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Nigeria's History of Turmoil

| 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990-97 | 1998 | 1999 |

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Nigeria declares independence from Britain in October. Three years later, it becomes a republic.

Middle-ranking members of the Nigerian military stage an attempted coup in January that is suppressed by federal troops, but results in the installation of a military government.

The Eastern Region of Nigeria secedes in May, proclaiming itself the Republic of Biafra. Country plunges into a civil war that kills an estimated one million.

The Biafra secessionists capitulate in January. Successive governments promise elections but military rule continues.

Nigeria returns to civilian government rule in October, electing Sheu Shagari as President of the Second Republic.

Shagari regime is deposed in December, as a military coup ousts the democratically elected government.

A second coup ushers in a regime headed by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida later promises new elections.

  • Nigerians go to the polls in June, elect Social Democratic Party candidate Moshood Abiola as the new president of the country with 58 percent of the vote. On the eve of election results, General Babangida annuls the election. The United States suspends aid as a political crisis ensues.

  • Eleven die in riots protesting military rule.

  • Babangida steps down in August and chooses interim government.

  • Gen. Sani Abacha seizes power in November.


  • Nigerian police arrest Abiola in June after he declares himself president of the country.

  • In July, a federal high court charges Abiola with treason for declaring himself president.

  • The 50,000-member Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers declares a strike as the government sends in soldiers to replace workers in July. The strike increases the price of crude oil worldwide.

  • Most of Nigeria's oil workers return to their jobs in September.

  • Wole Soyinka, winner of 1986 Nobel Prize for literature, flees Nigeria in November.


  • In October, General Abacha vows he will step down in three years after reforms are complete.

  • Nigeria's military government hangs nine political activists in November, including well-known playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was accused of involvement in the killings of four pro-government traditional chiefs in 1994.

  • Nigeria is suspended from the Commonwealth, the 52-member organization grouping Britain and its former colonies, after the hangings.


  • Kudirat Abiola, the outspoken wife of detained Nigerian presidential claimant Moshood Abiola, is shot and killed while being driven along a Lagos street in June.

    Exiled writer Wole Soyinka is charged in absentia with treason in March by the country's military government.

  • 1998
    7: Nigeria announces that it has freed 142 prisoners on orders of General Abacha.

    New Nigerian President Abubakar/AP
    General Abdulsalam Abubakar (AP)
    8: Abacha dies at his villa in the Nigerian capital. He is quickly replaced by a close ally, Maj. Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar.

    9: The Clinton administration offers improved ties with Nigeria's new military government if it frees political prisoners and moves toward democratic reform.

    12: Hundreds of Nigerians hold scattered protests in Lagos to demand an end to military rule. They are dispersed by troops and police.

    3: Nigeria's new military government confirms that they intend to release the country's political prisoners, including Moshood Abiola.

    7: Nigeria's imprisoned political leader, Moshood Abiola, dies of an apparent heart attack as he talks with Nigerian officials and senior U.S. diplomats about how to resolve the country's five-year-old political crisis.

    20: In a major television address, Maj. Gen. Abubakar promises that free elections will be held in early 1999 and a civilian sworn in as president of Nigeria on May 29.

    20: Nigerian and international election monitors declared that local elections in December and state elections Jan. 9 were fair. The country enters high campaign season for the election of its first national civilian leadership in 15 years.

    27: Nigerians vote for a civilian president in an election marred by claims of voter fraud and irregularties. Two days later, Nigeria's election commission confirms the winner: former military ruler Olusegun Obasanjo.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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