The history of the political crisis in Nigeria today stems from the need to control power at the center by the various regions in the country. Starting from the Kano riot of 1953 to date, the root causes of this political crisis still boils down to discrimination which led to the civil war that saw millions of people lose their lives.
These political crises have ravaged, claimed lives and led to property loss over the years. In this post, we look at all the major political crises in Nigeria, what led to them and their implications.
Here are the major crisis in Nigeria, the causes and implications.
1. Kano Riot of 1953
Chief Anthony Enahoro on 1st April 1953 had tabled a motion in the federal house of representatives that the house accepts ’as a primary political objective the attainment of self-government for Nigeria in 1956’. The motion was seen by northern delegates who were not then ready for self-rule, as an instrument of coercion. Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto who was the NPC leader, confirmed that the North was not ready for self-government and amended the motion to ’that the house accepts as a primary political objective the attainment of self-government for Nigeria as soon as practicable’.
The southern leaders were embittered and walked out of the assembly. The news of the development quickly spread round Lagos and so, when the northern leaders emerged from business, they met a very hostile crowd outside who insulted them through jeering and booing. The northern leaders resolved not to come back to Lagos or the south generally, for legislative business.
Later, the Action Group sent a delegation headed by Chief S.L. Akintola to explain to the northerners the need for expedited self-rule and to mobilize support for the same. The northerners saw this as a further insult and invasion of their homeland, thus the hostile reception at Kano where the AG delegation first stopped, and developments which led to the Kano riots of 16 to 19 May 1953 between the Hausa-Fulani on one hand and the southern Yoruba and Igbo on the other hand. At least thirty-six people were killed in the fracas.
The event made the British secretary of state for the colonies pronounce on 21 May 1953 in the British house of commons that ’recent events in Nigeria have shown that it is not possible for the regions to work together effectively in a federation that is closely knit’. Thus there was a review of the Macpherson Constitution to give greater autonomy to each region and less centralization.
Another implication of the riot was the ’eight-point programme’ passed on 24 May 1953, by the joint northern house of assembly and the house of chiefs which would have led to the secession of Northern Region if implemented.
2. Census crisis of 1962/63
One of the crises that threatened to tear Nigeria apart was the census crisis of 1962 to 1963. After the 1952/53 census, 312 seats in the house of representatives were allocated, giving the North 174 seats, East 73 seats, West 62 seats and Lagos 3 seats. Thus the North controlled a majority in the house with the number of seats greater than that of the South combined.
The East and West felt uncomfortable in the arrangement and believed the North was not so populous and that allocation on reliable population figures would redress the situation. The census of May 1962 was then considered a solution. The result of the census showed the population of both the East and West increasing over the 1952/53 figures by about 70 percent each while the North increased by only 30 percent. The results were regarded to be largely unreliable. This led to their cancellation after the federal parliament failed to sit for three days.
Another census was conducted in November 1963 and when the results were released in February 1964, the North had 29.8 million, the East 12.4 million and the West (including the Mid-West) 12.8 million. The Northern and Western Region leaders accepted the figures as correct. However, the government of Eastern and Mid-Western Regions, as well as many educated southerners, rejected the result, some by violent protests.
The prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, declared the results as satisfactory. The Eastern Region government contested the results at the Supreme Court, asking for its nullification, an action that was dismissed, leaving the 1963 census figures the reference point for some three decades afterward.
3. The Action Group crisis (1962)
Chief Obafemi Awolowo left the premiership of the Western Region in 1959, to contest federal elections at the house of representatives, hoping he would become prime minister if his party won the election. Chief S.L. Akintola then became premier. The Action Group, however, lost the federal election and Awolowo became an opposition leader while remaining as the party chairman with Akintola as his deputy. Later, there was a personality clash between the two leaders.
Factors responsible for the Action Group crisis of 1962
The personality clash between Awolowo and Akintola was the main cause of the Action Group (AG) crisis. After becoming leader of opposition in the federal house of representatives, Awolowo wanted to still have overall say in policies, programmes and key appointments in the Western Region, a situation Akintola opposed. Thus while Akintola saw Awolowo as a usurper, Awolowo saw him as an inordinately ambitious man, interested in taking over party leadership from him.
