In the early hours of January 15,1966, Nigeria witnessed the first military coup led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and other majors in the army. It was a bloody military intervention in the political history of Nigeria. Some key political leaders e.g. the prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, S.L.Akintola, Premier of Western region, the minister of finance, Chief Okotie Eboh, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern region and many other top ranking officers in the armed forces were killed.

Later, Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi, came into the scene to take the mantle of leadership of the country. His tenure was however, shortlived. A counter coup was staged on July 29, 1966 and Aguiyi Ironsi was toppled and killed and Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon took over the political leadership of the country. General Yakubu Gowon spent nine years in office and was removed by Brigadier Murtala Mohammed. Also, after spending 200 days in office, Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in an abortive coup led by Lt. Colonel Dimka on February 13, 1976. General Olusegun Obasanjo, the next in command to Murtala Mohammed, became the Head of State. It was at this time that the military kept to its promise of handing over power to a democratically elected civilian government (1979-83 Second Republic). However, the civilian government was going for the second term in office (1979-83), when Major-General Mohammadu Buhari through a military coup sacked the democratically elected government. Major-General Ibrahim Babangida removed Buhari on August 27, 1985, through what was described as ‘Palace Coup’ and subsequently made himself the president of Nigeria, abandoning the title of the Head of state. An unsuccessful coup attempt was staged against Babangida by Major Gideon Orkar led military coup on April 22, 1990.

There was also the Vasta coup attempt in December, 1985. Babangida, retired from the army after stepping aside in 1993. He had earlier set up an interim government with Chief Ernest Sonekan as the Head of state. Lt. General Abacha sacked the interim government and assumed the new military Head of state of Nigeria. Abacha died on the 8th of June, 1998 and was succeeded by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.



The armed forces have characteristics which distinguish them from other groups in all political systems: These characteristics are:

  1. Hierarchical and centralised: The structure of the military is hierarchical and centralised.
  2. Discipline and obedience to higher commands: These are considered of fundamental importance.
  3. Dictatorship: Any form of government in a military set up is dictatorial.
  4. Opposition: The military do not tolerate opposition.
  5. Suspension of the constitution: They do not operate with a constitution. Whenever they are drawn into the realm of politics they suspend the constitution.
  6. Separation from civilian society: This is done through separate barracks, distinctive uniforms etc.
  7. Values: Values held by members of the armed forces, especially, the officers, may distinguish them from the rest of society, in a way that is not true of other comparable groups such as the police force.
  8. Absence of the rule of law: The supremacy of law is out of place in a military rule. Suspension of the constitution supports the claim.
  9. Decrees: Laws are made through issuing of decrees.
  10. Instruments of violence: The military anywhere in the world monopolises the chief instruments of violence in the political system.
  11. Fusion of legislative and executive arms: The highest body in a military rule issues decrees as well as policy making.
  12. Involvement of civilians: Civilians are always made use of in the administration.



The constitutional role of the military in Nigeria is purely to defend the country against any external attack. However, since 1966, the military have added the administration of the country to its defensive role. From 1966 to date, Nigeria had experienced about ten successful and unsuccessful coups, that usher in the era of the military in Nigeria politics. The following are some of the reasons for military intervention in Nigerian politics.

