party basis in December 1976. Responsibility for organizing these elections was given to the respective state admirations; ten of these conducted the election by direct method while the other nine use the indirect method (Okoro, 2004).

Out of the election for state and federal offices that took place in mid- 1979, military disengagement in the political affairs of Nigeria seemed to have taken off successfully. At least, five new registered parties were authorized to complete in the elections, and these included; the United Party of Nigeria (UPN), strongest in the Yoruba states and led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), with a strong based in the far North and led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), primarily Eastern based and led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, The People’s Redemption Party (PRP), Northern -based as well, but led by Mallam Amino Kano, and finally, the Great Nigerian People’s Party (GNPP), led by Waziri Ibrahim.

Out of these parties, the NPN candidate, Shehu Shagari, had won a plurality of votes, and on October 1, 1979, the transition reached its goals with his election and inauguration as the new president of Nigeria (Claude, 1980).

Mohammed Buhari’s Overthrow of Civil Rule in 1983 and its Impacts on Nigerian Democratic Process. 


The civilian government which was inaugurated in 1979 was sacked by the military on 31st December 1983 following popular disaffection generated by the national elections of September 1983.

As Dele Giwa (1985) states, in the second republic, politics turned physical, not intellectual, warfare or other means. Political violence was on the increase. There were clashes and clashes. The NPN against the UPN, NPN against the NPP, and the NPN against the GNPP, the NPN being the only recurring decimal in these political battles.

In his inaugural address to the country, Gen. Buhari, the new military ruler, justify the intervention of the military as necessary because “the last general elections could be anything but free and fair”. Citing evidence of widespread political thuggery and discontent, he declared that “the intervention of the Armed Forces was to arrest the imminent catastrophe which would have been the inevitable result of the course being charted by the politician (Otoghagua, 1999).

General Buhari’s regime had negative impacts on democratic process in Nigeria. In 1984, for instance, the regime announced several controversial decrees, and it became especially ruthless on the nations new organizations. Some news papers and magazines were closed and censorship became the order of the day. The inhuman decrees no. 2 and no. 4 and the untried detainees who were languishing in cells constituted a case in points for the coupists that ousted him from power. (Otoghagua, 1999).

Gen. Buhari’s regime was the only military regime that never designed or implemented a programme for transition to an elected civilian government. The Buhari military administration was overthrown by another general on 27th August 1985.

It is note- worthy; however, those three weeks before it was overthrown, Buhari regime announced a six- member judicial inquiry into the defunct FEDECO headed by a justice of Nigerian Supreme Court. The commission was given a thirteen- point terms of reference which required it to, “determine the causes of the failures, abuses and short comings which characterized the electoral process…”

The commission was headed by Justice B.O Babalakin. However, the regime could not inaugurate the commission before it was overthrown on 27th August, 1985. The commission was eventually inaugurated by the regime of Gen. Babangida on 28th October 1985 which received its report on 14th November 1986.


Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s Regime and Eight Years Journey of Restoring Democracy.


In his Independence Day anniversary broadcast to the country on 1 October 1985, Gen. Babangida indicated that he will release a political programme in 1986. In the substantial indication of political programme of the regime in December 1985, Gen. Babangida promised that:

          … There is no doubt that this country will go back to civilian rule. What we are trying to do is to make sure, first of all, that we create an atmosphere which will make such transition quite easy. We will also create an atmosphere that makes their programs attainable within an environment that is quite stable and geared up. In the past, we did not address our minds to this…

          The regime inaugurated a committee of eight Federal Permanent Secretaries (known as the Committee of Eight) on 15th November 1985 to “Study the issue of providing the political programme for the country and make appropriate recommendations”. In particular, the terms of reference of this committee required it to;

  1. Identify the factors that have militated against the development of stable political culture.
  2. Recommend guidelines for a future system of government.
  3. Draw up a programme for return to civilian rule or any system of government agreed by the people.
  4. Make recommendations on modalities for implementing the programme.

      Shortly afterwards, on 13th January 1986, before the committee of Eight had concluded its work, the regime inaugurated a 17- member political Bureau with five terms of references to;

  1. Review Nigerians political history and identify the basic problems which have led to our failure in the past.
  2. Identify a basic philosophy of government which will determine goals and serve as a guide to the activities of government.
  3. Collect relevant information and data for the government as well as identify other political problems that may arise from the debate.
  4. Gather, collate and evaluate the contributions of Nigerians to the search for a viable political feature and provide guidelines for the attainment of Consensus objective.
  5. Deliberate on other political problems that may be referred to it from time to time. (Awa, 1994).

      The committee of Eight submitted its report in March 1986, and identified several priority issues for the regime to address. This included economic stabilization and growth, restructuring the economy for growth, the establishment of new states, religious issues, penal reform and the judicial process, education, the national census, police and national security. The committee rejected the presidential system of government, suggesting instead “a modified parliamentary system of government based on the principle of power sharing”, between the army and elected civilians in which ‘sensitive’ portfolios such as defence, internal affairs and information, would be reserved for the military. ( Olagunju, 1986).     

         The bureau submitted its report on 27 March, 1987. In its report, the bureau recommended the implementation of “a broadly spaced transition in which democratic governance can proceed with political learning, institutional adjustment and a re-orientation of political culture, at sequential levels of politics and government and ending at the federal level. While the majority of members of the bureau recommended a transition programme that would terminate with the handover of power to an elected civilian regime in September /October 1990, a minority recommended a five year programme to end in 1992.

Though the contents of the report were not made public until much later, a leading Nigerian news magazine managed to obtain and publish a copy of the report shortly after it was submitted. The magazine (Newswatch) was promptly proscribed for six months (Ukpabi, 2004).

          After receiving it, the regime constituted a nine-member committee headed by Major- General Paul Omu. The committee included three civilians and six members of the Armed Forces and was set up to study the reports and prepare government’s response. The Omu committee reported back to the regime in favour of a five-year programme of transition to end in 1992. Subsequently, on 28 July 1987, the regime promulgated the Transition to Civil Rule (Political Programme)Decree announcing a five-year, multiple-stage programme to terminate in the fourth quarter of 1992 with the inauguration of an elected civilian president and the final disengagement of the armed forces(Oyeleye,1981).

          The implementation of the transition programme of Gen. Babangida relied heavily on the force of military decrees. In contrast of the transition programme of 1976-1979 which was regulated by two basic laws, Gen Babangida promulgated 57 decrees containing a total of 1,174 sections to govern the transition programme between 1986-1992. (Itse Sagay, 1993).

Sagay (1993), further stated that the process of implementing these laws (and their amendments) was often confusing. The survey below only covers some of the significant transition decrees. Gen Babangida’s political programme was promulgated in Decree no.19 of 1987. This decree originally outlined a programme of transition, scheduled to begin in the third quarter of 1987, with the establishment of a directorate of social mobilization, a National Electoral Commission (NEC) and a Constitution Drafting Committee. The termination of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and the consolidation of its gain in 1988, the lifting of the ban on politics and the registration of two political parties in 1989, the inauguration of elected state governments in 1990, the conduction of a national census in 1991, and the inauguration of a new president in 1992.

The decree also established a five-member tribunal to try persons who by their actions or omissions undermined the programme. There was a right of appeal from the tribunal at a special Appeal Tribunal whose decision was in turn subject to ratification by the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC).

By virtue of Section 16 (1) of the decree;

… the validity of any decision,

 sentence, judgment, confirmation,

direction, notice or order given or

made, as the case may be or any other thing

what so ever done under this decree

shall not be inquired into in any court of law.

This clause was described by the Court of Appeal in the case of the National Electoral Commission vs. Nzeribe as “the most far reaching to be found in any decree since the inception of military rule in this country. This decree was subsequently amended at least seven times and the terminal date of the transition changed four times, eventually to 27 August 1993.

By decree no.23 of 30 September 1987, the regime set up a 9 member National Electoral Commission (NEC) to replace the defunct FEDECO, to be headed by a chairman who “shall not be less than fifty years old”. The decree originally empowered NEC to, inter alia, ‘register two political parties and determine their eligibility to sponsor candidates for any of the elections” to be organized during the transition (Awa Kalu, 1994).

