Next year is a make-or-mar year for Nigeria It is going to be a year of reckoning. To many, the forebodings point to events of cataclysmic proportions that will define the existential questions about Nigeria. Why that may be the case will unfold as the gravamen of this essay proceeds apiece. For the past seven years, Nigeria has experienced certain socio-economic and political changes that, if you compare the period 1986–1993, and 2015–2022 culminating to 2023, they appear similar, and the effect very disconcerting and prodigious. And just like the cumulative effects of those socio-economic and political changes that took place in Nigerian polity unraveled in the socio-economic experimentations and the political transition programme of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida where lassez faire economic principles governed the economy while politics of ‘a-little-to-the left’ and ‘a-little-to-the-right’ under the weird two-party system led to the imposition of the Social Democratic Party with Chief MKO Abiola as its Presidential Candidate and Alhaji Bashir Tofa as National Republican Congress’s Presidential Candidate so also the weird politics and governance acts of Buhari government opened Nigerians’ eyes to the hitherto suppressed existential questions about Nigeria.
Under General Babangida, Nigeria experienced very radical socio-economic and political experimentations such as the Transition Programme that was to culminate in a presidential election in 1993 and that was after several dissembling reviews.
The economic changes consist of the structural Adjustment Programme that was imposed after a governmentsupervised public debate on the need or otherwise of accepting the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan with its conditionalities.
The debate was discontinued when General Babangida settled for the so called “home-grown’ alternative which the government christened Structural Adjustment Programme which many economic and political experts called ‘IMF imposed economic system without the loan’.
The social changes were so enormous and fundamental and arising from the political and economic policies that Nigerian culture was turned upside down and the legal system so uncertain that whatever was not possible was what has not entered into the minds of the rulers and the ruled. Every aspect of Nigerian life changed overnight to the extent that even though government was in place but individuals associated with government grew so powerful that they compete with government for attention and habitual obedience. It was at that period of the obliteration and/or extinction of the boundary between government and private individuals and groups and the abolition of certain moral categories to effect that with little effort the will of any determined individual or group can compete with public authority for imposition and compliance.
The moral categories were also destroyed as what counted was the moneypower to get things done: that is; the end justified the means. In that situation, a boundary between the rogue and the royalty became blurred for anybody with sufficient money can answer anything in Nigeria.
A thief of today can become a chief of tomorrow and may even be made a governor, from where the person can aspire to the Presidency of Nigeria. In the midst of all these social maladies, the socio-economic and political society became so fermented with variety of ills that corruption of the state and society became normalized making the then Chief of Army Staff, General Salihu to say that Nigerian Army is an army of “anything goes.” Crimes became common place that the Aninis of the defunct Bendel State became household name for exploits in armed robbery.
As armed robbery was ravaging Southern Nigeria, religious fundamentalism that reared its head under President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983) became daily news of violent proselytization in major cities of the Far-North such as Kano, Kafanchan, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Jos, Bauchi, Yola and several others.
The military autocrats managing Nigeria then being bereft of ideas to mobilise the people and gain their loyalty rather fell on the usual cheap method by every autocratic government to divide the society and rule it. In that wise, the military government played ethnic and religious games by pitching the Northern Hausa/Fulani against the Southern counterparts leading to General stential questionsBabangida in January, 1986 registering Nigeria in the world Islamic organisation called Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) without subjecting such policy to governmental approval as the then ruling Armed Forces Ruling Council did not debate and approve it as testified to by the irrepressible Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, the Chief of Staff, and General Babangida’s second in command. When it (the OIC debacle) became public, Nigeria expectedly was seriously polarized between Christian opponents and Moslem supporters. It was reported (Newswatch, July 7, 1986, pp25-27) that this Islamic gambit was actually the offshoot of General Buhari’s efforts to foist Sharia law on Nigeria through the instrumentality of entrenching it into federal legal order which could not materialize before his overthrow in 1985.
So, General Babangida wanting to ingratiate himself to the Sokoto Caliphate took up the OIC membership as recompense. Nigeria had maintained an observer status in the organisation until December, 1985 when OIC sent an invita-tion to Nigeria to attend its meeting at Fez, Morocco in January 1986 whereupon Nigerian Ministry of External Affairs instructed the Nigerian Embassy at Morocco to attend as an observer but Babangida government thought otherwise when it directed that a high-powered delegation led by Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman and Abubakar Alhaji, Abdulakadir Ahmed (CBN governor), Ibrahim Dasuki, then Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and Sheik Abubakar Gumi to represent Nigeria and to register Nigeria as the 46th member. Membership of OIC had earlier been championed by Maitama Sule and MKO Abiola.
From then on, religious question became markedly volatile as many fundamentalist Islamic organisations took up the challenge to start asserting that Sharia must be implemented throughout Nigeria and in the process there were several religious riots which bolstered Islamic fundamentalism with the result that heinous crimes such as the murder were committed with impunity to drive the point of this Islamic protagonists.
Such impunity was exacted in the murder of Gideon Akaluka in Kano Bompai Prison on 26 December, 1994 by Shiite Moslems abducted him from prison, killed him, decapitated his head and hoisted it on a spike and paraded the city of Kano without any challenge by the law enforcement agencies. Ohanaeze Ndigbo shouted itself hoarse for due process of law to take its course by calling the Federal Government and Kano State military administrator Mohammed Wase to initiate and enforce the law against the murderers to no avail.
From then, Muslim Fundamentalist acquired the right to enforce their own idea of Sharia against Nigerians in Far-Northern cities. In October 19, 1986, Dele Giwa had been killed in a parcel bomb and nothing happened and it signaled the reign of assassins in Nigeria. Between 1986 and 1993, corruption had become the norm and the society turned upside down that Nigerians were so tired out by the constant bombardment of autocratic government policies especially the interminable political transition programme that they had resigned to fate.
Then by accident, the government boxed itself into a corner when by series of banning and unbanning of politicians it threw up two mast unlikely political figures in MKO Abiola and Bashir Tofa from Ogun State, Southern Nigeria and Kano State, Northern Nigeria respectively. After the emergence of these two individuals as presidential candidates of government-created parties – NRC and SDP – government looked away as sundry mischief makers seized the political space to unleash their political wares of subterfuge and sabotage of the programme. Then, the electoral body fixed June 12, 1993 as the date of the presidential election. Many factors were lined up against the election such as the fact that it was during the thick of the raining season and its disruptive effect was not discountenanced.