Wars, Conflicts, and Coups of Nigeria
Nigeria gained independence from the British in 1960, after generations as a colony. As with many of the territories governed by the British in Africa and elsewhere, Nigeria is a nation cobbled together from many distinct ethnic groups, or tribes, and different religions. By keeping these different ethnic and religious groups collected together into one colony aided the British in governing this large territory, but set up many conflicts for the new nation of Nigeria. Since independence, Nigeria has been plagued by civil conflict between ethnic groups and the two main religious groups, Muslims and Christians. In the 21st Century, Nigeria is dealing with sectarian communal violence between Muslims and Christians and with a bloody insurgency by a Muslim rebel group called Boko Haram.
Below are the wars, conflicts, and military coups that have dominated Nigeria over the decades since independence.
Congo Civil War (1960-1964)-Nigerian forces participated in the United Nations Peacekeeping force involved in the Congo Civil War.
Nigerian Coup of 1966 ( January 15, 1966)-The first of two military coups in 1966 was carried out primarily by ethnic Ibo officers (the Ibo are an ethnic group in southern Nigeria), including Major K.C. Nzeogwu and Major Ifeajuna, who were backed by other Ibo officers. The conspirators killed Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was from Northern Nigerian as well as other high-ranking northerners. This coup was initiated on the night of January 15, 1966. After some confusion and political and military negotiations, Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Ibo, became the President of Nigeria
Nigerian Counter-Coup of 1966 (July 28, 1966)–Military officers from northern Nigeria (a largely Muslim area) overthrew the regime of President Aguiyi-Ironsi, who died the night of the coup. He was succeeded by General Yakubu Gowon, a Christian Ngas from eastern Nigera. Gowon ruled Nigeria until he was overthrown in a coup in 1975. The violence of this second coup, especially the northern Muslim/southern Christian dynamic, helped lead to the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War.
Nigerian Civil War aka “Biafra War” (1967-1970)- A bloody civil war in which part of southern Nigeria, an area inhabited largely by Christian Ibos, sought to break away and form their own nation called Biafra. The Nigerian government defeated the Biafrans and re-united the nation. This conflict was an extension of the long-term hostility and mistrust between Nigeria’s Muslims and Christians.
Nigerian Coup of 1975 (July 29, 1975)-Led by General Murtala Muhammed, a northern Muslim of the Fulani ethnic group, the Gowon regime was overthrown. General Murtala Muhammed then assumed power as President.
Attempted Nigerian Coup of 1976 President General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated by coup conspirators. He was succeeded by Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo, who had remained loyal to the Muhammed government and had crushed the rebels. Ogasanjo voluntarily transferred power to a civilian government led by Shehu Shagari in 1979. This was the begining of Nigeria’s Second Republic.
Nigerian Coup of 1983 (December 31, 1983)-Charges of corruption, coupled with a drop in world oil prices that affected Nigeria’s oil export income, helped lead to a coup that overthrew President Shagari on New Year’s Eve, 1983. This coup was led by Major General Muhammadu Buhari, who then assumed power as military dictator.
Nigerian Coup of 1985 (August 27, 1985)-Continuing economic problems led to the next coup, in which Buhari was overthrown in a bloodless military coup led by General Ibrahim Babangida and other members of the ruling Supreme Military Council.
Attempted Nigerian Coup of 1990 (August 22, 1990)-Babangida and his regime survived a coup attempt.
Liberian Civil War (Nigerian Intervention 1990-1998)-As a member of Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), Nigeria, along with several other West African nations, sent military forces to try to end Liberia’s Civil War.
Nigeria-Cameroon Border Dispute (1991-1998)-Border dispute over the oil-rich Bakassi region. A cease-fire agreement was signed in 1996, but each side accuses the other of numerous violations. In 1998, 221 prisoners of war were repatriated. In 2002, the World Court awarded the land to Cameroon.
Sierra Leone Intervention (1993-1999)-Nigeria, along with other ECOMOG nations and Britain, sent thousands of troops to put down the RUF rebellion/civil war in Sierra Leone.
Nigerian Coup of 1993 (November 17, 1993)-General Sani Abacha overthrew the government of Interim President Ernest Shonekan (who had been appointed to lead Nigeria upon the resignation of Babangida three months earlier). Abacha ran a corrupt and brutal regime that suddenly ended on June 8, 1998, with his death (of an apparent heart attack while in the company of two Indian prostitutes). Abacha was succeeded by Major General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Nigeria’s defense chief of staff. Abubakar quickly announceda transition to democracy, which led to the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo, and the beginning of Nigeria’s Third Republic.
Muslim-Christian Sectarian Violence (2000-Present)–A civil conflict between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. While this in many ways is an extension of the sectarian, or religious, animosity seen in Nigeria’s coups and prior civil war, this variation is significant in that it is tied to the imposition of Muslim Sharia law in many parts of Northern Nigeria by local governments. Riots and other forms of violence between Muslims and Christians has claimed thousands of lives since the start of the 21st Century.
Boko Haram Insurgency (2009-Present)-Boko Haram, an Islamist guerrilla force, has been in armed rebellion against the Nigerian government since 2009. Boko Haram is an al-Qaida affiliated Islamist group that seeks to impose Sharia (Muslim) law on Nigeria. This group targets Christians and secular Muslims, and is best known for the 2014 kidnappings that resulted in the abduction of over 200 Nigerian school girls. Boko Haram’s attacks are largely in Nigeria’s northeast. The rebels also operate out of bases in neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The kidnapping of the female students prompted the United States and the United Kingdom to send aid to Nigeria, including military resources to help combat Boko Haram and to locate and rescue the kidnapped girls.