Furthermore, Awolowo had introduced an ideology of democratic socialism in the West. This policy which involved the state’s participation in business enterprises was not welcome by Akintola and conservative capitalists within the party. Another reason was that while Akintola, Ayo Rosiji and some others favoured the AG’s working together with the NPC controlled federal government, Awolowo was against this and preferred cooperating with the NCNC towards removing the NPC from power.
In the acrimonies ensuing from these disagreements, the AG held an annual congress in February 1962 where the post of deputy leader was abolished and Akintola dismissed from premiership through the instrumentality of the Western Region governor, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife who appointed D.S. Adegbenro, parliamentary leader as new premier.
Back home, Akintola also announced the removal of the Governor, Sir Adesoji Aderemi and replaced him with Chief Odeleye Fadahunsi.
Predictably, there was pandemonium in the Western Region house when the legislators met to discuss decisions of the Jos convention and ensuing developments. There was so much breakdown of law and order that the legislative chamber had to be sealed up, and a state of emergency declared by the federal government. Dr M.A. Majekodunmi was appointed administrator of the Western Region.
In the ensuing federal government actions, supporters of both Awolowo and Akintola were incarcerated, but those of the latter were soon released. The state of emergency also elapsed in six months with Akintola reinstated as premier. A commission of enquiry set up under Justice G.B.A. Coker as chairman found Awolowo guilty of financial impropriety but acquitted Akintola. Awolowo was also tried and convicted of treasonable felony and committed to prison.
Back to office as premier, Akintola formed a new party, the United Progressive Party (UPP) which joined with some members of the NCNC to evolve the Nigerian National Democratic Party under which Akintola ruled in the latter part of his premiership.
Implications of the Action Group crisis of 1962-63
The Action Group was weakened at all levels. It no longer had any power in the federal legislature, and factions emerged at the regional level with no common voice or concerted action. In this situation, the newly formed political party, Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) took control of Western Region government, the AG becoming only an opposition party.
The incarceration of Awolowo and his supporters dampened people’s morale and their interest in political activities. The Mid-Western Region was carved out of the Western Region, further breaking the power base of the Action Group.
4. 1964 Federal elections crisis
Consequent upon December 1959 elections, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) had 148 seats in the house of representatives, the NCNC (dominant in the East) had 89 while the AG (strong in the West) had 75. With this development, the Northern Peoples Congress controlled a majority in the house.
In July 1964, the year another five-yearly election was due, it was decided that the 312 federal house of representatives seats would be shared as follows: 167 seats to the North, 70 to the East, 57 to the West, 14 to the Mid-West and 4 to Lagos. With the northern seats more than those of the three southern regions combined, the southern based parties discovered they had to capture seats in the North to be able to control a majority in government at the federal level.
All the parties entered into alliances. The NCNC, AG and the northern minority parties of NEPU and UMBC together formed the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA); the NPC, NNDP, Mid-Western Democratic Front and the Niger Delta Congress formed the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) headed by Sir Ahmadu Bello, Northerner.
One of the major causes of the crisis that accompanied the 1964 elections was the very short time for preparation towards elections. Early in December 1964, the prime minister, Tafawa Balewa, advised the president, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe to dissolve parliament towards elections that would be held on 30 December. Thus the Federal Electoral Commission could not prepare an authentic voters’ list, for there wasn’t enough time for display and correction of voters’ list.
Under this condition, there were also irregularities, including discrimination in nomination where papers were made available to the NNA but denied UPGA; there was thuggery and breakdown of law and order in many areas. At the close of nominations, 66 candidates for NNA and 15 for UPGA were declared returned unopposed.
The UPGA leaders considered that there were irregularities in the results, and sent a protest letter to the president, threatening a boycott if the anomalies remained uncorrected. The Federal Electoral Commission chairman, Eyo Esua admitted the irregularities in a broadcast, promising to effect corrections. President Azikiwe requested that the prime minister postpone the elections, but the prime minister insisted on going on with the programme which made the UPGA leaders ask their members to boycott the 30 December 1964 elections. Voting took place in some areas but the boycott held in the East and partially in the West and Mid-West.
