Skip to main content

Deconstructing Abacha: Demilitarization and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria after the Abacha Era*

  • Raphael Chijioke Njoku (a1)

As Recent Demilitarization And Democratic Trends World-Wide have shown, the exit of a dictator of the calibre of Abacha (1993–98) in Nigeria may foster a strong desire among successors for transition to a more democratic order. As in Chile after General Augusto Pinochet, and in Spain after Franco, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, who succeeded General Sani Abacha, presided in Nigeria over a programme of transition to civilian rule. This culminated in the election of General Olusegun Obasanjo (retired) in February 1999, and his subsequent official take-over of government in May 1999. However, since new democracies often revert to dictatorships, the new government faces daunting challenges in Nigeria's search for democracy and political stability.

Hide All

I am immensely grateful to the Belgian Administration (ABOS), the Belgian Embassy in Nigeria, and Prof. Kris Deschouwer of the Centrum voor Politicology, Vrije University Brussels, for providing me with the financial and material resources for this study. I am equally indebted to Gary Kynoch, Bridget Gillich and the anonymous reviewers at Government and Opposition for providing helpful contributions.

Hide All

1 Huntington, Samuel P., The Third Wave , London, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.

2 Amuwo, Kunle, ‘The Political Economy of Nigeria’s Local Government Election of December 1998’, Transition in Nigeria, Issue: Journal of Opinion, XXVII:1 (1999), pp. 21–5; Kayode Soremekun, ‘Disguised Tourism and the Electoral Process in Africa: A Study of International Observers and the 1998 Local Government Elections in Nigeria’. Transition in Nigeria, pp. 26–8; Darren Kew, ‘Democrazy-Dem Go Craze, O: Monitoring the 1999 Nigerian Elections’, Transition in Nigeria, pp. 30–2; Amadu Sesay and Charles Ukeje, ‘The West and Elections in Nigeria’, Transition in Nigeria, pp. 34–8.

3 Judith-Ann Walker, ‘Civil Society and Election in Nigeria’, Transition in Nigeria, op. cit., pp. 54–5. See also Olowolabi, Yemi, ‘Born-Again Helmsman: A Trust of Faith Presents Obasanjo with a Second Chance’, Tell , Lagos, 31 05 1999, pp. 2021. General Obasanjo was thrown into gaol by Abacha, following an accusation of plotting a coup in 1994.

4 In an editorial, captioned ‘Nigeria’s Last Chance’, the new democratic government was described as Nigeria’s last opportunity to redeem itself from the inclination towards self-destruction, which has been in motion for four decades. Tell, Lagos, 31 May 1999, p. 16.

5 Huntington, The Third Wave, op. cit., pp. 109–315.

6 Ibid., pp. 40–7.

7 Pinkney, Robert, Democracy in the Third World , Buckingham, Open University Press, 1993, pp. 120–2.

8 Huntington, The Third Wave, op. cit., pp. 582–6.

9 Pinkney, op. cit., pp. 120–1.

10 Huntington, The Third Wave, op. cit., pp. 110–23.

11 Ibid., p. 24.

12 Sorensen, Georg, Democracy and Democratization , Boulder, Colo., Westview Press, 1998, p. 28.

13 Pinkney, op. cit., p. 121.

14 For instance, see Goran Hyden and Donald C. Williams, ‘A Community Model of African Politics: Illustrations from Nigeria and Tanzania’, Society for Comparative Study of Society and History (1994), pp. 68–96; Nnoli, Okwudiba, Ethnic Politics in Nigeria , Enugu, Nigeria, Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1982; Achebe, Chinua, The Trouble with Nigeria , London, Heinemnn, 1983. Achebe reviewed particularly the second republic and came to the conclusion that there is nothing especially wrong with the Nigerian people, their climate or their society, except the inability of its leaders to rise to the challenge of able leadership.

15 Pinkney, op. cit., p. 150.

16 Huntington, The Third Wave, op. cit., 1993, p. 311.

17 Ibid., p. 38. See also Binder, Leonard et al., Crisis and Sequences in Political Development , Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1971, pp. 1217; 1852 and 296.

18 Rustow, Dankwart A., ‘Transition to Democracy,Comparative Politics, 2 (1970), p. 362.

19 Montville, Lijphart, ‘The Power Sharing Approach’, in J. V., Conflict and Peace Making in Multiethnic Societies , Massachusetts, Lexington Books, 1990, p. 494.

