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  On this day, February 10, 1999, Nigeria returned to democracy after over thirty years of military rule. It might sound surprising that Nigeria, although the giant of Africa and a sixty-two-year-old republic, is still a young democracy. The history of Nigeria was peppered with a series of military coups and military juntas which began in 1966 and ended in 1999 but was only punctuated by the civilian rule of Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari GCFR (October 1979 – 31 December 1983). 
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The democracy which the nation enjoys today was paid on the altar of the blood of various Nigerians. The journey to democracy in Nigeria was a tortuous one. From a bloody interruption of civilian rule in 1966 to another three years of destruction of lives and properties in the event of the civil war that lasted between 1967 and 1970 to another wasted year of corruption and impunity under General Ibrahim Badamosi Babaginda, and the tyrannical and draconic era of General Sani Abacha.  Nigeria’s democracy did not come cheap. It would have come earlier in the general elections of 1993 when Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was voted overwhelmingly by Nigerians as against Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). The election of MKO Abiola on 12 June 1993, in what has been adjudged to be Nigeria’s freest and fairest elections, was killed at stillbirth. It was wrongly annulled by Ibrahim Babangida Junta. MKO Abiola was later imprisoned after he rightfully proclaimed himself the president. Reports had it that Chief MKO Abiola died mysteriously after drinking tea during the negotiation of his release. He started coughing in the presence of Kofi Annan and later died in the hospital.  What came after the infamous June 12 saga was the draconic rule of General Sani Abacha whose regime saw the summary execution of oppositions, and the exile of some. The most famous execution was the “Ogoni Nine”, which saw the hanging of the famous playwright and activist, Ken Saro Wiwa. Nigeria was expelled from the Commonwealth and thrown into a pariah status by the international community.
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The death of Sani Abacha in 1998 and the takeover of General Abdusalam Abubakar marked the transition from military rule to democracy.  People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Olusegun Obasanjo was returned to power as civilian president in Saturday’s elections of February 1999, 20 years after he resigned as Nigeria’s military ruler. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on this day (Monday) released the poll results, which gave Obasanjo 62 per cent of the total 27,636,929 valid votes cast. His challenger, Olu Falae of the combined Alliance for Democracy/All People’s Party (AD/APP), won 38 per cent. “Olusegun Obasanjo is hereby declared the winner and is returned elected,” INEC chairman Ephraim Akpata said, according to news reports. The election ended 16 straight years of military rule, in a country where soldiers have held power for a total of all but 10 years since independence in 1960. The outgoing military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, resigned his commission on 29 May, the day Obasanjo assumed office. Featured image source: Punch Newspaper
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This article was first published on 10th February 2022 and updated on February 13th, 2022 at 6:47 pm


Nnaemeka is an academic scholar with a degree in History and International Studies from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is also a creative writer, content creator, storyteller, and social analyst.

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