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Nigeria during the Abacha Years (1993-1998)

 | 
‘Kunle Amuwo
, 
Daniel C. Bach
, 
Yann Lebeau

Introduction. Transition as Democratic Regression

‘Kunle Amuwo

Texte intégral

  • 1 Eddie Iroh, Abubakar and Arewa Syndrome. The Guardian, Lagos (31 August 1998): 49.
  • 2 Naomi Chazan, Ghana: Problems of governance and the emergence of civil society. In: Democracy in D (...)
  • 3 See Rod Hague, M. Harrop and S. Breslin, Comparative Government and Politics: An introduction, 3rd (...)

1The Abacha military regime that ruled Nigeria from 17 November 1993 to 8 June 1998 could well be summarized as a government that was involved in a perennial, if uneven, struggle with civil society organizations and the international community that wanted a rapid return to civilian and democratic rule. The Abacha junta, which was the arrowhead of the anti-democratic forces, prevailed, by substituting ‘the edict of the gun’ for ‘the promise of a new dawn’.1 The resilience and perseverance of the pro-democracy forces, with a tinge of providence, ensured that the Nigerian civil society had the last laugh. Indeed, under Abacha, the rule of the thumb, as in the unstable political landscape of Rawlings’ Ghana in the 1980s, was that, as Naomi Chazan puts it, ‘democratic rule has failed, but the promise of democracy endures. Democratic pressures persist while authoritarian rule prevails’.2 Having literally shot down the historic presidential election results of 12 June 1993, and the democratic political structures of his predecessor’s transition programme, Abacha would, for the next five years, be involved in what amounted to a ferocious battle of political credibility and legitimacy. To survive, he resorted to an admixture of force, that is, the stick or the threat and the actual use of force against the political opposition; and the carrot or a reward system in relation to social forces, groups and individuals that supported the regime. Richard Sklar is therefore right to have reasoned in his chapter that ‘although brute force has kept the military in power and taken the lives of its enemies from time to time, the regime’s durability (was) attributable to consent as well as to force’. What Abacha lacked – and deservedly so – was the power of the ‘kiss’, that is, the capacity to create obligations; to inspire loyalty, respect and commitment from a citizenry in search of a new lease of life.3

  • 4 Human Rights Watch/Africa, Nigeria: Permanent Transition: Current violations of human rights in Ni (...)

2A palace coup that was executed against the background of a High Court ruling in early November 1993, that the Interim National Government (ING), – Babangida’s stop-gap measure on the eve of his ‘stepping aside’ from power – was illegal, and had as one of its first acts the promulgation of the ING (Validation) Decree which nullified the High Court ruling. The fledgling regime also sought, by that singular act, to besmirch the Abiola mandate. It would later prosecute a veritable propaganda war with a view to ethnicizing or denationalizing June 12. Worse, it would mount a two-pronged assault on the political opposition, as well as on civil society groups and ethnic nationalities, for whom June 12 became a formidable platform to fight against long-standing socio-political and economic inequities and injustice in the Nigerian polity.4

3To understand the political trajectory of the Abacha junta -why it came to power, how it managed to hang on to power, as well as its strategic designs – we need to grapple with the regime both theoretically and empirically. By so doing, we would also better appreciate the structural legacy of the military and its weight in the current, that is, post-1999 travails of the country’s fourth democratic experiment.

Understanding the Abacha Regime

4A major question that Nigerians and ‘Nigerianists’ did frequently pose under Abacha was simple, though problematic: how did Nigeria, with her oft-cited structural constraints to imperial presidency (vibrant and multiple independent press; heterogeneous ethnic nationalities; a progressively assertive civil society, etc), fall into the hands of a military dictator who, with utmost impunity, did not set much store by the country’s future. In other words, which social forces threw up an Abacha, as well as a galaxy of political opportunists, whose composition and complexity almost made nonsense of politics as a public vocation, or politics as a contestation of ideas, values and principles in the public realm.

  • 5 Peter Lewis, From prebendalism to predation: The political economy of decline in Nigeria, The Jour (...)
  • 6 Janet Coleman, Against the State: Studies in sedition and rebellion (London: Penguin and BBC, 1990 (...)

5In moving the discourse of the failed (or failing?) state in Nigeria away from Richard Joseph’s prebendalism to that of predation, Peter Lewis offers an interesting schema for understanding the rise of the Abacha regime. First, the structural configuration of the Nigerian state furnished a propitious, if people-unfriendly, context for an Abacha. While the country had never been the preserve of an ‘exclusive oligarchy’, to the extent that ‘civilian institutions and military affinities hindered the tendency towards personal rule or ethnic monopoly’,5 Babangida (1985-1993), however, succeeded in removing the ‘potential restraints on presidential power’ in the military, the political elite and the broader society. In particular, the military institution was systematically emptied of its nationalistic, puritanistic and altruistic characteristics of yesteryear, leaving, by the end of Babangida’s macabre dance, almost an empty organizational shell that lacked both political and military esprit de corps. By the same token, the Nigerian state had become severely criminalized and de-legitimized, the rulers having forgotten, in the language of Janet Coleman, that ‘political life is about a balance between the needs of citizens and the needs of the state’.6 This twin-process has had pernicious consequences on the dynamics of state-citizenship relations. For Lewis,

  • 7 Lewis, From prebendalism to predation..., 101-102. Ian Campbell also contends that under the Baban (...)

The fall-outs from a series of coups and counter-coups have fragmented and demoralised the military organisation. Also the dissolution of parties and legislative bodies, the intrusive manipulation of the judiciary throughout the transition crisis have depleted other institutional pillars of the state thereby widening the realm of personal control.7

6What Babangida started, Abacha deepened and consolidated.

  • 8 Lewis, From prebendalism to predation..., 101.

Abacha fully availed himself of these instruments of control, extending repression, enervating the political class and conducting pre-emptive indictments against perceived opponents.8

  • 9 Lewis, From prebendalism to predation..., 99.

7More specifically, as the country transited from Babangida’s ‘despoiling prebendal dictatorship’, with its underlying ‘corrosive form of resource extraction’, and ‘a comparatively limited individual authority’ to predation, which ‘embodies a reconfiguration of neo-patrimonial rule, towards more despotic and rapacious control’.9 Abacha, whose personality profile fit the bill, rapidly sought to maximize his powers. Predatory rule reaches its apogee in personalist rule, tout court – but with some latitude for pliant close allies and supporters of the ‘strong man’. Again, we turn to Lewis:

  • 10 Lewis, From prebendalism to predation..., 99.

Power is typically concentrated in a single ruler or a narrow oligarchy at the apex of a clientelist pyramid. Public and private resources are welded as state assets come under the discretionary control of political elites and public office serves as a conduit for private accumulation.10

8In the same vein, a predatory regime, is characterized by a ‘distinctive pattern of economic management, including arbitrary change, deficit financing, capital flight and the chronic and unrecorded leakage of funds.’ In the realm of social choice, the ‘rationality’ of the market is vitiated by the ‘logic’ of rent-seeking. By dismantling SAP, through the 1994 budget, in favour of a statist or dirigiste economic policy – but certainly not a nationalist agenda, as Lewis observed – Abacha set the tone and tenor to pocket the economy and privatize state finances. The process of disintegration of the state was set in motion through a combination of repressive tactics, with the intent of ensuring both a physical and political withdrawal, from the social space, of notable politicians and key citizens that could threaten a planned self-succession bid.

9To all appearances, therefore, Abacha’s rise from relative political obscurity to villainous political stardom was a function of the progressive de-institutionalization and de-legitimization of the Nigerian state. The general, with a handful of military, political and business allies inflicted on Nigerians, a military dictatorship – a personal tyranny to be more specific – in its most virulent form.

  • 11 J. ‘Bayo Adekanye, Military Profession and Social Stratification, Inaugural Lecture, University of (...)
  • 12 L. Diamond, Introduction: Roots of failure, seeds of hope. In: Democracy in Developing Countries, (...)

10Babangida’s iron-fisted autocracy pales into relative insignificance, indeed almost becomes a benevolent dictatorship, compared to the executive brigandage that characterized the Abacha government.11 By unleashing a state-sponsored brutality on real and imagined opponents – in politics, banking, finance, on the press, military, academia, etc, – and by using political instability as a veritable instrument of power, Abacha merely gave fillip to the crisp observation by Ali Mazrui that ‘the African state is sometimes excessively authoritarian to disguise the fact that it is inadequately authoritative’.12 While threatening the opposition with the ‘stick’, the regime had to simultaneously cajole, spoil and reward its supporters with the ‘carrot’. The latter necessarily passed through a near-complete domination of the economy and the finances of the state. Thus, Fayemi makes the important point that:

  • 13 J. ‘Kayode Fayemi, Military hegemony and the transition programme. Issue ( vol. 27, no.l, 1999): 7 (...)

The Nigerian economy did not escape Abacha’s grip. He ran it as a personal fiefdom. Unlike Babangida who parcelled out the state to friends and mentors within the military, Abacha kept the spoils of office for himself and his family, a small coterie of his security apparatus and his small circle of foreign friends.13

11Lewis adds that:

  • 14 Peter Lewis, Nigeria’s economy: Opportunity and challenge. Issue (vol.27.no. 1, 1999): 53.

The depredations of the Abacha regime were extraordinary. Erratic policies, mismanagement and unabashed pillage by senior officials fomented slow growth and declining standards of living. The economic malaise dissipated the middle class, intensified communal tensions and weakened an already feeble state apparatus.14

12The collapse of the state and its value and moral frames did little to reverse the time-worn discourse of the Nigerian state that is woven around the notion of citizenship and the rule of law. It is a discourse that successful and experienced coup makers, no less than elected civilian leaders, hold dear, but which often rings hollow by virtue of the disparity between word and deed. Thus, while inaugurating the Constitutional Conference in June 1994, after much tardiness, Abacha made this seemingly solemn declaration:

We in the present government ... are committed to ensuring that there is speedy and unimpeded transition to a civil democratic rule in which we shall not be participants. We are, in short, arranging to surrender power through a peaceful and orderly process.
[emphasis mine]

13Whilst the Conference had no constituent powers, Abacha nevertheless assured participants that ‘no fear should be entertained that anyone will lightly set aside your decisions and conclusions’. He even challenged so-called ‘cynics’ to believe that his regime would get the politics of transition right: ‘No amount of assurances that our rescue mission is short, decisive and conclusive seem to persuade the regular cynics.’

14He concluded rather gracefully:

  • 15 Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of the Constitutional Conference containing the Resolutions an (...)

We are aware that it is neither in our personal interest nor that of the nation to perpetuate ourselves in power. Nothing could be farther from our plans... No set of Nigerians looks forward to early democratic rule more than patriotic Nigerians who are serving in this administration.15

  • 16 Abiodun Onadipe, Behind the dark glasses: A portrait of General Sani Abacha International Relation (...)

15Abacha’s supporters, both within the military and in the political ‘class’ may well have adjudged the foregoing declaration as realistic in view of the well-known – and much ridiculed – professional profile of the general. Save for his hardly tested military prowess and political soldiering, he had no qualifications whatsoever to aspire to lead – let alone govern – Africa’s most populous and, arguably, most complex polity. Didn’t Colin Powell, the US Gulf War hero and President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State say in 1991 that Abacha’s psychological profile was ‘the worst psychological bio-history he ever read’? 16

  • 17 Towards transition in Nigeria West Africa (November 11-17,1996): 1740.
  • 18 See Babangida’s interview, “I’m the Evil Genius.” Tell (24 July 1995): 17.

