Before this democratic era, Nigeria was under a military government. A military government is a dictatorship type of government. The head of state is not chosen by voting but instead power is taken by force. Force here often implies coup where the sitting head of state could be dethroned by death or simply stepping down.
Nigeria has recorded multiple coups in its history – both failed and successful ones. These coups led to the death of some Nigerian leaders and other prominent figures. Below is a full list of coup d’etat in Nigeria and how it all went down.
1. January 1966 Coup
The January 1966 coup was the first military coup in Nigeria. This came 3 years after Nigeria became a republic. The coup was led by Kaduna Nzeogwu and occurred in cities across Lagos, Ibadan, and Kaduna. About 22 persons were killed in the coup. This includes the then prime minister, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Festus Okotie, etc.
After the coup, the Nigerian government handed power over to the armed forces and that was the beginning of military rule in Nigeria. In the aftermath of the coup, General Aguiyi Ironsi took over as head of state making him the first military leader.
2. July 1966 Coup
This coup was a counter to the first coup that happened in January and it came about 6 months after. The coup was organized by northern soldiers who were displeased with the killing of northern leaders and politicians in the first coup.
It was led by General Murtala Mohammed and in the aftermath, Yakubu Gowon succeeded as head of state. The July 1966 coup saw the death of General Aguiyi Ironsi who was the current head of state amongst others. This is a very notable coup in Nigeria’s history as it played a major role in the cause of the civil war which kicked off a year after.
3. July 1975 Coup
The two first coups in Nigeria saw the death of prominent Nigerians. However, the 1975 coup was bloodless. No one was killed but Yakubu Gowon was overthrown. Supposedly, the officers who carried out this coup weren’t happy with how Gowon ran the country. Yakubu Gowon had been in power for almost 9 years since he assumed the position in 1966.
The face of the coup was Col. Nanven Garba after he made the announcement. General Murtala Mohammed, who headed the July 1966 coup was made head of state after this coup. Olusegun Obasanjo, a brigadier at the time, was his deputy.
4. February 1976 Coup
The February 1976 coup was an attempted coup. While it did lead to the death of some people, it was unsuccessful. The coup was organized by Colonel Buka Dimka and was to remove General Murtala Mohammed from power. The coup plotters succeeded in killing General Murtala Mohammed after he was shot along with his aide in a car ambush.
However, in a few weeks, the plotters, including the leader Dimka, were caught and executed. General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was Murtala Mohammed’s deputy, became the new head of state after this coup.
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5. December 1983 Coup
Before 1983, General Olusegun Obasanjo had handed power over to a democratic government with Shehu Shagari as president. This was the start of the second republic in Nigeria after the general elections. However, the military-led a coup that took the country back to military rule.
The surrender from the federal government to the military government was controversial and it led to the death of Brigadier Bako who was sent to the President. Everything went down at the presidential villa and the coup was a successful one. In the aftermath, General Muhammadu Buhari became head of state.
6. August 1985 Coup
This military coup was spearheaded by General Ibrahim Babangida who was the chief of army staff at the time. It saw the dethronement of General Muhammadu Buhari as head of state. There are no official records of death in this coup so it’s said to be a bloodless coup. However, Muhammadu Buhari was dethroned.
General Ibrahim Babangida who led the coup also succeeded as head of state afterward. There was an alleged vasta coup later that year but it only ended in the plans book. The Babangida government executing all the conspiring soldiers.
7. April 1990 Coup
Although the April 1990 coup was an unsuccessful one, it was one of the cruelest military coups in Nigeria. The coup was led by Major General Gideon Okar and the aim was to overthrow General Ibrahim Babangida. There were attacks to kill the head of state but none were successful.
Major General Gideon Okar made a statement announcing the success of the coup on April 22. However, not long after, he was captured along with 41 other soldiers that participated in the coup. They were all executed in July that year while General Ibrahim Babangida remained in power.
8. November 1993 Coup
Once again, Nigeria attempted civilian rule with Chief Ernest Shonekan as interim President after General Ibrahim Babangida and the unsuccessful June 13 elections. This was the third republic and again, the military led a coup to overthrow the government.
The coup was led by General Sani Abacha who was the defence minister at the time. He became the new head of state after the coup’s success. The November 1993 coup has no major casualties as the civilian President was asked to resign which he obliged.
The majority of military coups in Nigeria have been very bloody. Nevertheless, Nigeria is no more under military rule and there are no chances of the country going back to dictatorship in the future. Hence, it’s reassuring that the list of coup d’etats in Nigeria ended in 1993. There have been no major coups in the country since then.