Nigeria is now enjoying the longest period of civilian rule since independence in 1960. The first civilian republic ended in a military coup in 1966, ushering in a devastating civil war and several more military governments. In fact, during the 33-year period from 1966 until the fourth republic came into being in 1999, civilians only governed for four short years. Historically, therefore, the dearth of democratic experience has created enormous challenges to institutionalizing democracy in the Nigerian fourth republic.
The emergence of a democratic Nigeria in May 1999 ended 16 years of consecutive military rule. Olusegun Obasanjo became the steward of a country suffering economic stagnation and the deterioration of most of its democratic institutions. Obasanjo, a former general, was admired for his stand against the Abacha dictatorship. In 2003, President Obasanjo was re-elected in contentious and highly flawed national elections and state gubernatorial elections, which were litigated over 2 years. Since 2006, violence, destruction of oil infrastructure, and kidnappings of primarily expatriates in the oil-rich Niger River Delta intensified as militants demanded a greater share of federal revenue for states in the region, as well as benefits from community development. For many reasons, Nigeria's security services have been unable to respond effectively to the security threat, which is both political and criminal.
In May 2006, the National Assembly soundly defeated an attempt to amend the constitution by supporters of a third presidential term for President Obasanjo [he had first served as President from 1976 to 1979, and then served two terms under the new Fourth Republic]. This measure was packaged in a bundle of what were otherwise non-controversial amendments. Nigeria's citizens addressed this issue in a constitutional, democratic, and relatively peaceful process. The May 2006 defeat by the National Assembly of the third term initiative was the culmination of a number of positive trends in Nigerian democratic development. The concept of a Nigerian nation appeared to have taken root. Moreover, civil society and the public itself had roles in defeating the president’s third term gambit, signifying their growing influence in national politics.
The 17 December 2006 announcement of the landslide victory of Obasanjo's pick as presidential candidate, Umaru Yar'Adua, in the PDP convention seemed inevitable. But Yar'Adua had almost no support base throughout the north and rumors of his history of mental health alienated most Nigerians. While he shared a name with his famous elder brother, that would not entice many Northerners to back him. As well, his political history had been at odds with that of his brother and Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and he seemed unlikely to pick up significant support among Atiku's People's Democratic Movement (PDM) political machine.
In April 2007 Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) was elected to a four-year term as president; the PDP won 70 percent of the seats in the national legislature and 75 percent of the state governorships. The election was marred by what international and domestic observers characterized as massive fraud and serious irregularities, including vote rigging and political violence. Election tribunals, which continued at year's end, contested the results at all levels, resulting in the nullification of nine local-level elections, six senatorial elections, and five gubernatorial elections.
While much reform remained unimplemented, the Yar'Adua administration showed restraint in allowing the legislative and judicial branches to operate relatively freely. In October 2007 Patricia Etteh, the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, resigned over allegations of corruption, after intense legislative and public pressure.
By early 2008 there were reports that President Yar’Adua was ill. His health had already been a problem when he was Katsina governor. According to one story, Yar'Adua began experiencing symptoms of acute renal failure in late 1999. Yar'Adua promptly went on dialysis treatment. Following a 2001 visit to Saudi Arabia, Yar'Adua's condition was said to have worsened, and he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure. It was said that Yar'Adua likely received a kidney transplant in Saudi Arabia in either late 2001 or early 2002. Discoloration was evident on his face at that time, which was assessed was the result of Yar'Adua taking steroids and other medications to enable his body to accept a transplant.
The President's health exacerbated other problems. The northern leadership did not believe that Yar'Adua's health would allow him to serve out his four year term; that would mean that the presidency would pass to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan and to the south, which was anathema to the North. There were also rumors that the military was restive, with vague allusions to some sort of action that would involve retired generals or former military heads of state. Rumors of Yar'Adua's poor health reduced his capacity to govern and, correspondingly, his political influence in the North.
Of significance for Nigeria's system of checks and balances and the rule of law, on November 12, 2008 an appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that approved an opposition party's gubernatorial election appeal, effectively unseating the ruling party's incumbent in favor of the opposition candidate. By a 4-3 vote, Nigeria’s Supreme Court on December 12, 2008 upheld the results of the presidential election and dismissed the appeals of the two other primary contenders.
On November 23, 2009, President Yar’Adua was flown to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for emergency medical treatment. It is said that Yar'Adua suffered from lung cancer, a condition diagnosed as early as April 2008. He was also said to suffer from other ailments, such as liver problems and Churg-Strauss syndrome [a rare granulomatous necrotizing small vessel vasculitis characterized by the presence of asthma, sinusitis, and hypereosinophilia -the cause of this allergic angiitis and granulomatosis is unknown]. On November 26, government officials announced that Yar'Adua is suffering from "acute pericarditis" [a condition in which the sac-like covering around the heart (pericardium) becomes inflamed]. The New York Times later reported that he suffered from kidney and heart ailments.
After a prolonged absence, on February 9, 2010 the Nigerian National Assembly passed a resolution that transmitted presidential power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, giving him the title and responsibilities of Acting President. On March 17, 2010, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan dissolved the country's cabinet, and swore in new cabinet ministers on April 6, 2010. Following the death of President Yar’Adua on May 6, 2010 [at age 58], the Nigerian Chief Justice swore in Goodluck Jonathan as President.
At that time, there was some expectation that a Northerner, possibly the person designated as the new Vice President, would run for President in 2011 and govern for the next four years to maintain the "zonal rotation" between Northern and Southern politicians serving eight years each as President. Yar’Adua was former governor from the country’s Muslim north, while Jonathan was a southerner, as was Obasanjo, who had served two terms prior to the election of Yar’Adua. The unofficial rotation had served the country well in maintaining peace and stability.
But in April 2011 President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who had assumed the presidency in May 2010 following his predecessor’s death, won election to a four-year term, along with Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo, also of the PDP. International and domestic election observers considered the April 2011 presidential, gubernatorial, and legislative elections to be generally credible, orderly, and a substantial improvement over the flawed 2007 elections. However, there were reports of fraud and irregularities, including vote rigging and buying, underage voting, ballot stuffing, and political violence.
Immediately following the presidential election, supporters of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, challenged the outcome of the election. Postelection violence in protest of Jonathan’s victory erupted in the North and in the Middle Belt states, directed towards local grievances and political targets, resulting in loss of lives, property damage, and restrictions on movement. The April 2011 legislative elections produced major changes in the National Assembly, as only an estimated one-third of the incumbents in both houses were reelected, and opposition parties gained many seats. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the results of the presidential election, while the Court of Appeals upheld the results of most other contests in which challenges occurred. While security forces generally reported to civilian authorities, elements of the security forces periodically acted independently of civilian control.
Should President Goodluck Jonathan decide to contest the 2015 presidential election, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will have no choice than to give him the ticket, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, declared 01 August 2013. By then, five northern state governors had been going around the country, ostensibly to stop any attempt by the President to go for a second term in office. The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) insisted that power must return to the region in 2015. But the region has never been united in elections - President Shehu Shagari contested against Mallam Aminu Kano in the 1979 elections and won against all calculations of the North.
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