“Soja Come, Soja Go”
: military withdrawal from government in Nigeria (1999)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


When and why do military governments voluntarily surrender power to an elected civilian government? The 21 years since Nigeria emerged from military rule and returned to elected civilian rule in May 1999 is the longest era of continuous civilian rule in its history. After 29 years of military rule (1966-1979 and 1984-1999), Nigeria’s military finally succeeded in bequeathing long term civilian rule, declined to re-intervene to displace civilian governments (as it did in 1966, 1983, and 1993), and stopped a long-standing pattern of failed attempts by military governments to cede power to civilians. Why was this so?
This thesis’ primary argument and contribution to knowledge is to deploy an alternative approach that presents an intra-military historical and political perspective on Nigeria’s 1999 transition from military to civilian government. This thesis will argue that the rationales for that transition that have been presented in existing literature (which focus largely on events that occurred outside the military) are not the only explanations for the transition. It will comparatively present largely neglected alternative intra-military perspectives on the transition and argue that these intra-military perspectives are complimentary and convincing rationales for the transition.
This research examined the 1999 transition by using historical intra-military professional interests and relationships as the focus of the study. The intra-military perspectives presented by this thesis are counter-narratives that challenge the prevailing transition explanations, and demonstrate that the termination of military rule in Nigeria in 1999 was from the military’s perspective, an antidote to vices that military rule had introduced into the military profession. Such vices included the corrosion of military professionalism, the creation of intra-military cleavages, infiltration of ethno-regional and political controversies into the military, the increased risk of military coups, and premature attrition from the officer corps. Significant anti-military rule advocacy and opposition to the military government ironically emerged from within the military. Many military officers advocated military withdrawal from government a way to counteract these vices that military rule introduced. External socio-economic forces outside the military were part of the transition calculus, not the entire calculus.
This research’s contribution to knowledge of illuminating of how intra-military dynamics, interests, and relationships influenced the 1999 transition add more than just historical value. The transition and the aggregation of intra-military factors that propelled it, also shaped the contours of the post-military rule civilian governments and Nigerian state after 1999.
Date of Award1 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorKieran Mitton (Supervisor) & Vincent Hiribarren (Supervisor)

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