Nigeria became independent from the United
Kingdom in 1960. Ethnic and religious tensions
contributed to the collapse of democracy in 1966. In a
civil war that raged from 1967 to 1970, over a million
people died, most of them starvation. Decades were then
marked by coups and military regimes. At the same time,
oil recovery accelerated and came to dominate the
economy. Democracy was reinstated in 1999 and in 2007
the first peaceful change of power took place between
two elected presidents. However, democracy is fragile;
the regional contradictions remain great and unrest is
on independence on October 1, 1960, Nigeria was a
federation between three regions with significant
autonomy: the northern, eastern and western regions. The
Prime Minister was Tafawa Balewa from the Northern
Nigerian party NPC, who ruled in conjunction with the
Igbo party NCNC (see Older history). When Nigeria became
a republic in 1963, NCNC leader Nnamdi Azikiwe was
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Nigeria. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
Despite the co-government, the contradictions between
peoples groups and regions worsened during the first
half of the 1960s. Smaller ethnic groups feared being
dominated by the three big ones - Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba
and Igbo (see Population and Languages). Among them, the
tension was particularly strong between the Muslim
Hausa-Fulani and the Christian Igbo. Many Nigerians,
especially in the north, disliked the Igbo's having
prominent management and business services.
In January 1966, a group of army officers, most of
whom were igloos, staged a coup. Prime Minister Balewa
was killed. In July of that year, officers from Northern
Nigeria conducted a counter-coup. In the fall, the
igbomorinity was persecuted in the north; tens of
thousands were killed and close to a million fled to the
Igbo people's area of origin in the eastern region.
The contradictions and the Igbo people's sense of
vulnerability contributed to the May 1967 military
governor of the Eastern region proclaiming the
independent state of Biafra.
Civil war breaks out
The Declaration of Independence led to civil war.
Initially, Biafra's forces of success were successful.
But the federal resources greater resources soon took
their right. When the federal troops cut ties with the
ocean, Biafra suffered a massive famine disaster. Biafra
capitulated in January 1970. By then, around 100,000
soldiers and at least one million civilians, most of
them children, had lost their lives.
After the Civil War, Nigeria's government was
centralized. The rebuilding was fast, thanks to oil
revenues. The central government was able to distribute
well-paid jobs among the guiding elites of the ruling
elite. Military leader Yakubu Gowon, who has been in
power since 1966, was overthrown in 1975. The following
year, the new military leader who was succeeded by Army
Chief of Staff Olusegun Obasanjo was murdered. Now the
long-promised return to democracy began. Exceptions were
revoked, parties were allowed again and Obasanjo had a
new constitution drawn up with the presidential board.
The Constitution came into force in 1979.
Obasanjo became the first military leader to
voluntarily relinquish power when elections were held in
1979. Shehu Shagari was elected Nigeria's first
president with executive power. Shagari initiated a
development program to be financed with oil revenues,
but falling oil prices led to crises and unrest.
Nevertheless, Shagari was re-elected in 1983.
At the turn of the year 1983/84 Shagari was
overthrown and the military led by General Muhammadu
Buhari regained power. The regime banned political
parties and imprisoned political opponents. In August
1985 Buhari was deposed and General Ibrahim Babangida
took power in a bloodless coup. He initiated
market-liberal reforms and promised a return to civilian
rule. However, the religious and ethnic contradictions
did not subside. The long-term decline in the economy
contributed to the unrest in the 1980s.
Nigeria's capital was moved from Lagos in Yorubaland
to Abuja in 1991 on more neutral land in the middle of
the country. The decision to relocate had been made in
The return to civilian rule was postponed several
times, but in June 1993 presidential elections were
held. However, the two parties that had to stand were
formed by the regime. Before the vote count was
completed, Babangida intervened and declared the
election invalid due to irregularities. According to the
semi-final result, Muslim Yoruba politician Moshood
Abiola would have won. Most observers considered the
election to be correct.
The suspended presidential election received sharp
criticism from abroad, and the military regime's
position became increasingly untenable. Babangida
resigned and a transitional government was commissioned
to prepare a new presidential election. Abiola's
supporters, however, demanded that he be allowed. Trade
union action for Abiola and against gasoline price
increases contributed to political chaos.
In November 1993, General Sani Abacha resigned the
transitional government and introduced full military
rule with himself as supreme leader.
