Independence, Nigeria Under Abacha
Nigerian Labour Congress, Moshood Abiola, Abacha, constitutional commission, general strike
The Nigerian Labour Congress, which had already held a general strike to protest the annulled election of Abiola, organized another general strike to protest Abacha’s coup. Political pressure groups such as the Campaign for Democracy also stepped up protests against Abacha. In May 1994 the government announced plans for political reform and held elections for local governments and delegates to yet another constitutional conference. In October 1995 Abacha lifted the ban on political activity, promised a transfer to civilian power in 1998, and later allowed five parties to operate. However, he continued his repression of dissidents, the most notorious instance of which was the hanging of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists in November 1995. Saro-Wiwa and his fellow dissidents were critics of the oil industry, which had brought a range of environmental ills to their Ogoni homeland in the Niger Delta. The government dubiously accused the activists of murdering government supporters, gave them a hasty, unfair trial, and executed them. The Abacha government imprisoned many people, among the most prominent being former president Olusegun Obasanjo, former vice president Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (who died in prison in December 1997), and the 1993 president-elect, Moshood Abiola. Other prominent Nigerians, including Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, fled into exile. The execution and imprisonment of opponents and other violations of human rights intensified international pressure on Abacha and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Internally, Abacha managed to maintain support from some segments of the population, especially among his Hausa-Fulani compatriots. In 1995 a constitutional commission presented a draft constitution. Abacha promised to implement the constitution and return the country to civilian rule following presidential elections in October 1998. He was widely expected to be declared the winner of the elections, as all five officially sanctioned political parties had nominated him in April 1998. However, in June 1998 Abacha died suddenly of a heart attack.
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