  1. Tribal loyalty: This is a problem facing Nigeria as a nation. Tribal loyalty takes precedence over loyalty to the central government.
  2. Regional differences: Differences among the regions were so acute as to precipitate crises leading to direct assumption of power.
  3. Regional/state based political parties: Political parties of the First Republic were all regional political parties. In fact, no one of them commanded a nation-wide support. For example, NPC was for the North, NCNC was for the East and A.G. was for the West. This polarisation of political parties can cause friction among them and of course does not make for unity.
  4. Politicization of the army: The army or military of the First Republic maintained her status quo and thereafter became politicised. Appointments and promotions were based on tribal and political sentiments, not on seniority or merits.
  5. Dispute over the census result: Another reason for military involvement in politics in Nigeria was because of the 1962 and 1963 census results. The first in 1962 was rejected as many people claimed the result was falsified and that the figures were inflated. Also, the 1963 census result was also rejected on the same ground. The essence of population census cannot be ignored and this explains why most of the results were inflated. For example, it is needed for revenue allocation, constituency delimitation, boundary adjustments, allocation of seats in Parliament etc.
  6. General election crisis of 1964: The election was held in 1964 but the result was seriously disputed. The election witnessed party alliances, major and minor political parties merging to contest for seats in the House of Representatives. The A.G ., NCNC, NEPU and UMBC joined to form the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) while the NPC, NNDP, the Midwest Democratic Front, Niger Delta Congress in Eastern Nigeria, the Dynamic Party formed the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA). So, the election was now between UPGA and NNA. There was alleged massive rigging in the election. Nigeria was on the verge of anarchy and reign of terror and so the army had to come into forestall such.
  7. The Action Group crisis of 1962: The crisis came as a result of serious conflict within the party and differences of opinion and personality clash between Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the party leader and his deputy Chief S.L. Akintola. Later, two factions developed, one led by Awolowo and the other, Akintola. At the Jos Congress, members of A.G. decided that, Akintola should be expelled from the party and also be removed as the premier. Alhaji D.S. Adegbenro was appointed in his place as Premier. The situation was so serious that, the federal government had to intervene by declaring a state of emergency in the region. Dr. Majekodunmi was appointed as the administrator while the emergency period lasted for six months.
  8. Western Nigeria election crisis of 1965: This was another election crisis that drew the attention of the military into the political process. It was the election into the Western Nigeria House of Assembly where two party rivals were contesting-NNDP led by ChiefS.L. Akintola and UPGA led by Chief Adegbenro. There was rigging in the elections. UPGA accused NNDP of open rigging. Both leaders decided to form government in the Western Region. When Adegbenro was arrested, his supporters reacted violently and there was looting, arson, burning of houses and property, murder etc. Many people, it was claimed, lost their lives. There was chaos and uncertainty, events remained at a standstill, the federal government was at the crossroad and could not restore sanity and so the army had to come in.
  9. Allegation of corruption, nepotism, sectionalism etc: This led to the military intervention in Nigeria. Many were involved in spending the nation’s wealth with reckless abandon. Many politicians were so rich that, they were making a public display of their wealth. Nepotism and sectionalism played major roles in appointments, promotion etc, especially, in the civil and public services.
  10. Low level of economic development: This was one of the reasons for military intervention in Nigeria. Some individuals were so rich and have succeeded in developing their towns and villages at the expense of the development of the country.
  11. Absence of Honest and reliable leadership: This had eluded the country even since independence. Many of the rulers were dishonest and not reliable. They have actually refused to move the country forward.
  12. Mismanagement of public funds: The extent at which money meant for development is diverted into other projects and even into private accounts are enough reasons for military intervention. Politicians of the First and second Republics and even some military leaders have displayed this arrogance in the highest proportion.



  1. The Armed Forces Ruling Council: This was the supreme body which performed legislative functions. This was composed of the service chiefs, topranking military officers, Inspector- General of Police, Attorney General, with the president as chairman.
  2. The council of ministers: It was composed of the president, vice-president and the ministers some of whom are military officers, while others were civilians. The council performed executive functions with the president as chairman.
  3. The National Council of States: It is composed of the Head of state/President, Chief of General Staff, Minister of defence, service chiefs of the army, the Navy and the Air force, the Inspector General of Police, Attorney-General and all Military Governors. Functions: The council was charged with coordination and harmonization of the work of the various state governments and the federal military government. Former Heads of States were also members.
  4. The judiciary: It remained the same as in the civilian era with Chief Justice as the head. Inclusive are various tribunals which had judges and military officers as members.
  5. The civil service: The secretary to the military government is head of public services. Director-Generals replaced the permanent secretaries by the 1988 civil service reforms.