20 Binder et al., pp. 58–60; 182–96. For similar views by Huntington, see his guidelines in The Third Wave, op. cit., from pages 138–63.

21 Potter, David et al., Democratization , Cambridge, Polity Press, 1997, pp. 1718.

22 Whitehead, Laurence, ‘The Drama of Democratization’, Journal of Democracy, 10:4 (1999), p. 85.

23 Ibid., p. 85.

24 Turner, Terisa, ‘Commercial Capitalism in Nigeria: The Pattern of Competition’, in Cohen, Dennis L. and Daniel, John (eds), Political Economy of Africa, Selected Readings , London and New York, Longman, 1981, p. 155.

25 Clement Obayuwana, ‘1983 Coup Brought Abacha to Limelight’, Daily Champion, Lagos, 9 June 1998, p. 6. The coup of 1985 was remarkable because of its crafty planning that caught General Tunde Idiagbon hands-down. Many Nigerian political observers had doubted the possibility of such a coup with the personality of Idiagbon as Buhari’s number two man. The former was on a haj to Mecca when his administration was overthrown in 1985.

26 Joseph, Richard A., Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria: The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic , Cambridge and Ibadan, Nigeria, Cambridge University Press and Spectrum Books, 1987 and 1999. See especially pp. 5568; Lewis, Peter, ‘From Prebendalism to Predation: The Political Economy of Decline in Nigeria’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 34:1 (1996), pp. 79103.

27 Post, Kenneth and Vickers, Michael, Structure and Conflict in Nigeria 1960–1966 , London, Heinemann, 1973, pp. 46–9.

28 Joseph, Richard, ‘Africa 1990–1997: From Abertura to Closure’, Journal of Democracy, 9:2 (1998), pp. 34.

29 Mohammed Yusuf, former press secretary to the Chief of General Staff, cited by Edokpayi, B., ‘The Guillotine’, Newswatch , Lagos, 14 09 1987, p. 17. According to the report, the paper was banned for six months. Although its house’s reopening was granted forty days before the expiration of its ban, all pleas for clemency in addition to court actions undertaken by Gani Fawehinme and Olu Onagoruwa (two radical Lagos lawyers and human rights activists) did not change the position of the regime. See also Babarinsa, Dan, ‘The Sword of Damocles’, Newswatch , Lagos, 14 09 1987, p. 20; and Mohammed, Yusuf, ‘The Press as Colossus: Fact or Fallacy?’, Newswatch , Lagos, 14 09 1987, p. 16.

30 For details of Babangida’s schemes to remain in power, see Oyeleye Oyediran, ‘Transition Without End: From Hope to Despair’, proceedings of a paper delivered on Dilemmas of Democracy in Nigeria, at the University of Wisconsin, in November 1995; and Seye Kihinde. ‘Years of the Locust’, The News, Lagos, 18 October 1993, pp. 16–21.

31 Lewis, Peter, ‘Endgame in Nigeria? The Politics of a Failed Democratic Transition’, African Affairs, 93 (1994), pp. 323–46; Claude E. Welch Jr, ‘Civil Military Agonies in Nigeria, Pains of an Unaccomplished Transition’, Armed Forces and Society (Summer 1995), pp. 593–614.

32 Babangida, Muhammed, cited in Post Express , Apapa, Lagos, 28 07 1998, pp. 12.

33 General Abacha, Sani, cited in Post Express , Apapa, Lagos, 28 07 1998, p. 1.

34 Schwarz, Walter, Nigeria , New York, Praeger, 1968, p. 14.

35 Colonel Yakubu Bako, in an Interview with Tell, Lagos, 26 July 1999, pp. 16–20. Bako was among the middle-rank officers who were against the 1993 election annulment.

36 Lewis, Rustow, op. cit., p. 2; also ‘How Does Democracy Come into Existence?’ in P. G. and Potter, D. C. (eds), The Practice of Comparative Politics , Harlow, Longman, 1973, pp. 117–32.

37 See Njoku, Raphael Chijioke, ‘Consociationalism: Its Relevance for Nigeria’, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 5:2 (Summer 1999), p. 8.

38 Kukah, Matthew Hassan, Democracy and Civil Society in Nigeria , Ibadan, Nigeria, Spectrum Books Ltd, 1999, pp. 117–73.

