Military Rebellion of July 29, 1975:

The Coup Against Gowon – Epilogue


It is my expectation that General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) will publish his memoirs some day.  When that eagerly awaited event takes place, much more will fall into place than has so far been possible based on available literature, personal observations and interviews.

Nevertheless, as I indicated at the outset how and why General Gowon lost grip in July 1975 was multi-factorial. His pre-military background, personal character, military training and experience, the crisis circumstances under which power was placed in his hands, the dynamic evolving nature of Nigerian society and its Armed Forces over a period of unprecedented challenges and his reaction to those changes and challenges were all important.  In the final analysis, the late Professor Billy Dudley observed that,

“Gowon could conceivably have ruled for much longer – if he had had the continued support of his own ‘constituency’, the armed forces.  But the ‘constituents’ over the years had become alienated from their ‘representative.’ “

On July 29, 1975, nine years to the day a coup he did not plan brought him to power at Ikeja Barracks, elements within his ‘constituency’ “recalled” him. 

Former secessionist leader Emeka Ojukwu, who was still in exile in Ivory Coast, reacted to the news of the coup against Gowon – according to Frederick Forsythe  – with a smile.  Nevertheless, General Gowon, far away in Kampala, had friends.  Many offers of residence came to him in Kampala from various African countries.  He notified the new regime in Lagos that he would leave Kampala for Lome in Togo.  Since he was financially broke, teary-eyed members of the Nigerian delegation along with staffers at the Nigerian High Commission in Kampala donated 3000 pounds sterling to enable him begin a new life.   He was flown to Lome – via Garoua in Cameroon – aboard President Idi Amin’s executive jet.  Part of the flight passed through Nigerian airspace and Gowon took the opportunity to transmit a radio message reaffirming loyalty to and support for Brigadier Muhammed’s new regime.   Although offered permanent domicile in Togo he chose to join his family in the United Kingdom.  He received an additional 10,000 pounds sterling donation from General Eyadema.  Following a telephone call to Brigadier Muhammed, during which he made requests for elementary federal assistance, he left for London. 

When he got to London, he was offered official accommodation by the Nigerian government which he, however, turned down for a variety of reasons.  After some weeks at the Portman Hotel, he moved into the house of an old friend – Mr. Emmanuel Otti – at 472 Finchley Road, London.  The delay was to enable the house to be redecorated by Mr. and Mrs. Otti and Brigadier Sam Ogbemudia (who had been in the UK when the coup took place in Nigeria).  Other friends came to the assistance of the family. It was not until September 1975 that he began to get his pension and gratuities as a retired Four-Star General.   In the nine years he had been Nigeria’s ruler he had not built himself a single house, inside or outside the country, nor did he expropriate one kobo of government money.  Unlike some of those who served under him, his TOTAL savings throughout his service years as well as his years as Nigeria’s leader was N75,000 – all of which was inside Nigeria.   In time to come this would stand in stark contrast to the conduct of and personal fortunes of most of those who conspired to remove him from office – or benefited from it. 

Once settled in with his family, the General, who was offered several Masters Degree programs, signed up for undergraduate studies in Political Science at Warwick University. Newspapers in Nigeria later carried news items and photographs depicting the former Nigerian leader carrying trays in a student cafeteria in the UK. The Muhammed regime was embarrassed and therefore dispatched Brigadier TY Danjuma (who, took Kano born Col. Wali along) to ask Gowon adopt a supposedly more dignified stance.  Gowon rejected the overture and reassured his “embarrassed sympathizers” that he was comfortable with his situation.  (Conceivably nothing could have been more embarrassing than to be overthrown while attending an OAU summit).  He made friends among the Nigerian students at Warwick, including a family friend of mine, Desmond Guobadia, now a legal practitioner in Lagos.  Meanwhile his spouse, the former First Lady, Mrs. Victoria Gowon (who was a nurse) registered as a catering student at a University College in London. 

After a coup scare in December 1975, which was linked (by unsubstantiated rumors) to the Togolese government under Eyadema, General Gowon was later publicly linked (by the surviving successor Government under Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo) to the aborted coup bid of February 1976 ( ).  

Lt. Col. BS Dimka, an officer from the Angas ethnic group of Plateau State, announced the botched February coup bid.   Tragically, General Muhammed was killed, along with Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo and a few others.  His other surviving colleagues, eager to avoid the notion that only northern officers could rule, elevated then Lt. General Obasanjo to the position of Head of State and C-in-C.   Then Lt. Col. SM Yar’Adua, who had been outside the country on an official trip when the coup took place, was double-promoted to the rank of Brigadier and appointed to the position of Chief of Staff, SHQ (COS-SHQ).  The official explanation for this – echoed by regime figures in public interviews – was that the decision was made to placate the Moslem far north, which allegedly viewed the coup attempt as an act of “Plateau/Middle Belt” vengeance.  The officer, who actually coordinated the military resistance to the coup attempt, then Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma (then COAS) remained as COAS. Indeed, it was Danjuma that nominated Yar’Adua for the position of COS-SHQ, although they later fell out in what became a nasty feud, said to have been driven by Yar’Adua’s desire to assert himself over senior officers and corner political appointments for his cronies.  To be fair, it must be noted, however, that Yar’Adua’s side of the story of his misunderstanding with Danjuma, Yisa Doko and others, was never really publicly articulated before he died. 

Anyway, Gowon vigorously denied the allegation of complicity.  In an atmosphere of open press speculations, suspicion and outright condemnation, he was invited by Brigadier SM Yar’Adua, to appear before the investigating board in Lagos.  In the meantime, all his privileges were suspended. Even his pension, which was his right – and not a privilege – was also illegally suspended.  His brother, Air Force Major Moses Gowon, was detained (because he was his brother) – and later discharged from service. Another brother, Captain Isaiah Gowon, was jailed for 15 years – after a second court-martial – because of an innocuous visit to the School of Artillery in Kaduna on February 13.

Fearful of the press-hyped atmosphere and presumption of guilt prior to investigation and trial Gowon suggested a neutral country as the venue of his submissions to the investigating board.  He also offered swearing to an affidavit and responding point by point to any questionnaire of the government’s choosing.   The government, urged on by a mob-like mentality that pervaded the Press, refused.  Instead, efforts were made to get the General to return to Nigeria by subterfuge.  He was even officially informed that his brother had been released from detention when in fact he had not. 

Mistrustful of the intentions of the regime, Gowon wrote a lengthy and very detailed letter of explanation offering to assist the government to find a solution to “the endemic problem of coups and counter-coups in Nigeria.”   One week later, a government announcement monitored over the Voice of America asserted that General Gowon had been stripped of his rank, honours and entitlements.  However, no official letter was ever sent to that effect – in part because the government cannot forfeit the rank of an officer unless such an officer has actually been convicted of treason or other serious felony – which had not happened.  Befuddled by the matter, it was not until January 18, 1979 that Vol. 66, Official Gazette No. 3, formally declared him wanted as a fugitive offender (along with Captain Dauda Usman and Sergeant Clement Yildar – and, funny enough, Emeka Ojukwu).

