NIGERIA: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
Nigeria is a Federal Republic composed of 36 States, and a Capital Territory, with an elected President and a Bi-cameral Legislature. It operates the Presidential system of Government with three distinct but complementary arms namely the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, each acting as a check on the other two.
The Executive arm of Government, at the Federal level, consists of the President, the Vice-president and other members of the Federal Executive Council, while at the State level, it is made up of the Governor, the Deputy Governor and other members of the State Executive Council.
The Legislature is equally found at the Federal and State levels. The Federal Legislature comprises a 109- member Senate and a 360-member House of Representatives. The two, combined, is known as the National Assembly (the equivalent of the American Congress). At the State level, the Legislature is known as the House of Assembly.
The President, The Governor, their Deputies, as well as members of the Legislature at both Federal and State levels are elected, under the present constitution, for four years, renewable only once. The Senate President is the Head of the Federal Legislature.
The Judiciary interpretes the laws and adjudicates in conflicts between the Executive and the Legislature. It carries out these functions through the various established courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court of the land, followed by the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, Magistrate Court, Area Court and Customary Court.
Long before the creation of the entity called Nigeria, the various peoples that existed independently then had established their own indigenous systems of administration. There were recognized political entities such as the Benin Empire, Kanem Bornu Empire, Sokoto Caliphate, Oyo Empire, to mention a few. The Empires and Kingdoms had established contact with one another and with other peoples, through trading activities.
Earlier in the 19th Century, the British had conquered the different parts of the present Nigeria at different times, and established control and authority over them. These areas were grouped into Protectorates namely Lagos, Niger Coast (also known as Oi1 River Protectorate), and the Northern Protectorate. For ease of administration and control, the Northern Protectorate, and the Southern Protectorate (made up of Lagos and Niger Coast) were amalgamated in 1914 by the British. Thus come into existence the country presently known as NIGERIA.
As time went on, British colonial rule, with its attendant alienation and subjugation of the indigenous people, resulted in agitation for self-government. The history of Nigeria was therefore dominated by 'struggle for freedom' between 1922 and 1959. Notable Nigerians like Sir Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Nnnmdi Azikwe, Chief Sire Ahmadou Bello, Chief Anthony Enahoro, to mention but a few, are known as the founders and fathers of Nigerian NATIONALISM.
Given this struggle, the British gave some concessions to Nigerians. This gave rise to the series of constitutions that come into existence, to assuage the feelings of the people. The constitutions included the Clifford Constitution of 1922, the Richards Constitution of 1946, the Macpherson Constitution of 1951, and the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954.
Although, with these constitutions, Nigerians were allowed limited contributions in the affairs of their own land, this could not stop the continuous clamour for total independence from colonial rule which had engendered social sufferings, as well as discrimination in the areas of employment, education, health, creational facilities, coupled with unjust and high taxation.
On 1st October 1960, Nigeria became self-governing from British colonial rule and was administered at the center by the Federal government and three regions Governments in the East, West and North of the country. In 1963, the Midwest Region was carved out of the Western Region making a federation of four Regions. During this First Republic, a parliamentary system of government was in operation. This lasted till January 1966.
The first military intervention in Nigeria occurred in January 1966 when the civilian government was overthrown in a military coup. This effectively marked the beginning and succession of military governments in the nation's political history. Military-rule continued till 1979 when the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to the civilian government of President Shehu shagari.
In the second Republic of President Shehu shagari, Nigeria adopted the Presidential system of government with an Executive President as the Head of the Federal Government. The administration was in power until 1983 when it was overthrown in a coup and the military once again come into governance. Nigeria again witnessed another round of military governments until 1993 when General Ibrahim Babaginda the head of the military government, put in place an interim civilian administration charged with conducting elections. This interim administration lasted for only three months when it was replaced in a palace coup by the military. The new military administration was headed by General Sani Abacha.
General Sani Abacha's Government ruled the country from 1993 to 1998 when the Head of State suddenly died in June 1998. It must be pointed out that during this particular regime, Nigeria faced tremendous opposition from the International Community over human rights abuses, culminating in Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth. Indeed, at this period, Nigeria was treated like a pariah nation, tolerated only by a few and abandoned by other countries, including her traditional allies like Britain and Canada.
With the sudden death of General Abacha in June 1998 General Abdulsalami Abubakar headed the new military administration, and was immediately confronted with the Herculean task of drawing Nigeria back from the brink of collapse and restoring her image. Admirably, this administration rose up to the occasion. The issue of human rights abuses was immediately addressed with the release of all political detainees and prisoners. The Government also announced and implemented a political transition program that ushered in a new civilian government in May 1999. Precisely in less than one year. Thus, General Abubakar administration was able to restore democracy back in Nigeria. Within that period too, Nigeria gradually regained her voice in the comity of nations. The administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was inaugurated on May 29, 1999. Simultaneously, executive governors were also sworn-in in the 36 states constituting the present Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In the Presidential System of Government that is now in place, there is a National Assembly (equivalent of US Congress) comprising two clambers namely the Senate and House of Representatives. There is a State Assembly in each of the 36 States. Also there are 774 local governments throughout the Federation representing the third-tier of government.
It is evident from the above political history that the military had dominated power for close to 30 years. The country is still undergoing a learning process and will continue to strive to nurture democracy and all its institutions to full development. The nation has come to accept that civilian democracy is the form of government that can guarantee full participation by the entire citizenry, ensure good governance, rapid progress and socio-economic development.
Since democracy was restored in the country there has been a gradual and impressive transformation of the political landscape. In 1999 only 3 political parties contested elections in Nigeria. But in 2003, 25 new political parties were registered by the national Electoral body, bringing to 28 the number of political parties that contested the 2003 elections.
The key test to the political future of Nigeria still lies in an enduring civilian governance. Elections conducted by civilian administration in 1965 mad 1983 had failed and led to military interventions. Nigerians are, therefore, now strongly determined, more than ever, to lay a solid foundation for an enduring democracy that would be the pride of future generations of Nigerians. The present civilian government has shown its commitment to even development of the country and cases of marginalization in certain parts of the country.
Today, Nigeria enjoys peace inspire of periodic crises, because consultation in handling issues. The administration is determined to transform the country, in line with democratic principles, into a land of opportunity, equity, of government's use of dialogue and progress and prosperity for all.