16Major aspirants to what was then considered an impending vacant presidential seat underestimated the uncanny ability of the infantry general to deploy enormous state resources to stay put in power, notwithstanding his apparent intellectual disabilities. In the midst of severe repression of the political opposition, Abacha continued to hold the same discourse of an early return to civilianization – even when the disengagement timetable, often a poor indicator of coup makers’ real intentions, was reluctantly put in place. At the annual Chief of Army Staff Training Conference in November 1996, Abacha expressed the desire of the Nigerian Armed Forces to leave politics for politicians and return to the barracks. He even promised that the military would go into effective partnership with the people with a view to regaining ‘their confidence and support’.17 There was little doubt that the general had learned from Babangida the important political lesson that ‘when you stage a coup, you have to tell the people what they want to hear so that you can get accepted’.18

17Having spent much of his time as a political general in the shadows of Babangida, Abacha’s politico-psychological profile was almost a mystery to the Nigerian political opposition and civil society groups. This partly explains the initial acceptance of Abacha as a ‘necessary evil who (would) eventually cleanse Nigeria of its festering rot’, by a section of the groups aforementioned. A more radical wing seemingly woven around the Lagos lawyer and activist, Gani Fawehinmi, whilst not altogether averse to the theory of a redemptive and regenerative coup, clamoured for a short, decisive and sharp action that would rapidly hand over power to Abiola. Where his predecessor was a colossal spendthrift, Abacha was also expected to translate the regenerative thesis into fiscal discipline. There was, indeed, a myth to that effect until as late as 1997, apparently largely due to the regime’s finance minister who made regular public declarations of mounting foreign reserves. There was equally the Failed Banks Tribunal set up to investigate thieving bank chieftains, but which soon degenerated into a witch-hunt. Thus, Abiodun Onadipe’s favourable assessment that:

  • 19 Onadipe, Behind the dark glasses ..., 74. To be sure, Nigerians have known better since the demise (...)

... like others before him, (Abacha) promised fiscal discipline and he appears to be delivering on the promise ... (he) keeps very tight control of government funds, going through major extra-budgetary expenditures with a fine tooth comb before approving them.19

  • 20 See Josh Arinze, We can’t be rushed. Tell (10 July 1995): 8-9.

18After a series of initial halting and tentative steps – as reflected, for example, in the promise of a national conference with full constituent powers, but that was, when finally convened, little more than a toothless talking shop – Abacha began to show his real fangs. Whilst receiving the 1995 draft Constitution in July 1995, it was an exuberant and confident Abacha that declared that ‘... we need not be prodded and goaded to adopt a particular model. We can’t be rushed any longer into adopting the straight jacket foreign models which had failed us in the past’.20

  • 21 Onadipe, Behind the dark glasses ..., 71.
  • 22 ibid., 72.

19To all appearances, several factors, aside from a virulent political opposition, drove Abacha to political paranoia. To begin with, the general’s childhood was, to say the least, drab and unpleasant. Perhaps due to his short size, he was often bullied at school. He also suffered from many ailments. On account of the former, he cultivated a ‘pathological aversion for dissent’; consequent upon the latter, he was far from being a brilliant student. Like Babangida, he may not have passed the West African School Certificate (WASC) examinations. Unlike the latter, however, Abacha did little to improve himself intellectually, and had considerable disdain for anything that taxed the intellect. He was not known to have granted any press interview on any major national issue. He would not forgive those, like Abiola, who reminded him of this huge lacuna. Thus, the argument that ‘his greatest motivation (appeared) to be his lust for personal power, personal hate and personal vengeance’.21 Similarly, his intellectual laziness and wanton worldliness fed into a political behaviour that set little store by promptness. Indeed, his ‘tardy time-keeping habits (were) legendary. He often (did) not keep scheduled appointments’.22

  • 23 Howard W. French, Nigeria, a proud Nation in a Free Fall; See Under a general’s grip. Tell (20 Apr (...)

20According to an insider, Abacha was ‘inaccessible even to his own ministers and senior army staff; (he) rarely venture(d) out of his marbled official mansion ... He (worked) through the night and (slept) much of the day summoning officials only as he (needed) them’.23 What Samuel Decalo says in respect of Idi Amin Dada, who lost power in Uganda in 1979, has an uncanny resonance here, albeit with some caveats:

  • 24 Samuel Decalo, Africa’s personal dictatorships. The Journal of Modern African Studies (vol. 23, no (...)

... his attention span was extremely brief for anything that required any mental effort. He could neither preside over cabinet meetings (their function eluded him) nor understand government reports even when read to him, let alone comprehend the intricacies of affairs of state.24

  • 25 ibid., 218.

21By the same token, like Amin, throughout Abacha’s ‘rapid and steady progress to the summit, after each grudgingly given promotion, (he) was regarded as having definitely reached his terminal rank, only to be promoted again, quite quickly.’25 By the time Babangida was pushed out of power by force majeure in August 1993, Abacha was Nigeria’s most senior serving military officer.

  • 26 ibid., 225-6.

22Like Amin, Bokassa and Nguema, when most needed, Abacha, ‘shunned expert opinion; distrusted or did away with cabinet meetings; ruled by personal decrees and brought about the ossification of political structures in their societies’. For Abacha, perhaps more than for Babangida, his closest allies and political reference groups were a coterie of sycophants and opportunists who may or may not be better educated than him, but who were tied to him by sheer larceny and pure opportunism.26 Unlike Idi Amin and others, aforecited, however, the military strongman enunciated ‘long-range economic policies’, such as Vision 2010. This could well be regarded as a convenient contrivance meant to buy valuable time and wrench some invaluable political acceptance, while cynically keeping a hodgepodge of technocrats, econocrats, bureaucrats, professional political jobbers and hangers-on busy.

23In the military, the general was not so much a good infantry soldier as that he was adept at using infantry tactics for political and largely self-serving ends. As an observer remarked,

  • 27 Onadipe, Behind the dark glasses..., 72.

... from the military perspective ... Abacha exhibited good infantry tactics, knowing when to withdraw and when to attack... .He (was) not equipped with fancy political footwork or fiery oratory. He also (lacked) the customary military despatch in his style of governance (apart from summary dismissals and executions).27

24Furthermore, power was, for him, an instrument of primitive accumulation, not one for general provisioning or public good. Power was conceived as a zero-sum game, in a most perfidious and dastardly manner. Opponents were enemies and were, at best, to be denied the means of living, and if that failed, to be physically eliminated. There was little doubt that the general sought to install personal tyranny as an effective bulwark against the apparent formidable resilience of the political opposition.

25Decalo has defined personal tyranny as:

  • 28 Decalo, Africa’s personal dictatorships, 212.

... an authoritarian system of social repression set by an individual – civilian or military – in which, whether social or political structures are pro-forma retained or not, all policy dictates derive from him, and all of society is viewed as his personal fief.28

26Decalo further describes the main characteristics of a personal tyranny or dictatorship:

  • 29 ibid, 212.

Socio-economic patronage and plunder coupled with status and prestige, are the glue that binds his cohorts to himself. He rules in an absolute imperial manner often for the sole purpose of self-gratification or glorification molding society in his own image and exploiting it to his own advantage. Personal dictators create a vast social void within which they often enact their personal fantasies and whims, a vacuum that is particularly destabilising for successor regimes.29

27In the same vein, personal dictatorship has the penchant, when all else fails, to resort to the world of spirits – the universe of soothsayers, diviners and sorcerers; the world of marabouts, the itinerant Islamic holy men. Whilst, in general, there is a liturgy of dictators’ ‘omniscience and divine powers’, in the case of Abacha, there was often a direct presidential solicitation for prayers for his self-succession, but carefully disguised as national prayers for divine intervention in the country’s public affairs.

  • 30 ibid, 212.

28But was the general a personal dictator – or Nigeria’s first maximum ruler? Or was he no more than a media creation? If it is the case that a personal dictator is one that is ‘totally unfettered by checks on his power’ ... [one that] ‘possesses maximum power to the extent feasible within a given society’, the Abacha phenomenon corresponded more to an authoritarian typology that ‘betrays the frustration of leaders incapable of ramming through any change due to the resilience of societal values to directives from above.’30

29To that extent, the Abacha junta was, to all intents and purposes, a failed personal dictatorship, notwithstanding its own unprecedented politics of repression. In a fundamental sense, the resort to pristine oppression betrayed a lack of maximum power accumulation against not only an amalgam of political opponents, but in relation to a boisterous and vibrant civil society, including ethnic nationalities. Abacha was confronted by the country’s politico-cultural antinomies that tend to halt the transformation of crudely ambitious and ruthless political generals into modem-day dictators. It is to the politics of repression – the struggle for democracy; the regime’s response, that is, transition politics as well as the role of the international community that we now, successively, turn our attention.

The Politics of Repression

30Whilst by definition, a military regime is the direct antithesis of the rule of law as well as an unwholesome negation of the civic culture, not all military regimes exhibit the same level of political ambush against the citizenry. When placed on a continuum, some military seem to set more store by citizens’ rights than others, even though, ultimately, the failure of the rule of law leads to human rights abuse.

  • 31 United States rates Nigeria low on human rights. TheGuardian, (12 May 1998): 56.

31Nevertheless, military regimes do not all have the same level of predation. As the Nigerian state progressively lost its ‘stateness’ and degenerated under consecutive military regimes, into a ‘statist’ cocoon, as succeeding heads of the junta became increasingly hegemonic over both the junta and the polity, heinous political crimes were committed in the name of the military. The latter seemingly attained its apogee under the Abacha regime. A major chunk of the crimes was perpetrated against the political opposition, even though the military qua military as well as its most politicized factions were not left untouched. Indeed, alongside what Claude Ake calls the ‘criminalisation of political dissent’ in the civil society was the decimation of perceived critical elements in the military. A US Department of State Country Report in 1997 grouped Nigeria, China and Burma in the same class and described Nigeria’s record as ‘dismal’ in view of ‘systematic rights abuse as a deliberate approach to governance’.31

32For purposes of political survival, Abacha sought to exercise absolute control through a reign of terror. He vastly improved, in a wholly negative sense, the well-known security networks which Babangida had spawned in Abuja: Babangida was watched over by a 2,000-strong personal security team, most of whom were trained in insurgency and counter-insurgency in Korea. The country’s political capital, became for all practical purposes, a heavily guarded fortress; ‘thoroughly policed by plain-clothed agents’. Obsessed with security to the point of paranoia – a weak point that was massively exploited by his chief security officer (CSO) and other cronies – he trusted no one, for he personally commanded his own parallel security service.

  • 32 French, Nigeria, a proud nation in a free fall...

33By rushing to Abuja soon after the aborted Orkar coup in April 1990, Babangida sought relief from Lagos, the country’s political hotbed. Under him, and much more so, during the Abacha years, Lagos became synonymous with Nigeria’s expanding political space through increasingly vibrant civil society organizations -whatever their internal problems as highlighted, respectively, by Attahiru Jega and Raufu Mustapha. Thus, whilst Lagos was, under Abacha, ‘a place of surprisingly outspoken criticism’, Abuja was an unflattering testimony to the growing reckless use of power by political generals: it was a ‘minutely policed town, where any conversation might be monitored; where plain clothes [sic] agents haunt every hotel and restaurant, and where crack troops are never more than a moment’s call away’.32

  • 33 Paul Okojie, Nigeria: What is to be done? South African Political Economy Monthly (vol. 11, no. 2, (...)
  • 34 Human Rights Watch/Africa: Nigeria: Transition or Travesty? Nigeria’s endless process of return to (...)

34There were different layers of the junta’s repressive tactics and measures. Engaged, as he was, in ‘a ferocious battle of legitimacy’33 the military, by the play of logic, was the starting block. Thus, the tone and tenor of repression and intimidation in relation to the political opposition was set by first cleansing the military. One of Abacha’s first acts was to flush out 14 key members of the Babangida regime, the most notable amongst them being Dongoyaro, a former ECOMOG commander in Liberia and Shagaya, a scion of the so-called ‘Babangida’s boys’ club’. According to Human Rights Watch/Africa, in his attempt to silence perceived opponents within the military, Abacha, on a scale incomparable to that of his predecessor, ‘repeatedly resorted to detention, dismissals and transfers on questionable grounds, or to forced retirements, and filing trumped-up charges’.34

  • 35 Nigeria: Transition or travesty..., 32.

