ENGLISHNigerian History


The logo of the Nigerian Army

Military Coups in Nigeria has been an attempts by the Nigerian Army in which they tried to bring change to the status quo by toppling the existing government. In the the history of Nigeria, between 1966 to 1990 there were seven coup attempts. Five out of the seven were successful. While, the other two were unsuccessful.

Military Coups in Nigeria have occurred due to similar reasons in some aspects and different reasons in some aspects.

January 1966 Coup

The January 1966 Coup was the first in the history of the Military Coups in Nigeria.


Not so long after the Nigerian independence, political as well as tribal crises began to occurred in Nigeria. By, January 1966, Nigerians have despaired and many analysts in and outside Nigeria predicted that the was a possibility of military intervention in the Nigerian politics.


As predicted, on 15 January, 1966, a group of some young Nigerian Army officers mostly from Igbo ethnic staged the first Nigerian military coup. The leaders of the coup were :

  1. Major CK Nzeogwu

2. Major A. Ademoyega

3. Major EA Ifeajuna

4. Major CI Anuforo

5. Major IH Chukwuka

6. Major D. Okafor

7. Captain O. Oji


Major Nzeogwu led a coup in Kaduna the capital city of the Nigerian Northern Region. In the Kaduna operation, Major Nzeogwu killed Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the Northern Region and took over the government. Also, killed were top ranking Army officers :

  1. Ahmed Dan Musa, Senior Assistant Secretary (Security) to the North Regional Government
  2. Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun, Commander of the 1st Brigade NA
  3. Colonel R.A. Shodeinde, Deputy Commandant, Nigerian Defence Academy
  4. Sergeant Duromola Oyegoke of the Nigerian Army


In Lagos, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna led his men in which they abducted and later killed Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Nigerian Prime Minister. Others who lost their lives were :

  1. Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the Minister of Finance
  2. Brigadier Z. Mai-Malari, Commander of the 2nd Brigade NA
  3. Colonel K. Mohammed, Chief of Staff Nigerian Army
  4. Lieut-Colonel A. C. Unegbe, Quartermaster General
  5. Lieut-Colonel J.T. Pam, Adjutant General, Nigerian Army
  6. Lieut-Colonel A. Large, Commanding Officer 4th Battalion Ibadan:


Lastly, in Ibadan, the coup plotters carried out another operation in which they killed Chief Samuel Akintola, the Premier of the Northern Region.

However, throughout the operations of the Coup, the majority of those murdered were northerners, accompanied by some westerners and two Midwesterners.


The Coup to the collapsed of the Nigerian First Republic and to the emergence of military rule under Major General Aguyi-Ironsi as the new and first Nigerian Military Head of State.

July 1966 Coup

The July 1966 Coup was the second coup in the history of the Nigerian Military Coups.


After the January 1966 Coup in which many of the Northern top political leaders were killed, the nation went more into a tribal crisis. Also, in the Nigerian Army, those who came from the Northern Region felt betrayed by the killing of the leaders from the North, and also the Head of State General Aguyi-Ironsi refused to bring the coup plotters to justice. Therefore, many of the Northern soldiers vowed to take revenge the killing.


In July 1966, the Northern top army officers led by officers such as Colonel Murtala Muhammed, Captain T.Y. Danjuma, and others staged a coup known as the ‘Counter Coup’ or ‘Northern Counter-Rebellion’ against the Southern leaders specifically Igbos. During the coup, the Head of State General Aguyi-Ironsi was killed. Also killed during the coup was the Military Governor of the Western Region, Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, and more than forty Igbo army officers.


The Northern Counter-Coup have resulted in the ousting and killing of the Nigerian Military Head of State General Aguyi-Ironsi. And On the other hand, the Coup led to the emergence of Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon.

July 1975 Coup

The July 1975 Coup was third in the history of the Military Coups in Nigeria.


After the Nigerian Civil War, many events occurred in the Nigerian Army more especially with the Government. Two important things brought discontent and losing hope in the Gowon’s administration. Firstly, General Gowon felt to give a good reward to the top Nigerian Army Officers who fought in the Civil War. Secondly, General Gowon broke many of his promises of which the most important was the handing power to the civilian.

