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Nigeria: Ten years of civilian rule

May 29, 2009

Nigeria marks its first 10 years of unbroken civilian rule on Friday after emerging from nearly three decades of uninterrupted military dictatorship on May 29, 1999.

The political elite in Africa’s top oil producer are rolling out the drums to celebrate the milestone.  And why not?

Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler who won elections in 1999, ended Nigeria’s pariah status and brought Africa’s most populous nation back into the international fold, helping secure an $18 billion debt write-off in 2005.












Power was then transferred to President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007 – the first successful transition from one civilian leader to another since independence from Britain in 1964 – although the election was condemned by observers for widespread rigging.

Soldiers have so far stayed put in their barracks during the historic decade, despite mounting frustrations among ordinary people – most of whom live on less than $2 a day – that their lives are not changing quickly enough for the better.

Cause for celebration, given Nigeria’s post-independence history, when the army exploited such frustrations to truncate the First Republic in 1966 and the Second Republic in 1983.

But while the great and the good celebrate, many ordinary Nigerians feel indifferent about the landmark.

The poorest say democracy has done little to change their standard of living. The huge earnings from Nigeria’s mainstay oil and gas industry are still not improving their lives.

There is much greater freedom of speech and of association, but some say the only tangible change in their daily lives over the past decade has been the arrival of the mobile phone.

Critics say Obasanjo’s high-profile campaign against corruption – the monster that had held Nigeria back for decades – was little more than a weapon against his enemies.

Initial optimism over his tenure gave way to a feeling that he was just as overbearing and kleptocratic as his predecessors.   

Yar’Adua’s assumption of power two years ago was seen as a breath of fresh air, but again Nigerians have been left wondering whether their optimism was misplaced.

 Economic reforms have slowed, infrastructure remains shambolic in large parts of the country and electricity supply remains as intermittent as it was a decade ago, despite Nigeria being the world’s eighth biggest exporter of crude oil.

In moments of desperation, some even wonder if the country was better off under military rule. So where does the truth lie?

How much has Nigeria really changed in the decade since military rule?  Has the country come too far for it to be conceivable that the military could one day take power again, or does democracy still have only a fragile hold on the giant of Africa?


It is amazing to hear the Politicans talking about achievement in th last ten years. The only change the Country has experienced is a backward change (for the worse). Infrastructures have rather gone from bad to worse. I think we should rather celebrate ten years of political intimidation, (s)election rigging and manipulation, we should be ashmaed of ourselves by now. Is it any wonder that Mr. Obama is not coming to Abuja? They should bury their heads in shame.

Posted by Barry Jaga | Report as abusive

Overall, there are substantial changes that have occurred in Nigeria over the last 10 years i.e. the freedom to choose is the greatest one. The country has now a good base to work on and consolidate the system. Democracy and good governance go hand in hand, and it is obvious that the delivery is in sharp contrast to promises from the manifesto. The current leadership is part of the old guard that does not has vision to re-engineer cultural change at the heart of Nigeria failure to deliver. The political paradigm shift has to happen as next step to harness corruption eradication and financial mismanagment. Politic parties methods of candidates selection has to go through major changes to allow ordinary people to get involved as at this stage, the elitism has not gone away from Nigerian politic making political competition impossible.


Nigeria is changing and many thanks to Olusegun Obasanjo for doing his best for the country, the problem of Nigeria cannot be solved overnight and patience is needed especially with the new regime. There are too many negative players who unfortunately are only interested in their selfish vested interests but even they cannot stop the tide of change which is sweeping the world.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

Nigerian wondering if they were better off under military rule !!! Gimme a break.The military was the worst thing that happened to Nigeria.My parents used to tell me that civilian rule no matter how poor is always better than a military regime.I never understood it.How could I? Born in 1978 until 2003 when i migrated to Canada the only kind of leadership i had experienced was military rule.Don’t turn back the clock.

Posted by african princess | Report as abusive

\”Power was then transferred to President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007 – the first successful transition from one civilian leader to another since independence from Britain in 1964\”
The above excerpt from the article \”Nigeria: Ten years of civilian rule\”
posted by by: Tume Ahemba is slightly flawed:Independence from Britain in 1964? Except i have MY history wrong……what happened to 1960? I remember that on Oct. 1, 1960, Nigeria became independent within the Commonwealth of Nations. On October 7 it was admitted to membership in the UN. The first prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, headed a coalition government representing the major parties of the Northern and Eastern regions. The governor-general was Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became president when Nigeria adopted a republican form of government on Oct. 1, 1963.

Posted by Bola-Wola Makinde | Report as abusive

As noted by Bola-Wola Makinde, the independence date for Nigeria was in 1960 and not 1964.

Although, the military rule in Nigeria until 1999 was horrible, I am not sure the civilian rule has brought much welfare to people. The wealth of the country is still as unequally divided as during military rule and not much economic and social development has occurred since then, though civilian rule has managed to keep stability and increase freedom in the country


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