The Obasanjo Regime

Nigeria Table of Contents

Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba, succeeded Murtala Muhammad. As chief of staff of Supreme Headquarters, Obasanjo was Murtala Muhammad's deputy and had the support of the military. He had commanded the federal division that took Owerri, effectively bringing an end to the civil war. Keeping the chain of command established by Murtala Muhammad in place, Obasanjo pledged to continue the program for the restoration of civilian government in 1979 and to carry forward the reform program to improve the quality of public service.

The draft constitution was published in October 1976, anticipating the seating of a constituent assembly in 1977. Debates during sessions of the drafting committee were frequently ideological in nature, but divisive proposals, such as the attempt to define Nigeria as a "socialist" state, were decisively rejected. Committee members discarded Murtala Muhammad's recommendations for a nonparty system, but they insisted that parties applying for registration had to have national objectives and executive boards whose members represented at least twothirds of the states. The model for the constitution, which was adopted in 1979, was based on the Constitution of the United States, with provision for a president, Senate, and House of Representatives. The country was now ready for local elections, to be followed by national elections, that would return Nigeria to civilian rule.

The military regimes of Murtala Muhammad and Obasanjo benefited from a tremendous influx of oil revenue that increased 350 percent between 1973 and 1974, when oil prices skyrocketed, to 1979, when the military stepped down. Increased revenues permitted massive spending that unfortunately, was poorly planned and concentrated in urban areas. The oil boom was marred by a minor recession in 1978-79, but revenues rebounded until mid1981 . The increase in revenues made possible a rapid rise in income, especially for the urban middle class. There was a corresponding inflation, particularly in the price of food, that promoted both industrialization and the expansion of agricultural production. As a result of the shift to food crops, the traditional export earners--peanuts, cotton, cocoa, and palm products--declined in significance and then ceased to be important at all. Nigeria's exports became dominated by oil.

Industrialization, which had grown slowly after World War II through the civil war, boomed in the 1970s, despite many infrastructure constraints. Growth was particularly pronounced in the production and assembly of consumer goods, including vehicle assembly and the manufacture of soap and detergents, soft drinks, pharmaceuticals, beer, paint, and building materials. Furthermore, there was extensive investment in infrastructure from 1975 to 1980, and the number of parastatals--jointly government- and privately owned companies--proliferated. The Nigerian Enterprises Promotion decrees of 1972 and 1977 further encouraged the growth of an indigenous middle class.

Plans were undertaken for the movement of the federal capital from Lagos to a more central location in the interior at Abuja. Such a step was seen as a means of encouraging the spread of industrial development inland and of relieving the congestion that threatened to choke Lagos. Abuja also was chosen because it was not identified with any particular ethnic group.

Heavy investment was planned in steel production. With Soviet assistance, a steel mill was developed at Ajaokuta in Kwara State, not far from Abuja. The most significant negative sign was the decline of industry associated with agriculture, but largescale irrigation projects were launched in the states of Borno, Kano, Sokoto, and Bauchi under World Bank (see Glossary) auspices.

Education also expanded rapidly. At the start of the civil war, there were only five universities, but by 1975 the number had increased to thirteen, with seven more established over the next several years. In 1975 there were 53,000 university students. There were similar advances in primary and secondary school education, particularly in those northern states that had lagged behind.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress