In Which Republic Is Nigeria Presently –The 3rd, 4th Or…?


“The numbering of our republican experiences has not been as straightforward as it should be as there is a great deal of confusion as to which republic Nigeria is in right now: Is it the third, fourth or fifth? How can Nigeria be in the fourth republic when she has not had the third? …Is it a willful re-writing of our national history or simply a malevolent historicism?” – Prof. Mike Ikhariale

By Substance Nature


In what year did Nigeria become Independent? When did she become a Republic? I vividly can recall that whether the questions came in the form of objective or subjective, there were usually taken as bonus questions at the First School Leaving or Common Entrance Examinations. The commonplace smart answers are that Nigeria got her Independence in 1960 and became a Republic in 1963. Only cursed imbeciles could have gotten them wrong.

Whereas the first question was always easy to explain and understand especially when one remembered the festivities of 1st October every year, the second could not have been so: throughout my stay at these levels of education, I cannot recall when a teacher really bothered to tell us by way of clear distinctions – and convinced us – how being Independent was similar or different from being a Republic? Two things must have happened here. The teachers either assumed that the pupils knew, or ought to know, or should not really bother to know – or they themselves equally did not know to be so sure of the basic differences between a Republic and an Independent state. In the silence of this assumption, I have tempted students even at higher levels the same question, but what I always got had been confusion or fabricated answers that showed that not a few are still at crossroads about the matter.

WHAT IS A REPUBLIC? The following definitions may suffice: 1. A government having a chief/head of state who is not a monarch but usually a President (in modern understanding of the word). 2. A government in which Supreme Power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote (or be voted for) and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to set out Constitution and guided by unequivocal rules of law”. 3. A form of government in which the country is considered a “public matter”. The term originates as the Latin translation of the Greek word politeia, as used by Cicero and Renaissance Scholars. But it was Aristotle who popularized it when he said, “When the citizens at large govern for the common good, it is called by the name common to all governments…” So a Republic is a sovereign state whose leaders are democratically elected or appointed by a generally agreed Constitutional model to represent the people in administering the state within specific periods and terms. Republics became more common in the 18th century, displacing absolute monarchy that once held sway.

IS NIGERIA A REPUBLIC? Nigeria’s short political profile could read something like this: A Federal Republic composed of 36 states, and a Capital Territory, with an elected President and a Bi-cameral Legislature. It operates the Presidential system of Government with three distinct but complementary arms – the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary, each serving peculiar and check-and-balance roles to each other. So she is appropriately addressed as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Hence, pretty long time had passed before I came to appreciate the fact that a country can be independent without being a Republic; but no country can be a Republic without being Independent. As of 2017, 159 of the world’s 206 sovereign states use the word, “Republic” as part of their official names; but not all of these are republics in the sense of having elected governments; nor do all nations with elected governments use the word ”Republic” in their names. Nigeria is a Republic; Britain is not. So when did Nigeria’s Republic begin? Where are we today?

THE FIRST REPUBLIC: Nigeria’s first republic was the Republican Government of from 1963 – 1966, governed by the 1st Republican Constitution. Although the country gained Independence from Britain on 1ST October, 1960, she at the time was still a Commonwealth subject under Queen Elizabeth 11 as a titular or ceremonial Head of State until the adoption of Nigerian-authored new Constitution in 1963, which made her a Republic. The first President in this connection was Dr. Nnamdi Benjamin Asikiwe who resigned From the National Council of Nigeria and Camerouns to become the first Governor-General of Nigeria from 1ST October 1960 to September 1963 (some have extended the period to 1966). The Prime Minister was Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

THE SECOND REPUBLIC: The Second Republic began in 1979 when President then Military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, handed over to the democratically elected President Shehu Shagari (1979 -1983). It was governed by the Second Republican Constitution. The main event leading to the emergence of Gen. Obasanjo is traced to the assassination of Gen. Murtala Mohammed in 1976 that saw Obasanjo succeeded him and incidentally initiated a transition process, unlike the empty promises and mischief of his predecessors since 1963. One remarkable feature of the Second Republic was the drafting of a New Constitution that discarded the Westminster System used in the First Republic and replacing it with the American-patterned Presidential system. It was this Constitution that demanded that political parties be formed and cabinet positions reflect, for the first time, the ‘Federal Character’. Each state was to produce at least one minister.

Preparatory to this moment, there was the Constituent Assembly of 1977 that drafted the new Constitution which was published on September, 1978. Six political parties were launched, namely, Greater Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP); National Party of Nigeria (NPN); Nigerian Advance Party (NAP); Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP); Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) AND Unity Party of Nigeria. President Shagari won on the platform of NPN. Incidentally, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the present President, scuttled the Second Republic experiment through a coup d’état that saw him ascended thrown.

THE THIRD REPUBLIC: Governed by the Nigerian Third Republican Constitution, this Republic began in 1993. The Constitution was drafted in 1989 under President Ibrahim Babaginda who promised but failed to relinquish power in 1990. Within the period, he lifted ban on political activities and subsequently masterminded the formation of only two political parties –the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) even though so many had been formed. State Legislative elections were held in 1991; governorship election in 1992; whereas the presidential election was postponed to June 12, 1993. For what will turn out to be an ugly landmark, MKO Abiola (SDP), purportedly defeated Alhaji Bashir Tofa of NRC in the June 12 election, but IBB annulled the result that threw the country into deep mess, home and abroad. Babaginda later on, or “stepped aside”, on 23 August, 1993. Chief Shonekan became a booby-trap of the interim structure that was sooner shattered by Gen. Sani Abacha on November, 1993.

THE FOURTH REPUBLIC: Nigeria’s Fourth Republic began on May 29, 1999. It was said to be a re-adoption or revival of the Second Republic template of 1979 -1983. Incidentally the death of Gen. Sani Abacha, a de facto dictator, in 1998 catapulted his closest in rank, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to take over from him and began oiling, once again, the old chain of broken promises to hand-over power to civilian rule. Doubts filled the air. But Abubakar is a true patriot. Like should be expected, the ban on political parties was lifted, political prisoners freed, and a return of the Constitution to the Second Republic prototype was effected. Gen. Abubakar handed over power to Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (PDP) on May 29, 1999.

Chief Olusegun stayed on till May 29, 2007 when President Umaru Musa Yar’adua of the Peoples Democratic Party took over the reins. Sadly, after barely two and half years in office, Yar’adua died on 5 May, 2010. That saw his Vice, Goodluck Jonathan, served in the interim to complete that tenure until he eventually won the Presidential election of 2011. Jonathan lost out to the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. Therefore, Nigerian presidents in the fourth Republic would include Olusegun Obasanjo (29 May 1999 – 29 May 2007 –PDP); Umaru Yar’Adua (29 May 2007 -5 May 2010 –PDP); Goodluck Jonathan (6 May 2010 -29 May 2015 –PDP); and Muhammadu Buhari (29 May 2015 – APC). If this stands, it means that the country has spent approximately 16 years in the 4th Republic, the longest in the history of the nation.

The common belief therefore is that, so long as Nigeria is still operating the 1999 Constitution, she is in the 4th Republic. The Fifth Republic shall be born if the current Constitution is repealed and a new one enacted. However, some have argued that, this is not Nigeria’s 4th Republic but the 7th. According to this School of Thought, the said Republics have come in the following order: First (1963-1966); Second (1979-1983); Third (1999-2003); Fourth (2003-2007); Fifth (2007-2011); Sixth (2011-2015); and the Seventh (2015), still running.

Tangentially, a renowned Constitutional Lawyer and Chairman, Presidential Committee on Loot Discovery, Professor Itse Sagay, is strongly of the opinion that the Fourth Republic has already failed. He made this assertion in an interview in the Vanguard Newspaper some time ago (May 26, 2012). “The Fourth Republic democracy is a complete failure in the sense that the very first threshold of what constitutes democracy has failed. That’s free, fair and credible election”. And by implication for imprecation, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo seems to tow the same line when he quipped in one of his interviews: “The National Assembly is full of rogues and armed robbers…Is there hope for Nigeria”. In the same vein, in his characteristic critique of the Nigerian project, Gani Kayode, former Minster of Aviation and former President Goodluck Jonathan’s image-launderer, sees the present republic as “The Fulani Republic of Nigeria”, a title to the part one of his recent essay lampooning and castigating President Buhari. (Vanguard, January 20, 2017)

The question therefore remains: in view of these arguments, in which Republic is Nigeria currently in? What is the difference between a republic, a federation, and an independent state? Watch out!

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