39 See Olowolabi, Yemi, ‘Abacha Declares War on the Opposition: The Crackdown Continues’, Tell , Lagos, 25 05 1998, pp. 22–3, and also Opara, Anthony and Okereke, Uche, ‘Abacha Survived Two Coups’, Daily Champion , Lagos, 9 06 1998, p. 6. Yar’adua and Obasanjo were jointly implicated in the 1995 coup hoax.

40 See Joseph, ‘Africa, 1990–1997: From Abertura to Closure’, op. cit., p. 5. Onyeacholam, Godwin, ‘The Price of Democracy’, The Week , Lagos, 31 05 1999, pp. 813; Tijani, Aminu, ‘Abacha’s Murder Incorporated’, Tell , Lagos, 19 07 1999, pp. 1624.

41 Joseph, ‘Africa, 1990–1997: From Abertura to Closure’, op. cit., p. 4. See also Mikail Mumuni, ‘Lagos: Go Now! Abuja: Go Now!’, Tell, Lagos, 16 March 1998, pp. 22–3.

42 Abati, Rueben, ‘The Nation Versus Abacha’, The Guardian , Lagos, 1 05 1998, p. 29.

43 Ero, Adekunbi et al., citing an unnamed business associate of the late dictator, who wished not to be identified, Tell , Lagos, 22 07 1999, p. 28. See also Orvis, Stephen, who in ‘Chronology of Nigerian Elections’, Transition in Nigeria, Issue: A Journal of Opinion, XXVII:1 (1999), pp. 12, shares the unanimous view that Abacha’s government was the most brutal military administration the country had ever experienced.

44 This was the understanding deduced by Pinkney, who made a critical review of Huntington’s book The Third Wave, in his own very impressive work Democracy in the Third World, op. cit., pp. 120–1.

45 Lijphart, Arend, ‘Power Sharing Approach,’ in Montville, J. V. (eds), Conflict and Peace Making in Multiethnic Societies , Massachusetts, Lexington Books, 1990, pp. 497– 9; Halpern, Sue M., ‘The Disorderly Universe of Consociational Democracy,’ West European Politics, 9:2 (04 1986), p. 182.

46 Kola Olufemi, ‘The Limits of Electoralism’, Transition in Nigeria, op. cit., p. 9. In Nigeria’s political discourses, the term ‘northernization’ represents the notion of moving federal institutions under northern control.

47 Toyo, Eskar, ‘The National Question in Nigeria’, The Guardian , Lagos, 15 11 1998.

48 Gyimah-Boadi, E., ‘The Rebirth of African Liberalism’, Journal of Democracy, 9:2 (1998), p. 21.

49 According to Olufemi, in ‘The Limits of Electoralism’, op. cit., p. 9, the Joint Action Committee of Nigeria ( JACON), a coalition of radical human rights and pro-democracy activists insisted on the imperative of political dialogue and restructuring through dialogue in the form of a national conference.

50 For the gory details on Abacha’s execution team, see Babarinsa, Dare, ‘Echoes from June 12’, Tell , Lagos, 19 07 1999, p. 3; Tijani, Aminu, ‘Abacha’s Murder Incorporated’, Tell , Lagos, 19 07 1999, pp. 1624.

51 Ikporukpo, C. O., ‘Federalism, Political Power, and the Economic Power Game: Conf lict Over Access to Petroleum Resources in Nigeria’, Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 14 (1996), pp. 159–77.

52 On the one hand, Oliver De Coque, Nigeria’s highlife maestro has earned himself the reputation as the most notorious praise-singer for evil men. Between the Babangida and Abacha era, the musicians produced several records, calling the duo the best leaders of Nigeria. On the other hand, there were a few shining exceptions of religious leaders like Hassan Kukah, Abiodun Adetiloye, Bolanle Gbonigi, Tunde Bakare and some Nigerian Catholic Bishops and priests, who stood behind the people in the heat of opposition against Abacha. See Babarinsa, Dare, ‘The Gun and the Pulpit’, Tell , Lagos, 25 05 1998, p. 3; and Gbonigi’s, Bishop radical interview granted to Tell , Lagos, 25 05 1998, pp. 1221. In the interview which was published barely two weeks before the death of Abacha, the Anglican bishop did not entertain the slightest hesitation in declaring that the dictator was a ‘ruthless, heartless and a thoroughly wicked man & a man without a human touch at all’.