35Between 1995 and 1996, no fewer than 200 senior officers were sacked, including the first Chief of Army Staff, Chris Alli. His successor, Ibrahim Alkali was apparently fired on grounds of outspokenness – in contradistinction to, say, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Abacha’s successor. Abacha, at the height of an indiscriminate ‘ethnic-cleansing’ in the military, argued that the army ‘is not a place for permanent employment’.35 By the same token, the Provisional Military Council (PRC), rapidly fell into oblivion; like the council of ministers, it met very sparingly; at the whims and caprices of Abacha. More worrisome was that no member dared to complain openly about the irrelevance and obsolescence of what was supposed to be the junta’s highest policy-making organ.

  • 36 See Dare Babarinsa, Fear, tenor, vengeance. Tell (23 March 1998): 16-17. In a related essay, Babar (...)

36There was little surprise, therefore, when very senior officers, including Oladipo Diya, Abacha’s deputy, were implicated in an alleged coup d’etat in December 1997. That ‘coup’ had all the trappings of the 1995 phantom coup in which, amongst others, Obasanjo and Yar’Adua, well-known critics of the general, were tried and jailed. Indeed, in cleansing his inner caucus and immediate entourage, Abacha used power as a veritable instrument of vengeance. His victims were not only those who had supposedly wronged him in his climb to power, but also those who were hitherto close allies – including divisional commanders – who had staged the November 1993 palace coup which put him in power. He quickly got rid of them – similar to what Seyni Kountche did to ‘Bonkano’, his military assistant, in Niger Republic in 1983 – before they could become incumbent and ambitious.36

  • 37 Tell (24 June 1996): 20.

37By June 1996, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) had counted no fewer than 87 ‘June 12’-induced military purges -aside from the 23 well-known pro-democracy activists in exile and about 20 held under Decree 2 of 1984 (which allowed government to detain anybody considered a security risk for an indefinite period of time).37

  • 38 L. Diamond, A. Kirk-Greene and O. Oyediran Introduction: The politics of transition without end. I (...)

38The second layer of repression was that of accumulation of formal powers, particularly under the aegis of transitional politics. Through a combination of chicanery and subterfuge – in the form of ‘ouster clauses’ that further compounded the problems of the judiciary and subverted the rule of law – political opposition became an endangered species. After taking two years to announce a transition programme, when it was eventually pronounced, there was no mistaking the calculated strategy of political hegemony in the 3-year programme. Thus, given Abacha’s own repeated manipulations of transitional politics and politicians and his ruthlessness in jailing and crushing all sources of opposition, there was little reason to doubt that his timetable as well would be jiggered and postponed.38

  • 39 Nigeria: Permanent transition..., 27.

39The Local Government Elections Decree No 6 of 1996, Section 45(1) gave the general powers ‘to remove the chairman or vice-chairman of a local government from office or dissolve a local government council and appoint an administrator to manage the council’s affairs until a fresh election is conducted’. No guidelines were provided for the exercise of the powers. The lifting of the ban on political activities in October 1995 did not prevent the Transition to Civil Rule Decree of 1995, Section 6, from making it an offence to engage in almost any activity in protest of the transition programme.39

40The third and final layer was a ruthless attack on all forms of political opposition, and its intellectual support – the independent Nigerian press. While the ownership of the free press has always been fairly national in its spread, state propaganda has often described it as essentially southwestern – if not outrightly ‘Yoruba’ – due to its concentration in Lagos and Ibadan. This propaganda, while not an Abacha invention or creation, was put to good use by his regime. The high-profile crusade by the independent press for the validation of ‘June 12’- which was another way of asking Abacha to resign and hand over power to Abiola – provided a facile alibi for the regime to declare hostilities against the Press.

  • 40 Chukwumerije was the deputy boss of Biafra’s propaganda machinery during the Nigerian civil war, 1 (...)

41It should be recalled that largely due to the anti-Abiola and anti-Yoruba propaganda mounted by the Babangida regime in its twilight months – the linchpin of which was the Information Secretary, Uche Chukwumerije,40 – the national desire for Abiola’s electoral victory of June 12 to be declared, gradually dissipated. Save for isolated pockets in both the political North and East, the agitation was almost a southwest show. All that some politicians from the East and the North could point to, when confronted with their apparent absence from the opposition’s barricades to fight for ‘June 12’, was that, after-all, they had also voted for Abiola. For example, not only was Ojukwu, the Biafran leader, used by Babangida to denounce the Abiola mandate – he enjoyed a lot of air time on state-owned electronic media, post annulment – he would later ridicule ‘June 12’ by declaring that his election as a delegate to the Constitutional Conference (June 1994-June 1995), in which less than half-a million Nigerians voted – compared to the 14 million that voted on June 12 – was superior to that of Abiola.

42At the same time, politicians from the Social Democratic Party (SDP), whose leadership had, strangely enough, never fought to claim their presidential victory, joined Abacha’s first cabinet in exchange for abandoning Abiola and ‘June 12’.

43Abacha had other formidable political adversaries among the minority ethnic nationalities in the oil-rich South-South geopolitical zone, the most prominent being the Ogoni people. Admittedly one of the smallest ethnic groups, it was and still remains perhaps the most irrepressible. Led by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, an estranged friend of Abacha, the Ogoni and their allies stood for everything that Abacha loathed: ie, a return to ‘true’ or a fairly balanced federalism, which would have loosened the government’s stranglehold on oil resources and the concentration of powers and wealth at the centre, in this case, in the hands of Abacha.

44In relation to these three groups, (the independent press, the pro-democracy organizations and his South-South adversaries) the junta was clearly ruthless and without pity. It was as if Abacha was dealing with personal enemies, not simply with persons holding ‘dissenting’ views. The umbrella opposition political organisation – the National Democratic Coalition of Nigeria, (NADECO) – was marked out for total annihilation. One after the other, its leading lights and big financiers were either brutally murdered (Alfred Rewane, Kudirat Abiola) or driven into exile (Wole Soyinka, Alani Akinrinade, Dan Suleiman, etc) or, as in the case of Omotehinwa, a senior military officer, when unavailable, their closest associates were eliminated.

45The junta’s goons were also on the prowl, throwing bombs at military formations and using that as a pretext to tighten the noose on key activists such as Olabiyi Durojaiye, Alliance for Democracy (AD) Senate Leader, and Olu Falae, AD/A11 People’s Party (APP) presidential candidate in the 1999 presidential election.

46Others were used, dumped and then persecuted. Former Abacha cabinet ministers, Olu Onagoruwa and Alex Ibru, publisher of The Guardian, were such targets for elimination. Onagoruwa’s lawyer son was gunned down in front of the family in Lagos; Ibru survived by a hair’s breath an assassination attempt by the junta’s death squad. As evidence from the on-going trial of some of Abacha’s security operatives in Lagos is being pieced together, the story of assassinations and bombings is beginning to unfold. A hitherto unknown group, probably also phoney, the Revolutionary Movement for Hausa-Fulani Interests claimed responsibility for the attempt on Ibru. Whilst declaring its support for the transition, the group claimed it was

  • 41 Nigeria: Permanent transition..., 24.

... totally opposed to June 12 and all those southerners bent on defending the stupid, narrow and wicked assumption that the Hausa-Fulani wall be overthrown in Nigeria.41

47Furthermore, the junta infiltrated the Abiola family, causing, to public knowledge, a major rift, basically a function of political strategy, between Kudirat, Abiola’s most senior wife and Kola, his first son. While the latter wanted Abiola to take an alleged $300 million bribe from Abacha to renounce his mandate; come out of prison to rebuild his life and crumbling business empire, Kudirat opposed political compliance and opted for an all-out struggle to recover the mandate. As the latter strategy became the dominant one, Abacha chose a full-blown financial persecution of the family: the 10 million naira owed to the family by three state governments was not paid; then the junta revoked the family’s Summit Oil licence (granted by Babangida); and huge sums of money owed to both ITT and Abiola’s radio network were not paid.

48Again, by the time electoral politics flagged off, only known friends and sympathizers of the junta were licensed, both as individuals and as members of political parties. After a rather cumbersome process, à la Babangida, in which 18 political associations applied for registration, the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) approved only five. In the process, according to S.J. Sorabjee, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights in Nigeria in 1998,

  • 42 UN Commission on Human Rights, Situation of Human Rights in Nigeria: Report Submitted by the Speci (...)

... many key actors were denied access to the political process. Chief Abiola’s party (SDP) was not registered along with other parties which included known opponents of the government.42

49There was also no love lost between the junta and the independent press. To begin with, the Newspapers Decree No 43 of 1993, once voided by a Lagos High Court, was resurrected by the junta in July 1995. There could be no better evidence of an anti-press action. Several provisions were apparently meant to curtail and restrict the independent press, if not altogether chain it. These included payment of a deposit of N250,000.00 and a non-refundable fee of N100,000.00, which the board may, review from time to time; furnishing of evidence concerning the good character, competence and integrity of the directors or of other persons responsible for or in charge of publication. The junta also retained the Nigerian Press Council Decree No 85 of 1992 and the National Broadcasting Commission Decree No 3 of 1992. The latter, which had jurisdiction over the issuance of radio and television licences, could deny them to individuals who could not convince the government that it would thereby ‘promote national interest, unity and cohesion’.

50Media freedom was further curtailed by the 1995 draft constitution which never saw the light of day. Section 46 of Part 1 of its 3rd schedule had stipulated the establishment of a National Mass Media Commission to be charged with the regulation of

  • 43 Nigeria: Transition or travesty ..., 28-29.

... the existence of newspapers, magazines and publications generally, as well as radio and television stations in the country’;
to protect individuals against media harassment and intimidation
to protect Nigerians against intrusions and unwarranted enquiries into the private life of any person without his (her) consent.43

51In the same vein, the proposed establishment of a special ‘press court’ to try journalists on charges of ‘false reporting’ also became a dead letter.

  • 44 See: Reign of terror: Human rights abuse worsens. Tell (3 November 1997).

52The independent press also suffered from the phenomenon of ‘hostage-taking’, that is, the arrest of members of the family of a wanted person. It mattered little to the junta whether it was a pregnant wife of a wanted journalist or an innocent daughter or son. It was such an abhorrent act that Justice Paul Nwokedi, Chair of the junta’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) described it as ‘unjust, atrocious and against the fundamental rights of the hostage to personal freedom’.44

53Prolonged closure of media houses, such as The Guardian, The Punch, National Concord, Vanguard, etc; frequent seizures of ‘irritating’ editions of such vocal and radical weeklies as Tell, The News, Tempo and, briefly, Razor, etc, routine detention of senior journalists – were common features under the regime. Yet, they pale into relative insignificance when compared to the unprecedented secret trial and ultimate conviction, by a special military tribunal, of four senior journalists – Chris Anyanwu; Kunle Ajibade; George Mbah and Ben Charles-Obi, all four from the independent press – on grounds of being ‘accessories after the fact of a coup’, sequel to their respective articles raising doubts about the genuineness of the alleged 1995 coup. In early 1998, Reporters Sans Frontières summed up the face-off between the junta and the independent press as follows:

... the private press in Nigeria is going through its darkest times. More than 90 journalists suffered repression in 1997, that is four times as many as in 1996; 13 journalists are still being detained in Nigeria, making it one of the most repressive African countries for the freedom of the press.

54On account of the severe human rights violations by successive military regimes in the oil-producing states of the Delta region and the extreme material deprivation of the people, it has been difficult for these communities to have confidence in government’s ability to provide relief and succour. Indeed, the Delta region has, over the years, been subjected to a double jeopardy. On the one hand:

[oil] companies benefit from non-enforcement of laws regulating the oil industry, in ways directly prejudicial to the resident population,

55and, on the other:

  • 45 The Guardian (18 February 1998): 5.

the oil companies benefit from federal decrees that deprive local communities of rights in relation to the land they treat as theirs.45

  • 46 Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil: Corporate responsibility and human rights violations in Nige (...)