With no further income from his pensions, Gowon once again had to rely on old friends. Mr. Otti absolutely refused to collect rent from him.  Gowon wrote a letter to some African leaders explaining his situation.  None, except one, responded.  This African leader – with whom Gowon had no prior personal relationship – gave him $50,000 to purchase a house.  On another occasion then President Ahidjo of Cameroon – who did not respond to Gowon’s initial appeal – sent his children some pocket money during a visit to London.  The school fees of his first son were paid for by an old Caucasian friend.  Some members of his family in Nigeria sent money too from time to time.  A wealthy international businessman from then Bendel State reportedly gave him a monthly stipend of 500 pounds sterling for 18 months while the Nigerian Ambassador to an unnamed European country offered him an old Volkswagen Passat.   In the meantime, barely scraping a living, the General continued his undergraduate and, later, graduate studies at Warwick – including a PhD thesis on ECOWAS.

In 1980, not long after President Shehu Shagari took over from General Obasanjo, Gowon made a detailed legal representation through his lawyers, Messrs. Godfree Amachree and Solomon Asemota (now Senior Advocates of Nigeria).  He supplemented this with a letter of his own to Shagari (his former Finance Commissioner).  When there was no response after one year he wrote to Shagari again, in August 1981.  These activities triggered a lively debate within and outside the military.  Some of Gowon’s “enemies” from the coup of July 1975 were still in the army, but – coup scares apart – the majority of the post-1979 officer corps was in favor of an amiable resolution.  The matter briefly became politically charged – particularly when linked to appeals for a concurrent pardon for former secessionist leader Emeka Ojukwu. 

On October 1st, 1981, after consultations with the National Council of States, Shagari deftly rescinded the order published in Vol. 66; Official Gazette No. 3 dated January 18, 1979. Since Gowon was never convicted, there was no basis for a “pardon”.   Shagari released and pardoned former Police Commissioner Mr. SK Dimka, Mr. Gyang Pam (also of the Police), Mrs. Helen Gomwalk, Major AK Abang, Captain Isaiah Gowon, Captain C. Wuyep, Captain AA Maidodo, WO II E Isaiah, Sgt. J Bupwada, Lt. A Walbe, Mr. S. Anyadufu and Mr. J. Inuwa. 

The public reaction was overwhelmingly positive.  Gowon, during a subsequent interview with the BBC, said he would return to Nigeria upon completion of his studies.  He also added his voice to appeals for the government of Shehu Shagari to pardon his wartime opponent, Emeka Ojukwu – an event that later took place in 1982. It was also late in 1982 that traditional rulers from Plateau State launched a fundraiser to build a house in Jos for the former Nigerian leader. 

It would be some years to come before his rank and privileges – wrongfully terminated without trial – would finally be fully officially re-acknowledged. This occurred under the leadership of then Major General (later General) Ibrahim Babangida, one of the officers that conspired (as a Lt. Col.) to remove him in 1975, but then seized power for himself in 1985.   Babangida also reversed some other decisions of the Murtala Muhammed era Supreme Military Council, such as the dismissals of and property seizures from other figures of the Gowon era.   One of the criticisms was that the tribunals that had made some of those decisions in 1975 had done so in an atmosphere of witch-hunting – without due process or fairness.  However, there are some in the polity who feel that the decision by Babangida to reverse the decisions of those “1975 corruption tribunals” is as controversial as the original Tribunal decisions, particularly since it did not appear (publicly) to have been preceded by “due process” judicial review.

General Yakubu Cinwa Gowon (rtd) is still alive and active as an elder statesman.  He ventured briefly into elective politics and lost.  He leads a religious group – Nigeria Prays – and has worked on the eradication of guinea worm infestation. 


Back in Lagos, having announced the membership of the Supreme Military Council and National Council of States, there remained the issue of what to do about the Ministry of External Affairs.  It was the one ministry for which no Commissioner had been appointed – in spite of massive lobbying – and it was delaying the announcement of the cabinet. According to the late Major General JN Garba, then Lt. Col. SM Yar’Adua, then Lt. Col. JT Useni and then Major John Shagaya came to his house one morning to convince him to accept a Federal Ministerial appointment.  Yar’Adua’s argument was that as a member of the original coup junta he would be lonely in the Federal Executive Council.  He wanted – he said – Garba there for support.  Useni – who was the 3 S & T Battalion commander in Port-Harcourt at the time of the coup, had been tapped after the coup to become the Director of the Corps of S & T, and is from Langtang like the late JN Garba – argued in support of Yar’Adua.   Then Major (later Brigadier) Shagaya – then Commanding officer of the Second Guards Battalion which had deployed in support of the coup – is also Langtang like the late Garba.  He added the pitch that having made a “sacrifice” for the coup, soldiers of the Brigade were beginning to grumble about Garba’s apparent lack of prominence in the new regime.   Thereafter, Garba says his wife was ‘won over’ and he ‘had no choice but to accept their advice.’   That was how – by his account – he became Nigeria’s Commissioner for External Affairs, a position in which – to the surprise of some – he would later distinguish himself.  He became – by most accounts – one of Nigeria and Africa’s foremost diplomats of the 20th century, the untidy mechanism of his rise to prominence notwithstanding.  

Garba eventually rose to the rank of Major General in the Army.  In a July 1978 cabinet reshuffle, supposedly preparatory for return to civil rule, he was posted as Commandant to the NDA – the same institution he had refused to serve as Deputy-Commandant in 1975.  In 1980 he was sent to India for an advanced course and suddenly retired from the military while abroad.  Like Gowon, he used the opportunity to continue studying by enrolling for a Masters Degree program at Harvard University and writing books.  He later returned to the diplomatic service in 1984 after the overthrow of the Shagari regime and became Nigeria’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador-at-large to Namibia, and Chairman of the Special Committee against Apartheid.  

The Muhammed regime, as previously noted, was short-lived, interrupted by an abortive coup attempt on February 13, 1976 (  In the slightly over six months of the regime’s tenure FESTAC was postponed, seven new states were created, a decision was made to shift the capital of the country from Lagos to Abuja and a massive purge of the public service was launched (as part of an anti-corruption drive).  What is referred to by some as a “dynamic foreign policy” was launched, a target for return to civil rule set and a Constitution Drafting Committee appointed. The regime also plunged into a concerted – and controversial – effort to demobilize the military.

By the time the ‘great public service purge’ was suspended, about 10,000 public servants – including 216 military officers – had lost their jobs and status for ‘divided loyalty’, ‘declining productivity’, or ‘abuse of office’.  The Obasanjo regime later stopped the exercise when it realized that the negative consequences of the way the exercise was being carried out far outweighed whatever benefits were expected to be accrued.  Many people lost their jobs unfairly and it destroyed the confidence and sense of stability of the civil service, perhaps forever.  As former President Shagari once observed, some individuals that should have been retired or dismissed were not, while others that should not were in fact unfairly retired or dismissed.

