Top Notable Coups in Nigerian History

There have been numerous coups in Nigeria some of which were successful while others were not. Ever since Nigeria gained her independence and became a Republic in the year 1963, the country has witnessed quite a number of military coup which will be explained in the article.

First things first, a military coup is known as either a violent or non-violent overthrow of an existing political regime by the military government. There have been some notable people who have been involved in coups in Nigeria such as General Sani Abacha, Muhammadu Buhari, Shehu Shagari and Kaduna Nzeogwu to mention a few.

Find below some of the notable coups in Nigeria

The 1966 Coup

This was the first military coup recorded in the history of Nigeria just after she gained her independence. According to reports, the coup was carried out in January 1966 and was led by majorly Igbo army officers which included Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna.

The coup was a very deadly one, it led to the death of over 22 prominent people including the likes of 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-Ebon and other notable men.

The leaders of the coup and those involved in the coup attacked the cities of Kaduna, Ibadan and Lagos state. The January 1966 coup was one of the events which prompted the Nigerian Civil War that lasted from 1967-1970.

The 1966 Counter-Coup

The 1966 counter-coup took place some months after the first Nigerian coup. The counter-coup took place in July and it led to Major General Gowon succeeding Agunyi Ironsi. The 1966 counter-coup took place on July 28 and lasted till July 30th, 1966.

The 1966 counter-coup was led by Lt. Colonel Murtala Muhammed and also a lot of northern military officers. The counter-coup was as a result of the killings of Northern politicians and officers by Igbo soldiers during the first military takeover in January 1966. Aside from the death of General Johnson Aguyi Ironsi (the first military head of state), Lt Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi also passed away.

The 1975 coup

Another most notable coup which took place in Nigeria happened on the 30th of July 1975. The result of the 1975 coup saw the emergence of Murtala Muhammed as the new head of state after overthrowing General Yakubu Gowon. It was reported that a faction of junior army officers overthrew the head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon.

In addition, the coup was made possible because the junior officers were not happy due to the slow progress made by the regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon.

The 1976 coup

The 1976 coup is famously referred to be the ‘Dimka Coup’. It was reported that the 1976 coup was very bloody and it further resulted in the death of General Murtala Muhammed. Though, Gen. Murtala died in cold blood during the coup the secession group were unable to take over the seat of head of state.

After the death of General Murtala Muhammed, he was then succeeded by his deputy, General Olusegun Obasanjo.

The 1983 coup

Before the 1983 coup, Nigeria witnessed a break from military government. Gen Olusegun Obasanjo before leaving office in 1982 returned the government of Nigeria to a democratic one. The election of 1983 saw Alhaji Shehu Shagari elected into office as a democratic president. However, the government of Shagari experienced a short lifespan after it was overthrown few months after being elected.

The set of people who participated in the 1983 coup included the likes of Major General Ibrahim Babaginda, Ibrahim Bako, Sani Abacha, and Tunde Idiagbon among others. Also, Major General Muhammadu Buhari was appointed as the new head of state by those who successfully overthrew Shehu Shagari.

The August 1985 Coup

The 1985 coup is known to be a military coup which happened on the 27th of August 1985. The coup was as a result of a faction of mid-level Armed Forces officers which was headed by the Chief of Army Staff known as General Ibrahim Babaginda.

He then overthrew the government of Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Reports have it that after Major General Muhammadu Buhari was overthrown, he was then detained in Benin City until 1988.

Ibrahim Babaginda did not stop there, he further went on to justify his actions by clearly stating that Muhammadu Buhari failed in his attempts to solve Nigeria’s economic problems and he promised to revive Nigeria’s economy from the hardship of the past government that was overthrown.

The Alleged Vatsa Coup of December 1985

Although it is reported that this is an alleged coup, it is still regarded as one of the most notable coups to have ever taken place in Nigeria. This coup followed suit just some months after the August 1985 coup which led to the overthrow of the government of Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Credible information has it that hundreds of military officers were apprehended, while some were taken to court and also executed for making plans and conspiring to overthrow the government of General Ibrahim Babaginda.

Further reports also have it that the coup that was planned was led by Major General Mamman Jiya Vatsa, a senior Nigerian Army officer. He later died during the same government of General Ibrahim Babaginda after a military tribunal convicted him for treason with his participation in an abortive coup.

The 1990 Coup

The coup of 1990 was a failed one for Major Gideon Orkar as he went on to stage a violent coup to overthrow the government of General Ibrahim Babaginda.

He did not succeed in his attempt to overthrow the government of General Ibrahim Babaginda and so the latter remained in power at that time. The 1990 coup took place on April 22nd with Major Gideon Orkar the leader of the coup.

His (Gideon Orkar) Rebel troops took over the FRRCN radio station and different military posts around Lagos state. General Ibrahim Babaginda managed to escape from the barracks where he was present and was attacked by Major Gideon Orkar.

The 1993 coup

General Ibrahim Babaginda was under pressure to move in the direction of a democratic government, he then resigned and left office, while appointing Chief Ernest Shonekan to be the interim president on the 26th of August 1993.

Meanwhile, the transition of Chief Ernest Shonekan as the interim president of Nigeria only lasted for a short period of time (3 months). His reign as interim president was dented by a palace coup which was led by General Sani Abacha.

General Sani Abacha then further went on to issue a decree in the year 1994, placing his administration above the jurisdiction of the courts, which meant he had absolute power over everyone in the country.

The era’s of coups in Nigeria has in every way gone due to the introduction of a stable democratic government which gives the citizens of a country the chance and right to vote for their respective and interested candidate.

General Sani Abacha was the last military leader to overthrow a government and he was succeeded by Abdusalam Abubakar after his death.

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