56It is within this context that one can appreciate the political struggle of the oil communities for a fair and better deal. Though not always so articulated, the Ogoni Bill of Rights which, inter alia, demands ‘political autonomy to participate in the affairs of the Republic as a distinct and separate unit’, including ‘the right to the control and use of a fair proportion of Ogoni resources for Ogoni development’, has become a potent clarion call for a loose Nigerian federation.46

  • 47 Tekena Tamuno, Nigerian federalism in historical perspective. In: Federalism and Political Restruc (...)
  • 48 Babarinsa, Sleeping with the enemy, 19.

57Professor Tekena Tamuno has made the important point that federalism ‘as interpreted and applied by a succession of military rulers ... (has) engendered fears of over-robust centralism’.47 In a fundamental sense, the clamour for a redefinition and reconfiguration of Nigeria grew louder as the regime gradually approximated to a personal tyranny. According to a view, ‘if Nigeria will not grant its citizens the full rights of citizenship, then Nigeria has no tenable reason to exist’.48

  • 49 Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil..., 120, 129.

58Other ethnic nationalities have appropriated the language and grammar of protest used by the Ogoni, but the Abacha junta refused to budge. In so far as ‘oil is the life-blood of the Nigerian federal government’ and ‘any threat to oil revenues is viewed in the most serious light’, because ‘any threat to oil production is a threat to the entire existing political system’, protests by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and other ethnic minorities have, not unexpectedly, ‘provoked a violent and repressive response from the federal government’.49

  • 50 Ike Okonta, Abacha’s death and new threat to democracy. The Guardian on Sunday (19 July 1998): 9.
  • 51 Cited in Jeffrey Herbst, Migration, the politics of protest and state consolidation in Africa. Afr (...)

59By stubbornly refusing any form of dialogue with the oil-producing communities in general and the Ogoni people in particular, the Abacha regime brought the Delta region’s age-long grievances into bold relief. The hasty hanging of the ‘Ogoni Nine’ at a time the records of the trials were still being compiled was probably meant to serve as a powerful lesson for other South-South patriots. While Babangida set up the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC), after the massacre of the oil people of Umuechem in 1990, Abacha did not have time for ‘such niceties as political manoeuvring and settlements.’50 He simply set up a special military task force to crush the Ogoni. Abacha sought to repress both ‘voice’ and ‘exit’ options of citizens, particularly of the opposition, the junta had ‘no recuperative mechanism because [it] was unable to gain information about why and to what extent [its] citizens [were] dissatisfied’.51

The Struggle for Democracy

  • 52 Chris Allen, Who needs civil society? Review of African Political Economy (no. 73, 1997): 330.

60The cutting edge of the struggle for democracy, aside from the political opposition – under the umbrella of NADECO and some ethnic nationalities – was the expanding human rights, libertarian and pro-democracy groups in the civil society. However else the civil society is defined, the Lockean definition appears apposite and adequate: ‘society is or becomes civil when it seeks to define and establish legitimate political authority’.52 What was significant was that the commitment of these groups, whatever their weaknesses in other areas, to a democratic, legitimate political order tended to grow in direct proportion to the wave of repression by the junta. It has been argued, for instance, that if

  • 53 Funso Afolayan, Civil society, popular culture and the crisis of democratic transitions in Nigeria (...)

... the campaign to remove Babangida was sustained and ultimately succeeded, even after the political class had virtually capitulated, was principally due to the resilience and courage displayed by these groups and their allies in the media.53

  • 54 Judith Ann-Walker. Civil society, the challenge to the authoritarian state and the consolidation o (...)

61The same constellation of social forces fought Abacha to a standstill. Indeed, an interesting characteristic of this period, in the words of Judith Ann-Walker, was ‘the multiplicity of civil society organizational types that became locked in dangerous encounters with the state over issues of rights, liberties and good governance’.54

  • 55 Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, Collective memory and selective amnesia in a transmutational paradox. Issue (...)
  • 56 Julius Ihonvbere, The 1999 presidential elections in Nigeria: The unresolved issues. Issue (vol. 2 (...)

62Locked as the pro-democracy groups and the press were in intense struggles against power,55 at the risk of their limbs and lives, one could more meaningfully evoke, following John Saul, the notion of ‘assertive politics of an activated civil society’, rather than that of a ‘fragmented and intimidated civil society’ à la Julius Ihonvbere.56

  • 57 Jonathan Newell, A difficult year for us in many respects: Pressure for change and government reac (...)
  • 58 J.D. Holm, P.P. Molutsi and Gloria Somolekae, The development of civil society in the democratic s (...)

63Placed on Eva Sandberg’s and Michael Bratton’s respective continuum of ‘competitive and co-operative interaction’ and of ‘mutual disengagement... direct confrontation ... [and] close collaboration’, the Nigerian civil society under Abacha was clearly involved in a ‘competitive, direct confrontation’ with a degenerate military state. It is instructive that, in the midst of a ‘tripartite alliance’ against ‘June 12’, which involved a massive state-driven propaganda machine, the denial of the political opposition and an overt, robust attempt to ethnicize the democratic struggle, opposition to the junta hardly showed signs of wavering and faltering. Unlike Malawi, where the Banda-inspired ‘deadening culture was never adequately challenged’, in so far as ‘most of the leading intellectuals and politicians were imprisoned or forced into exile’,57 the Nigerian civil society, both domestic and international, appeared to have been strengthened by the junta’s strong-arm tactics. The groups would eventually count amongst their supporters usually conservative politicians and professionals. In a fundamental sense, therefore, J.D. Holm et al. are right to argue that ‘civil society grows in a state as more and more groups engage in activities designed to maintain or change governmental policies’.58

64We have already raised the issue of anti-June 12 propaganda. The junta was not content with that. In January 1997, the Minister of Information, Walter Ofonagoro, denied the existence of a political opposition.

  • 59 Tell (20 March 1995): 7.

... some characters calling themselves pro-democracy groups... have been sponsored by the Western world to make noise here and cause trouble, but they are being ignored because they only have nuisance value. [He added, for effect, that] there is no opposition; every Nigerian is with us. This is the achievement of Abacha’s administration.59

65The attempt to ethnicize the Abiola mandate recorded only a partial victory. Rather than succumb to the junta’s ethnic drumbeat, the issues of political morality, social justice and ethnic equality seemed to have loomed larger. While in terms of space, much of the political struggle was limited to the southwest, nevertheless, the value reference had a pan-Nigerian resonance.

  • 60 Nigeria: Transition or travesty,... 26; Cf. F. Abugu et al. A tripodal opposition to self-successi (...)

66In March 1995, a coalition of 34 pro-democracy groups in Nigeria and North America called on Abacha to hand over to Abiola.60

67In reaction to the perceived interference of the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in the country’s political crisis, barely a week to the unexpected death of Abiola in the presence of an official American delegation, the Congress of Northern Youth for Democracy (ENYD) criticized an apparent subtle move to pressurize Abiola to renounce his mandate. For the Congress, the only option was:

  • 61 Northern youths fault Annan’s statement on Abiola. The Guardian (6 July 1998): 6. Annan had quoted (...)

... the release of all ... political detainees, including Chief Abiola, and the formation of a Government of National Unity which should be headed by the winner of June 12 election.61

  • 62 The Guardian (27 January 1998): 4.

68Likewise, as the clamour by the Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) and sundry groups and individuals, for the general’s self-succession intensified, the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), a human rights organization in the North called for the trial of members of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), a body close to the junta.62

69In the southeast, groups essentially woven around ethnic nationalities, both within and outside the country, were particularly vocal in their demands for the restructuring of the federal system and for the granting of greater powers and autonomy to nationalities. The US-based Southern Minorities Front of Nigeria (SOMIFON), set up with the explicit aim of advancing the interests and rights of southern minorities, pointedly called for the establishment of a ‘government of national unity’ and a ‘sovereign national conference’.

  • 63 The Guardian (5 August 1998): 2, 6.

70By the same token, the Eastern and Niger Delta Consensus (ENDC) was founded to ‘save succeeding generations of ethnic indigenes of their respective geo-political areas from the scourge of war, poverty and slavery’. While the latter ruled out any form of armed struggle, affirming faith rather in ‘civilised norms and international machinery for the promotion of economic and social advancement of all ethnic nationalities’, the former’s threat, should its demand be rejected, to establish a ‘Federation of Southern Nigeria National State’ was perhaps an indication of their seriousness and determination.63

  • 64 G.G. Darah, Ibadan, running splash... The Guardian (20 April 1998): 49.

71In consequence, while the civil society and popular masses in the southwest are deemed politically more advanced than notable political leaders, by virtue of ‘an unwritten covenant of what is considered the minimum ethics of behaviour expected of the leadership’ and that ‘when the leadership transgresses this moral threshold, penalties are exacted from them,’64 there were, and still are, seemingly comparable ‘moral’ awakenings nationwide.

  • 65 Ann-Walker, Civil society, the challenge to the authoritarian state..., 55-6.

72In general terms, an analyst has pointed to apolitical civil society organizations in the North that challenge the state at the grassroots level over issues of rights and freedom of members; Islamic brotherhoods that mount a violent challenge to the military state; associations (eg, of retired police and army officers) closely related to the authoritarian state, but which oppose it over issues of members’ rights and entitlements – all these and more are said to represent ‘a wide cross-section of local civil society organizations ... defending a public space for rights and entitlements,’ thus denying ‘the notion of inactivity and complicity with military forces in the North.’65

  • 66 Afolayan, Civil society, popular culture..., 75.

73In the end, ‘June 12’ was a national political cocktail of sorts. For Funso Afolayan, it was ‘not an ethno-regional or religious conflict. It was a continuation of the power struggle between the classes and groups of the ruling elite’.66

  • 67 ibid.

... June 12 is more than a personal contract... if Abiola were the target with the totally apolitical behaviour of his closest associates, the foot soldiers of the revolution would have given up long ago. But they have not given up because the matter is about Ogoni, about the ethnic minorities in Southern Kaduna, about power sharing, about the Nigerian state, indeed about 1914 and after... June 12 is the watershed for several decades of injustice in the Nigerian nation. It is the crossroads at which lines are being drawn in the sands by aggrieved constituencies in society.67

74While some of the agitations for democratic renewal, in different forms and guises, were not expressly in favour of the validation of ‘June 12’, they nonetheless amounted to democratic demands. When the famous G34 – a hodgepodge of well-known politicians, of different ideological hues, including former Abacha ministers – was finally received in audience by Abubakar, as part of his post-Abacha, pre ‘new’ transition programme (July 1998 - May 1999) consultations, the Alex Ekwueme-led group could not accept Abiola as head of the proposed ‘government of national unity’, should the new regime be favourable to that arrangement.

  • 68 The Guardian (12 May 1998): 1.

75As earlier mentioned, important personalities, hardly politically visible in the past, also came to be counted on the side of the democratic struggle. Thus, Chief FRA Williams, one of Nigeria’s foremost constitutional lawyers insisted, on the basis of Section 34 of the Political Parties (Registration and Activities) Decree 28 of 1996, that Abacha was not qualified to stand for presidential election, notwithstanding his adoption by four political parties. According to the constitution, a candidate is ‘a member of a registered political party nominated by the party and accepted (by NECON) to contest an election organized by the Commission’. Williams added that ‘it would be ill-advised for (the general) to make himself the instrument for breaking the law he made and signed by himself by accepting the offer’.68

76The church and the mosque also became politically active in the struggle for democratic governance – perhaps the cross more than the crescent. Aside from numerous pastoral letters and homilies, the church, both as a corporate entity and via individual leaders, was fairly steadfast against Abacha’s thinly veiled self-succession bid. Primate Sunday Mbang, then President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), declared in March 1997 that:

  • 69 R. Abati, The church in politics. The Guardian (6 February 1998): 25.

I don’t believe in (the transition programme). It is full of inconsistencies... I don’t care if I am arrested for saying the truth. I don’t believe in the transition programme because there seems to be a hidden agenda.69

  • 70 The Guardian (26 February 1998): 3.
  • 71 Bruce J. Berman, Ethnicity, patronage and the African state: The politics of uncivil nationalism. (...)