Of the 12 State Governors under Gowon, two (Brigadiers Johnson and Rotimi) were reportedly cleared of charges of ‘abuse of office’.  Of the civilian commissioners in the Gowon cabinet, two (Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno) were cleared of charges of ‘abuse of office’. 

After an exhaustive investigation, Gowon was personally cleared of any acts of corruption whatsoever although an issue was made by some of wedding gifts he received in 1969.  It is not clear whether the other military and police members of the Gowon cabinet – other than Gowon himself – were so investigated.   Such men included Hassan Katsina, Emmanuel Ekpo, Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Henry Adefope, Emmanuel Abisoye, Inuwa Wushishi, Dan Suleiman, Olufemi Olumide and Adamu Suleiman.

General Muhammed’s unfortunate death on February 13, 1976 came as a result of several factors.  First was the growing resentment of some elements within the middle belt political and military leadership, particularly the plateau sub region that got the impression that it had been shortchanged by the events of July 1975.   Some thought about it as an act of unnecessary ‘far north’ power play – from their point of view. 

The second contributory factor was the regime’s “low profile” policy in which Muhammed (and other key elements in the regime) drove around largely unprotected in part to project the populist impression that they loathed the pomp and pageantry of Gowon’s motorcades.  This unfortunate policy – no matter its advantages – was an invitation to those who would dare, sort of like the way the Swedish foreign minister was recently stabbed to death while shopping without protection.  This factor was especially highlighted by the Abisoye panel, which investigated the event.  In an interview some years ago Abisoye also opined that there might have been a degree of cultural fatalism involved. 

Third was the naïve failure to reorganize the allegedly “middle-belt heavy” Brigade of Guards. Apart from the appointment of a new Brigade Commander (then Lt. Col. M. Sani Sami, from Zuru in present Kebbi State) and Brigade Major (then T/Major Sarki Muktar, from Kano), most of the soldiers and units remained intact from Gowon’s days.  Indeed the latter two security related issues reportedly prompted Lt. Col SM Yar’Adua at one point to lobby General Muhammed – unsuccessfully – that he be redeployed away from the Transport Ministry and made the Commander of the Brigade of Guards in place of Sami. 

Interestingly, it will be recalled that the same Yar’Adua had maintained surveillance of Garba – by offering him a military assistant – while they were planning the July coup together. He then ‘convinced’ Garba to leave the Brigade of Guards after the coup to take up a cabinet post ‘to keep him company’. 

Anyhow, it was not until after the assassination of Muhammed that the Gowon era Brigade of Guards was finally disbanded and reconstituted.  Then Lt. Col. Sani Sami, a course-mate of Ibrahim Babangida, who had replaced JN Garba in August 1975, was posted out to Makurdi and a new Commander, Colonel Mamman Jiya Vatsa, (also a course-mate of Ibrahim Babangida) appointed in his place along with completely fresh troops.  Vatsa did not take part in the July 1975 coup.  He was at that time Commander of the 30 Infantry Brigade at Ogoja in the Southeast.  After the coup he was redeployed as Commander of the 13 Infantry Brigade in Calabar.   It was from this position he was appointed Secretary of the Board of Inquiry in Lagos into the Dimka coup bid – and subsequently, Commander, Brigade of Guards. 

Fourthly, although well-intentioned, Muhammed’s style of simultaneous frontal assault (and exploitation) on multiple sensitive political and military issues, in a complicated country like Nigeria, potentially created many enemies for himself in a short enough time span that they were able to coordinate and concentrate their resentment.  Within the Army, aggressive pursuit of demobilization, “conversion” of short-service officers to regular combatants, and anti-corruption measures – which some viewed as selective and hypocritical – back lashed.  On the external front, there are some that still hold the view, without specific evidence, that his “dynamic” foreign policy – specifically his actions in Angola – may have been a factor.   Less well analyzed is the role of the new regime’s decision to oppose the decision of Gowon to concede the HQ of ECOWAS to Togo.  Gowon had done so originally – not because Eyadema was his “friend” as Garba implied in one of his books, but in order to allay the usual Francophone suspicions of Nigeria’s motives in campaigning for the creation of ECOWAS, which France opposed.  Togo’s subsequent emergence as a suspect, particularly during the coup scare of December 1975, and then again in February 1976 when Dimka took it upon himself (by his own account), to ask Gowon to come to Togo, could conceivably have been related to this – assuming the suspicion was valid.  I have no evidence that it was – neither does anyone I have spoken to on the issue. 

Last, but not the least, after the July coup, some senior officers of middle belt origin had been co-opted and ‘pacified’ based on the notion that while Gowon had been an alleged “lone star,” the middle belt officer corps in general could not be antagonized.   Some of these officers later found to their chagrin that there may have been classes of citizenship within the new hierarchy.  The notion that regimental principles of seniority and hierarchy would not apply to members of the ruling triumvirate did not go down too well with others.   For example, the titular Defence Minister, Iliya Bissalla, had been Muhammed’s course mate at Sandhurst and was senior to Danjuma, the COAS. In January 1976, Muhammed became a General and Danjuma became a Lt. General while Bissalla – who had been Danjuma’s Commander during the civil war and had even acted as Chief of Staff (Army) after the death of Joe Akahan – was only promoted Major General.  Officers like Godwin Ally, the Ogoja born Brigadier who had been Yar’Adua’s former Boss at the LGO chose to leave the service in revulsion. Others like Oluleye and Haruna that held cabinet positions – in part because they were too senior to be posted within the military – did not react openly (although uncomfortable about the promotions and their institutional effects).  While Obasanjo reconciled himself with serving under his junior (having been compensated with what he regarded as real power), Bissalla’s personal and regimental unhappiness – aggravated by his perceived exclusion from decision making – drove him into the Dimka-announced plot.   

Presidential Guard Units, Kinsmen and Coups

It must be noted for historical accuracy, that then Colonel JN Garba was not the first Commander of the Brigade of Guards (or Guards Company) to be involved in a Nigerian (or even non-Nigerian) coup plot. On December 13, 1960, the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard, General Mengistu Neway, attempted a coup in Ethiopia that eventually failed. Emperor Haile Selassie was abroad when it took place.   The first – in Nigeria – was Major Donatus Okafor in January 1966, followed by a younger (T/Capt) Garba in July 1966 and an older (Colonel) Garba in 1975.  Nor was Garba the last.  Lt. Col AA Sabo Aliyu was an active conspirator as acting Brigade Commander when President Shagari was removed in 1983.  Then Brigadier General (later Major General) Bashir S. Magashi was Brigade Commander when he accompanied then Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha to depose ING Chairman Shonekan in November 1993.  Interestingly, as a Captain, he (Magashi) had been the second-in command at the 4 Guards Battalion in Epe in the months leading up to July 1975.   On April 9, 1999, members of his personal guard led by the Commander, Major Daouda Mallam Wanké, assassinated General Ibrahim Maïnassara Baré of Niger Republic.

Nor was Garba the first or last person in Nigerian (or world) history to betray kinship ties. On July 23, 1970, his son, Qabus ibn Said, overthrew Sultan Said of Oman. The Minister of Defence, Muhammad Oufkir, who was the right hand man of King Hassan II, led the unsuccessful coup of August 1972 in Morocco. In 1983, President Shagari of Nigeria was overthrown in a coup organized and led by his kinsmen in the military.  In 1995, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani staged a successful coup against his father, Sheik Khalifa Bin Hamad al-Thani, then Emir of Qatar.

Nevertheless, in a eulogy marking the first anniversary of Major General JN Garba’s death on June 1, 2002, Oseloka Obaze, his one time Special Assistant wrote:

“The Joe Garba I knew, carried with him until his death the burden of his role in the 29 July 1975 coup that ousted his kinsman General Yakubu Gowon. That he eventually paid the price for such alleged mistrust with his premature retirement from the Nigerian army did not assuage those who saw him as ambitious, and even some of those who benefited from the change of government. Surely, and naturally Garba was ambitious, but his, was not a self-consuming blind ambition. He pushed himself and those around him hard. He was energetic and an avaricious reader. He educated, groomed, polished and honed his skills as a diplomat. Most importantly he had learned to think on his feet, but was not shy about seeking advice. He had a good eye for talent and tapped such talents without apologies. Because Garba had been accused of disloyalty to General Gowon, he took great pains and passion to underscore and show loyalty to his friends, and in turn elicited such loyalty in reciprocity.

For many years before his death, Garba was tormented by trenchant criticisms and jibes from his fellow Middle-Belters for partaking in the ousting of General Gowon. They won’t let him live its down. In the summer of 1988 or thereabout, conscious of his torment over the Gowon affair, I told him he should publicly lay the speculation about his continued estrangement with General Gowon to rest. “Henry how?”, he asked. (He preferred calling me Henry. Even though I never liked it, he saw it as his privilege and a General’s prerogative). I suggested that he should host a reception for General and Mrs Gowon who were visiting the New York. He did. I had the honour of recording that memorable historical event for posterity in photographs. Some months later Dan Agbese eventually published a photo from that event in NewsWatch. The ghost of the July 29 1975 coup was laid to rest, but not the pain and cost to Joe Garba, of not being able to retire from the Nigerian Army on his own terms; and certainly, not the notion held in some quarters, that his ascendancy to fame came through the betrayal of a kith and kin.

I am not privy to how Garba and Gowon reconciled, and if he did apologize to General Gowon. I will not be surprised if he did. I know that 14 June 2002 General Gowon and his wife Victoria, were at Garba’s 7 Niven Road residence in Jos to sympathise with the Garba family. They were also in Langtang at Joe Garba’s graveside when he was committed to mother earth. General Gowon’s magnanimity towards Joe Garba and his true value as a Christian has been recorded for posterity. But I suspect that there are still some out there, who even in death still cannot find it in themselves to forgive Joe Garba’s sins, whatever they may be.” [ ]


I am still investigating the source of funding for the July 1975 putsch, but it must be recognized that the coup was unique in the sense that it was truly bloodless, and, as the late Major General JN Garba once said (with some exaggeration),

‘…no senior officer went unapprised of both the conditions felt to require action and the fact that action would take place…’

Nevertheless, that it turned out that way was in part due to the reaction of General Gowon within Nigeria (before the coup) and outside Nigeria (immediately afterwards).  According to him he did not crack down before he left the country because he did not “want heads to roll.”  Furthermore, there is anecdotal evidence that some officers – who could easily have taken action – showed considerable restraint.  The GOC, 2 Division, is said by a source to have opposed a request by some officers at a meeting – including, interestingly, then Lt. Colonels Tunde Idiagbon and Sani Abacha – to move against the coup.  This source has also gone further to say that then Brigadier (later Major General) Oluleye later wrote a letter to General Gowon explaining why he did not resist the coup.  I have not independently confirmed these two items of information.  However, I do know for a fact that the COS-SHQ, Vice-Admiral Wey, turned down a Major who came to him that afternoon (before the senior officers’ meeting at Dodan Barracks) to seek permission to resist the unfolding coup. There seems to have been an unwritten conspiracy of the mind among all involved to avoid the tragic bloodletting of the coups of 1966.  This is commendable. 

No leader is perfect.  In the course of this essay, I have pointed out the political and military successes and failings of General Gowon, sometimes bluntly – but truthfully.  He was served well as well as poorly by some of his lieutenants.  Friend and foe alike betrayed him.  He ignored clues that anyone in his position – and he, in retrospect would agree – should not have ignored.

The Nine-Point Plan, 33 years later

The business of government is an endless proposition.  When Gowon outlined the nine-point plan in 1970, the targets he set for his government were extremely ambitious.  To recap,

1.           Reorganization of the Armed Forces.

2.           Implementation of the National Development Plan and reconstruction of wartime damage.

3.           Eradication of corruption.

4.           Creation of more States.

5.           Adoption of a new Constitution.

6.           Introduction of a new revenue allocation formula.

7.           Conducting a National census.

8.           Organization of new genuinely national political parties.

9.           Organization of elections at state and federal level.

As of now, in October 2003, 33 years later, the armed forces are still being reorganized (under the new name of ‘democratization’). Implementation of the National Development Plan (or its successor plans) is continuing (with all sorts of hiccups), and Nigeria – according to Transparency International – is the second most corrupt country on earth.  The corruption probes of the late sixties against officials of the prior civilian regime did little to stop corruption.  Nor did the corruption probes of 1975.  The vexed problem of ‘Ghost soldiers’, which Gowon tried to address in 1970, is still with us, although it is mainly now with the pensions scheme.  So many more States have been created (36 in all) that some are questioning the wisdom of the seemingly endless exercise of State creation and are now advocating consolidation to minimize overhead.  Interestingly, this was one of Gowon’s fears in 1974. 

We are still not agreed on a constitution.  The two ‘operational’ constitutions of 1979 and 1999 cannot really be described as the exclusive expression of the will of the people of Nigeria. Highly controversial aspects – like the Land Use Decree, among others – were inserted by the military and then locked in place with onerous requirements for amendment.  Even the highly expensive presidential system of government, ‘suggested’ by the military from the bully pulpit, and thereafter ‘advocated’ by some members of the ‘constituent assembly’, has powerful critics. These and other issues continue to fuel demands for what some call a “National Conference” using the 1963 constitution as a starting point.

Revenue allocation remains highly controversial.  

We did – finally – manage to conduct a census in 1991, 18 years after the controversial 1973 census.  But even then it was still controversial, albeit less so because ethnic identification was de-emphasized.   But controversy about population is still an issue in Nigeria, whether directly (by popular count) or indirectly, by the relative numbers of local government areas, zones, etc.    Whether genuinely national political parties have truly emerged in Nigeria (rather than conglomerations of personalities whose common interest is to expropriate resources) or organization of elections at local, state and federal level has met with basic standards is a matter of opinion.

