Country Listing

Nigeria Table of Contents




View of downtown Jos, a leading northern city
Courtesy Orlando E. Pacheco


Apapa, a major seaport near Lagos
Courtesy Embassy of Nigeria, Washington

In most developing countries, there is a disruption of the civil-military equilibrium usually assumed in liberal democracies. In liberal tradition, the military is insulated from politics and subject to civilian control. In several developing countries, however, the military has not only intervened in the political process and overthrown the constitutional civilian authority, but it also often has established its supremacy over elected politicians. Even in those countries where the military has become almost a permanent feature of politics, military rule is still considered an aberration and symptomatic of a malfunctioning political system. In Nigeria, which typifies the scenario just presented, military rule was usually seen as a "rescue" operation necessary to save the country from civilian ineptitude. Military rule was not expected to last long; once the rescue operation was complete, the military should return to the barracks where they belonged and leave the governing to civilian politicians. The problem, however, was that although military officers accepted this rationale, military rule usually became self-sustaining.

From the onset of independent government in Nigeria in 1960 to the end of 1990, the military had ruled for twenty-one years. Altogether there were five coups d'état involving changes of government: those of January 15, 1966; July 29, 1966; July 29, 1975; December 31, 1983; and August 27, 1985. There was also an unsuccessful coup in which the head of state, General Murtala Muhammad, was killed in February 1976, and another was nipped in the bud in December 1985. An attempt to overthrow General Ibrahim Babangida was made in April 1990. Of these coups, only those of January 1966 and December 1983 were against civilian governments. Several explanations of military intervention have been added to those given by the coup plotters themselves. Whereas the latter have cited economic mismanagement and corruption, other explanations have ranged from the continuation of ethnoregional politics by military means to the personal ambitions of officers.

Data as of June 1991