77Against the pro-government claim that since the draft 1995 constitution – with a rotational presidency clause – was not yet in force, it was in order as well as democratic for Abacha to run, the Christian Council of Nigeria retorted that leaders of the parties had, by their action, mortgaged their consciences.70 Perhaps Bruce J. Berman is right when he says that Christian churches ‘represent anon or trans-ethnic moral community and ideology’.71 The same is perhaps true of the mosque. When the Chief Imam of Ansar-ud-deen Mosque, Kano, Sheik Nurudeen Ajani Bello was asked why some clerics refused to participate in the 40th day prayer for Abacha, as radicals amongst them also did when he was buried, he replied:

  • 72 Osa Director, A billion naira trouble for Maryam. Tell (3 August 1998): 30.

Why should we pray over Abacha’s dead body and the repose of his soul? Was he a Muslim when he was alive? Abacha was a satan sent to punish us.72

  • 73 Ahmed Nassara, Prayers for General Abacha. The Guardian (7 April 1998): 33.

78A commentator, who to all appearances belongs to the mosque, reacted to the general’s plea for divine intervention in the country’s politics as follows: ‘Abacha (needed) no prayers to know that it (was) wrong and dangerous to betray one’s covenant with the people for he pledged at the inception of his government that his regime would be brief and it (had) already lasted four full years’.73

The Political Transition Programme

  • 74 Gilbert Khadiagala, The military in Africa’s democratic transitions: Regional dimensions. Africa T (...)

79Due to a persistent inability of most military regimes to effectively organize re-civilianization programmes leading to their peaceful disengagement from power, there is a growing literature, in civil-military relations, on transitions from military to civilian governance. The point to be emphasized, according to Gilbert Khadiagala, is that ‘militaries... can close off democratic spaces even while seemingly engaged in complex programmes of democratization.’ On the specific Abacha transition, he argues that the general’s ‘constitutional experiments in the face of domestic repression and external pressure do not distract from the larger picture of the military’s incapacity to effect a democratic transition’.74

80Abacha was under no illusion about what was required to skew the political transition programme to his own advantage: mobilize a corrupt section of the political class and the political military with juicy oil deals and massive financial largesse, whilst simultaneously deepening repression against the political opposition and civil society organizations. As a veteran coup plotter and post-coup political manager, Abacha had an excellent grasp of the character and nature of the country’s political class.

  • 75 Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The state and democracy in Africa. In: The State and Democracy in Africa (...)
  • 76 Jibrin Ibrahim, Political Scientists and the subversion of democracy in Nigeria. In: The State and (...)

81Nzongola-Ntalaja has lamented, a propos of Africa, the ‘little commitment to democratisation as a process within the political class as a whole, including leaders of the democratic opposition’. For him, such politicians ‘prefer deal-making behind closed doors to transparent decision-making in open democratic processes. More often than not, they will end up betraying the deepest aspirations of ordinary people, whose own political maturity manifests itself in an often uncritical support for such leaders’.75 Jibrin Ibrahim adds that the predatory elite political culture in Nigeria is such that ‘only rapacious political entrepreneurs that have looted the nation’s wealth, have the slightest chance of ever coming to power.’76

  • 77 Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil, 44.
  • 78 Berman, Ethnicity, patronage and the African state..., 335.

82What Abacha did, more or less successfully, was to personalize, by centralizing, the patron-client networks of the country’s politics – networks that, for decades now, have been anchored on illicit, mouth-watering, oil-driven deals. Already, by the time Gowon was ousted from power in July 1975, ‘politics revolved around the ‘distributive’ concerns generated by expenditure of the oil wealth.’77 What the Abacha ‘state’ offered willing politicians was, in the words of Berman, ‘a moral contract of material benefits in return for political quiescence’.78

83To be sure, the country’s political economy, whatever else it is, is largely an exercise in both organized and disorganized corruption. This phenomenon depends on:

  • 79 Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil, 50-51.

... a spectacular system of corruption, involving systematic kick-backs for the award of contracts, special bank accounts in the control of the presidency; allocation of oil or refined products to the politically loyal to sell for personal profit and ... for a whole range of political favours. In effect, across all sectors of the economy, this system of corruption is particularly entrenched in the oil sectors, its natural home.79

  • 80 Lucky Fiakpa, Who cares if Nigerians suffer? Tell (27 April 1998): 20.

84More specifically, under Abacha, the so-called ‘presidential allocation’ of oil amounted to some 200,000 barrels per day, a tenth of daily production. It was distributed for political support -not only to politicians participating in the transition programme, but also to selected West African leaders, whose moral support was considered important for self-succession. One way Abacha did this was to maintain an unprecedented stranglehold on the oil-driven economy. By refusing to undertake turn-around maintenance (TAM) on the ailing and ageing refineries, the resort was to fuel importation, an operation of which he tightly controlled.80 The most juicy of all deals was payment for repairs of facilities that were never – perhaps not intended to be -executed; fuel imports that were a veritable mega-business that gulped an estimated $12 billion in four years or so.

85With leading politicians, senior bureaucrats and political generals involved, the petroleum pie appeared infinite: the phenomenon of new independent marketing stations owned by generals was as reprehensible as it was perplexing to the extent that the greater the scarcity of fuel became, the more the number of stations sprouted. To crown it all, the Federal Petroleum Monitoring Task Force headed by Abubakar was considered the hotbed of seamy deals in petroleum distribution – replicating at a higher level of venality, a practice that was in vogue in virtually all the states.

  • 81 See Festus Eriye, How to buy your way out of trouble: Nigeria’s richest family returns loot in exc (...)

86This network also had its extra-Nigerian dimensions: the Chagoury brothers and the Rissars, who have had long-standing contacts at the highest level, since the First Republic – Shagari was their main link then, whilst Danjuma, Obasanjo’s Defence Minister, served as the chairman of the Chagoury construction company until the late 1990s. Under Abacha, they won lucrative oil and defence contracts, salting away, in the process, billions of dollars through off-shore companies registered in the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. According to a source, telegraphic transfers between January 1994 and June 1998 amounted to some $ 2.26 billion.81

  • 82 Murray Edelman, Constructing the Political Spectacle. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988) (...)

87The Constitutional Conference was unashamedly and unabashedly riveted with huge financial inducements: such as the allocation of plots of land and completed residential buildings in choice areas of Abuja as well as individual and group monetary settlements. Whereas at the outset Abacha promised that the conference would determine its life span, he was quick to show that he was a master of the political art of double-speak; that political language is not the same as political reality, thereby invalidating Murray Edelman’s argument that there is nothing to choose between the two ‘so far as the meaning of events to actors and spectators is concerned’.82 As if poised to maximize the ‘autonomy’ granted to it by Abacha to fix the junta’s exit date from power, the Conference settled for January 1996. The regime moved rapidly during the Conference’s 1994 Christmas break to reverse that decision. Massive trunks of cash, both in national and foreign currencies, were moved round the country by security operatives and pro-government politicians to buy conference participants over to government side. Abacha was highly successful in this litmus test. Once it reconvened in January 1995, the Conference would unanimously reverse itself.

88Principled, if ambitious and high-profile, politicians such as Yar’Adua, who stood their ground, were the worst for it; by March that year, as already remarked, he was implicated in a phantom coup. Henceforth, the name of the game was the use of more and more money either to silence opponents or, more significantly, to guarantee the continued loyalty of a seeming pan-Nigerian clan of professional military apologists and political jobbers. Apermanent wedge seemed, henceforth, to have been drawn between social forces fighting for democracy and pro-military forces bent on keeping the military and Abacha in power. In the words of Michael Schatzberg,

  • 83 Michael G. Schatzberg, Power, legitimacy and democracy in Africa. Africa London (vol. 63, no. 4, 1 (...)

A major social and political divide ... occurs between those who eat and those who cannot... those who eat, seek to impose their political values and visions on those who do not... the ‘winners’.. .are usually inside the state, while the ‘losers’ are usually on the outside looking in.83

  • 84 Richard C. Crook, Winning coalitions and ethno-regional politics: the failure of the opposition in (...)

89In Abacha’s Nigeria, however, most of the democratic activists were hardly interested in ‘looking in’; they sought, on the contrary, to smash the regime’s state apparatus with a view to re-legitimizing politics both as a public vocation and as a mutually rewarding relation between the state and its citizens. Perhaps what Abacha could have eventually done was to use the five parties to win the presidential election in what would have been a puerile, no-contest situation, and then, in a manner reminiscent of Houphouet-Boigny’s political machine in the Ivory Coast between 1960 and 1993, use the oil industry to link local elites, in particular chiefly estates, the military’s traditional bastion of support in Nigeria as well as political and military elites to a powerful state.84

  • 85 See, for example, L. Adele Jinadu, Democracy and intellectual responsibility: The case of politica (...)
  • 86 Akpo Esajere, The rise and fall of consensus candidate. The Guardian (9 February 1998): 7.

90In consequence, the transition programme was nothing but a transition to nothingness. The five parties were, to all appearances, worse than Babangida’s two ‘parastatals’ that passed for parties. Whilst the 1985-1993 transition dissimulated Babangida’s personal agenda for long by hiring some of the country’s best professors of political science to intellectualize the process,85 the Abacha programme harboured no such pretensions. The five parties were all of the same genre and were intended to serve the political ambition of the general. The modality was a dis-ingenious ‘consensus candidate’ for the presidency, while allowing for an appearance of electoral competition at the lower levels. Thus, whilst the programme was truncated from the beginning – manipulation, chicanery and blackmail being freely used against all forms of opposition – the programme literally collapsed at the point the general was adopted by all the parties, save one. The Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) that did not adopt him appeared to have done so to help the junta dissimulate its real intention. Its Chairman, Gambo Lawan, one of the many political upstarts in the five parties, only volunteered that Abacha’s adoption was ‘an imposition that (was) bound to create grave problems for the country’.86

91As Sklar argues in his chapter, ‘should Abacha choose to be a candidate in 1998, his domestic coalition might be strained or fractured by the effects of a contrived transition.’ The attempt to kill Diya, the general’s deputy in early December 1997 and his subsequent arrest, alongside senior, pro-Abacha elements such as Adisa and Olanrewaju, the same month, on charges of an alleged coup plot, were but the tip of the iceberg in the progressive disintegration of the junta. In the aftermath of the celebrated fall of Diya from grace to grass, it was revealed that a secret document authored by one of the general’s senior security aides had advised him to do away with Abubakar and all his service chiefs, save one (the Chief of Air Staff) on the grounds of their indifference to the general’s self-succession agenda.

  • 87 Tell (17 August 1998): 14, 19.

92Yomi Tokoya, a well-known hanger-on in the corridors of power, would later reveal that Abacha and his aides said that ‘I should co-operate with them to agree that ... Diya and ... Akhigbe ( Abubakar’s deputy) discussed the coup with me; that if I co-operate, they (would) set me free’.87

93In spite of evidence of disintegration of Abacha’s domestic coalition, visible and influential supporters, famous by their involvement in virtually all governments, were not difficult to come by. Olusola Saraki, Senate Leader in the ill-fated Second Republic, had to abort his presidential ambition because of the general and declared his support for him: ’... Abacha is a pleasant fellow, humble and respectful... if he contests, 1 will give him my support because we need somebody of honour and dignity, intelligence, somebody with enormous experience that can steer the ship of the country to success for president.’

  • 88 Esajere, The rise and fall of a consensus candidate.

94Arthur Nzeribe, Babangida’s alter ego, in the aborted Third Republic, was characteristically cruder: ‘the general... as far as 1 am concerned, has won the election already, reading the political barometer and considering the number of invitations he will get from political parties to be their sole candidate and the absence of any challenger’.88

95Finally, without a pliant and malleable political class, a demented political military class and a host of other opportunists, Abacha could neither have held on to power for that long, nor, for that matter, entertained the idea of becoming Nigeria’s elected president.’

  • 89 Dele Omotunde, From the Editor. Tell (17 August 1998): 13. Wole Soyinka is right when he says that (...)