Foreign Policy Controversies

Even on the matter of conduct of foreign policy, the most contentious of all – the Bakassi dispute – turned out after a long and expensive dalliance at the World Court, to be less than was being made out to be in the months after Gowon’s overthrow.  He was accused by his successors of “selling” the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroun by initialing the Maroua Declaration of June 1975.    However, the decisions of State that acknowledged the Bakassi peninsula as being geographically in pre- and post-independence ‘Southern Cameroon’ and later ‘Cameroun’ were made before Gowon joined the Army in 1954 or became Nigeria’s leader in 1966.  The September 3, 1970 legal opinion of Nigeria’s Attorney General, the late Teslim Elias, hinged on the 1913 Anglo-German Treaty and subsequent events, was basically upheld by the World Court judgment of October 2, 2002 (   Even Justice Ajibola – who wrote a dissenting opinion at the World Court – admitted this much in a recent interview.  Although understandably sensitive about the issue of displaced populations, the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Chief Akin Olujimi has said Nigeria wishes to avoid “meaningless and avoidable conflict with any of its neighbours”.   Although border skirmishes and misunderstanding with Cameroun has been an ongoing matter since 1965, Nigerian troops were only ordered to permanently take positions inside the peninsula by General Abacha in December 1993.  What has amazed me over the years is why commentators never seemed to pay attention to the timing of the 1993 military muscle flexing.   In my view it was part of a Machiavellian ploy to divert domestic attention consequent upon Abacha’s coup a few weeks earlier on November 17, and the self perpetuating power script he planned thereafter (   Although President Ahidjo had nudged Gowon along those lines in 1974, it was also Abacha’s regime that agreed to high-risk World Court adjudication in spite of the known legal hazards of such an approach.   

Had this basic appreciation been there all along, national attention would have, more appropriately, been placed on the controversial question of the 1971 offshore “compromise line” to the 3-mile limit.  And efforts would have been more so stepped up over the years to pursue regional integration in a manner that would de-emphasize the unfortunate legacy of artificial colonial land borders in Africa. In this regard an enduring legacy of the Gowon years is his contribution to the establishment of ECOWAS shortly before his overthrow.  Perhaps Cameroun  – which has joined the Commonwealth – should be encouraged to join ECOWAS.

What could Gowon have done differently?

Perhaps, in retrospect, therefore, Gowon ought to have limited himself to a four-year term of office after the civil war, set broad policy guidelines, and placed the country on a path to civil rule in 1974 without trying to do it all.   It may not have prevented subsequent military coups –, as we now know – but it would certainly have allowed him to leave when the ovation was loudest.  Although some of them achieved a lot in their states, he did not need to allow his military governors as a group hang on to him like a boat anchor – particularly considering the irritant and demoralizing effect it had on front-line civil war era officers.   They could have been redeployed to the military, preferably after a Military/Police course abroad to brush them up, or sent away as ambassadors. He could have announced promotions just before he left or a major shake-up in postings.  He could have been more open with his military ADC and others and shared the intelligence reports he was getting from the Special Branch, even if military intelligence was no longer reliable.  It would have been possible to get such officers to discretely investigate the Guards Brigade Commander, rather than rely on his word. He could have canceled his trip to Uganda.

The phenomenon of “Out-of-Country” coups

Nevertheless, while engaged in academic post-mortem and Monday quarterbacking, we must recognize that Gowon is not alone among African leaders who have had to confront attempted coups while outside their domains. Those –like Gowon in 1975 – who were successfully overthrown while away from home include Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (1966), King Idris of Libya (1969), Milton Obote of Uganda (1971) and Kofi Busia of Ghana (1972). Among those who successfully crushed such “out-of-country” coup attempts are Emperor Haile Selassie (December 1960) and Colonel Mengistu Mariam (May 1989), both of Ethiopia. Former Sudanese leader Jaffar Nimiery survived 22 coup attempts before the 23rd one succeeded.  Among the 22 unsuccessful attempts were at least one or two that were staged either while he was away or just returning from abroad.  Even the one that eventually succeeded, on April 6, 1985, occurred while returning from the US through Egypt.   Former Gambian President Dauda Jawara likewise regained his position, in 1981, with the help of Senegal when he was first overthrown while attending a royal wedding in London.  And most recently, on July 16 this year, the leader of Sao Tome, President Fradique de Menezes, was overthrown while attending a conference in Nigeria. He too was restored after concerted regional and worldwide diplomatic activity.  It will be noted, however, that practically all leaders who have survived “out-of-country” coups at one point or the other were eventually removed from office by coup. We must not forget, though, that Ghana’s General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong who – because he removed Busia while away in the UK for medical treatment – very rarely traveled for fear of coups, was still successfully overthrown by his deputy in July 1978.

Leadership style and personality

On the question of leadership, there is no one leadership style for all seasons.  What some called Gowon’s ‘prevarication’ and ‘forgiving nature’ is precisely the kind of cautious approach to vexatious issues in a complex country that is sometimes required.  But there is also a season for decisiveness and even aggression – as he showed at key junctures when the corporate integrity of the country was threatened.  His successor, General Murtala Muhammed, a great man too in his own way, struck a chord with many for this reason but then his style may not necessarily have been ideal for all times either.

The ideal Nigerian leader is one who should be able to switch roles and personality to deal dynamically – in quantity, quality and time – with various threats and issues. In every Nigerian leader so far there is some aspect of their individual personalities which can be distilled out as being desirable and others as less desirable or undesirable.  The key, though, is to have a highly professional civil service that acts as a bridge of continuity between governments, helping to steady the course of public policy and governance in a manner that focuses on the big picture – service to the Nigerian people, no matter who is in charge.

Nevertheless, as far as personal honesty, decency and integrity are concerned, one must emphasize that General Gowon was second to none as a military officer and Nigerian leader.  He may have equals but certainly no superiors on this score.  And that counts for a lot, considering just how easily he could have become a multimillionaire if he had wanted to be one – and just how wealthy some of those subsequently entrusted with the leadership of the country at one time or the other have become. 

It was former President Shagari that remarked – in his memoirs – that,

“Except in an official sense, Nigeria, it seems, is one country without national heroes.  Every former leader is a fit object for ridicule and vitriol or at best only worthy of a place in the political museum.  Perhaps even General Mohammed who was reckoned by many to have died a national hero might have earned a different epitaph had the Dimka-led coup been successful; or had Mohammed himself survived, pressed on with his stern crusade, and eventually relinquished power.”

With this in mind, it was, therefore, with considerable interest that I went perusing recent Gowon related comments in Nigerian newspapers. An editorial in THIS DAY newspaper of October 3rd, was commenting on President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Independence Day Speech of October 1st, 2003.  The title of the editorial was “Obasanjo and State of the Nation.” In the penultimate paragraph, the newspaper observed that,

“The Head of State who did the most to promote (this) national integration was Gen. Yakubu Gowon. He not only opened up the country with a vast network of federal highways, he instituted the National Youth Service Corps Scheme. That was almost 30 years ago and succeeding governments have not matched, not to talk of improving on the Gowonian initiative.“

Then on October 31st, 2003, in an interview with the DAILY INDEPENDENT, the Catholic Archbishop of Kaduna Archdiocese and Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) of 19 northern states and Abuja, Most Rev. Dr. Peter Jatau, said:

“I would like to point out that when General Gowon was in charge of Nigeria and Awolowo was his finance minister, they did a wonderful job. In spite of the war that we fought, as far as the rest of Nigeria was concerned anywhere, we were reasonably better off. There was plenty of foodstuff and so on.”

It should be noted that Alhaji Shehu Shagari, an honest man in his own right, was the successor to Chief Awolowo as Finance Minister, and loyally served Gowon and Nigeria in that capacity for the same four-year duration. 

Nevertheless, given such increasingly publicly expressed comments, it would seem that much water has passed under the bridge since the Military rebellion of July 29, 1975 and the heady days that followed.



It is always instructive in a historical exercise such as this one to place the lives and careers of key players in perspective.  In the course of this essay the names of many former active-duty military officers were mentioned.  I have selected a number of them – particularly those in the Army – and constructed the table below – based on exhaustive research work in progress over many years.  Although documentation and memory in Nigeria tends to be poor, even when obtained directly from some of the concerned officers or their family members, any errors are mine and should be brought to my attention for appropriate changes.


NMS:Nigerian Military School, Zaria
*NMTC:Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna
NDA:Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna
*ROSTS:Regular Officers Special Training School (Teshie, Ghana)
*MONS OCS:Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, UK
*Eaton Hall:Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School, Chester, UK
RMAS:Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, UK
RCSI: Royal Canadian School of Infantry, Camp Borden, Canada
IMA:Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, India
PMA:Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, Pakistan
*OLTC:Officer Leadership Training Cadet Program, USA

*             This institution or program is no longer in existence, having been discontinued entirely or folded into other programs (e.g. NMTC became the Nigerian Army School of Infantry – NASI – and subsequently, the Infantry Centre and School (ICS), Jaji.)

