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Nigeria during the Abacha Years (1993-1998)

‘Kunle Amuwo
Daniel C. Bach
Yann Lebeau


Daniel C. Bach et Yann Lebeau

Texte intégral

1The four and a half years of the Sani Abacha regime stand out as a watershed in the history of independent Nigeria. When Abacha came into power on 17 November 1993, Nigerians were initially hopeful that he would install MKO Abiola as president (the widely acclaimed winner of the 1993 June 12th election), as Abacha chose so many of MKO's supporters as ministers in his government. Abacha's agenda, however, did not follow that scenario, and within six months of his rule, the Nigerian dictator endorsed Ibrahim Babangida's annulment of the presidential election, before launching another transition programme which unravelled into a self-succession bid.

2The ingredients associated with General Abacha's rule were not new to Nigerians. Following the overthrow of the Second Republic in December 1983, his military predecessors (Generals Buhari and Idiagbon) asserted their legitimacy to rule with a vow to clean up corruption in government, and to restore accountability in the public sector. Many civilian governors were arrested on corruption charges, many officers were summarily retired without a chance to defend themselves.

3The Abacha regime departed from the familiar patterns of praetorian rule on two major counts. Its management of the country generated an increasingly broad array of explosive demands for change which were left unanswered and were transferred to Nigeria's Fourth Republic. General Abacha's personal rule also broke away from the prebendalist culture grafted on Nigeria's relatively codified resource allocation processes and elite representation procedures. The ‘federal character’ doctrine and broader concerns for intra-elite accommodation through consociational engineering were replaced by the unrestrained instrumentalization of fear, greed, violence and disorder, and the politics of prebendalism were subsumed under the shroud of warlordism.

4The Abacha dispensation was characterized by the unleashing of violence and terror on private citizens, resulting in a general feeling of insecurity among the citizenry, combined with disinstitutionalization – through the manipulation, distortion and destruction of whatever autonomy still remained in the legal and judiciary institutions – and the deterritorialization of the Nigerian state, as a result of regionally selective patterns of government intervention.

5Nigeria's darkest years since the civil war meant an unprecedented and unchallenged exercise of arbitrary power, evocative of the patterns of unbridled personal rule encapsulated in Max Weber's concept of sultanas. Trade unionists, journalists, writers, human rights activists, scholars and professionals from all walks of life, sought refuge outside their country's borders; those who stayed lived with the fear of arbitrary imprisonment and assassination, not to mention reprisals against their families. Internationally, Nigeria became a pariah state, yet this was of little consequence since the sanctions adopted by the United States, the Commonwealth and the European Union were never extended to oil exports, the only area where they could have mattered.

6Most of the contributions in this volume were initially presented at a seminar organized in Bordeaux by the Centre d'Etude d'Afrique Noire (CEAN). Nigerian and European participants from various segments of civil society were invited to share their views on the prospects for a democratic political dispensation at a time when such a discussion was not possible in Nigeria. The seminar had to be postponed once, and was almost cancelled due to the difficulties encountered by participants travelling from Nigeria. When the seminar eventually convened on 12-14 September 1996, the readiness of participants to challenge conventional wisdom and to engage in debates, irrespective of differences, greatly impressed those who were not acquainted with Nigeria. For those participants already familiar with the country's vibrant intellectual traditions, it was a privilege to be involved in such a dialogue.

7Financial support for the seminar and its publication came from the European Commission where Tim Clark and Helena Petiz provided a decisive impetus. In Nigeria, valuable help came from Georges Hérault, Director of IFRA and Jean-Claude Piet, Cultural Counsellor at the French Embassy. In Bordeaux, the energy and commitment of Hélène Dufau and Béatrice Humarau were inexhaustible. The professionalism and dedication of Christiane Andren, Claude Orieux, Marie-Françoise Palueau and Françoise Simonnet also ensured the success of administrative and logistic details. The usual disclaimer applies: none of the above-mentioned institutions and individuals should be held responsible for the views expressed in the following pages.

8Richard Sklar's contribution is the revised version of an article originally published in Polis, Revue Camerounaise de Science Politique 4(2) 1997; Michèle Maringues' article draws from her larger monograph published under the title, Nigeria: Guerrilla Journalism (1996) by Reporters without Borders in Paris. The publishers' permission to reproduce these two contributions is gratefully acknowledged.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 2001

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