In the not-too-distant future [writes Dele Omotunde], stories will... be told of those who aided and abetted Abacha in dragging Nigeria back to the Stone Age – the sadistic security men who chained political detainees like monkeys; the pseudo-radical politicians who doubled as Gwarzo’s spies; the cigar-chewing, cognac-sipping ‘journalists’ who squealed on their colleagues; the juvenile delinquents who equated hero-worship with patriotism; the eaglet administrators who owed allegiance to one man and the uniformed men who took advantage of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the leadership to stop and snatch people’s wallets at check points...89

96The extent of the depravity of Abacha’s apologists is perhaps best gauged by his purported adoption as consensus presidential candidate. Political morality loomed large by its flagrant breach. Not only had Abacha sacked ministers interested in party politics in 1995 and 1997, Sections 8 (2) and 8 (2c) of the Political Parties (Registration and Activities), Decree 28 of October 23, 1996 had clearly stipulated that:

... a person shall not be eligible to be registered as a member of a political party if he is a member of the Armed Forces of the Federation, the Nigeria Police, security agencies or paramilitary organs of the government or the public service of the federal, state or local government.

  • 90 G. Rye Olsen, Europe and the promotion of democracy in post-Cold War Africa: How serious is Europe (...)

97And, sequel to Abacha’s sudden death and his replacement by Abubakar, nowhere is the opportunism of pro-government politicians better revealed than in the support given to the termination of the Abacha transition programme by ‘transition politicians’. Kenny Martins, a chieftain of one of the five ‘political parties’, declared that the transition ‘would not have taken us anywhere. It was lopsided, distorted, indefensible and unacceptable to the generality of Nigerians’.90

The International Community

98Since Africa’s nominal ‘second wind’ of political independence flagged off at the beginning of the last decade, much emphasis has been placed on the role of the international community - often read, mainly, if not solely, as the West – to put pressure on the continent’s reluctant democratizers or recalcitrant autocrats to respect the people’s democratic wishes. It would seem that faith in this methodology of democratization in Africa was borne out of the oft-expressed opinion that, after all, the fillip for political liberalization in the 1990s came essentially from outside. As it turned out, the reading of democratization has been largely a-historical, much in-the same way that the perception of the international community as an effective impetus or catalyst to political change in Africa has been grossly overestimated.

99In theorizing the role of the European Union in the continent’s transition to electoral and constitutional democracy, G. Rye Olsen puts forward two models that could help explain the motives of bilateral donors. The first model privileges ‘recipient needs’ and, for him, Holland is the best example. The second model is driven by ‘donor interests’ which France best typifies. The corollaries of these two models are what Olsen refers to, respectively, as ‘high politics’ and ‘low polities’. The former sums up security and strategic concerns of European powers in the post-Cold War era, while the latter is encapsulated in issues of democracy and human rights. The argument is that ‘low politics’ gets priority attention only in so far as ‘high politics’ is not at stake. Thus, within the context of the ‘donor interests’ model, France’s support for Niger Republic’s fraudulent presidential election in July 1996 against the EU’s decision on the matter, was dictated by the need to prevent a probable Libyan hegemony in Niger, as well as the related need to maintain France’s control over the country’s lucrative uranium industry.

  • 91 Marina Ottaway, African democratization and the Leninist option.’ The Journal of Modern African St (...)

100By the same token, in relation to Algeria’s aborted democratic transition in 1991, notwithstanding the stipulation of the EU treaty to promote democracy as one of the major goals of its development policy, ‘there was no willingness to act... where one strong member had special interests and where traditional relations were at stake’. Thus, Olsen concludes that the motives of the EU in promoting democracy and respect for human rights in Africa were driven by donor interests, in so far as in implementing the democracy-aid linkage, donor countries did not declare their true intentions. In consequence, ‘non-declared’ interests ... were decisive and not the official ones found in treaties and public statements; irrespective of the fundamental changes of the international system which followed the ending of the cold war.91

101A major explication for this methodological gap is proffered by Marina Ottaway, in terms of the hiatus between the nature of democratization in much of Africa and the character of external assistance. For her, democratization in Africa necessarily emerges from bitter, disruptive struggles along class, ethnic and religious lines – conflicts ‘for which little, if any, external assistance is likely to be forthcoming’, to the extent that ‘donor governments and agencies are not in the business of promoting conflict around the world’. On the contrary, political stability and democratic predictability are, for donors, a desideratum for enhancing their interest. Thus, the argument that ‘policy makers in the West should be under no illusion that they can make a fundamental contribution to political transformation in Africa under the present unfavourable conditions’. In consequence, Ottaway concludes:

  • 92 Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The democratic movement in Congo Kinshasa, 1956-1994. In: African Democr (...)

... democratization is, first and foremost, a domestic battle to which outsiders can only make a minor contribution. In other words, except properly choreographed with domestic pro-democracy forces, the international environment may be more of a constraint on, rather than a facilitator of, democracy’.92

102Nzongola-Ntalaja provides an example: Mobutu’s impunity in disregarding Etienne Tshisekedi’s election as Prime Minister by the Sovereign National Conference in August 1992 (his own candidate, Thomas Kanza, having lost badly) and in naming a rival government in March 1993, going back to the old constitution and re-investing his ‘old parliament’ with powers was a function of Western support.

  • 93 Bahru Zedwe, The burden of history: The constraint and challenges of the democratization process i (...)

In all this, [Mobutu] was encouraged by the fact that his ... patrons in Washington, Paris and Bruxelles talked tough but did nothing. They called upon the Congolese political class to go back to the negotiating table as though the national conference had never taken place.93

103Bahru Zedwe sums up this perspective as follows: ‘foreign allies do not always bail out a government in its times of trouble, unless they have vital interests of their own to defend and protect ... In the end, a government has to settle accounts with its own people. It survives and perishes by their judgement.’

  • 94 Chris Allen, The machinery of external control. Review of African Political Economy (vol. 75, no. (...)

104In the specific Nigerian social type, international nongovernmental organizations and civil societies also had their own limitations on account of considerable Western investments in the country. Chris Allen may well be right when he says that in the US, if not in the West as a whole, neither capital nor market nor the state is substantially interested in Africa’s development.94 To begin with, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) mission to Nigeria in April 1996 ruled out oil sanctions on the ground that they could ‘retard the progress toward positive government’ – notwithstanding the clamour by social forces in Nigeria that that was perhaps the only potent weapon to bring the Abacha junta down. Sklar seems to support oil sanctions despite his opposition to the privatization of the oil industry, the argument being that ‘corruption, ineffectual and arbitrary governments with valuable assets at their disposal will always seek to transform mutually beneficial alliances with trans-national corporations’.

  • 95 Chris Allen, The machinery of external control. Review of African Political Economy (vol. 75, no. (...)

105To the extent that the Abacha coalition was buffeted by external powers who tended to treat it with kid gloves, international figures such as Randall Robinson of the Trans Africa Forum as well as the Congressional Black Caucus had called on the US to boycott the country’s oil until ‘June 12’ was validated.95 That call was in vain. On the contrary, President Bill Clinton’s riposte was a veritable pax americana, in a most negative sense. His statement in Cape Town in April 1998, on an African tour that side-tracked Nigeria, ostensibly as a rebuff to Abacha, was viewed by pro-democracy forces in the country as a subtle tacit support for the general’s self-succession bid that was then gathering momentum. Clinton declared that the US would not disapprove of an Abacha candidacy as long as he shed his military toga first. The pretext was that ‘there have been freely and democratic elected figures throughout Africa that were formerly involved in the military’.

106According to an astute observer,

  • 96 Dapo Ajanaku, Now, the big stick. Tell (19 June 1995): 34.

... all the US requires of the political leadership in Nigeria ... (was) that it demonstrates that it is strong enough to maintain ‘order’ so that American multi-nationals like Mobil and Chevron can do business unmolested. Democrats fighting to oust the new military strongman (Abubakar) should therefore expect no help from this quarter.96

  • 97 Okonta, Abacha’s death and new threat to democracy. The Guardian (6 July 1998): 2.

107This explains why many Nigerians suspected that Kofi Annan’s purported extraction of a renunciation of ‘June 12’ by Abiola barely a week to his death, as well as the manner of his passage, were US-driven. And in international relations, no less than in domestic politics, impressions do matter. Little wonder that Twadell, who replaced Walter Carrington as US ambassador to Nigeria, showed little interest in democratic activism. Unlike his predecessor who stirred the junta’s hornet’s nest, Twadell believed that, no matter how great international goodwill may be, only Nigerians could effect national democratic fulfilment.97

108In contradistinction to, say, Canada, that had its High Commission closed down in Lagos due to its outspokenness, France was perceived as being too soft on Abuja. It would appear that in the wake of the country’s suspension from the Commonwealth in November 1995, Paris saw the resultant cold relations between Abuja and London as a welcome opportunity to increase her presence and investments in the country. The adoption of French as Nigeria’s second official language by executive fiat was well exploited by Paris through the agency of arts and culture. Thereafter, Abuja could count on the ‘understanding’, if not gentle and subtle support, of France in the highly-orchestrated transmutation plan of Abacha. All was quiet at the Quai d’Orsay front.

  • 98 Crawford Young, Permanent transition and changing conjuncture: Dilemmas of democracy in Nigeria in (...)

109In sum, support from the international community for democratic struggle under Abacha was, at best, mixed. Much of it came in the form of limited sanctions (eg, sporting and travelling bans on state officials and their families, suspension of military and defence co-operation, etc) as well as the initiatives of some international non-governmental organizations (INGOS), such as Jubilee 2000, Oxfam, Christian Aid, The Congressional Black Caucus, Trans Africa Forum, etc. It would appear that the West had, mid-way into the Abacha tragedy in Nigeria, reached the end of its tether. Democratic fatigue, a post-Cold War counterpart of aid fatigue, seemed to have set in so soon after the initial euphoria. As transition programmes lose their promised briefness and sharpness and become veritable unprofitable industries – in form of ‘transitions without end’, ‘permanent transitions’, and ‘transitions to nothingness’- it does seem, as Crawford Young has argued, that ‘democratizing pressures from the international arena become markedly less intense.98 In the final analysis, the success of a democratic struggle is more a function of a mix of domestic variables: level of commitment of key social forces, balance of power, terror and forces between pro- and anti-democratic groups, etc. To be sure, a favourable international environment is part of the variable mix, but when that environment is largely driven by the logic of capital, market and surplus value, democratic struggle, to be successful, may well have to include a political combat between, on the one hand, the people and, on the other, the political class, the military, the multinational corporations and the international community.

An Overview of the Book

110This volume, one of a handful of scholarly works on the Abacha era (an extremely harsh and difficult period in contemporary Nigerian political history), is largely a product of a European Union-driven international workshop on ‘The Nigerian Democratisation Process and the European Union’. Hosted by University of Bordeaux’s Centre d’Etude d’Afrique Noire (CEAN), in September 1996, the seminar brought together Nigerian scholars from different parts of the world; Europeans, particularly French and British scholars, as well as key EU internationalists working on the Nigerian desk.

111Except for the essay by Nicole Chevillard on ‘Nigeria’s External Debt’, all the chapters in this book were specially commissioned, and presented at the Bordeaux workshop -including Richard Sklar’s chapter on international sanctions on the Abacha government, which has already been published elsewhere.

112The chapters have largely been left as they were initially presented, aside from the correction of inaccurate details and chronological events. We were persuaded, as editors, to leave the original essays as largely intact as possible to the extent that they capture, in varying degrees, different facets of the Abacha relations with both its domestic and external environment as they were then unfolding.