Therefore, by 1975, a group of some Nigerian Army Officers such as Lt. Colonel Shehu Musa Yar’adua, Colonel Joseph Garba, Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo, Colonel Ibrahim Babangida, began plotting a coup. These army officers were backed by Brigadier Murtala Muhammed.


On 29 July 1975, while General Yakubu Gowon was attending an OAU meeting, the coup plotters staged a bloodless military coup. They seized the power and gave it to Brigadier Murtala Muhammed who automatically became the new Nigerian Head of State. On 30 July 1975, he gave the reason for the coup in the following statement in the address he delivered to the Nigerians :

” Events of the past few years have indicated that despite our great human and material resources, the Government has not been able to fulfill the legitimate expectations of our people. Nigeria has been left to drift. This situation, if not arrested, would inevitably have resulted in chaos and even bloodshed. In the endeavor to build a strong, united and virile nation, Nigerians have shed much blood. The thought of further bloodshed, for whatever reasons must, I am sure, be revolting to our people. The Armed Forces, having examined the situation, came to the conclusion that certain changes were inevitable.”


The July 1975 Coup resulted in two important things. Firstly, General Yakubu Gowon was removed from power. And secondly, Brigadier Murtala Muhammed became the new Nigerian Military Head of State.

February 1976 Coup

The February 1976 coup was the fourth coup in the history of the Military Coups in Nigeria.


General Murtala Muhammed used a radical method for governing Nigeria. He was beloved by Nigerians and he also returned the Nigerians hope that Nigeria would reach a higher stage of development. However, General Murtala’s popularity brought him some enemies within the Nigerian Armies. Therefore, a group of some army officers led by Major General Iliya Bisalla conspired a military coup.


On 13 February, 1976, the Coup plotters staged unsuccessfull military coup. However, the coup which was known as the ‘February Abortive Coup’ claimed the life of General Murtala Muhammed, and his ADC Lt. Akinsehinwa. After some struggling, General Murtala’s loyalists such as the Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo, Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma, Colonel Ibrahim Babangida, Colonel Mamman Vatsa, and others spoilt the coup attempt.

After the coup became unsuccessful, the coup plotters were captured. And a special tribunal was set up to investigate the coup attempt. One of the unexpected finding of the tribunal was the statement made by the coup leader Major General Bisalla who stated that General Yakubu Gowon was the man behind the coup. At last, all those involved in the abortive coup were including their leader Major General Bisalla were executed by the firing squad. Also, the Nigerian Military Government demanded the return of General Yakubu Gowon in order to face justice.


The February 1976 Coup resulted in the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed and the emergence of Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo as the new Nigerian Military Head of State.

December 1983 Coup

The December 1983 Coup was the fifth coup in the history of Military Coups in Nigeria.


By 1983, there was a wide belief all over Nigeria that the Nigerian Civilian Government was full of corruption. There were many accusations of corruption on the top government’s functionaries specifically some ministers. Also, the 1983 Presidential election was characterized by manipulation. Therefore, these and other things paved the way for the occurrence of a military coup.


As expected by many, 31 December 1983, a group of some army officers stormed the palace of the Federal Government. They arrested the Nigerian President Alhaji Shehu Shagari and some of his ministers. Then the coup plotters appointed Major General Muhammadu Buhari as the Nigerian Military Head of State.


The December 1983 Coup have resulted in the overthrown of the Nigerian Democratically elected Government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, and the emergence of Major General Muhammadu Buhari as the Nigerian Military Head of State.

August 1985 Coup

The August 1985 Coup was sixth coup in the history of the Military Coups in Nigeria.


By 1985, when the Military Regime of General Muhammadu Buhari was already one year old many Nigerians including some top Military officers accused the Government for being too dictatorial. Therefore, by August 1985, a group of some army officers planned a coup. Some of the top conspirators were Major General Ibrahim Babangida, Major General Sani Abacha, and Brigadier Joshua Dogonyaro.


On 27 August 1985, the coup conspirators carried out the coup. After capturing strategic locations, some young army officers were assigned to arrest the Military Head of State General Muhammadu Buhari. The young officers were Major Sambo Dasuki, Major Umar Dangiwa, Major Lawan Gwadabe, and Major Abdulmumini Aminu. Fortunately, these five majors succeeded in arresting General Muhammadu Buhari, and on the other hand, marked the coup as successful.

On his part, the coup leader Major General Ibrahim Babangida emerged as the new Nigerian Military Head of State.


