The Babangida Government
Babangida, of Gwari origins and a middle belt Muslim, was Nigeria's sixth military ruler and, as of 1990, the most powerful. Compared with Buhari, Babangida was a somewhat more methodical ruler, and his style was different. Whereas Buhari was stern and resolute, Babangida was deft and tactical. Babangida was reported to have taken part in all coups in Nigeria, which may explain his confident handling of national affairs. He was, however, unpredictable.
Although Babangida came to power as a champion of human rights, his record in this area deteriorated over time. He gradually released most of the politicians incarcerated by Buhari. Yet, he often hounded opposition interest groups, especially those of labor and students, and detained many radical and anti-establishment persons for various offenses. The infamous Decree Number 2 remained in force in 1990 to facilitate these oppressive acts.
The year after seizing power, the Babangida regime declared a National Economic Emergency. The options open to the country, Babangida said, were either to accept an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan and the conditions attached or to embark on more austere economic measures that would require great sacrifices. Although the people favored a non-IMF option, they soon discovered the hardships eventually imposed differed little from the IMF's conditions. The economic recovery program recommended by the World Bank was instituted as a self-imposed structural adjustment program (SAP) that involved a drastic restructuring of the country's economy. Under SAP, unemployment rates soared, food prices increased significantly, and numerous user fees for education and health services were imposed. These hardships did not dissuade the government from SAP, which it believed to be the only approach to the country's social and economic problems. The benefits of SAP, such as longer inflation and more balanced budget, began to be seen but SAP was adhered to less stringently in the late 1980s.
Babangida's government adopted other economic reforms leading to a market system and political reforms leading to democratic processes. Important changes were made in the basic structures of military federalism. For the first time, a military leader was called president, presumably to emphasize the executive power he wielded. The name of the supreme lawmaking body was changed from Supreme Military Council to the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC). There was also a new Armed Forces Consultative Assembly, formed in 1989, which functioned as an intermediate legislative chamber between the AFRC and the rest of the military. In spite of these elaborate structural changes, Babangida adroitly increased the powers of his office. He changed his ministers and state governors frequently. Even supposedly powerful members of the government were not spared, as was demonstrated in 1986 when he dropped his second in command, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe. In his place, he appointed Rear Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, former chief of the naval staff. The most dramatic of these changes were made at the end of 1989, when Babangida reassigned several ministers, including General Domkat Bali, the powerful minister of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The changes were perceived by southerners and Christians as resulting in an AFRC that consisted mainly of northern Muslims. The service chiefs of the army, navy, and police were Muslims; only the chief of the air staff was a southerner. The ministries of external affairs, petroleum resources, internal affairs, and defense, considered the most powerful cabinet posts, were held by northern Muslims (the minister of defense being the president himself). These changes generated heated controversy and antigovernment demonstrations by Christians in some northern cities. Babangida emerged from the changes more powerful than before.
Babangida also introduced far-reaching changes in the civil service, the police, the armed and security forces, and the political system. Certain actions of his government exacerbated religious tensions. The religious cleavage in the country had become increasingly politicized, beginning in the debates in 1977 when Muslims began pressing for the extension of sharia law (Muslim religious law) from state courts in the north to the federal courts. In the Second Republic, activist Islamic groups emerged in the north, demanding the Islamization of the country. After coming to power in 1985, Babangida adopted several measures that were considered to favor Muslims and to threaten the secular nature of the Nigerian state. In 1986 Nigeria became a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an international association of Islamic states in which Nigeria had long held observer status; this action was very controversial. In apparent contradiction, Babangida survived several religious crises by reiterating that the federation remained secular. At one point, he set up a religious advisory panel to mediate in the religious crises.
On April 22, 1990, a coup attempt led by Major Gideon Orkar almost toppled the Babangida regime. The presidential residence in Dodan Barracks was extensively damaged by the rebellious soldiers, but the head of state escaped. A unique feature of this coup attempt was the level of involvement of Nigerian civilians, who allegedly helped finance the operation. During the hours when the rebels controlled the radio station in Lagos, they broadcast a critique of the regime that combined attacks on its dictatorial nature and pervasive corruption with threats to expel the far northern states from the federation.
The survival of Babangida and all senior members of the regime enabled the government to continue its policies, especially the planned transition to civilian rule in 1992. The detention of several journalists and other critics of the military regime and the temporary closure of some newspapers, however, indicated the government's awareness that it had overstayed its welcome and would have to govern with even stricter controls than before. The state congresses of the two government-sponsored political parties, the only legal parties, the National Republican Convention and the Social Democratic Party, were held in the summer of 1990 and campaigning began in earnest thereafter.
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