Arrest leads to demonstrations
When Abiola declared in June 1994 to be the country's
president, he was arrested. This led to demonstrations,
strikes and protests, even abroad. Several regime
critics were arrested, including the internationally
known writer Ken Saro-Wiwa. He led a campaign among the
Ogoni people, which demanded increased self-government
for their area in the oil-rich Niger Delta, greater
share of oil income and a halt to environmental
degradation in the delta (see Natural Resources, Energy
and the Environment).
Following an alleged coup attempt in 1995, a large
number of people were arrested, including former leader
Obasanjo. The opposition in exile made Abacha more
difficult to access. The volatile Nobel laureate in
literature Wole Soyinka formed a national liberation
council in 1995 that sought to get the outside world to
impose sanctions on Nigeria. When Ken Saro-Wiwa and
eight other ogonians were executed after a parodic trial
in November 1995, the condemnations became massive in
the outside world. Nigeria was suspended from the
Commonwealth (Britain and the former British colonies)
and some sanctions were introduced.
In June 1998, General Abacha died suddenly in a heart
attack. Abacha was later identified as one of the most
corrupt leaders in world history.
A political thunderstorm followed. Hundreds of
political prisoners were eventually released, including
Obasanjo. Juntan also talked about releasing Abiola, but
before that happened he also died in a heart attack. The
news shocked the nation. Many were killed in crows when
Abiola's Yoruba tribesmen attacked home groups.
Parliamentary elections were held in February 1999.
Only three parties met the requirements of sufficient
ethnic and regional breadth to be eligible. They were
the right-wing Whole People's Party (APP, after 2002
renamed the Whole Nigeria People's Party, ANPP), the
middle-ranking People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the
Left Party Alliance for Democracy (AD). The PDP won by
far more than half of the votes.
Military rule is over
In the presidential election a week later, the PDP
candidate Obasanjo won. The change of power set the
point for 15 years of military rule, dominated by
officers from Northern Nigeria. Obasanjo was a Christian
Yoruba from the south, albeit with a military past.
The new political freedom also opened to increased
crime and sharpened ethnic contradictions. The gangs
collapsed in the big cities, and in other places various
groups fought for land rights, among other things.
Sabotage against oil installations and kidnapping of oil
workers in the Niger Delta became more and more common.
A threat to Nigeria's fragile unity arose when the
states of northern Nigeria decided to introduce Islamic
Sharia law (see Religion). Several thousand people were
killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians during
the first decade of the millennium.
The Sharia Laws were a hotly debated topic in the
electoral movement before the 2003 elections, when
Obasanjo and PDP were re-elected with a satisfactory
majority. Unrest characterized the election and cheating
undoubtedly occurred, but it was not considered to have
affected the outcome of the presidential election.
Violence continued to shake several states.
Particularly troubled was the Plateau where many
casualties were required in the conflict between
Christians and Muslims. In the Niger Delta, the attacks
on oil plants and foreign oil workers gradually
escalated. From 2006, a previously unknown group took on
many acts of violence. The group of ijaw rebels called
themselves the Movement for the Liberation of the Niger
Delta (Mend). The attacks began to have serious
financial consequences (see Natural Resources and
Prior to the next election, attempts were made to
change the constitution so that Obasanjo could stand for
a third term. But the Senate stopped the proposal, which
many saw as a victory for democracy. Instead, the PDP
presidential candidate became a Muslim governor from the
north, Umaru Yar'Adua. Despite continued violence, the
electoral movement was dominated by issues of corruption
and abuse of power.
PDP wins big
In the elections held in April 2007, Yar'Adua won
with 70 percent of the vote and in the election to the
National Assembly, the PDP secured its own majority in
both chambers. Violent clashes and extensive cheating
were made in connection with the elections. The Election
Commission was criticized for bias and incompetence, and
a number of sub-elections had to be redone.
Despite the complaints, the change of power could be
carried out in orderly form in May 2007. Yar'Adua made
it clear that he wanted to seek a political solution to
the unrest in the Niger Delta. The guerrilla group Mend
then announced a ceasefire, and the authorities released
a jailed ijaw leader. But the ceasefire was broken
already in August.
For the next two years, Mend continued his attacks.
On several occasions a truce was announced; at one point
it lasted for four months. At other times, Mend
threatened with war. Oil installations were attacked,
pipelines exploded and foreign oil workers kidnapped.
