Nigerians Survive Another Difficult Year

By Paul Ejime, PANA Staff Correspondent, 31 December 1997

LAGOS, Nigeria (PANA) — To political historians, 1997 presented the recipe of a political anti-climax for Nigeria which is battling a lingering political crisis and is under intense international pressure to accept democracy.

The year had opened with echoes of the urban-terrorist-type bomb blasts, a carry over from 1996 and a manifestation of the nation’s four-year stubborn political upheaval that followed the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections by the military government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

By the year-end, at least seven of the bomb explosions had occurred in several parts of the country, mainly targeted at the military. Authorities blamed the opposition pro-democracy groups led by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).

The lethal devices caused havoc in places such as Lagos, the nation’s economic hub, the oil city of Port Harcourt, in the southeast, Onitsha in the east and Ekiti in the west.

Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya, the deputy head of state until Dec. 21 when he was arrested for his involvement in an alleged coup plot, had earlier escaped an apparent assassination at the Abuja airport.

Diya’s official car reportedly arrived the airport shortly before a blast, which police said was a hand-grenade that exploded accidentally. The incident is still subject of state investigation, while the trial is also pending in a Lagos court of several Nadeco officials accused of being behind the previous bomb blasts in the country.

Of the 16 Nigerians charged for the alleged offence, four of them, including Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka, are in self-exile abroad campaigning for more international sanctions against the Abacha regime.

The year also witnessed incessant fuel shortages in the leading African oil-producing country. The controversy over the cause of the scarcity played out in a verbal war between two cabinet ministers — Anthony Ani for finance and Dan Etete or the Petroleum Resources Ministry.

Political observers said it was, therefore, an irony according that both men retained their portfolios after Abacha dissolved his entire cabinet, in his Nov. 17 speech to mark his four years in office.

Another off-shoot of the energy saga, was the importation of foul-smelling fuel under government’s efforts to stem the shortages.

Nothing has come out of the a probe into the episode, with Nigerian motorists complaining that the product had ruined their vehicles.

The government also had two bloody ethnic disturbances to contend with. One was in Warri in the Niger delta, where the skirmishes over relocation of a local council headquarters between the Ijaws and Itsekiris resulted in a score of deaths. Troops had to be sent to restore a fragile peace in the area.

The bitter age-long rivalry between the ethnic Yoruba Ife and Modakeke of western Nigeria also erupted in 1997, claiming dozens of lives.

Sporadic fights still erupt between the two neighbouring communities, over similar government relocation of a local council headquarters.

In August, the cold hands of death snatched Nigeria’s internationally renowned afro-beat musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. His carnival-like funeral resembled a celebration by thousands of his admirers, despite the shocking disclosure by his family he had died of AIDS-related complications.

October saw the death of Nadeco leader and octogenarian, Michael Adekunle Ajasin, who was mourned by both government and his pro-democracy colleagues.

On a positive note, municipal and state assembly elections were held nationwide during the year as part of the Abacha regime’s three-year political transition programme which is supposed to end October 1998.

The government’s vision 2010 committee headed by former head of state Ernest Shonekan, the man Abacha booted from power in November 1993, submitted its report charting a new political and socio-economic course for the country. Abacha has promised to implement the committee’s recommendations.

But as Abacha marked his fourth anniversary, he left everybody guessing as to whether he intends to succeed himself in October 1998, his regime’s handover date.

Just when Nigerians were coasting to a new year, the political temperature was again been raised following the death in custody of former deputy head of state, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. The retired major general was serving a prison term after being convicted for involvement in the 1995 coup plot against the Abacha regime.

The dust raised by his death had hardly settled when the military government announced Dec. 21 that it had uncovered yet another coup plot.

The list of the 12 arrested suspects, including Abacha’s deputy, Lt.gen. Oladipo Diya, was not only shocking but has aggravated the nation’s political tenter hooks.

Nigeria has witnessed a dozen failed or successful coup attempts in its 37 years’ history of nationhood, dominated by army rule.

Having survived a difficult year characterised by anxiety from gruelling economic and political crises, analysts say the main challenge of the Nigerian military government is to deliver on its promise of returning the country to democracy.

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