In another notable departure from the standards set by the Murtala/ Obasanjo regime, the decree failed to assure the independence of the NEC, Providing instead for the military government to;

… Give the commission such directives as appear to it to be just and proper for the effective discharge of the functions of the commission… 

The NEC decree suffered two significant amendments; The National Electoral Commission (Amendments) Decree, deprived the NEC of the power to  register political parties and transfer these powers to the Armed Forces Ruling Council. The decree also reduced the minimum age of the chairman of the NEC to 45 years (Sagay, 1993).

          In December 1987, the regime successfully organized the local government elections on zero-party bases. These elections were organized under the local government elections Decree which was later repealed by the local government elections( Basic Constitutional and Transitional) Provisions Decree which dissolved pre-existing local governments and provided for the organization of fresh local elections, this time on a party bases. This decree empowered the president to remove any elected local government officials or dissolve any local government council “ if he is satisfied that the affairs of the local government are not being managed in a best interest of the community or in a way to strengthen the unity of the people of Nigeria or for any other good cause. It was subsequently amended four times after the local elections on party bases took place on 8th December, 1990 (Ukpabi, 2004).

          In pursuit of its stated objective of making a clean break with the political past, the regime prohibited certain categories of formal political office holders from contesting for elective office during the transition programme through the participation in Politics and Election (Prohibition) Decree of 1987 which was subsequently amended at least four times. Among those excluded from the politics of the transition period by the decree were persons who held political offices at the federal or state levels in the civilian government between 1960 and 1966 and 1979 and 1983 as well as formal or serving state military governors or administrators, service chiefs in the armed forces and the police, including former military heads of state and serving president. The decree further ban persons in both the private and public sectors who were dismissed from office or employment between 1 October 1960 and the end of the transition period.

      Justifying these measures in October 1988, Gen. Babangida claimed that;

           … We have not chosen and have not sought to choose those who will succeed us. We have only decided on those who will not. We also have no vested interest in who succeeds our successors… we also resolved that we will not be succeeded by extremists… we do not believe that anything but the good of this country will come out of the decision to exclude them.


In December 1989, after it had refused to recognize any of the six political associations recommended to it for registration by NEC, the regime promulgated decrees to set up and regulate the operations of the two political parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the latter being “a little to the left” and the former ‘a little to the right of the ideological spectrum’.

          The state and federal legislative elections took place in December 1991 and the new elected officials were inaugurated on 2nd January 1992. This set the stage for the last phase of the transition programme which was to be regulated by the presidential election (Basic Constitutional and Transitional Provisions Decree of 1993). For the selection of their presidential candidates, this decree requires the parties to organize party primaries from the ward to the national level. Both parties made two initial attempts to choose their presidential candidates but on each occasion, the primaries were cancelled after widespread allegations of irregularities. After the second attempt, the regime rejected the outcome of the primaries and also dissolved all party structures around the country, appointing care taker committees to run the parties instead. It also disqualified all aspirants who had participated in the previous elections during the transition programme (Okoro, 2005).

          The presidential election took place on 12 June 1993. However, while the results were being collated and announced by NEC, the regime stopped NEC from continuing the collation or announcing any winner. Then on 23rd June 1993, Babangida annulled the election. On the same day, he issued four decrees, one of which repealed the presidential election (Basic Constitutional and Transitional Provision) Decree and effectively terminated the transition process.

        Gen. Babangida was forced to handover power to an interim government on 27 August 1993. He handed over to Ernest Shonekan. Shonekan was unable to reverse Nigerian’s economic problems or to diffuse the lingering political tension. With the country sliding into chaos, Sani Abacha assumed power and forced Shonekan’s resignation on 17th November 1993.




Sani Abacha’s Regime and Self mutation Attempts of Military–Civilian Rule

          On assumption of power in 1993, Gen Abacha abrogated the limited structures of civil rule instituted by Babangida regime and returned the country to full military rule. In 1994, he set up a constitutional conference which completed its work in mid-1995. Early in 1996, Abacha released a multiple phase, political programme designed to return the country to civil rule in October 1988. Elements of the programme included the creation of more states and local governments, lifting of the ban of political activities, formation of parties, phased elections on party basis into elective local, state and federal positions, resulting finally in the handover of power to an elected civilian president and the disengagement of the Armed Forces from power on October 1998.

