Nigeria's Difficult Journey Toward Democracy

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  • 0:01 Military Dictatorships
  • 0:49 Coming Out of Corruption
  • 1:26 Ethnic Strife
  • 2:12 Goodluck Jonathan
  • 3:30 Peaceful Transition…
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Despite having been independent for more than half a century, Nigeria has only recently become truly democratic. In this lesson, we examine Nigeria's often bumpy journey towards democracy.

Military Dictatorships

After gaining its independence in 1960, Nigeria was on thin ice. Divided on religious grounds into governing coalitions that drew their power either from the Christian south of the Muslim north, it really wasn't that big of a surprise that civil war ripped the country apart from 1967 until 1970. Then, in the ensuing years, civil war turned into failed government after failed government. For those able to take advantage of the situation, Nigeria was a country rich for exploit, with oil profits to pad many pockets. However, such corruption fueled many coups and led to even more unrest. As a result, Nigeria was far from democratic for the first four decades of its existence. Few thought that the cycle could ever be broken.

Coming Out of Corruption

Luckily for Nigeria, that's exactly what managed to happen in 1999. In that year, a former general by the name of Olusegun Obasanjo came to power. Obasanjo did not come to power in what many would consider to be a democratic way and the election was widely criticized. However, he had very little tolerance for corruption. The country began to crack down on improper payments and, despite fact that Obasanjo was routinely blasted for the illegitimacy of his government, detractors had to admit that he was making serious attempts to clean up the corruption that had plagued Nigeria for decades.

Ethnic Strife

One of the greatest challenges that emerged in Nigeria during this time still continues to be a problem today. Nigeria is made up of dozens of ethnics groups and these groups have not always been treated fairly. Specifically, there have been imbalances in how the disparate groups were treated at different times. Most notably, this has meant unrest in the oil-producing provinces of the Niger Delta, the same region that had tried to win its independence as Biafra almost fifty years ago.

Still, that's not the only division in a country as large as Nigeria. To the north, some Muslim majority areas are becoming increasingly vulnerable to radicalized Islam. Most notable, groups like Boko Haram have begun to capitalize on perceived injustices towards Muslims.

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