  1. Infrastructural development: Such like construction of roads, airports, bridges, establishment of higher institutions, etc.
  2. Breaking into units: The military prevented the country from breaking into units e.g. the Nigeria Civil War.
  3. The military initiated various programmes: This was aimed at improving the economy of the country e.g. Iron and Steel industries and Operation Feed the Nation (OFN).
  4. States creation: The military succeeded in the creation of states and local government councils. For example, twelve states were created out of the former four regions on May 27, 1967, nineteen states on February 3, 1976 were created by Murtala Mohammed’s administration.
  5. Encouragement of regional cooperation: General Yakubu Gowon for example, was one of the founding fathers of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
  6. Nigerian foreign policy: The military brought about a positive change in the Nigerian foreign policy e.g. leading the struggle against apartheid and colonialism, thereby making Nigeria a frontline state.
  7. Local Government reforms: This they did in 1976 and 1990, making it a one tier local government structure.
  8. New constitution: This was promulgated based on a presidential system of government in 1979. It was the constitution that ushered in the Second Republic in Nigeria.
  9. Promotion of national integration: The NYSC, federal government schools, quota system etc were established to promote national integration. The National Youth Service Corps is one programme established in 1973, mainly to bring about national integration. The Youths aftertheir university education were moved to different parts of the country in other to promote a better understanding of one another culturally, socially, politically etc.
  10. Mass-oriented programmes: The military initiated mass-oriented programmes like DEFRI, NDE, OFN.
  11. New capital territory: The military administration of Murtala/Obasanjo created a new capital territory for the country. Abuja took over from Lagos as the new federal capital territory.
  12. Change in the pattern of driving: In April 2, 1972, Nigeria changed from driving on the left hand side to the right hand side. This was one of the achievements of the military rule in Nigeria.
  13. Education: Education took a giant stride during the military rule in Nigeria. Many federal and state universities, polytechnics etc were set up. The federal military government also took over the funding of primary education in the country. Currently, the number of pupils admitted to primary and secondary schools, have increased tremendously.



  1. Incompetence or Inexperience: The military regime was constituted by military personnel who lacked both administrative and political experience to govern.
  2. Non-tolerance to criticism: The military regime do not tolerate criticism and therefore hostile to criticisms and critical of public opinion.
  3. Dictatorship: All military administrations are dictatorship. They rule by decrees and edicts that may not be challenged in any court of law.
  4. Independence of the Judiciary: The independence of the judiciary was sometimes not guaranteed and many of their decrees contain ouster clauses that render the judiciary powerless,
  5. The Nigerian civil war: The military rule was responsible for the civil war that claimed millions of lives. The war was between 1967 and 1970.
  6. Corruption: There was wide-spread corruption among those in the corridors of power. Many of these military men acquire their ill- gotten wealth with impunity.
  7. Mismanagement and wastage of public funds: The military mismanaged and wasted the public funds, through massive importation of cement, fuel, rice etc,
  8. Violation of the rights of man: Military rule is mostly noted for violating of the fundamental human rights. People are detained without trial. The death of Ken Saro Wiwa and the other eight Ogoni citizens is a case in point. After the death sentence was handed down, they were not given the opportunity to appeal. The outcome was the suspension from the commonwealth and imposition of sanctions from countries and international organisations on Nigeria.
  9. Increase in crime rate in the country: Some have accused the military men of aiding and abetting crime in the country.
  10. It is undemocratic: Military administration is undemocratic. Leaders are not chosen through the ballot.
  11. No respect for the rule of law: Since the military rule is conducted without a constitution, respect for the rule of law may not be possible.
  12. Decrees: Laws are made through issuing of decrees. Most of these decrees are made by a few and imposed on the majority of Nigerians. Nobody dare question the relevance of these decrees.
  13. Failure to conduct reliable and acceptable census: This has been one of the failures of the military administration in Nigeria. The failure to conduct reliable and acceptable census in the country, has brought doubts in the minds of most Nigerians about the sincerity of the military on issues of, national question.



  1. Outlawed: Military intervention should be outlawed by the constitution of the individual country.
  2. Accountability: There should be accountability on the part of the politicians who are in government or planning to be in government.
  3. Rules and regulations: The game of politics should be played according to the laid down rules and regulations.
  4. Ethnic politics: This should be avoided by the politicians.
  5. Good leadership: There should be good leadership on the part of all elected officials, who are to serve in different areas of government.
  6. Mismanagement of public fund: This should be avoided by the politician and the ruling elites.
  7. Responsible government: The elected government should be responsive to the yearning of the people.
  8. Free and fair elections: There should be free and fair elections in the country.
  9. Depoliticization: The military should be depoliticised. In other words, the military should be completely separated from politics.
  10. Peaceful mass disobedience: The people should resist military intervention through peaceful mass disobedience.
  11. Independence of the judiciary: This should be a must so that cases can be judged impartially.
  12. Political education: The masses should be given political education. Many people are ignorant of their rights, politically.
  13. Fundamental human rights: This should be respected by everybody in the society especially the politicians and the military.