The August 1985 Coup have resulted into two things. Firstly, the Coup led to the ousting of General Muhammadu Buhari from power. Secondly, the Coup led to the emergence of Major General Ibrahim Babangida as the new Nigerian Military Head of State.

April 1990 Coup

The April 1990 Coup or simply the Orkar Coup was the seventh and last coup that was carried out in the history of the Military Coups in Nigeria.


Before the April 1990 Coup, a hidden hatred and opposition to the Babangida Regime developed among some Middle Belt and Southern Nigerian middle ranking officers. The hatred was more centered specifically on the Head of State General Ibrahim Babangida and his second in command and the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Sani Abacha. Therefore, the coup was planned and conducted along the tribal line. Because, the speech made by the leader of the coup plotters clearly indicated confirmed the intention of the coup plotters. Because, the main motive of the coup was that the northern part of Nigeria was to be removed from Nigeria as soon as the coup became successful.


On 22 April, 1990, the coup plotters led by Major Gideon Orkar began the coup by storming the targeted locations specifically the Dodan Barracks which was the palace the Nigerian Military Government. The other principal participants were  Captain N. Empere , Captain P.A. Dakolo, Lt. C.O. Ozualor and Lt. C.O. Odey. During the coup, General Babangida and Lieutenant General Abacus escaped assassination. Unfortunately, to the coup plotters, the coup was spoilt easpeacially by the effort of Lieutenant General Sani Abacha who mobilized the loyalists against the effort of coup plotters who felt wrongly that their work was successful. But, before the coup attempt was spoilt, the leader of the coup Major Gideon Orkar went to the Federal Radio a speech feeling himself as the new Nigerian Military Head of State. In the first paragraph of his speech, he made the following statement :

“Fellow Nigerian Citizens,

On behalf of the patriotic and well-meaning peoples of the Middle Belt and the southern parts of this country, I , Major Gideon Orkar, wish to happily inform you of the successful ousting of the dictatorial, corrupt, drug baronish, evil man, deceitful, homo-sexually-centered, prodigalistic, un-patriotic administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.  We have equally commenced their trials for unabated corruption, mismanagement of national economy, the murders of Dele Giwa, Major-General Mamman Vatsa, with other officers as there was no attempted coup but mere intentions that were yet to materialise and other human rights violations”.

In the seventh paragraph, he made the following statement :

For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to state the three primary reasons why we have decided to oust the satanic Babangida administration.  The reasons are as follows:
 (a)  To stop Babangida’s desire to cunningly, install himself as Nigeria’s life president at all costs and by so doing, retard the progress of this country for life.  In order to be able to achieve this undesirable goals of his, he has evidently started destroying those groups and sections he perceived as being able to question his desires.
Examples of groups already neutralised, pitched against one another or completely destroyed are:

 (1)  The Sokoto caliphate by installing an unwanted Sultan to cause division within the hitherto strong Sokoto caliphate.

 (2)  The destruction of the peoples of Plateau State, especially the Lantang people, as a balancing force in the body politics of this country.

 (3)  The buying of the press by generous monetary favours and the usage of State Security Service, SSS, as a tool of terror.

 (4)  The intent to cow the students by the promulgation of the draconian decree Number 47.

 (5)  The cowing of the university teaching and non-teaching staff by an intended massive purge, using the 150 million dollar loan as the necessitating factor.

(6)  Deliberately withholding funds to the armed forces to make them ineffective and also crowning his diabolical scheme through the intended retrenchment of more than half of the members of the armed forces.

However, after Major Gideon Orkar came out from the broadcasting in the Radio Nigeria, he realized that their coup was not successful. At last, he and the collaborators were rounded up and captured.


The April 1990 Coup have resulted into two major things. The Nigerian Military Head of State General Ibrahim Babangida have narrowly escaped death, but sustained an injury. On the other hand and the second result was that the coup conspirators were executed which marked the end of their dream.

Ahmad Abdullahi, BA History

My name is Ahmad Abdullahi, I was born on 10th March, 1994 in Garun-Danga Town, Gabasawa L.G., Kano State. I attended FCE Demonstration Primary School from 2002 to 2007, FCE Staff Secondary School from 2007 to 2013, and Northwest University, Kano from 2013 to 2017, where I obtained bachelor degree in History.

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