53 Oka Orewa, G., We Are All Guilty: The Nigerian Crisis , Ibadan, Nigeria, Spectrum Books Limited, 1997. My present study on African issues is taking an approach of the investigation into the psychological and moral conditions of African leaders and the nature of their various societies. Ayandele, E. A. in his book, The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria 1842–1914 , London, Longmans, 1966, pp. 329–45, had raised the notion that the kind of education, combined with the inf luence of foreign ideology, brought some amount of positive as well as negative inf luences on the post-independent generation of Africans. The persistance of social ills in the African continent calls for further studies in this direction into the causes of much societal maladjustment which has kept the African continent perpetually underdeveloped.

54 The surveys are extracts from a preliminary study on ‘The Social Psychology of an Aspiring Democracy.’ [Raphael Njoku, Working Paper, Lagos, 1998].

55 See Richard Joseph, ‘Africa, 1990–1997: From Abertura to Closure’, op. cit., pp. 8–9. Bratton, Michael, ‘Second Elections in Africa,’ Journal of Democracy , 9:3 (1998), p. 58.

56 Soyinka, Wole, cited by Graham Fraser in ‘Nobel Laureate Lauds Federalism’s Ordinariness’, The Globe and Mail , Toronto, 8 10 1999, p. 4.

57 Amuwo, op. cit., in pp. 21–5 contends that the distortion of the political landscape by the military cannot be checked by advertised elections, controlled by big money. See also Enemuo, Francis C., ‘Elite Solidarity, Communal Support, and the 1999 Presidential Election in Nigeria’, Transition in Nigeria, Issue: A Journal of Opinion, XXVII:1 (1999), pp. 34. Olufemi, op. cit., p. 8.

58 Amuwo, pp. 21–4; Soremekun, op. cit., pp. 26–37.

59 Joseph, ‘Africa: 1990–1997: From Abertura to Closure’, op. cit., p. 4. According to the author, ‘virtual democracy’ is defined as those transitions that are marked by co-option of rival parties, and in which the result of the transition is by recalcitrance and piecemeal reforms. The overall objective is to present a mere visual notion of democracy, in conformity to foreign pressures to democratize.

60 Schirmer, op. cit., p. 839.

61 Huntington, Samuel P., ‘Reforming Civil–Military Relations’, Journal of Democracy, 6:4 (1995), p. 10.

62 Ibrahim, Jubril, ‘Political Transition, Ethnoregionalism, and the “Power Shift” Debate in Nigeria’, Transition in Nigeria, Issue: A Journal of Opinion, XXVII:1 (1999), p. 15.

63 Lincoln, Joshua, ‘The “President” Federation: Nigeria and Its Federal Future’, in Transition in Nigeria, Issue: A Journal of Opinion, XXVII:1 (1999), pp. 1720; see also Ibrahim, op. cit., p. 15. The Hausa-Fulani oligarchy had persuaded the northern citizens, who altogether constitute about 53 per cent of the population of Nigeria, not to put up a candidate in the 1999 presidential election, which saw two southern Yoruba candidates, Messrs Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae standing in the election.

64 A World Bank Communiqué cited in Body and Soul, 3 August 1999, pp. 12–14. See also Africa Recovery 13:1, ( June 1999), pp. 11–12.

65 Child, James W., ‘Can Libertarianism Sustain a Fraud Standard’, Ethics, 104 ( 07 1994), pp. 722–38.

66 For detailed documentation on the level of corruption presided over by Abubakar’s regime of less than one year, see Babarinsa, Dare, ‘A Looter Continua’, Tell , Lagos, 7 06 1999, p. 3; and for a deeper insight into how Babangida’s regime squandered over $12.2 billion which Nigeria realized during the sharp rise in oil price triggered by the Gulf crisis (1990–91), see Herbst, Jeffrey, ‘Is Nigeria a Viable State?’, The Washington Quarterly, 19:2 (1995), pp. 151–72.

67 Abati, op. cit., (p. 29), identified these negative forces as the dynamics conditioning the minds of new generations in Nigeria. See also Agekameh, Dele, ‘The Killing Field’, Tell , Lagos, 26 07 1999, pp. 22–5.

68 Offi, Steep, ‘To Make or Mar: Ibrahim Salisu Buhari, Speaker of the House of Representatives, is Enmeshed in a Flood of Allegations Bordering on Insincerity. Can he Survive?’, Tell , Lagos, 26 07 1999, pp. 26–7. The embattled former parliamentarian was found guilty of forgery and subsequently fined 2000 Naira.