The following steps were taken by the military government to return Nigeria to civil rule in October, 1979.

  1. Setting up of a Constitutional Drafting Committee: The Constitutional Drafting Committee was set up to draft a constitution for the country. The CDC was set up by the Supreme Military Council (SMC) under the chairmanship of Chief Rotimi Williams to fashion out a new constitution for the country. Membership was 49 and it started work in October, 1975. It completed the work in september, 1976 and published a two-volume report on the new constitution.
  2. The inauguration of a constituent assembly to ratify the draft constitution: Later in 1976, a Constituent Assembly (C.A.) was established with 190 members indirectly elected by local government units and 40 other members were appointed by the federal military government making it 230 members. The chairman was Justice Udo Udoma and the body started work in December 1976. It completed its work in June, 1978. However, some amendments were effected by the military and at the end it was promulgated and came into effect on October 1, 1979.
  3. Establishment of Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO): An electoral commission, FEDECO was set up to take charge of all issues concerning election administration and conduct in the country.
  4. Local government election: Local government election was conducted in 1976 on non-party basis.
  5. Lifting of ban on political activities and end of state of emergency.
  6. Formation and registration of political parties: After lifting the ban on politics, about 52 political associations were formed, but only five were duly registered as having satisfied the laid down conditions by the electoral body. The registered parties were. National Party of Nigeria(NPN), Unity Party of Nigeria(UPN), Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) and Peoples Redemption Party PRP).
  7. The conduct of general elections in 1979: The elections were fixed between July and August, 1979. Senate election came first in July 7th, House of Representatives 14th of July, State Assemblies July 21st, 1979, gubernatorial elections July 28th and presidential election, August 11th. The Senate had 95 seats, House of Representatives has 499 seats and 1347 seats in all the states’ Assemblies.
  8. Swearing in of the elected president and Governors: The Federal Electoral Commission FEDECO on August 17th, 1979 declared Alhaji Shehu Shagari the winner of the presidential election held on August 11, 1979. The electoral body claimed that Shagari satisfied the provision of section 34(A) sub-section (1) (c)(1) of the Electoral decree No 73 by securing the highest votes cast at the election. Also, he satisfied the provision of sub-section (1) (c)(11) of the same section. He was sworn in as the new Head of state and government of Nigeria and the commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in Nigeria’s Second Republic (1979-83). Also, at the state level, governors were equally sworn in as the Chief executives. So, October 1, 1979 became a reality in Nigeria’s drive to an elected democratic rule.



  1. Group elimination: The desire of the military to ensure that they totally eliminate the political party or group they unlawfully overthrew from power.
  2. A group that is opposed to them: The fear that when a group that is opposed to them comes to power, they may reverse the very reasons or principles which made them stage the coup.
  3. Taste of political power: When they taste political power and realise that it is sweet with all the privileges that go with it, they find it difficult to go back to the barracks.
  4. Stained with vices: Having overthrown a government, they also become stained with the very vices they wish to wipe out. They have the fear of being prosecuted for it; therefore, they stay on in power.
  5. Better administrators: Some of the soldiers begin to feel that they are better administrator than their civilian counterparts and so would want to stay on in power.
  6. Saviours: The military consider themselves as social-political and economic saviours. They wish to continue in power until they are able to uproot all the social vices inside the state.
  7. Support from Civilians: The support from civilians who benefit from military administration.
  8. Recognition: Recognition given to military government by other countries of the world.
  9. Remain in power for life: The in-ordinate ambition to remain in power for life by some military heads of State.
  10. Instruments of coercion and force: The military is in possession of instruments of coercion and force.
  11. Absence of effective opposition: Disunity among civilian politicians who could not offer effective opposition and create hatred and disaffection to military rule.

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