British colonial influence becomes more concentrated during the 19th century. Growing economic involvement, particularly in the export of palm oil, leads to the annexation of the port of Lagos in 1861. The Royal Niger Company establishes and expands political and economic administration until transferring authority to the crown in 1900. Protectorates are established in North, South, and East.
Britain formally establishes the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914 under the governorship of Sir Frederick Lugard. Separate administrative units are created to allow government through "indirect rule." The British interact with a select few indigenous rulers and institutions, and contact with the majority of the population is limited. Africans are barred from political power.
Indirect rule spawns a nationalist movement. Protesting the increased authority granted the traditional elite (kings and tribal chiefs) by the British, nationalists attempt to work within the colonial structure toward a variety of sociopolitical and economic goals. Nationalist positions include opposition to taxation and the establishment of municipal self-government.
Economic depression brings hardship, unemployment, and heightened nationalist consciousness. European entities such as the United Africa Company, which controls 40 percent of the import/export trade, stir discontent with colonial domination. Italy's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia and the rise in popularity of journalist and anticolonial nationalist Nnamdi Azikiwe help focus unrest on colonial rule.
The nationalist movement gains momentum during World War II as Nigerian soldiers are exposed to Allied propaganda that touts liberty, freedom, and equality. India's independence from Britain in 1947 intensifies the movement, and postwar restructuring increases pressure on the British to grant its colonies independence. The economic environment worsens after a wartime growth spurt.
Concessions by the colonial government pave the way for Nigerian independence. Maneuvering begins in earnest as ethnic and regional interests that determine loyalties and alliances dominate the political landscape. A British-sponsored 1953 conference in London brings together members of competing political parties and regions to determine the constitution for the soon-to-be independent nation.
After 15 years of gradual constitutional reforms and peaceful transfer of power, Nigeria gains independence on October 1, 1960. Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa is elected prime minister. His majority Northern People's Party governs in coalition with Herbert Macaulay's Nigerian National Council, which has the support of the Eastern Igbos. Presidential elections are set for 1963.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria is declared on October 1, 1963. Nnamdi Azikiwe is elected president. Brewing regional resentment over perceived Northern domination in the federal government prevents agreement on a long-range economic development plan. The nascent government inherits control of a highly centralized economy from its colonial predecessors.
Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi assumes power in a military coup fueled by regional hostilities. He dissolves the legislature, suspends the constitution, and establishes a military government. Appointed military governors replace elected civilian representatives. Ironsi is soon killed in a countercoup mounted by Northern elements. Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon takes power.
Eastern regional leaders refuse to recognize Gowon's authority. Negotiations to resolve the North's ethnic violence and general conflict over economic policy and political administration are fruitless. In May 1967 the East declares the Independent Republic of Biafra. Gowon immediately attacks. By the time the fledgling republic surrenders in 1970, more than one million people have died.
Nigeria joins OPEC as the world's seventh largest petroleum-producing country, with crude oil exportation dominating the economy. Although the state controls the oil, it depends on foreign companies for extraction and maintains a role of granting licenses and collecting fees. Gowon's military regime continues to centralize power and reneges on promises to return the government to civilian rule.
Gowon's administration is overthrown in a bloodless coup in July 1975. Lt. Gen. Murtala Muhammad takes power, promising political and economic reforms and a return to civilian rule. Within a year, Muhammad is assassinated, and Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo replaces him, earning the respect of the people by continuing both his predecessor's reform programs and the transition to the Second Republic.
Alhaji Shehu Shagari is elected president in 1979. Decentralization of power continues as states receive more revenue allocation and the authority to collect taxes. But widespread corruption impedes development prospects. Despite falling oil prices, government spending continues and debt climbs. After bloody ethnic and religious clashes, two million illegal immigrants are expelled.
A failing economy, widespread political corruption, and broad civil unrest contribute to the Second Republic's collapse. Muhammadu Buhari, brought to power by military coup, imposes draconian measures on Nigeria, punishing those associated with the civilian government, curtailing press freedom, subordinating the judiciary to the military, and failing to announce a planned return to civilian rule.
Gaining power in a 1985 coup, Ibrahim Babangida promises a return to civilian rule and policies designed to address economic woes and rampant corruption. While his regime uses tactics to stall the governmental transition, it also launches the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), a comprehensive economic austerity package meant to deemphasize governmental control of economic interests.
Babangida's reign ends in disgrace when he annuls the 1993 elections, of which Moshood Abiola was the clear victor. SAP policies result in devaluation of Naira, unemployment, and a cost of living unbearable for most Nigerians. Babangida resigns, turning the government over to his handpicked transitional council. The council's leader, Ernest Shonekan, is promptly ousted by Gen. Sani Abacha.
Widely considered the most corrupt dictator of the post-colonial era, Abacha tramples human rights and brings the country to the brink of destruction while claiming to make plans for another return to civilian rule. Abacha abolishes all state and local governments, the federal legislature, and political activity. Abiola is jailed. Civil unrest builds.
Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar replaces Abacha. Abubakar reaches out diplomatically to other African nations and the West in an effort to restore Nigeria's image. Human rights violations recede, but the continued expenditure of revenues on debt servicing, rather than on social services and basic necessities, prevents infrastructure improvements and stokes discontent.
Olusegun Obasanjo, forced from power almost 25 years earlier, wins the 1999 presidential election. Monetary policy, agricultural revitalization, political stability, a war on corruption, and privatization of parastatals are all announced as reform priorities, but holding the country together amid dramatic civil unrest and violent religious clashes quickly takes precedence.
The adoption of sharia (Islamic law) in the Northern states, continued difficulties of economic management, the volatility of oil prices, and ongoing regional and local protest movements make governing Nigeria extremely difficult. Spending outpaces revenue, and President Obasanjo is under constant political pressure.
Violence escalates in the Southern provinces during the weeks preceding national and regional elections. Ethnic and tribal tensions flare. As opposing political parties vie for control of Nigeria's richest oilfields, reports of election irregularities in that region are rife. Oil output drops. President Obasanjo wins a sweeping victory amid widespread accusations of election fraud.
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