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Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and diverse nation, has more than 250 ethnic groups. The North is predominantly Muslim while the South is principally Christian. Competition for the nation’s vast oil resources has been a divisive issue during the nation’s brief history. By the beginning of the 1990s, Nigeria had spent most of its years of independence under harsh and corrupt military rule, which was often viewed as the only force that could unite the nation.

In 1985, Ibrahim Babangida became Nigeria’s 6th military leader and promised to make sweeping reforms and to turn over leadership to a democratically elected government in 1990. Then MOSOP, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, led by acclaimed writer Ken Saro Wiwa, presented Babangida with an Ogoni Bill of Rights demanding control of the oil on their lands. Babangida postponed the elections. A coalition of citizens formed a Campaign for Democracy to pressure the General into honoring his promises. Finally, in 1993, voters elected Chief Moshood Abiola, a Yoruba Muslim from the South, as president, but Babangida’s government annulled the elections. A new military government under General Sani Abacha took over. Pro-democracy protests continued in the face of harsh retaliation. Abacha imprisoned scores of journalists, lawyers, and military officers.

In 1995, he moved against Ken Saro Wiwa and MOSOP, sentencing Saro Wiwa and eight others to death on false charges of murder. With Nigeria’s oil money at his disposal, Abacha paid for a Two-Million-Man March of support. In protest, the opposition Campaign for Democracy attempted to hold a Five-Million-Man March. Faced with armed military resistance, the opposition’s small assembly became a symbolic victory. But the showdown with Abacha never came. Within four months, Abacha and Abiola were both dead of apparent heart attacks. In new elections, the Nigerian people chose Olesegun Obasanjo (a Yoruba and former head of state) as Nigeria’s first democratically elected president in twenty years.

Nigerian skyline

Democracy
Human Rights
Freedom of the Press
Ethnic Diversity
Environmental Justice