69 See Mba, George, ‘The President’s First Headache’, Tell , Lagos, 7 06 1999, pp. 22–4. Most conspicuous in the list of the present cabinet are personalities like Theophilus Danjuma, Jerry Gana, Laila Dongoyaro, Muhammed Arzika, Dotun Philips, Dapo Sarumi, Philip Asiodu and Joe Nwodo, among others. Amaechi, Chinyere, in ‘Contending with Political Marginalization’, The Post Express , Lagos, 8 10 1996, p. 17, observed that the exclusion of women from public office was rooted in colonial times and persisted in the contemporary era. See also Kukah, pp. 162–72.

70 Whitehead, op. cit., p. 90.

71 Huntington, , ‘After Twenty Years: The Future of the Third Wave’, Journal of Democracy, 8:4 (1997), p. 6.

72 Sorensen, op. cit., pp. 25–6.

73 ‘Nigeria’s Economy at the Crossroads: New Government Faces a Legacy of Mismanagement and Decay’, Africa Recovery, 13:1 ( June 1999), pp. 12–13.

74 Huntington, ‘After Twenty Years’, op. cit., p. 5.

75 UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 1999 Report, cited in Africa Recovery ( June 1999), p. 12.

76 Potter, op. cit., p. 29.

77 For full details of the ‘The Inevitable Purge’, see Tell, Lagos, 28 June 1999. While the public welcomed the purge by Obasanjo, there was also pressure for a probe into the background individuals like Babangida, and other close friends of the previous military regime. See also Bako, , ‘More Officers Should be Sacked,’ Tell , Lagos, 26 07 1999, pp. 1620.

78 Huntington, The Third Wave, op. cit., p. 231; ‘Reforming Civil–Military Relations’, op. cit., pp. 15–16; and also Pinkney, op. cit., p. 121.

79 Steiner, Jurgen, ‘The Consociational Theory and Beyond,’ Comparative Politics, New York, The City University of New York, 1981, p. 346; Lijphart, Arend, Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration , New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1977.

80 The office of the presidency in Nigeria is modelled on the United States system. The executive is both the Chief of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. These attractions have made the election for the presidency hotly contested.

81 Enemuo, op. cit., pp. 3–4.

82 Shin, Doh Chull, ‘On the Third Wave of Democratization. A Synthesis and Evaluation of Recent Theory and Research’, World Politics, 47 (10 1994), p. 145.

83 Nwankwo, Arthur, in The Igbo Leadership and the Future of Nigeria , Enugu, Nigeria, Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1985, p. 9, argued that Nigerians of all other groups would probably argue on no matter other than their common resentment of the Igbo tribe.

84 Huntington, After Twenty Years, op. cit., p. 11.

85 See Linz, Juan J. and Stepan, Alfred, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post Communist Europe , Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1996, pp. 3ff.

86 Mumuni, Mikail, ‘Obasanjo’s Coat of Many Colours’, Tell , Lagos, 31 05 1999, pp. 28–9.

87 Mainwaring, Scott, ‘The Surprising Resilience of Elected Governments’, Journal of Democracy, 10:3 (1999), p. 102.

88 ‘Nigeria: Back in the Family’, Commonwealth Currents, 2 (1999), p. 6.

89 Przeworski, Adam, in Diamond, Larry, Plattner, Marc, Yun-hum, and Tien, Hugo-mao, Consolidating The Third Wave of Democracies: Themes and Perspectives , Baltimore, MD, The John Hopkins University Press, 1997, p. 297. The $6,000 figure is purchasing power parity to the US dollar.

90 Huntington, After Twenty Years, op. cit., p. 5.

91 Sorensen, op. cit., p. 28.

* I am immensely grateful to the Belgian Administration (ABOS), the Belgian Embassy in Nigeria, and Prof. Kris Deschouwer of the Centrum voor Politicology, Vrije University Brussels, for providing me with the financial and material resources for this study. I am equally indebted to Gary Kynoch, Bridget Gillich and the anonymous reviewers at Government and Opposition for providing helpful contributions.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Government and Opposition
  • ISSN: 0017-257X
  • EISSN: 1477-7053
  • URL: /core/journals/government-and-opposition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed