PBS's timeline of Nigeria's presidents

In the wake of Yar'Adua's death, The PBS NewsHour published an outline of Nigeria's leaders, under the rubric "Nigeria's Post-Colonial Political Turmoil."  Fair enough, and ever since archetypical man-of-action Nzeogwu* decided he wasn't messing about, it really has been a turbulent cascade, and sobering to re-read even in the drab copy of foreign service wonks.  Stories of the many intrigues that have characterized Nigeria to date were always the midnight snack of my mates and I defying curfew in school, and many of these names are vivid folk heroes and villains to me.  In a recent visit to my parents' they and my Uncles and family friends had even more lurid tales of the machinations surrounding the turnover of power from Yar'Adua to Goodluck Jonathan, and I do wonder where these will fetch up in the endless drama of the Stumbling Giant of Afica.

* Nzeogwu is an extraordinary person whose Wikipedia page does him no real justice.  I recommend to anyone interested in African politics to find one of the several books about him, and about the seismic events he set in motion.  You can hardly do better than the volume by later twice head of state Olusegun Obasanjo himself, if you can find it in print in the West.

Anyway, in their chart is a surprising omission.  Nigerians will spot it in an instant.
  • 1960-66
    • Tafawa Balewa (Northern People's Congress)
  • 1966
    • J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi (Military)
  • 1966-75
    • Yakubu Gowon (Military)
  • 1976-79
    • Olusegun Obasanjo (Military)
  • 1979-83
    • Shehu Shagari (National Party of Nigeria)
  • 1984-85
    • Muhamaddu Buhari (Military)
  • 1985-93
    • Ibahim Babangida (Military)
  • 1993
    • Ernest Shonekan (Military)
  • 1993-98
    • Abdulsalami Abubakar (Military)
  • 1999-2007
    • Olusegun Obasanjo (People's Democratic Party)
  • 2007-2010 
    • Umaru Yar'Adua (People's Democratic Party)
  • 2010-present 
    • Goodluck Jonathan (People's Democratic Party)

So where the heck is Murtala Mohammed, whose 1975-1976 regime any Nigerian recognizes as a pivot point in so many ways, in national terms as well as international terms?  You'll rarely find one as much a simultaneous hero and villain to so many.  He was one of those larger-than-life figures in a Nation that could have done with far fewer larger-than-life figures.  PBS hides him in the Gowon section, and briefly mentions him in the Obasanjo (Military) section, even though Obasanjo probably only became head of state because Mohammed had clearly marked him as his second, in the Mohammed/Obasanjo/Danjuma troika.  Danjuma, based on his military influence, could easily have been Mohammed's successor, but even the dead Mohammed's shadow was long enough to set the succession, and eventually the path to the second republic of Shehu Shagari, a drunken orgy of corrupt civilian rule that probably made inevitable the whipsaw sequence of military regimes that followed.

It's more technically correct to have buried M.K.O. Abiola in the Babangida section, although it is the plain reality that Abiola never went from President-Elect to President.

Another observation is the procession from the "(Military)" to the "(PDP)."  If Nigeria is to be a nation where ideas shine as brightly as individuals, then perhaps it's fitting that one of the brighter individuals who stands for some of the more "bottom-up" ideas for Nigeria's future, Donald Duke, publicly ditched the PDP.  (Yeah, and I'm not sure what kind of statement it makes that Facebook is probably the best source for an event that has caused quite a few ripples among Nigerians everywhere).

The PBS timeline does make for interesting reflection, not least upon hope that Nigeria is in for times rather less defined by the drama of personages than have been since 1960.