113In the opening chapter, Chidi Odinkalu is concerned to underline the penchant of the Nigerian military to take the country through what has virtually become a jolly bad ride through transition politics. From the Mohammed/Obasanjo regime through the Babangida junta to the Abacha government, the politics of military disengagement from power has progressively and assuredly degenerated; it has, over the years, become nothing but a zig-zag affair; a mumbo-jumbo exercise in which, publicly, the military commit themselves to organizing their own exit from power only to, privately, seek, through the same mechanism, to hold on tenaciously to power. Through a surfeit of decrees – that few could keep track of but which, while pointing to a soon-to-come civilian, if not democratic, rule, – the military bought precious time and space for the junta’s empty transition programmes, and were able to prolong their hold on to power. By also muzzling key social forces and civil society organizations; tightening the noose on both independent and state-owned media; excessively tinkering with transition laws and agencies to the extent of causing them to lose whatever autonomy they had ab initio, military transition managers demonstrated clearly their overvaluation of transition politics. Thus Odinkalu’s lament that so much attention was devoted to the politics and law of transition that one could legitimately ask whether that was the raison d’etre of those governments.

114Attahiru Jega uses an admixture of theoretical insights from political culture and radical political economy to explain the apparent failure of liberal democracy in Nigeria. His major argument, in an interesting essay that examines how different social types and interest groups conceptualize democracy in Nigeria, is that concepts and notions of democracy are as varied as social forces in the civil and political societies. There are notions of democracy both as power and as counter-power. Thus, notwithstanding his contention that through civil society groups, the dominant notion of democracy seems to be that of ‘collective disenchantment with military rule and the desire for a return to civil rule’, different political sub-cultures stand in unstable juxtaposition one with the other. While some see democracy as a process for liberation, others perceive it as an instrument for domination. For instance, the country’s political class is said to love power and office and their spoils more than it loves democracy. On the contrary, whereas Jega characterizes pro-democracy groups as ‘few and structurally weak, without the resources required to organise on a national scale’, he, nonetheless, concedes that the groups have an enviable democratic agenda that includes the following elements: opposition to military rule; democracy as more than civil rule; people’s participation and empowerment; multipartyism; judicial independence; legislative checks and balances, etc. Yet, in view of the, at best, lukewarm response of several other social groups – in particular the business class and the chiefly estates (or traditional political authorities) – Nigeria’s democratization process has remained largely ‘a military conditioned, controlled and directed project; more a function of the contagious effect of global and African processes and Euro-American conditionality than a product of popular consent, with internalized democratic norms and value-orientations’. For democracy to thrive in Nigeria, Jega proposes the formation of a ‘broad coalition for democracy’.

115Raufu Mustapha’s well-researched presentation of ten of the foremost human rights and pro-democracy groups in the country complements Jega’s essay. His main contention is that the struggle for the respect of the rights of groups and individuals is seen by these groups as being coterminous with the smuggle for civil, democratic government. Any dichotomy between the two is a false one. Perhaps more remarkable is the fact that these groups were weaned during the Babangida regime – the country’s ‘first self-conscious human rights regime’- one that progressively, if assuredly, became a harsh and intolerant dictatorship after having initially canvassed political benevolence. Not only did that government tightly control its political transition and economic structural programmes, it also rapidly degenerated into a highly depraved level of public venality, unparalleled in the country -that is, before the palace coup that brought Abacha to power.

116Aside from ethnic nationality groups, of which MOSOP is perhaps typical, which also double as pro-democracy movements, Mustapha singles out the Campaign for Democracy (CD) and the National Conscience Party as the key pro-democracy groups that sought to bring civil society organizations to the political sphere with a view to serving as a counter force to both the military and the political class.

117Despite their internal problems as well as the intensification of both formal and informal repression by the Babangida and Abacha regimes, at the opportune time – June 12 annulment and its aftermath – these were the groups Nigerians relied upon to fight their political battles for them. Thus, for Mustapha,

... in a situation in which the official political parties were hamstrung by military diktat; in which the political class was brazenly opportunistic and in which significant sections of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) leadership had Deen bought over, the pervading sense of anomie was palpable. Yet, the CD was able to inspire sufficient confidence in the people, and to spearhead the challenge to Babangida after the June 12th election. Caught between the independent press and the CD, Babangida’s bloated political ambition collapsed.

118The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), both within Nigeria and abroad, alongside the United Democratic Front of Nigeria (UDFN), an alliance of no fewer than 13 pro-democracy groups, that also included the external wing of NADECO, were actively involved in the struggle for democracy during the Abacha regime.

119In the next chapter, Michèle Maringues argued, in an excellent and highly polemical essay on the Nigerian Press, that the pre-colonial period had already witnessed the beginnings of the now well-known characteristics of much of the country’s press, namely, a ‘certain degree of independence from the government, the most critical of government enjoying readers’ patronage and allegiance’. To be sure, general characterization has often been dulled by a section of the press – state-run and privately-owned put together – whose hierarchy is at the behest of successive governments in power, civilian and military. It is this ‘any government in power’ type of press – Nigerians call them AGIP, after the acronym of the name – that has complemented establishment political elites to retard the progress of the march of the country to electoral democracy. Again, whilst elements in both the independent or – which, to all intents and purposes, amounts to the same thing – radical press and the state-owned press may be involved in corruption – the ‘brown envelope’ syndrome and sundry activities – it is the former, certainly not the latter, that are victims of military repressive activities. Thus, Maringues is right to have argued that ‘in its battle against the opposition press, the (military) government employed a range of techniques, from brutal repression to bringing out fake newspapers’.

120It is precisely because of state repression and brutalization that the Nigerian independent press, in desperation, has had to invest in coping mechanisms, to evade the State in order to better confront it. Thus, the use of political weapons – certainly of the weak, following Scott – such as ‘fanciful information’ and ‘sensational headlines’, etc, that Maringues seems to disapprove of, whilst not always professional, was potent. In any event, this style of ‘guerilla journalism’ neither precludes ‘serious discussion’ nor was simply a reflection of religious teachings from the Christian pulpit about ‘the Last Judgement and the punishment of the wicked’.

121The next three chapters treat the external dimension of the military-driven Nigerian crisis and the response of the international community to that crisis. Nicole Chevillard appraises the country’s controversial external debt portfolio. One of the reasons why the Abacha junta was expected to be of ‘good behaviour’ was because of Nigeria’s huge debts. President Obasanjo was quoted in August 2000 as having said that only $5billion of the supposed $37billion debt of Nigeria (amounting to 15 % of total for Sub-Saharan Africa) had been verified. At the beginning of 2001, that amount jumped to $28 billion. It may well be that the remaining debts are not verifiable.

122Chevillard argues that almost 67 % of the country’s external debts are owed to the Paris club in which the UK, France, Germany and Japan, amongst others, are the leading powers. Similarly, Nigeria’s major creditors in the Paris Club are the major EU powers, to the tune of 83.3 %, with the US and Japan sharing the remaining 16.7 %. To the extent that Nigeria ‘can only escape the debt trap through substantial debt cancellation’, it was part of the foolhardiness of the Abacha junta to have chosen intransigence where dialogue and pragmatism should have been the name of the game. But, then, to what effect?

123Francois Misser picks up the story from here. He underlines the amount as well as the significance of European investments in Nigeria: those in the non-energy sector exceed the amount of public assistance to development. The EU is perhaps also the country’s primary foreign investor and the second largest donor after the World Bank. Tied to that is the country’s huge crude oil supplies to the EU, and as we have seen, a huge debt owed mainly to EU creditors. All of these factors made Misser talk of a ‘strong interdependence’ between the two parties. And, for him, this relationship ‘places the EU in a privileged position to establish political and economic dialogue with the Nigerian authorities’. Often, however, this privileged position can be a liability rather than an asset. Misser recognizes this double-edgedness: ‘the magnitude of European interests at stake in the country makes the EU necessarily circumspect in its relations with Nigeria, an approach which often elicits criticism’. Thus, except in relation to the suspension of aid in matters and on dossiers that are virtually trite and of limited effectiveness (for example, training programmes for parastatal directors, etc), there was hardly any unanimity within the EU on how to respond to the Abacha junta’s diffidence to international opinion on issues of human rights and political transition. The EU would, for instance, dilly-dally on new sanctions to be imposed when the regime became extremely tardy on a definite and assuring transition to civil rule programme. By not adopting and implementing oil sanctions which could, in all probability, have been the most effective sanction against the Abacha junta, it does seem that the EU was seemingly more interested in ‘protecting the future of European presence in Nigeria’ than in actualizing its considerable, if putative, influence on Abuja.

124What the foregoing translates to, as Richard Sklar indicates is that both the US and European governments were ‘susceptible to counsels of economic realism’. That did not stop these powers from imposing sanctions on Nigeria, including the suspension of military assistance and American economic aid and denial of entry into the US for Nigerian officials. There were also non-economic sanctions involving, amongst others, restrictions on diplomatic privileges and military co-operation. But these were not the sanctions capable of bending the iron will of the military junta. The latter had too much room to manoeuvre.

125The Abacha junta seemed to have understood perfectly well the nature of the international system; thus, as Sklar says, ‘a mere bark from abroad, with no bite, could be ignored with impunity’. Having treated both the UN and the CMAG with disdain, the rest of the world – particularly the African continent – was all too easy to deal with. Thus, the contention that whereas Nelson Mandela was initially strong on sanctions, he had to reluctantly back away ‘because inaction of the Western powers was turning the issue into a conflict between Nigeria and South Africa’. Furthermore, strong support from both the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and OAU member-states, as well as Abacha’s election as the ECOWAS chairman in July 1996, emboldened Abuja. Its successful intervention in Freetown to restore the toppled elected government of President Kabbah would shore up the regime’s acceptance both within and outside of Africa – but certainly not inside the country. Thus, the summation by Sklar that ‘the diplomatic side-effects of the intervention appeared to have been the strengthening of Abuja’s policy of cooperation among African states as a first line of defence against external pressures’.

126In the veritable concluding chapter of this volume, Alex Gboyega examines several options on how to achieve a stable federal system in Nigeria. The choice of this essay as our conclusion is apparently self-explanatory: many of the issues tabled at the Constitutional Conference which Gboyega ably chronicles and analyzes are nothing but a recurrent political decimal on the country’s political landscape. Thus, while the options of revisiting June 12 by addressing it ‘to the satisfaction of the aggrieved parties’ and releasing political detainees to create a political environment that is conducive to a genuine national reconciliation may have been overtaken by events – even though national mutual forgiveness and reconciliation which ought to be very much on the agenda seem conspicuous by their absence -those pertaining to power-sharing; rotation of the most important political positions; power devolution or restructuring of the federal system; revenue/resource allocation, in particular the agitation by oil communities for a return to the derivation principle, much in vogue before the first military coup on January 15, 1966, etc, have continually surfaced and resurfaced as a sore thumb since the country’s juridical independence on October 1st 1960. These issues – and related ones – would have to be constantly interrogated and confronted until broadly acceptable and lasting solutions are found. It is within this context that Gboyega is right to have reasoned that the options for a stabilized federation in Nigeria necessarily have to be more political than constitutional. Hard political choices have to be made by the post-Abacha elected civilian government of Obasanjo in order to, amongst others, avoid another lapse into democratic recession with all the grim consequences that Nigerians – and their friends abroad -had to live with during the defunct Abacha regime.

127A final word: the paper authored by Stephen Wright, is a summary of the debates at the original conference in 1996. This is followed by a chronology of political events covering the Abacha years and beyond presented by Enemaku Idachaba.

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Notes

1 Eddie Iroh, Abubakar and Arewa Syndrome. The Guardian, Lagos (31 August 1998): 49.

2 Naomi Chazan, Ghana: Problems of governance and the emergence of civil society. In: Democracy in Developing Countries, Vol 12 Africa, L. Diamond, J.J Linz and S. M Lipset, eds. (Boulder and London: Lynn .Rienner and Adamantine Press, 1988): 119.

3 See Rod Hague, M. Harrop and S. Breslin, Comparative Government and Politics: An introduction, 3rd ed. (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1992): 10-11

4 Human Rights Watch/Africa, Nigeria: Permanent Transition: Current violations of human rights in Nigeria Amnesty International (vol. 8, no. 3, September 1996): 9.

