Nigeria has seen five successful military coups since its independence in 1960. It is important to note that there are records of two coups that failed asides from the five successful coups. However, the last Nigerian coup happened in 1993, and no coups have occurred since then.
The 17 November 1993 coup was led by General Sani Abacha. The 1993 Nigerian coup d’état was a bloodless military coup that forced democrat Interim President Chief Ernest Shonekan to resign.
Shonekan assumed the Interim President on August 26, 1993. He succeeded General Ibrahim Babangida as head of state.
Abacha cited the stagnant nature of Shonekan’s government and his inability to manage the democratic process as the reason for his coup. He had promised to restore a more active democratic system, but Abacha didn’t leave up to his promise. Abacha, however, issued a decree that placed his government above the jurisdiction of the courts. This effectively gave him absolute power over any law. Another issued decree gave him the right to detain anyone for up to three months.
Many deaths were recorded in the Abacha regime, including six Nigerians who were killed for attempting a coup to overthrow his government on the 29th of May 1998.
Tragic Events of Abacha Regime
On January 7, 1994, Abacha formally moved his administration to Abuja. This was done in an attempt to escape from the political radicalism and opposition in Lagos. This moved further helped him consolidate his power.
Chief M.K.O Abiola declared himself president of Nigeria on June 11, 1994. This was done in an attempt to claim his June 12, 1993, presidential mandate. However, he went into hiding after the declaration; for fear of being arrested. He was later on arrested and charged with treason on June 23, 1994
On July 5, 1994, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) began the longest strike in Nigerian history. This plunged the nation into a monumental fuel crisis, causing untold hardship to citizens. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), on August 3, 1994, called for a general strike in solidarity with the oil workers’ strike.
On August 8, 1994, Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate and pro-democracy activist, also went to the Federal High Court in Lagos, asking the Court to declare the Abacha government illegal.
However, the Abacha government responded to the workers’ strike on August 18, 1994; his government sacked the Executive Council of NUPENG, PENGASSAN and NLC. He also closed down three newspapers: the Punch, Concord group (owned by Abiola) and The Guardian.
Abacha announced a partial lifting of the ban on politics. The partial ban was declared by him after the 1993 coup. The partial lifting allowed individuals to ‘canvass political ideas’ but not to ‘form political parties.
The Abacha regime arrested elder statesman Chief Anthony Enahoro; Enemaku Idachaba; General Alani Akinrinade, former Chief of Defence Staff; Chief Frank Kokori, General Secretary of NUPENG; Chief Cornelius Adebayo and Alhaji Balarabe Musa, former Governor of Kaduna State.
On August 24, 1994, The military government promulgates decrees which put its actions beyond legal challenge in the courts. Two days after, his government dissolved boards of state-owned corporations and agencies.
On October 1, 1994, Abacha’s government arrested and detained Chief Gani Fawehinmi for launching a political party in Lagos. Similarly, in the same year, Professor Soyinka flees into exile on grounds that he was receiving political threats to his life.
A Special Military Court sentenced Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists to death on October 31. 1995.
By 1996, the Abacha government recorded the highest number of bomb explosion attacks. First was January 18, 1996, a Bomb blast at Durba Hotel Kaduna; another bomb exploded at Malam Aminu Kano Airport, Kano, the next day. On February 3, 1996, a bomb exploded at the Police station in Zaria.
In the same year, a bomb explosion occurred at the Ikeja Air force base. A Car bomb explosion happened at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport on November 14, 1996. The car explosion killed three persons, including the Chief Security Officer of the Federal Airport Authority (FAA), Dr Shola Omasola. Also, a bomb explodes at Lagos State Secretariat. The bomb also hits the Lagos State Transport Corporation bus. On January 7, 1997, a bomb exploded on the Lagos mainland. Similarly, on May 12, 1997, a bomb explosion hits a police truck.