On 1 January 1965, the president declined to invite the leader of the ’winning’ party to form a new government; but in the ensuing disorder and stalling of government activities at the federal level for three days, Dr Azikiwe on 4 January 1965, in the interest of peace and national unity, invited Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as re-elected prime minister to form a new government. This was formed, mainly with NNA members, a few NCNC, but no AG members.
The situation deepened the regional and North-South hostilities which started since 1953 and increased possibilities of calls for secession.
5. Western Nigeria election crisis, 1965
An election had been held into the Western Nigerian house of assembly in 1960, making another election due in 1965 according to the 1960 constitution. The 1960 elections had been contested between the AG and the NCNC, with the former securing a majority and controlling government. By 1965, however, there were three contesting parties- the AG, NCNC, and NNDP.
The then premier, S.L. Akintola, was the NNDP leader, a party formed in 1963 after the 1962-63 AG crisis. The new party had won most of the seats allocated to the West in the 1964 federal elections boycotted by the AG under the UPGA alliance. Thus the NNDP was a force to reckon with at the time.
It was agreed that the election would take place in October, so the houses of assembly and of chiefs were dissolved and, to ease tension, public meetings, processions and protests were banned till after the election.
Awolowo had been imprisoned for treason at the time and so, Adegbenro was the AG leader.
The AC; agreed to work together with the NCNC under the already formed UPGA alliance and field common candidates for the election which nominations were to close on 27 September 1965.
Causes of the crisis
1. There were discriminations in the provision and acceptance of nomination papers against the UPGA. While the NNDP announced its 94 candidates a day to the close of nominations, the UPGA could still not get papers for some of its candidates, nor see electoral officials to submit ready papers. The UPGA thus asked for an extension of nomination period, which was not granted.
2. With the UPGA unable to submit nomination papers in many instances, some fifteen NNDP candidates were declared returned unopposed, including those of the premier and his deputy. The UPGA protested to the governor, Sir Odeleye Fadahunsi with no result.
3. Elections went on in October with massive malpractices like burning and disappearance of ballot boxes, seizing of ballot papers, unfair counting, thuggery and fighting.
4. Towards the end of counting of votes, conflicting results were announced/ released. The Daily Sketch, a government organ published that with 30 seats yet to be counted, the NNDP had won 51 while the AG had eleven. Adegbenro the UPGA leader also declared at a press conference that the alliance had won 68 seats.
5. The confusion heightened with Adegbenro declaring himself premier of the region and Akintola officially sworn in as premier-two premiers emerging in the same region.
6. Adegbenro and his supporters were arrested and ‘detained. This did not go down well with UPGA members. Thus there were protests, arson, murder and general breakdown of law and order.
7. Some people, mostly students, called on the prime minister to declare a state of emergency, which he declined to do. He instead asked the aggrieved parties to seek redress in the law courts, which many people regarded as mere government organs. An elders’ peace meeting between leaders of the NNDP and the UPGA also brought neither peace nor agreement.
Thus the breakdown of law and order and massive destruction of lives and property went on unabated till Major Kaduna Nzeogwu took over power in January 1966, during which process the Western Region premier, S.L. Akintola, was killed.
Implications of the crisis
1. Personality clashes between Awolowo and Akintola were allowed to degenerate into a situation that almost tore the West apart.
2. People were denied their electoral rights and discouraged from participation in political activities.
3. It paved the way for military takeover of governance in Nigeria.
6. General elections crisis of 1979
General Murtala Muhammed in a July 1975 coup took over power from General Yakubu Gowon. General Muhammed then announced a programme of return to civil rule which was concluded by General Olusegun Obasanjo, his successor. The programme included the drafting of a constitution, formation of political parties and holding of elections.
A Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) was set up which registered five political parties, viz the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) and the People’s Redemption Party (PRP).
There were almost 2 000 seats contested in all, including about 1 350 seats in the 19 states’ houses of assembly, 449 in the federal house of representatives, 95 in the senate, 19 state governorships and the presidency. The elections took place between 7 July and 11 August with the presidential election coming last on 11 August. All the elections took place in a general conducive atmosphere but a great dispute arose on the presidential results.
The electoral rule stipulated that a winning presidential candidate required not just the highest vote but at least 25 per cent of the votes in at least two thirds of the states of the federation. No candidate won 25 per cent in two-thirds of the states Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the NPN who was declared winner won 25% in only 12 states. Chief Obafemi Awolowo (of the UPN) who came second disputed this, claiming that since nobody scored 25 per cent in two-thirds of the 19 states, the two highest scorers should be made to go for a second election. This was contrary to FEDECO’s position and Chief Awolowo filed a petition at the electoral tribunal headed by Justice Kazeem.
The mathematical riddle was: What was two-thirds of 19 states? NPN advocates posited 122/3, and they proved that apart from scoring 25 per cent in 12 states, Shagari still scored 25% in two-thirds of at least one state. The electoral tribunal accepted this formula and upheld Shagari’s election. Chief Awolowo appealed to the supreme court headed by Chief Justice Atanda Williams which also upheld the decision of the tribunal.
The case generated great public debate and discontent, involved scores of lawyers, and the eventual result based on mathematical calculation created a lot of acrimony between the NPN and UPN (and their supporters) in the federal legislature and beyond. ‘
7. General elections crisis of 1983
The 1983 general elections were the first to be conducted by civilians since the military takeover of 1966. Directing affairs then were civilian functionaries who themselves came in an election under the supervision of the military.
With Dr Tunji Braithwaite’s Nigerian Advance Party (NAP) registered in 1982, six parties contested the elections in 1983. Tunji Braithwaite was NAP’s presidential candidate, Hassan Yussuf replaced deceased Aminu Kano for the PRP while other parties’ presidential candidates remained as in 1979.
The ruling NPN government reversed the 1979 order of elections, putting the presidential election first in 1983, then followed by gubernatorial, senatorial, house of representatives and states’ houses of assembly. Many opposing politicians and others opposed this arrangement.
The most controversial of the elections was the governorship elections where the NPN which won seven states in 1979 was declared as having won in twelve states. Large scale malpractices were recognised. Violent protests, riots, looting, arson, murder and thuggery were prevalent, especially in Oyo and Ondo states which were declared to have been taken over by the NPN from the UPN.
The supreme court reversed the Ondo state gubernatorial results in UPN’s favour, but not before so much damage had been done and a general, i.e. national sense of insecurity had been created, ushering in the military government of General Muhammadu Buhari.
Why elections are rigged
1. The desire to get into or remain in power by all means makes politicians employ crooked means to influence election results.
2. Many politicians seek office through foul means because of greed and the desire for self-enrichment.
3. Egocentrism makes some people employ election malpractices. They believe they have been so popular or important that it should not be heard that they have lost an election.
4. General poverty makes the populace easy targets for bribery, thuggery and other evils associated with elections.
How to prevent election malpractices
1. Politicians and the electorate should be properly educated on what participation in politics really calls for-selfless service to the people and not selfish accumulation or pursuit of wealth.
2. Top government functionaries should lead by example for others to follow.
3. Embezzlement and corruption should be checked to discourage people from seeing public office as a money-making avenue.
4. Law enforcement agents should effectively apprehend and bring to book, people involved in election malpractices and abuse of public office.
8. Kaduna State executive/legislative crisis (1981)
During the 1979 elections, the NPN won 69 out of the 99 seats in the Kaduna State House of Assembly but still lost the governorship to Balarabe Musa of the PRP. The NPN sought an annulment at the electoral tribunal which however upheld Balarabe Musa’s election as the governor of Kaduna State.
What led to the Kaduna crisis
Balarabe Musa on assumption of office as the governor of Kaduna State effected great changes in the state administration geared towards the betterment of the lot of the poor, much to the disapproval of the rich conservatives of the state.
He abolished community tax and cattle tax and also abolished the emirate councils, transferring their duties to a council of chiefs constituting of chiefs and ordinary citizens, thus widening participation in decision making.
In order to use the instrument of a committee to address complaints over land ownership and compensations therefrom, he stopped the processing and issuance of certificates of occupancy concerning lands within the state.
He promoted the establishment of industries by setting aside N2 million annually for each local government. He dissolved all boards of state companies and constituted new ones of members from all levels of the society.
He submitted names of his nominee commissioners for the approval of the state house of assembly with the whole list turned down each time. The Kaduna high court rejected his plea that the court compel the house to approve his list, after which he decided to run his government without commissioners.
