Military Coups In Nigeria


There have been a large number of successful and failed military coups in Nigeria since the country’s independence from the British Empire in 1960. A military coup is the violent or non-violent overthrow of an existing political regime by the military. Between 1966 and 1999 the army held power in Nigeria without interruption apart from a short-lived return to democracy between 1979-1983. “Military coups and military rule (which began as an emergency aberration) became a seemingly permanent feature of Nigerian politics. Buhari was the one who led the military coup of 1983. Buhari removed then head of state Shehu Shagari and imprisoned him for two years in a closed-door without light.

The January 1966 coup

The January 1966 coup was carried out by mostly Igbo army officers including Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, and Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna among others. The casualties of the coup included the Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the Western Region Samuel Akintola, the finance minister Festus Okotie-Eboh among others.

The July 1966 coup

Popularly known as the Nigerian Counter-Coup of 1966, in July, Major-General Gowon succeeded Ironsi. It lasted from July 28 to July 30th 1966.

The 1975 coup

General Yakubu Gowon was ousted in a palace coup on July 30, 1975, which brought then Brigadier [Murtala Muhammed] to power as Head of State.

The 1976 coup

Popularly and erroneously known as the ‘Dimka Coup’, this bloody and aborted coup led to the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed. Upon General Muhammed’s death and the foiling of the coup, then Lt General Olusegun Obasanjo became Head of State.

The 1983 coup

The Nigerian Military Coup of December 31, 1983, was led by a group of senior army officers who overthrew the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari. Participants included Majors General Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari, Brigadiers Ibrahim Bako, Sani Abacha, and Tunde Idiagbon. Major General Buhari was appointed Head of State by the conspirators.

The August 1985 coup

This was a palace coup led by then Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Babangida who overthrew the administration of Major General Muhammadu Buhari.

The alleged Vatsa coup of December 1985

Hundreds of military officers were arrested, some were tried, convicted and eventually executed for conspiring to overthrow the Babangida administration. The conspirators were alleged to have been led by Major General Mamman Jiya Vatsa.

The 1990 coup

Major Gideon Orkar staged a violent and failed attempt to overthrow the government of General Ibrahim Babangida.

The 1993 coup

Facing pressure to shift towards a democratic government, Babangida resigned and appointed Chief Ernest Shonekan as interim president on 26 August 1993. Shonekan’s transitional administration only lasted three months, as a palace coup led by General Sani Abacha overthrew the Interim government. In September 1994, Abacha issued a decree that placed his government above the jurisdiction of the courts, effectively giving him absolute power.


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