HFMG:                              Head of the Federal Military Government

OfficerEntry into ArmyOfficer Training /date of CommissionRank/Exit from ArmyPresent Status Oct. 2003
Lt. Colonel Shehu Musa Yar’Adua  GSO (I) at the Lagos Garrison Organization HQ in July 1975  Became Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters after the abortive coup of February 1976.April 19, 1962 NMTCRoyal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); December 12, 1964Major General, October 2, 1979 VoluntaryDeceased,  Dec. 8, 1997 Died in controversial circumstances while an inmate at Abakaliki Prison. Jailed for 25 years by General Sani Abacha; convicted for alleged  involvement in an alleged March 1995 coup conspiracy.   (There is an unconfirmed account that then Lt. Col. Sani Abacha considered opposing the July 1975 coup.)* 
Colonel Ibrahim A. Taiwo  (a.k.a Ibrahim Kagara to old Army buddies) Senior Staff Officer (?Colonel GS or Colonel AQ equivalent ) at the 3 Div HQ in July 1975 April 21, 1961 NMTCMons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); April 13, 1962Colonel, February 13, 1976 Assassinated while serving as Military Governor of Kwara State Deceased Assassinated during coup attempt of February 1976 
Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed Director of Military Intelligence in July 1975 November 17, 1961 NMTCMons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); July 28, 1962Major General, October 2, 1979 Voluntary After serving as Military Governor, Benue-Plateau State, served as the first Head of the Nigerian Security Organization (NSO) Alive (Current Chief of Staff, Office of the President, Aso Rock, Abuja) 
Lt. Col. Muhammadu Buhari Acting Commander, Corps of Supply and Transport, AHQ, in July 1975April 19, 1962 NMTCMons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK);January 26, 1963Major General,September 16, 1985 Compulsory retirement Alive Became Head of State Jan 1, 1984 after Dec. 31, 1983 coup.  Overthrown August 27, 1985 by yet another coup led by a former July 1975 co-conspirator (then Major General IB Babangida).  Detained for three years, then released.  Recently contested Presidential election with current President Olusegun Obasanjo – a beneficiary of the July 1975 coup. 
Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba Commander, Brigade of Guards in July 1975  Became Nigeria’s foreign Minister afterwardNovember 17, 1961 NMTCMons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK);November 1st, 1962Major General, April 16, 1980 Involuntary (Retired while attending a course abroad – on the same day as his friend and coursemate, Major General GA Innih) Deceased, June 1, 2002 (He died at age 59 of apparently natural causes/illness in the Presidential Clinic while serving as Director-General of National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies-  NIPSS) 
Col. Anthony Ochefu  Provost Marshall, NA in July 1975Rose from the ranksOfficer commissioned from the ranks, March 25, 1961 ?Mons OCS (UK)Colonel, November 1975  Compulsorily retired shortly after taking office as Military Governor of East Central State, allegedly for “abuse of office” while holding a prior military appointment Deceased   [Murdered by unknown assailants at Otukpo, Benue State]
Lt. Col. Muhammadu Jega  Colonel GS, 1 Div HQ in July 1975April 19, 1962 (SM Yar’Adua’s coursemate at the NMTC)Pakistan Military Academy; April 18, 1965Major General, September 26, 1985 ‘Voluntary’  Left the army as part of a large group of officers shortly after the Babangida coup of 1985. Alive
Lt. Colonel Muhammed Magoro Asst. Adjutant General, 1 Div HQ in July 1975December 10, 1962 NMTC Coursemate to Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Bello, etc. Indian Military Academy, September 29, 1963Major General, September 27, 1985 ‘Voluntary’ Left the service following the Babangida coup against Buhari, which he opposed. Alive
Lt. Colonel Abdullahi Shelleng Colonel GS, 2 Division HQ in July 1975 April 19, 1962 (SM Yar’Adua’s coursemate at the NMTC)Pakistan Military Academy; April 18, 1965Major General, December 31, 1985 ‘Voluntary’ Alive
Lt. Col. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida  Commanding Officer, 4 Recce regiment in July 1975December 10, 1962  NMTCIndian Military Academy; September 16, 1963General, August 26, 1993  ‘Voluntary’Alive Allegedly masterminded Dec 31, 1983 coup and became COAS; Allegedly masterminded August 27, 1985 coup and  became President and C-in-C until August 1993 when he “stepped aside”; Potential candidate for Presidential elections in 2007  
Lt. Col. Sani Bello Staff Officer, AHQ in July 1975December 10, 1962 (Babangida’s coursemate at the NMTC) Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst; July 29, 1965Colonel, August 21st, 1979 Compulsory retirementAlive
Lt. Col. Alfred Aduloju Senior Staff Officer (? Colonel GS) Army Signals HQ in July 1975April 19, 1962 (SM Yar’Adua’s coursemate at the NMTC)Royal Canadian School of Infantry, Canada; August 16, 1963 Major General, January 16, 1984 Compulsory retirement   [Retired after the Dec 1983 coup that brought Buhari to power] Alive
Colonel Geoffrey OE Ejiga Brigade Commander, Kano, in July 1975  April, 24, 1961 NMTCMons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK);Jan 12, 1962Major General, February 22, 1984 Compulsory retirement   [Retired after the Dec 1983 coup that brought Buhari to power] Alive
Lt. Col. Paul Tarfa Long standing Brigade of Guards insider  Was tasked to rationalize and clear Lagos Traffic congestion  after the coup April 19, 1962 (SM Yar’Adua’s coursemate at the NMTC) Royal Canadian School of Infantry, Canada; August 16, 1963Major General, January 15, 1988  VoluntaryAlive
Lt. Col. Mohammed Sani Sami Served in the Brigade of Guards from 1974 to 1976, first as a Bn/Garrison Commanding Officer, and then as Brigade Commander after JN Garba was made Foreign Minister.December 10, 1962 NMTC (Coursemate to Babangida, Sani Bello, Magoro, Omu, Vatsa etc.) Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); July 25, 1963Major General, September 3, 1990 ‘Voluntary’ Left the service during the Babangida regime along with a large batch of senior officers in the months following the April 1990 Orkar/Mukoro coup attempt. (Note:  Was not implicated) Alive (Present Emir of Zuru)
Major John Nanzip Shagaya  Commander, 2 Guards Battalion in July 1975After NMS, served as a soldier and NCO, mainly at Abeokuta Garrison from 1964 to 1967NDA (July 18, 1967 – August 21, 1967) Emergency Civil War Officer TrainingBrigadier, December 1993 Compulsory retirement Left the service after the coup of November 17, 1993 as part of a purge instituted by then Lt. Gen Sani Abacha against officers deemed to be too close to former C-in-C General Babangida. Alive
Colonel Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi Federal Commissioner; Deputy Commandant, Army School of Infantry in July 1975April 21, 1961 NMTCMons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); January 12, 1962 Lt. Gen., January 3, 1984  Compulsory retirement (Retired following December 31, 1983 coup. He was the COAS appointed to succeed Lt. Gen. JIA Akinrinade under President Shagari) Alive  
Brigadier Gibson S. Jalo Deputy Commandant, NDA in July 1975September 25, 1959Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); November 11, 1960Lt. Gen., January 3, 1984  Compulsory retirement (Retired following December 31, 1983 coup. He was the second CDS appointed under President Shagari) Deceased (Apparently natural causes)
Lt. Colonel Zamani Lekwot  Lekwot was the Commander, 33 Infantry Brigade, Maiduguri in 1975 before he assumed the Military Governorship of Rivers State.  Lt. Col. Paul Omu commanded the same Brigade that year. Exact dates to be confirmed.July 11, 1962   NMTCIndian Military Academy; June 14, 1966Major General, December 31, 1985 Voluntary (Left the service with a second batch of officers early during the Babangida regime) Alive [Condemned to death but narrowly escaped being executed in 1992 after highly controversial Justice Okadigbo tribunal ofInquiry appointed by the Babangida regime into the Zango-Kataf disturbances.] 
Colonel George A. Innih Commander, 5 Brigade, Onitsha in July 1975November 17, 1961 Coursemate of JN Garba at NMTC and Mons OCSMons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); July 30, 1964Major General, April 16, 1980 ‘Involuntary’ Retired from the Army on the same day as his friend, course-mate and church-mate, JN Garba Deceased  (Motor Vehicle Accident)
Colonel Evaristus S. O. Armah Brigade Commander, Enugu Approached then Brigadier Obasanjo at Enugu airport on July 27, 1975 to report that some conspirators for a possible coup had tried to recruit him. It is unclear whether he ever formally agreed to take part, although he certainly did not oppose.  October 7, 1960  NMTCMons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); September 29, 1961Major General, June 15, 1979  ‘Voluntary’  Although widely regarded as a “Lagos Boy”, questions were later raised about possible ancestry from TogoAlive?
Lt. Colonel Paul Ufuoma Omu Commander, 33 Infantry Brigade in July 1975.  NB: Lt. Col. Zamani Lekwot commanded the same Brigade that year. Exact dates to be confirmed.December 10, 1962 Coursemate to Ibrahim B. Babangida, Sani Bello, Garba Duba, Ndakotsu etc. at NMTCMons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); July 25, 1963 Major General, September 3, 1990 ‘Voluntary’ Left the service during the Babangida regime along with a large batch of senior officers in the months following the April 1990 Orkar/Mukoro coup attempt. (Note:  Was not implicated) Alive
Lt. Col. Mamman Jiya Vatsa  Commander, 30 Infantry Brigade, Ogoja, in July 1975
  Took over command of the Guards Brigade after Sani Sami.  Was not a July 1975 conspirator but did serve as Secretary of the Board of Inquiry into the Dimka coup bid. 
December 10, 1962  Coursemate to Ibrahim Babangida, Magoro, Sani Bello etc. at NMTC Indian Military Academy, February 9, 1963Major General, February 25, 1986  Dismissed Executed on March 5th, 1986 with nine others during the Babangida regime after being implicated in the so called ‘Vatsa Conspiracy’ Deceased    Executed
Lt. Col. Babatunde Idiagbon Was not a July 1975 conspirator. Unconfirmed report suggests that he may even have sought permission to arrange resistance. *See comment. November 18, 1962  NMTCPakistan Military Academy, April 18, 1965Major General, September 16, 1985 Compulsory Became Chief of Staff, SHQ on January 1, 1984 after the Dec 1983 coup. Retired as Chief of Staff SHQ following the Babangida coup of August 1985Deceased, Mar 24, 1999  [apparently natural causes]
Lt. Col. Sani Abacha Was not a July 1975 conspirator. Unconfirmed report suggests that he may even have sought permission to arrange resistance. *See comment.December 10, 1962 NMTC Coursemate to Ibrahim Babangida, Magoro, Sani Bello etc. at NMTC    Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); November 9, 1963General,  June 8, 1998 Died as Head of State and C-in-C, of apparent cardiac arrest, cause unknown, in a Presidential Guest-House.   Deceased Announced coup of December 1983 Also co-announced coup of August 1985 Announced crushing of coup attempt of April 1990 Seized power for himself on November 17, 1993