5 Peter Lewis, From prebendalism to predation: The political economy of decline in Nigeria, The Journal of Modem African Studies (vol. 34, no. 1, March 1996): 100.

6 Janet Coleman, Against the State: Studies in sedition and rebellion (London: Penguin and BBC, 1990): 21.

7 Lewis, From prebendalism to predation..., 101-102. Ian Campbell also contends that under the Babangida regime, the bureaucracy, the military and judiciary were ‘shed of much of their traditional corporate character and with it had gone a large part of their institutional autonomy’. See his essay, Nigeria’s failed transition: The 1993 presidential election. Journal of Contemporary African Studies (vol. 2, no. 2, 1994):188.

8 Lewis, From prebendalism to predation..., 101.

9 Lewis, From prebendalism to predation..., 99.

10 Lewis, From prebendalism to predation..., 99.

11 J. ‘Bayo Adekanye, Military Profession and Social Stratification, Inaugural Lecture, University of Ibadan (Ibadan: Vantage Publishers, 1993): 41.

12 L. Diamond, Introduction: Roots of failure, seeds of hope. In: Democracy in Developing Countries, 6.

13 J. ‘Kayode Fayemi, Military hegemony and the transition programme. Issue ( vol. 27, no.l, 1999): 71.

14 Peter Lewis, Nigeria’s economy: Opportunity and challenge. Issue (vol.27.no. 1, 1999): 53.

15 Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of the Constitutional Conference containing the Resolutions and Recommendations, Volume II. (Abuja: National Assembly Press, 1995): 4,10, 11.

16 Abiodun Onadipe, Behind the dark glasses: A portrait of General Sani Abacha International Relations (vol. 13, no. 4, April 1997): 71.

17 Towards transition in Nigeria West Africa (November 11-17,1996): 1740.

18 See Babangida’s interview, “I’m the Evil Genius.” Tell (24 July 1995): 17.

19 Onadipe, Behind the dark glasses ..., 74. To be sure, Nigerians have known better since the demise of Abacha. Between then and August 2000, the Nigerian government has verified no less than $3 billion as money siphoned out of the country by the general. Some of the money has reportedly been repatriated back to the country.

20 See Josh Arinze, We can’t be rushed. Tell (10 July 1995): 8-9.

21 Onadipe, Behind the dark glasses ..., 71.

22 ibid., 72.

23 Howard W. French, Nigeria, a proud Nation in a Free Fall; See Under a general’s grip. Tell (20 April 1998): 23. Alani Akinrinade, a chieftain of NADECO overseas and a retired general, said that ‘Abacha was a hostage of himself in power’. See Tell (1 February 1999 ): 33.

24 Samuel Decalo, Africa’s personal dictatorships. The Journal of Modern African Studies (vol. 23, no. 2, June 1985): 215.

25 ibid., 218.

26 ibid., 225-6.

27 Onadipe, Behind the dark glasses..., 72.

28 Decalo, Africa’s personal dictatorships, 212.

29 ibid, 212.

30 ibid, 212.

31 United States rates Nigeria low on human rights. TheGuardian, (12 May 1998): 56.

32 French, Nigeria, a proud nation in a free fall...

33 Paul Okojie, Nigeria: What is to be done? South African Political Economy Monthly (vol. 11, no. 2, December 1997): 12.

34 Human Rights Watch/Africa: Nigeria: Transition or Travesty? Nigeria’s endless process of return to civilian rule. Amnesty International (vol. 9, no. 6 (A), October 1997): 32.

35 Nigeria: Transition or travesty..., 32.

36 See Dare Babarinsa, Fear, tenor, vengeance. Tell (23 March 1998): 16-17. In a related essay, Babarinsa also says that’for the dictator, this is his season of victory and more victories. He has made his point. He can depose kings and jail princes. He can put generals in handcuffs and leg irons and march them to the land of endless darkness. He has power beyond imagining, absolute and total. He is god, wearing tribal marks’. See: Sleeping with the enemy. Tell (11 May 1998): 19.

37 Tell (24 June 1996): 20.

38 L. Diamond, A. Kirk-Greene and O. Oyediran Introduction: The politics of transition without end. In: Transition Without End: Nigerian politics and civil society under Babangida. L. Diamond, A. Kirk-Greene and O. Oyediran, eds. (London & Boulder: L. Reinner Pubs, 1997): 2.

39 Nigeria: Permanent transition..., 27.

40 Chukwumerije was the deputy boss of Biafra’s propaganda machinery during the Nigerian civil war, 1967-1970.

41 Nigeria: Permanent transition..., 24.

42 UN Commission on Human Rights, Situation of Human Rights in Nigeria: Report Submitted by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Soli Jehangir Sorabjee, Pursuant to Commission Resolution 1997/53, 16 February, 1998 (http://www.unchr.ch/html/-menu/chnep/98chr62.html.

43 Nigeria: Transition or travesty ..., 28-29.

44 See: Reign of terror: Human rights abuse worsens. Tell (3 November 1997).

45 The Guardian (18 February 1998): 5.

46 Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil: Corporate responsibility and human rights violations in Nigeria’s oil producing communities. N. York et al. (Human Rights Watch, 1999): 60.

47 Tekena Tamuno, Nigerian federalism in historical perspective. In: Federalism and Political Restructuring in Nigeria. K. Amuwo, A. Agbaje, R. Suberu and Georges Herault, eds. (Ibadan: Spectrum Books Limited and IFRA, 1998): 19.

48 Babarinsa, Sleeping with the enemy, 19.

49 Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil..., 120, 129.

50 Ike Okonta, Abacha’s death and new threat to democracy. The Guardian on Sunday (19 July 1998): 9.

51 Cited in Jeffrey Herbst, Migration, the politics of protest and state consolidation in Africa. African Affairs (vol. 89, no. 355, April 1990): 203.

52 Chris Allen, Who needs civil society? Review of African Political Economy (no. 73, 1997): 330.

53 Funso Afolayan, Civil society, popular culture and the crisis of democratic transitions in Nigeria. In: African Democracy in the Era of Globalisation. Jonathan Hyslop, eds. (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1999): 78.

54 Judith Ann-Walker. Civil society, the challenge to the authoritarian state and the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria. Issue (vol. 27, no. 1, 1999): 54.

55 Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, Collective memory and selective amnesia in a transmutational paradox. Issue (vol.27, no. 1, 1999): 45.

56 Julius Ihonvbere, The 1999 presidential elections in Nigeria: The unresolved issues. Issue (vol. 27, no 1, 1999): 60.

57 Jonathan Newell, A difficult year for us in many respects: Pressure for change and government reaction in Malawi in 1992. In: African Democracy in the Era of Globalisation, 225.

58 J.D. Holm, P.P. Molutsi and Gloria Somolekae, The development of civil society in the democratic state: The Botswana model. African Studies Review (vol. 39, no. 2, September 1996): 43.

59 Tell (20 March 1995): 7.

60 Nigeria: Transition or travesty,... 26; Cf. F. Abugu et al. A tripodal opposition to self-succession bid. The Guardian (3 April 1998): 11.

61 Northern youths fault Annan’s statement on Abiola. The Guardian (6 July 1998): 6. Annan had quoted Abiola as having told him Look, I’m in jail. I’m not in touch with the outside world. I don’t know what my supporters are doing and where they are. What I know is that I will want to get on with my life and I also suspect that the world has moved on. And I can’t sit here to be naive enough to make assumptions that I’m going to come out and be president. Abiola would later issue a strong rebuttal in what must have been his last public communication before his unexpected death on July 8, 1998.

62 The Guardian (27 January 1998): 4.

63 The Guardian (5 August 1998): 2, 6.

64 G.G. Darah, Ibadan, running splash... The Guardian (20 April 1998): 49.

65 Ann-Walker, Civil society, the challenge to the authoritarian state..., 55-6.

66 Afolayan, Civil society, popular culture..., 75.

67 ibid.

68 The Guardian (12 May 1998): 1.

69 R. Abati, The church in politics. The Guardian (6 February 1998): 25.

70 The Guardian (26 February 1998): 3.

71 Bruce J. Berman, Ethnicity, patronage and the African state: The politics of uncivil nationalism. African Affairs (vol. 97, no. 388, July 1998): 334.

72 Osa Director, A billion naira trouble for Maryam. Tell (3 August 1998): 30.

73 Ahmed Nassara, Prayers for General Abacha. The Guardian (7 April 1998): 33.

74 Gilbert Khadiagala, The military in Africa’s democratic transitions: Regional dimensions. Africa Today (vol. 42, nos. 1-2, 1995): 65, 68.

75 Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The state and democracy in Africa. In: The State and Democracy in Africa. Nzongola-Ntalaja and M. Lee, eds. (Harare: Association of African Political Science Books, 1997): 16, 18.

76 Jibrin Ibrahim, Political Scientists and the subversion of democracy in Nigeria. In: The State and Democracy in Africa, 121.

77 Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil, 44.

78 Berman, Ethnicity, patronage and the African state..., 335.

79 Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil, 50-51.

80 Lucky Fiakpa, Who cares if Nigerians suffer? Tell (27 April 1998): 20.

81 See Festus Eriye, How to buy your way out of trouble: Nigeria’s richest family returns loot in exchange for immunity and access to other funds. Sunday Times Johannesburg (16 April 2000): 15.

82 Murray Edelman, Constructing the Political Spectacle. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988): 104.

83 Michael G. Schatzberg, Power, legitimacy and democracy in Africa. Africa London (vol. 63, no. 4, 1993): 450.

84 Richard C. Crook, Winning coalitions and ethno-regional politics: the failure of the opposition in the 1990 and 1995 elections in Cote d’Ivoire. African Affairs (vol. 96, no. 383, April 1997): 216.

85 See, for example, L. Adele Jinadu, Democracy and intellectual responsibility: The case of political science in Nigeria. Research in Race and Ethnic Relations (vol. 10, 1997): 169-195.

86 Akpo Esajere, The rise and fall of consensus candidate. The Guardian (9 February 1998): 7.

87 Tell (17 August 1998): 14, 19.

88 Esajere, The rise and fall of a consensus candidate.

89 Dele Omotunde, From the Editor. Tell (17 August 1998): 13. Wole Soyinka is right when he says that ‘power thrives on adoration of which the most viscerally experienced is self-adoration’. See his piece: Ritual as the medium – A modest proposal. African Affairs (vol. 96, no. 382, January 1997): 22.

90 G. Rye Olsen, Europe and the promotion of democracy in post-Cold War Africa: How serious is Europe and for what reasons? African Affairs (vol. 97, no. 388, July 1998): 345, 360, 363-4.

91 Marina Ottaway, African democratization and the Leninist option.’ The Journal of Modern African Studies (vol. 35, no. 1 March 1997): 14-15. See also ‘Kunle Amuwo, The international (and domestic) context of democratic transition in Africa: Roadblocks to democracy? In: Democratic Transition in Africa. B. Caron, A. Gboyega and E. Osaghae, eds. (Ibadan: CREDU Studies in Humanities and Social Science, 1992): 3-27.

92 Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The democratic movement in Congo Kinshasa, 1956-1994. In: African Democracy in the Era of Globalisation, (Harare: Association of African Political Science Books, 1997): 311.

93 Bahru Zedwe, The burden of history: The constraint and challenges of the democratization process in Ethiopia. In: African Democracy in the Era of Globalisation, 251.

94 Chris Allen, The machinery of external control. Review of African Political Economy (vol. 75, no. 25, March 1998): 5-7.

95 Chris Allen, The machinery of external control. Review of African Political Economy (vol. 75, no. 25, March 1998): 5-7.

96 Dapo Ajanaku, Now, the big stick. Tell (19 June 1995): 34.

97 Okonta, Abacha’s death and new threat to democracy. The Guardian (6 July 1998): 2.

98 Crawford Young, Permanent transition and changing conjuncture: Dilemmas of democracy in Nigeria in comparative perspective. In: Dilemmas of Democracy in Nigeria, P.A. Beckett and C. Young, eds. (Rochester, N.York: University of Rochester Press, 1997): 73.

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