On 7 May 1981, the house made its first move of impeachment of Governor Balarabe Musa when 69 of them signed a motion declaring Musa guilty of ’gross misconduct’, listing 10 offences against him. Balarabe Musa proved at the court that many of the signatures were forged, a submission upheld by the court in annulling the motion against him. The motion for impeachment was moved again on 21 May 1981 and approved.
None of the motions filed in court by Balarabe Musa to stop the impeachment succeeded. On 7 June the house appointed a seven-man panel to investigate the charges against him. The panel invited him, an invitation which he declined especially because he was given three days only to prepare. On 23 June the investigating panel submitted its report, and by a vote of 69 out of 99, Balarabe Musa was removed as governor of Kaduna State.
9. The Nigerian civil war
The Nigerian civil war lasted from 6 July 1967 to 15 January 1970. On 15 January 1970, Major General Philip Effiong, the Biafran chief of general staff, signed Biafra’s formal surrender at Dodan Barracks, Lagos.
Remote causes of the civil war
1. Several constitutions had been fashioned to govern Nigeria but none of these had been able to really unite the various peoples of Nigeria.
2. Political parties in Nigeria were often based on ethnic considerations.
3. It was impossible to conduct free and fair elections in Nigeria.
4. Census was used as a tool for political competition by politicians. Thus the exercise was always attended by malpractices and discrepancies.
5. There was a competition between the various ethnic groups for wealth and power.
6. The military had also been politicised and divided along ethnic lines.
Immediate causes of the Nigerian civil war
1. Majority of the political and military leaders killed in the January 1966 coup were from the Western and Northern Regions. No prominent Eastern leader was killed. The ensuing distrust, disaffection and retaliation led to the massacre of the Igbo in the North between September and October 1966.
2. Those who led the coup were forced to surrender, which prevented the initiators of the coup from implementing their policies.
3. The coup of January 1966 was regarded as sectional because the leaders were mainly Igbo military officers. General Ironsi, himself an lgbo, was expected to bring the young officers to book for killing Northern and Western leaders, but he did not.
4. The July counter-coup of 1966 was organised by military officers from Northern Region. General Ironsi, an Igbo and head of state was killed.
5. Lt Colonel Gowon who took over government from Ironsi was not acceptable to Colonel Ojukwu since Gowon was not the most senior military officer then.
6. The creation of twelve states by Colonel Gowon on 27 May 1967 especially to break the East made Ojukwu announce the secession of the East three days after.
7. After their massacre in the North, indigenes of the Eastern Region were recalled home to their region because of their insecurity in other parts of Nigeria.
8. The divergent interpretations given to the Aburi meeting held in Ghana early in 1967 and its non-implementation further stalled peace moves.
Moves to prevent the war
When prominent Nigerians failed to broker any peace agreement, General Ankrah, then Ghanaian head of state arranged a meeting of the military governors of each region and the head of state, Yakubu Gowon, in Aburi, Ghana. Unfortunately, while the parties to the conflict came to some agreement in Ghana, they came back to Nigeria to make conflicting demands on each other.
Adetokunbo Ademola, the then chief justice of the federation, on 5 May 1967 went to Enugu with Chief Jereton Mariere (of the Mid-west) and Chief Obafemi Awolowo (of the Western Region) in the name of the National Conciliation Committee. The group with the aim of reconciling the Eastern Region leaders with the federal government got the backing of the latter on its mission which however yielded no fruitful result.
Consequences of the Nigerian civil war
1. It led to the creation of more states.
2. Very many people lost their lives or became disabled during the war, especially eastern Nigerians.
3. Many Nigerians, especially the Igbo, lost landed property and many other valuable properties when they fled to their home region. Many survivors were unsuccessful in claiming back their property after the war.
4. There was a waste of great national resources that could have been used to develop the country.
5. It led to serious suffering of the people, especially the poor.
6. Many people, citizens and non-citizens, fled Nigeria.
7. It led to the disruption of education, economic activities and general normal life in the eastern part of the country.
8. It caused a general feeling of insecurity and fear of bomb attacks all over Nigeria.
9. It created a greater gulf between Nigerians than existed before.
10. After the war, it opened up new political alliances between the north and the southeast.