Nigeria is a federal republic in West Africa. With an estimated population of 123,000,000 people, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. It spans an area of 925,000 square kilometres and has a landmass extending inland from the eastern end of the Gulf of Guinea deep into the western savannah. Nigeria lies between the Cameroon on the east and the Republic of Benin on the west; to the north is Niger and to the northeast is Chad. Although the country is rich in mineral resources'particularly oil' the per capita income in Nigeria is only $300 per year.
The territory that is now Nigeria was formerly made up of various states, empires, and smaller territories. The largest and the most influential of these was the Fulani Empire which extended over most of northern Nigeria in the nineteenth century. In the more forested south which could not be easily penetrated by Fulani cavalry were the Oyo (Yoruba) and Benin states. East of the Niger lived the Igbo and Ibibio communities. The earliest authentic records date European influence in the coastal areas of Nigeria from 1472, when Portuguese ships landed in Benin. Until the arrival of the Europeans, the coast was of little international political significance. Before the Portuguese sailors came looking for gold and slaves from West Africa, contact with the outside world was undertaken across the Sahara. When the British arrived in the area a century later, it marked the beginning of a new period in Nigerian history.
At the Berlin Conference of 1885 British interest along the River Niger was given official recognition. In 1900, the British Crown took over the administration of the territory from the Royal Niger Company and declared protectorates over Northern and Southern Nigeria. In 1914 a Nigerian Council of 30 Europeans and six Nigerians was inaugurated. This Council was not given any legislative or executive powers'its function was advisory in character. The constitution of 1922 (known as the Sir Hugh Clifford Constitution) expanded and reconstituted the Legislative Council. It now had 46 members, 10 of whom were elected, and made laws for the colony and the Southern Provinces. The Governor continued to legislate for the Northern Provinces.
The constitution of 1946, called the Richards Constitution after Sir Arthur Richards who masterminded it, set up a Legislative Council for the entire country and divided the country into three regions'north, west and east. The Council had 45 members, 28 of whom were Nigerians (four of the 28 were elected and the remaining 24 were nominated). The constitution also established three regional legislatures. The regional legislative bodies considered matters referred to them by the Governor and advised him accordingly.
In 1951, the constitution was changed to make necessary provisions for a Council of Ministers of 18 members (12 Nigerians and six other members who were ex-officio members from the colonial bureaucracy). The Council of Ministers was made up of equal representation from each of the three regions and the nomination of regional representatives was by the Regional Legislature. A House of Representatives was created consisting of 142 members, of this number 136 were Nigerians. The regional legislative bodies had powers to legislate on a limited number of local matters, but the laws made by them were subject to reference to the Governor. In a fundamental sense, the €˜regional' concept introduced by the Richards Constitution provided the building-blocks for a federal system of government in Nigeria.
In 1954 another constitution was adopted. This constitution strengthened the federal character of Nigeria even further. It declared Nigeria a federation, recognized the limited autonomy of the regions, and continued the regional representation on the Council of Ministers. While the centre presided over foreign relations, defence, the police, etc., the regions were responsible for primary and secondary education, agriculture, public health and local government. The judiciary, the Public Service Commission and the Marketing Boards were regionalized. Responsibility for economic development, labour matters and higher education was shared between the centre and the regions. Thus, Nigeria achieved federation by disaggregation. Between 1954 and 1960, the three regions achieved self-government. On 1 October 1960, the Nigerian federation was granted full independence by Britain. Three years later, on 1 October 1963, Nigeria became a federal republic (the 'First Republic'), with a republican constitution.
The Republican Constitution of 1963 gave exclusive powers to the federal government in areas such as defence, external affairs, immigration, passports, currency, railways, post and telecommunications, aviation and meteorology. In addition, the federal government could legislate on any matter outside its exclusive legislative list during any period of national emergency. The Concurrent List in the 1963 constitution contained subjects on which the federal and regional legislatures could initiate legislation, including undertaking a census, industrial development and antiques. The residual powers left to the regional legislatures contained matters such as primary and secondary school education. Regional legislatures could legislate on these items as deemed appropriate.
Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country and by the 1960s the various ethnic groups were in constant competition for control of the central government and power within their own regions. This led to demands for more regional units, and in 1963 in response to this, the Western Region was split, creating the Mid-Western Region. This marked the beginning of a process which has increased the number of constituent units in the country from three to 36.
In January 1966 there was a military coup led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, an Igbo. Killed in the coup were the Prime Minister of the federation, the Premier of the Northern Region, the Premier of the Western Region, and a number of senior military officers. The plotters of the coup failed to secure Lagos and eventually Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi, the most senior officer in the Nigerian Army, and an Igbo, took control and ordered the arrest of the coup perpetrators. Most of those involved in the coup were Igbos and because of this, it was wrongly described as an Igbo coup, even though one of the main participants was a Yoruba major. After taking control of the federal government Ironsi abolished the federal system and opted for a unitary system. This action abolished the regions.
Northern civil servants felt threatened by the highly trained and educated southerners. The north reacted. Igbos in the north were attacked and thousands were killed. In July 1967 there was a second coup staged by junior northern military officers. Many Igbo officers were killed in this coup. This redressed the balance of power in favour of the north and brought Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon to power. From this time the Igbo leaders wanted secession, and this demand was further fuelled by a second wave of massacres of the Igbos in September 1967. Having lost confidence in the Nigerian political system, more than one million Igbos from all parts of the country fled to their homeland. Attempts at striking a compromise with the Igbos failed and on 30 May 1967, the former Eastern Region was declared an independent sovereign state of Biafra by Lieutenant-Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu. Civil war broke out between Nigerian and Biafran forces and ended only in January 1970 with Biafra's surrender.
Despite the massive wealth generated by Nigeria's oil industry in the 1970s, political unrest continued. In 1975 General Gowon was overthrown. His successor, General Murtala Mohammed, initiated a number of political reforms, but was killed in an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1976. Lieutenant-General Olusegun Obasanjo succeeded him. In mid-1976 the military government appointed the Aguda Panel to look at alternatives for reform. The panel recommended that the federal capital be moved from Lagos to Abuja and that seven new states be created. In 1979 a general election was held. Shehu Shagari, leader of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), won the presidential elections in 1979 (and again in 1983). General Obasanjo handed over power to Shehu Shagari and he became President of the Second Republic, inaugurated in October 1979.
The inauguration of the Second Republic was preceded by the adoption a new constitution entitled 'The 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria'. The 1979 constitution introduced the presidential system of government, and stated that 'Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of states and Federal Capital Territory' (Section 2(2)). The 1979 constitution recognized local governments as constituting the third tier of government within the Nigerian federation, with defined functions.
In December 1983, citing corruption and economic inefficiency, the military overthrew the civilian government. Another coup by military leaders occurred in 1985 and Major General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida took over. Babangida announced that he would allow the country to return to civilian rule but then annulled the results of the June 1993 presidential elections. An interim national government (ING) was implemented by the military. (This is usually referred to in official circles in Nigeria as the 'Third Republic'.) The suspended 1979 constitution was to be reviewed during this period.
During this time the National Assembly was revived with limited powers and there were some elections for government officials. Babingida's government was overthrown in November 1993 by General Sani Abacha who then dissolved the National Assembly and dismissed all elected officials. Abacha died suddenly in June 1998 and General Abdulsalam Abubakar became President. Abubakar announced that elections would be held, and in 1999 Nigeria elected a civilian government, headed by Olusegun Obasanjo (now a civilian). A new constitution, 'Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999', ushered in the Fourth Republic in May 1999.
Nigeria profile by Festus Nze