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The latest coup d'etat in Nigeria on the seventeenth of November 1993 by General Sanni Abacha finally unplugged the life-support out of the dying Third Republic that was expected to usher the country into its thirtieth anniversary as a republic.(1) Thus, and as the weekly West Africa rightly observed, instead of a celebration, Nigerians found themselves "wading through troubled waters and, to make matters doubly worse, the waters are at high tide."(2) In fact, the implications of the failure of the Nigerian transition program are not limited to Nigeria but to the whole of Africa where struggles for democratic rights have begun during the last five years. This article reviews the events leading to this latest coup d'etat and thus the subversion of the transition program, and analyzes the implications for human rights and democratization in Nigeria and in Africa more generally.
Transition Program and Collapse of the Third Republic
The transition to what would have been the Third Republic in Nigeria was initiated by General Ibrahim Babangida when he came to power after overthrowing another military ruler--General Buhari in 1985 on charges of human rights abuses by the latter. Babangida then launched an elaborate transition program in 1986 that was to be completed in four years ending in 1990. The final stage of the program was postponed four times between 1990 and 1992. Yet, much of the program seemed to have progressed with the successful completion of all aspects except the presidential elections of June 12, 1993. The program therefore had the support of Nigerians who maintained a positive attitude throughout, as well as the support of outside powers who regarded the Nigerian "progress" as a worthy example in Africa.(3)
Nevertheless, the program had its critics. Human rights groups were especially critical of the regime's creation of political parties and the financing of their operations. The critics maintained that political parties should be formed freely by individuals in a democratic situation. But given Nigeria's past experience whereby political parties became the sole property of the leaders and founders, the creation of parties by the military government did not dampen the enthusiasm of the population. To most, the procedures seemed less important as long as the final outcome was a democratically elected government. Thus, the earlier stages of the transition program went fairly well and Nigerians waited patiently for the final stage of the transition program--the presidential elections.
The presidential elections were held on June 12, 1993 and indications were that businessman Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (one of the only two sponsored political parties of President Babangida), was on the verge of winning the presidency. To the surprise of Nigerians, Babangida annulled the results of the elections a week later and that action initiated the end of the Third Republic. Although Nigerians were well aware of Babangida's unpredictability, they were not prepared for this last card which he dropped on June 17, …