Independence, Oil and Coups
Gowon, coup attempt, redistribution of wealth, legislative branches, national development plan
Given the bitterness of the civil war, the restoration of peace and the reintegration of the Igbo into Nigerian life was remarkably rapid. Aiding the resumption of normalcy was a booming oil trade (by the mid-1970s, Nigeria would be the fifth largest producer of petroleum in the world). However, along with rapid growth came shortages of key commodities, crippling congestion in the ports, and demands for redistribution of wealth. Although a national development plan resulted in some redistribution, the bulk of Nigeria’s income remained in the hands of an urban few.
In 1974 Gowon announced that the return to civilian rule would be postponed indefinitely. His timing was poor: High prices, chronic shortages, growing corruption, and the failure of the government to address several regional issues had already created a restless mood. On July 29, 1975, Brigadier Murtala Ramat Muhammed overthrew Gowon in a bloodless coup. Muhammed moved quickly to address issues that Gowon had avoided. He replaced corrupt state governors. He purged incompetent and corrupt members of the public services. He instigated a plan to move the national capital from industrial, coastal Lagos to neglected, interior Abuja. Civilian rule, he declared, would be restored by 1979, and he began a five-stage process of transition.
The reforms made Muhammed extremely popular with many Nigerians. On February 13, 1976, he was assassinated in a coup attempt, but his administration remained in power. His successor, Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo, continued Muhammed’s reforms, including the move toward civilian rule. Obasanjo also created seven new states to help redistribute wealth and began a massive reform of local government. In 1977 he convened a constitutional assembly, which recommended replacing the British-style parliamentary system with an American-style presidential system of separate executive and legislative branches. To ensure that candidates would appeal to ethnic groups beyond their own, the president and vice president were required to win at least 25 percent of the vote in at least two-thirds of the 19 states. The new constitution took effect in 1979. The restructured administration was called Nigeria’s Second Republic.
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