           In January 1996, the regime gave legal backing to a National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON). In March 1996, it organized zero-party local elections and in July began a process to register political parties. On November 14th 1996, NECON released very strict guidelines for party registration.

          As Okoro (2004) states, only five political parties were approved by the regime and voters turnout for local elections in December 1997 was under 10%. These are Committee for National Consensus (CNS), United Nigeria People’s Convention (UNPC), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), and Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM).

          To Ukpabi (2004), the transition programme was nothing but a transition to nothingness. The five parties were all of them same genre and were intended to serve the political ambition of Abacha. The modality was a dis-ingenious “Consensus Candidate” for the presidency, while allowing for an appearance of electoral competition at the lower levels.

         Thus, whilst the programme was truncated from the beginning-manipulation, chicanery and blackmail being freely used against all forms of opposition-the programme literally collapsed at the point Abacha was abducted by all the political parties, except one.

To Akpo (1998), the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) did not adopt Abacha appeared to have done so to help him dissimulate its real intention.

        As Arthur  Nzeribe states; the general… as far as I am concerned, has won the election already, reading the political barometer and considering the number of invitations he will get from political parties to be their sole candidate and the absence of any challenger.

       On the other hand Kenny Martins, a chieftain of one of the five political parties stated that “the transition would not have taken Nigeria anywhere. It was lansided, distorted, indefensible and unacceptable to the generality of Nigerians.”

        In January 1997 interview with the Washington Times, Gen. Abacha denied that he had given serious thought to running for president, but left the option open by claiming that his decision would depend on his “ constituency”. He pointed out that such a move is not new in Africa, neither is it new in the sub region, where military people have stepped into politics.

        However, the decisive turning point in military disengagement came with Abacha’s sudden death in June 1998. Gen. Abubakar, selected to replace him, promised to transfer power to civilians. He freed political prisoners, ended the harassment of political opponents, and set forth a time table for the transition to civilian rule. (Okonta, 1998).


Abdulsalam Abubakar’s Regime and Successful Return of Democratic Regime in 1999.


         After Abacha’s death, political activities blossomed as numerous parties were formed. Of these, three emerged that were able to contest elections; The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), The Alliance for Democracy(AD), and The All People’s Party(APP).

       A series of elections were held in January-March 1999. In which councilors for local governments, legislatures for state and federal assemblies, and state governors were elected. The presidential election took place in February and was carefully monitored by an international team of observers.

        Obasanjo of the PDP, who as head of state in 1976-1979 had over seen the last transition from military rule, was declared the winner. Obasanjo was sworn in on May 29th 1999. A new constitution was also promulgated that month. Nigerians, tired of prolonged and crisis-prone military regime, welcomed the change of government, as did the international community.     


Whilst by definition, a military regime is the direct antithesis of the rule of law as well as an unwholesome negation of the civic culture, not all military regimes exhibit the same level of political ambush against the citizenry. When places on a continuum, some military seem to set more store by citizens rights than others, even though, ultimately, the failure of the rule of law leads to human rights abuse.

          Nevertheless, military regimes do not all have the same level of predation. As the Nigerian state progressively lost it’s ‘stateness’ and degenerated under  military regimes, into a ‘statist’ cocoon, as succeeding heads of the Junta became increasing hegemonic over both the Junta and the polity, heinous political crimes were committed in the name of the military. The latter seemingly attained it’s apogee under the Abacha regime.

          A major chunk of the crimes was perpetrated against the political opposition, even though the military qua military as well as its most politicized factions were not left untouched. Indeed, alongside what Claude Ake calls the “criminalization of political dissents” in the civil society was the decimation of perceived critical elements in the military.

          It is imperative, if the democratization process in Nigeria is to mean, and prove, anything that all the former head of states of the federation, beginning with Gen. Yakubu Gowon, are seen to account for their regimes as well as address all accusations against them, in the nation’s judicial courts.



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