The Second Republic was the republican government of Nigeria between 1979 and 1983 governed by the second republican constitution. Following the assassination of the Nigerian military Head of State, General  Murtala Mohammed in 1976, his successor General Olusegun Obasanjo initiated the transition process to terminate military rule in 1979.

A new constitution was drafted, which saw the  Westminster system of government (previously used in the  First Republic ) jettisoned for an  American -style  Presidential system. The 1979 constitution mandated that political parties and cabinet positions reflect the “federal character” of the nation — Political parties were required to be registered in at least two-thirds of the states, and each state was required to produce at least one cabinet member.

A  constituent assembly was elected in 1977 to draft a new constitution, which was published on September 21, 1978, when the ban on political activity was lifted. In 1979, five political parties competed in a series of elections in which Alhaji  Shehu Shagari of the  National Party of Nigeria  (NPN) was elected president.

Obasanjo peacefully transferred power to Shagari, becoming the first head of state in Nigerian history to willingly step down. All five parties won representation in the National Assembly. In August 1983 Shagari and the NPN were returned to power in a landslide victory, with a majority of seats in the National Assembly and control of 12 state governments.

But the elections were marred by violence and allegations of widespread vote rigging and electoral malfeasance led to legal battles over the results. In the widely monitored 1979 election,  Alhaji Shehu Shagari was elected on the NPN platform. On October 1, 1979, Shehu Shagari was sworn in as the first  President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


In the program of transition to the Second Republic, the military leaders’ primary concern was to prevent the recurrence of the mistakes of the First Republic. They believed that if the structures and processes of government and politics that had proved inappropriate in the First Republic could be changed, a stable and effective civilian government would emerge.

The transition was therefore designed to address those fundamental issues, which were historically divisive, and to establish new political institutions, processes, and orientations. Except for the census, which remained problematic, most issues that threatened the stability and survival of the federation were addressed.

The revenue allocation process was altered based on the recommendation of a technical committee, despite the politicians’ rejection of its recommendation. Local governments were also streamlined and made more powerful by the 1976 reforms.

The second aspect of the transition involved the making of a new constitution and appropriate institutions. A Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) was appointed in 1975 under the chairmanship of a leading lawyer, Rotimi Williams. In 1977, a Constituent Assembly (CA) composed of both elected and appointed officials examined and examined ratified the draft constitution.

After final ratification by the SMC, the Constitution was promulgated in 1979. Political parties were formed, and new corrective national bodies, such as the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, and the Public Complaints Commission, were established.

The most far-reaching changes of the transition were made in the area of institutionalizing a new constitutional and political system.

At the inauguration of the CDC, Murtala Muhammad outlined the objectives of transition as the continuation of a federal system of government with constitutional law guaranteeing fundamental human rights, maximum participation, and orderly succession to political power.

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To avoid the pitfalls of the First Republic, the new constitution was designed to eliminate political competition based on a system of winner-takes-all, broaden consensus politics to a national base, eliminate over-centralization of power, and ensure free and fair elections.

The SMC suggested that these objectives could be met by recognition of national rather than sectional parties, controls on the proliferation of parties and on the creation of more states, and an executive presidential system similar to that in the United States. In addition, the federal character of the country was to be reflected in the cabinet; an independent judiciary was to be established as well as corrective institutions.

The draft constitution incorporated these elements. When the CA met to ratify the constitution, a few issues were highly volatile. The most notable was the matter of Sharia law, which Muslims argued should be given appellate jurisdiction at the federal level.

Most Christian members of the assembly vehemently opposed this. Only the intervention of the head of state resolved the situation. Although the sharia clause was deleted from the constitution, the cleavage between Christian and Muslim groups persisted.

Other controversial issues included the creation of more states, the determination of an age limit for participation in politics (intended to eliminate most discredited politicians who had actively participated in politics in the First Republic), and the scope of the executive president’s powers.

After the CA completed its work, the SMC added a few amendments, including the use of Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba as additional official languages in the National Assembly and applying the federal-character principle to the composition of the armed forces officer corps.

By Decree Number 25 of 1978, the 1979 constitution was enacted. The constitution differed from that of the First Republic in 1963 in that it introduced a United States-type presidential system in place of the parliamentary system.

Previously, the executive branch of government derived its powers from the legislature. Under the 1979 constitution, the president and vice president, as well as state governors and their deputies, were elected in separate elections. The elections had the federation and the state, respectively, as constituencies.

Furthermore, while the Senate was largely a ceremonial body in the First Republic, the new constitution gave the Senate and House of Representatives coequal powers.

There were other provisions in the 1979 constitution that aimed at eliminating past loopholes. The first was the federal-character principle, which sought to prevent the domination of power by one or a few states, ethnic groups, or sections at the federal centre, and by one or more groups in the states and local government areas.

The principle required that the composition of the cabinet, boards, and other executive bodies, as well as appointments to top government positions, should reflect the federal character or diversity of the country at the particular level of government. This principle also applied to the composition of the armed forces. The principle was extended to the distribution of national resources, such as the siting of schools and industries.

The question of party politics became a constitutional matter. In view of the need for a limited number of national political parties, the constitution specified certain criteria that parties had to meet in order to be registered: the name, emblem, or motto of the party could not contain any ethnic or religious connotation or give the party the image of a sectional party; membership in the party should be open to all Nigerians irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation; the party headquarters must be in the federal capital, and the executive committee of the party should reflect the federal character of the country.

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The task of registering political parties and conducting elections was given to the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO). The necessity for national parties resulted from the conviction that the disunity of the First Republic was engendered by the regional parties then operating. When the ban placed on political activities in 1966 was lifted in September 1978, at least fifty-three political associations were formed.

Seventeen of them applied for registration, but only five were registered: the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), the United Party of Nigeria (UPN), the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), and the People’s Redemption Party (PRP). In 1981 a sixth party, the Nigeria Advance Party (NAP), was registered.

Contrary to the expectations of the drafters of the constitution and the military rulers, most of these parties resembled the ethno-regional ones of the pre-1966 period although legally parties were required to transcend ethno-regional bases.

The only exceptions were the NAP, which proclaimed itself a “new breed” party, and the NPN, which despite its regional antecedents, was probably the only national party in Nigeria. The UPN was a resurrection of the AG with its Yoruba core; the NPP was a rejuvenation of the NCNC with its Igbo core and strands of middle-belt support; the PRP recalled Kano’s NEPU; and the GNPP, which appeared initially to be a new minorities formation, had its strength within the Kanuri section of the north.

Apart from the PRP, which flickered as a radical party, and the populist NAP, the other parties appeared to be parties of the wealthy class or those who aspired to join it, for whom politics was a means of enriching themselves and consolidating their material base. Given this character of the registered parties, it can be argued that the perceived need to balance the power groups in the country rather than the constitutional requirements decided which parties were registered.



In the 1979 presidential election, NPN candidate Shehu Shagari was declared the winner, even though many people thought he did not meet the full requirements. He obtained a simple majority of the total votes cast in the federation but failed to get 25 per cent of the total votes cast in thirteen states of the federation.

The latter was the generally accepted interpretation of the constitutional requirement that the winner of the presidential election should obtain 25 per cent of the total votes cast in two-thirds of the nineteen states of the federation. Shagari obtained 25 per cent of the votes in twelve states but got only 19 per cent in the thirteenth state.

When FEDECO declared Shagari the winner “in the absence of any legal explanation or guidance in the electoral decree,” Awolowo, the presidential candidate and leader of the UPN, led other defeated candidates and their parties to challenge the declaration in the electoral tribunal and later in the Supreme Court. But the challenge was to no avail.

The controversy led to strong anti-NPN and anti-Shagari sentiments in several states controlled by the other parties. Once the NPN succeeded in consolidating power at the centre, the attraction it held was strong enough to tear the other parties asunder. Consequently, the history of the Second Republic is replete with interparty and intraparty schisms and federal-state conflicts.


At the domestic level, the NPN-controlled federal government embarked on politically expedient but uneconomic projects, such as establishing a federal university in every state, commissioning iron and steel plants that remain unfinished in 1990, and indiscriminately awarding contracts to build the new federal capital at Abuja. To finance these projects, the government relied heavily on foreign loans and aid.

While the external debt of the country increased, the lot of the common citizen worsened. The global economic recession in the early 1980s and the collapse of crude oil prices in the world market accelerated the economic decline of the Second Republic.

By the time Shagari decided to initiate IMF-inspired austerity measures under the Economic Stabilization Act (1982), the problems of the economy required more drastic measures. This act, however, provided the blueprint for the austerity measures subsequently introduced by Buhari and by Babangida.



The demise of the Second Republic was accelerated by the tension generated by the 1983 general elections, which were similar to those of 1964-65. As in the earlier elections, two major political camps were involved in the contest: the NPN and the Progressive Parties Alliance, comprising the UPN, the NPP, and factions of the PRP and the GNPP.

The NPN won landslide victories even in states considered traditional strongholds of the other parties. In several places, violence erupted, and every election was contested in court. A number of the electoral verdicts were rescinded in view of evidence that results were falsified. Under these circumstances, the military intervened in December 1983



(a) Due to lack of philosophy and ideology, political parties go against the dictates of their manifestoes. Our political parties should have a clearly defined philosophy and ideology that will enable them conform with the dictates of their manifestoes.
(b) The linkage between political parties and ethnicity is not in the best interest of the Nigerian people. This is an area where de-linking is appropriate and necessary. This can be made possible if the people have political education. The people should understand their rights, responsibilities, and the role of the State.

They should be educated to demand accountability on the part of those elected into office. They should be in a position to recall those who have failed to deliver. A proper understanding of the various political issues will there for prevent them from being used as pawns by the leaders in the name of ethnicity.



After a vociferous campaign for independence by the nationalists, independence was granted in 1960 along with the democratic experiment of the first republic. But as soon as the politicians settled down, `wahala’ started first with the 1962 declaration of a state of emergency in the West, the arrest and prosecution of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and other party stalwarts for alleged coup plotting, the massive rigging of elections in 1964 and the attendant violence and general insecurity (wetie) that followed which invited the intervention of the military and the consequent bloody aftermath.




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Nigeria-The Second Republic (1991). Retrieved



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