Between Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia: The Abacha Coup, the National Conference, and Prospects for Peace and Democracy in Nigeria

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Nigeria in 1993 was the archetype of acute political instability and the attendant economic breakdown that have come to characterize the African continent most pointedly since the early 1980s. At the close of the year, the country had had its third national government in 12 months -- two military and one military inspired. The economy ground to a halt as tension and social insecurity attained unprecedented levels. Constructive economic engagements virtually became impossible. External reserves dwindled rapidly by the end of the year to what was barely enough to service one month's imports. Economic growth crashed to about two percent (Federal Ministry of Finance, 1994) from a budgetary projection of 5.3% for the year Federal Ministry of Finance, 1993). Relations with the external economic environment continued to be constrained and strained by unfulfilled debt-service obligations as some $4.54 billion was in arrears at the end of 1993. Also at yearend, extra-budgetary spending had pushed the nation into an official deficit of N75.21 billion (Federal Ministry of Finance, 1994). It was a return to the most critical period of the early 1980s, when the country had virtually come to an economic standstill.

This article examines die nature of the crisis of 1993, with a view to elucidating the factors and forces that precipitated an ongoing threat to the foundation of the Nigerian state and society beyond anything imaginable even by the most cynical segment of Nigeria's population a few years ago. Does a return to full-scale military rule constitute a correct response to the crises? What further prospects for democracy remain for Nigeria against the backdrop of the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, and within the context of the National Constitutional Conference that sat between June 27, 1994, and June 27, 1995? A correct appreciation of the main trends in the nation's economy provides the crucial takeoff point for this investigation.

II. Crisis and Contradictions in the Nigerian Economy

The Nigerian economy took off on a hopeful note at independence in 1960 with the agricultural sector providing its mainstay. By 1964, this sector was contributing 60.96% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and 70.8% of total exports (Central Bank of Nigeria, 1986: 16). The country was not only self-sufficient in food production, but also had the capacity for export. All the country required at that time to lay the foundation of development was an agriculture-inspired industrialization program.

All moves in this respect were, however, frustrated and jettisoned with the emergence of crude oil as the dominant sector of the Nigerian economy beginning in 1973. In 1974, agriculture's contribution to GDP and total exports plummeted to 27.66% and 5.3% respectively as crude oil accounted for 92.3% of total exports (Ibid.: 16, 86, 101). The underdevelopment of the agricultural sector has thus been guaranteed by the oil sector as from this period. Significantly, the oil sector itself had no linkage with other sectors of the economy. Rather, it was anchored securely on the international economy and failed to provide the basis for viable industrialization. The import-substitution industrialization (ISI) that it nurtured was entirely import-dependent. Crude oil earnings also financed huge imports of all kinds of consumables, from frozen chicken to toothpicks. Further, foreign control over the sector was almost total. Between them, the four largest oil companies operating in the country, Shell, Gulf, Mobil, and Agip (all foreign owned), were always responsible for between 76.65% and 90.91% of total crude oil production in Nigeria between 1975 and 1985 (NNPC, 1985: 14). In the multi-billion dollar natural gas development project agreement signed in Lagos on December 18, 1993, the three participating foreign companies and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) hold 51% of total equity (NNPC, 1994). …

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