The Obasanjo Administration
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, his record of returning the federal government to civilian rule in 1979, and his claim to represent all Nigerians regardless of religion.
The new President took over a country that faced many problems, including a dysfunctional bureaucracy, collapsed infrastructure, and a military that wanted a reward for returning quietly to the barracks. The President moved quickly and retired hundreds of military officers who held political positions, established a blue-ribbon panel to investigate human rights violations, ordered the release of scores of persons held without charge, and rescinded a number of questionable licenses and contracts let by the previous military regimes. The government also moved to recover millions of dollars in funds secreted in overseas accounts.
Most civil society leaders and most Nigerians saw a marked improvement in human rights and democratic practice under Obasanjo. The press enjoyed greater freedom than under previous governments. As Nigeria works out representational democracy, there have been conflicts between the executive and legislative branches over major appropriations and other proposed legislation. A sign of federalism has been the growing visibility of state governors and the inherent friction between Abuja and the various state capitols over resource allocation.
In the years following the end of military rule, Nigeria witnessed recurrent incidents of ethno-religious and community conflicts, many of which derived from distorted use of oil revenue wealth, flaws in the 1999 constitution, and age-old disputes over the distribution of land and other resources. In May 1999, violence erupted in Kaduna State over the succession of an Emir, resulting in more than 100 deaths. In November 1999, the army destroyed the town of Odi in Bayelsa State and killed scores of civilians in retaliation for the murder of 12 policemen by a local gang. In Kaduna in February-May 2000 over 1,000 people died in rioting over the introduction of criminal Shar'ia in the state. Hundreds of ethnic Hausa were killed in reprisal attacks in southeastern Nigeria. In September 2001, over 2,000 people were killed in inter-religious rioting in Jos. In October 2001, hundreds were killed and thousands displaced in communal violence that spread across the Middle-Belt states of Benue, Taraba, and Nasarawa.
On October 1, 2001, President Obasanjo announced the formation of a National Security Commission to address the issue of communal violence. In 2003, he was re-elected in contentious and highly flawed national elections and state gubernatorial elections, which were litigated over two years. Since 2006, violence, destruction of oil infrastructure, and kidnappings of primarily expatriates in the oil-rich Niger River Delta have 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. 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.
civil society and the public itself had roles in defeating the president’s third term gambit, signifying their growing influence in national politics. These roles were facilitated by new technologies of communication, such as cell phones, cable TV, text messaging and web sites. For perhaps the first time since 1999, legislators felt compelled to consult with their constituents and to vote as the public wished (84 percent were against the third term amendments), even though the presidency was reportedly offering $1 million bribes to each member of the National Assembly who voted in favor of the amendment package. Private television companies provided live coverage of the debates in the Assembly, and newspapers published lists of which legislators were for or against the measures.
Although the third term effort clouded other aspects of his presidency during late 2005-2006, President Obasanjo must be credited for implementing a range of important reforms since 2003. His introduction of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in late 2003 breathed new life into the anticorruption agenda. Yet corruption was still the stock-in-trade of Nigerian democracy, rooted in the centralized, clientelistic nature of politics.
Nigeria held state legislative and gubernatorial elections on 14 April 2007 as well as presidential and national legislative elections on April 21, 2007, in which more than 35 political parties participated. Nigeria missed an opportunity to strengthen an element of its democracy through a sound electoral process. Analysis of the process by most international observers did not conform to what Nigeria's National Electoral Commission (INEC) reported. US and international observers reported overall a seriously flawed process with credible reports of malfeasance and vote rigging in some constituencies. The scope of violence that occurred also was regrettable.
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