Generally, they were kidnapped after a short time for
large ransoms, but some deaths were required in the
attacks. The armed actions led to serious disruptions to
the oil industry and major loss of income for the state.
Rebels put down weapons
In June 2009, the government promised amnesty and
cash in exchange for disarmament. Mend, who was
considered to be hard-pressed by military
counter-offensive, largely accepted the deal. Amnesty
led to several thousand rebels, including the most
important leaders, giving up their weapons in a few
The unrest in the Niger Delta was perceived as the
greatest threat to the state due to the economic losses,
but at the same time the violence increased further
north. The area around the city of Jos in the state of
Plateau in central Nigeria was especially a concern. In
November 2008, Jos was shaken by the bloodiest discharge
between Christians and Muslims since 2001. Around 400
people died and thousands fled their homes away from
clashes between gangs that set churches and mosques on
In the north, Muslim leaders had also warned of an
extreme movement known as the "Taliban" or Boko Haram.
The group, which initially emerged as a bizarre sect,
wanted to ban Western education and introduce sharia
throughout Nigeria (compare Religion). In July 2009,
Boko Haram carried out armed attacks for the first time
against police stations and public buildings in four
northern states. In Borno, battles raged for several
days between security forces and the members of the
movement. Leader Mohammed Yusuf died in unclear
circumstances after being arrested in his hometown of
Maiduguri. Up to 1,000 people were killed in the
President Yar'Adua's health caused concern for
political instability. Rumors already existed in 2008
that he would resign, or that he had already died. In
November 2009, he went to Saudi Arabia for care and then
never appeared in public again. Nigeria ended up in a
power vacuum when Yar'Adua did not surrender its powers
to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. The disagreement
was also great within the PDP government party on how to
handle the situation.
The ceasefire is broken
Yar'Adua's absence further contributed to the ongoing
peace process with Mend losing control speed. In January
2010, the guerrilla leadership announced that the
ceasefire would be broken, in protest that the
government had failed to fulfill its part of the
agreement. During the first months of the year, nearly
1,000 people were also killed in new attacks and revenge
attacks between Christians and Muslims in the area
In February, the National Assembly appointed Jonathan
as acting president. Jonathan, a Christian ijaw and
former governor of the Bayelsa state in the Niger Delta,
soon replaced large parts of the government. On May 5,
it was reported that Yar'Adua, who had returned to
Nigeria, had died. The next day, Jonathan swore the oath
as the country's president.
A major question mark on Jonathan's entry was whether
he would run for president a year later. The issue was
sensitive because of mistrust between Muslims in
Northern Nigeria and Christians in the South. Jonathan
was a Christian Nigerian; many in the PDP felt that the
party's candidate should be a Muslim from the north
because Yar'Adua would have been the party's candidate
if he did not die.
However, when the PDP held primary elections in
January 2011, Jonathan won by a good margin. In the
April general election, he won the first round, with 59
percent of the vote. In the election to the National
Assembly, the PDP retained its majority in both
chambers, despite the party losing mandate. Before and
in connection with the election days, it was calmer than
at the previous election, and the accusations of
cheating were fewer. But when Jonathan's victory was
announced, bloody riots broke out in the north and
hundreds of people were killed.
Boko Haram increasingly violent
From the summer of 2011 Boko Haram increased its
violent actions and the group now began to use suicide,
which was new to Nigeria. In August, 23 people died when
a suicide bomber struck the UN's local headquarters in
Abuja. Over 100 died in attacks and battles around
Christmas, and in January 2012, 185 people were killed
in one day in coordinated blast attacks against churches
The Islamists continued to terrorize villages and
towns in northeastern Nigeria. The government and the
army showed an almost complete inability to fight the
Islamists. The violence that had already claimed several
thousand lives was sharply escalated in 2014 when around
10,000 civilians are estimated to have fallen victim to
the violence. Many were also robbed and boys were forced
to fight while girls were held as sex slaves. The
outside world caught the eye of the extreme group
ravages when over 200 schoolgirls were robbed of a
boarding school in Chibok.
By the end of the year, the UN estimated that 1.5
million people had been driven from their homes, more
than half of them in the past six months. Around 100,000
had sought refuge in neighboring countries.
By then, Boko Haram had begun to take control of
cities and entire areas in the Northeast, and to carry
out acts of violence even across the borders. This
contributed to the military launching a
counter-offensive against the extremist group in
collaboration with Niger, Chad and Cameroon.