Colonel Domkat Yah Bali Commander, 9 Infantry Brigade, Akure in July 1975;  Division 2ic to Oluleye  Not a  July 1975 conspirator April 21, 1961  NMTC (Coursemate to Inuwa Wushishi)Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); December 12, 1963General, January 1st, 1990 ‘Voluntary’ As a Lt. General, he was frustrated out of the service as Chairman Joint Chiefs and Minister of Defence during Babangida regime.  Later promoted General and backdated.   Alive
Lt. Colonel Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro Commanding Officer, 1 Recce Regiment,  Kaduna, in July 1975? Other officers who served in that regiment that year include Lt. Col. Sunday Ifere and Lt. Col. Charlton Ekundayo. January 20, 1964Nigerian Defence Academy, March 19, 1967Lt. General, September 20, 1993 Compulsory Retired as Chief of Defence Staff by Defence Minister Lt. General Sani Abacha during a series of chess moves  preparatory to Abacha’s formal seizure of power in November that year Alive   Announced the August 27, 1985 Babangida coup  Lost out in a power tussle with Lt. General Sani Abacha in 1993  
Brigadier Murtala R. Muhammed Federal Commissioner,  Communications Inspector of Army Signals, July 1975 September 19, 1958Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); July 28, 1961General, February 13, 1976 Assassinated as Head of State and C-in-CDeceased  Assassinated during coup attempt of February 1976
Brigadier Olusegun A. Obasanjo Federal Commissioner for Works, July 1975 Was also in charge of Army Engineers.March 21, 1958Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); April 18, 1959General, October 2, 1979 Voluntary (Retirement at the time of  military-civil hand-over to President Shagari) Alive (Current President of Nigeria) (Convicted, along with SM Yar’Adua and others, for alleged involvement in an alleged March 1995 coup conspiracy. Was imprisoned by General Sani Abacha until pardoned by General Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1998.) 
Brigadier Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma GOC, 3 Division in July 1975April 1st, 1960Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); March 3, 1961Lt. Gen, October 2, 1979 Voluntary (Retirement at the time of  military-civil hand-over to President Shagari) Alive [Has been in and out of government since 1979.  Served as Chairman of Defence Industries, Director of NIPSS, and most recently Honorable Minister for Defence (1999-2003)] 
Brigadier Martin Adamu (Acting Chief of Staff (Army) at the time of the 1975 coup.  Refused to announce the coup against Gowon) April 1st, 1960 (Coursemate of General Danjuma)Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); March 3, 1961Major General, August 1st, 1979 Voluntary  Alive
Brigadier Ibrahim BM Haruna GOC, 1 Division in July 1975September 19, 1958 (Coursemate of Murtala Muhammed) Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); July 28, 1961Major General, March 15, 1977 Compulsory retirementAlive  (Completed legal education after leaving the Army) 
Brigadier Iliya D. Bissalla Commandant, NDA in July 1975September 19, 1958 (Coursemate of Murtala Muhammed, M Shuwa etc.) Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); July 28, 1961Major General, February 13, 1976 Dismissal (As Defence Minister, was executed on March 11, 1976  after being implicated by Lt. Col. BS Dimka in the failed February 13 coup bid) Deceased
Brigadier James J. Oluleye GOC, 2 Division in July 1975September 9, 1959Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); January 6, 1961Major General, October 2, 1979 Voluntary (Retirement at the time of  military-civil hand-over to President Shagari) Alive
Brigadier Mohammed ShuwaSeptember 19, 1958  Coursemate of Gen. Murtala Muhammed Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); July 28, 1961Major General, October 1, 1979 Voluntary (Retirement at the time of  military-civil hand-over to President Shagari) Alive
Brigadier Godwin Ally  Commander, LGO in July 1975. SM Yar’Adua’s Boss at the Lagos Garrison OrganizationMarch 30, 1959Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK);  August 4, 1962Brigadier, January 21, 1976 Compulsory retirement (Retirement triggered by disagreement over post-July 1975 Army promotions and appointment of Army Chief) Deceased  [Apparently natural causes]
Brigadier Emmanuel Abisoye Federal Commissioner in July 1975. Chairman of Board of Inquiry into the Dimka coup bid. April 1, 1960  (Coursemate of General Danjuma)Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); March 3, 1961   Major General, October 2, 1979 ‘Voluntary’Alive
Brigadier O. Emmanuel Obada Commander, NAF Training Command in July 1975 Chairman of the 1st Court-Martial into the Dimka coup bid September 25, 1959Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); August 4, 1962  Later transferred to the NAF; then transferred back to the Army in August 1975 Major General, March 15, 1977 Compulsory retirement  Alive
Colonel Pius Eremobor Commandant, Nigerian Army School of Infantry (NASI) in July 1975 Chairman of the 2nd Court-Martial into the Dimka coup bid April 1st, 1960 (Coursemate of General Danjuma)Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK);  December 20, 1962Brigadier, April 10, 1979 Compulsory retirement Alive
Brigadier J. Ipoola Alani Akinrinade Commander, Ibadan Garrison Organization at the time of the 1975 coup April 1st, 1960 (Coursemate of General Danjuma)Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK);  December 20, 1962Lt. General, October 2, 1981 Voluntary Succeeded Gen. Danjuma as COAS.  Appointed CDS by President Shehu Shagari Alive
Major David A.  Mark   Commandant, Static Communications Army Signals HQ  in July 1975 Later became Chairman of the Abandoned Properties Commission for ESIALA  September 4, 1967Nigerian Defence Academy, March 14, 1970Brigadier, December 1993  Originally part of the Nov. 17, 1993 coup plot against Chief Ernest Shonekan but lost out in  power struggle with then Lt. General Sani Abacha and fled the country until the death of Abacha in 1998 Also very active, as Niger State Governor  in the August 1985 Babangida putsch against Buhari  Alive   Presently a Senator
Captain Bashir Salihi  Magashi 4 Guards Battalion 2ic in 1975.October 14, 1968Nigerian Defence Academy, March 13, 1971Major General, June 1999 Compulsory (Retirement triggered by new civil government policy to weed out officers who had held political appointments) Alive ((Lawyer; One time Sokoto State Governor)
Captain A. Sarki Muktar Acting Commander of 4 Guards Battalion, Epe,  in July 1975. Later became Brigade Major, Guards Brigade, after July 1975.October 14, 1968Nigerian Defence Academy, March 13, 1971Major General, June 1999 Compulsory (Retirement triggered by new civil government policy to weed out officers who had held political appointments) Alive (Lawyer; One time Katsina State Governor;  appointed Ambassador to Russia after he left the service)
2/Lt Garba Ismaila Infantry Platoon Commander, Brigade of Guards (Duty Officer at Radio Nigeria on July 29, 1975.) January 6, 1975 (previously attended NMS)Nigerian Defence Academy, June 21, 1975  (recruited directly to Bde of Gds  from the passing-out-parade ground by then Colonel JN Garba)Major, September 26, 1992 Died in the NAF C-130 air disaster of 1992 as a student at the Command and Staff College, Jaji After the disbandment of the Gowon-era Brigade of Guards in 1976, transferred to the Armoured Corps Deceased  Air Crash
Major General Hassan Usman Katsina Deputy Chief of Staff, SHQ under Vice-Admiral Wey and General GowonMarch 1, 1956Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot  (UK); Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); December 12, 1958Major General, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup.  (Led a “goodwill” delegation from the new Murtala Muhammed regime to visit General Gowon in London.) Deceased  [Apparently natural causes]
Major General David Akpode Ejoor Substantive Chief of Staff (Army).  Was outside the country on July 29, 1975  November 13, 1953Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School (UK); Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); July 27, 1956Major General, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup. Alive
Brigadier Emmanuel E. Ikwue  Chief of Air Staff, July 1975  September 19, 1958Officer School Teshie, Ghana; MONS OCS, Aldershot (UK): Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); December 15, 1960 Later transferred to the NAF in 1963 NAF Brigadier, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup.Alive
Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson (Military Governor, Lagos in July 1975)  March 20, 1959Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Mons Officer Cadet School (UK); Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); December 22, 1961 Brigadier, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup. Alive
Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi (Military Governor, West in July 1975)    November 6, 1960 Was a school cadet at Kings College, LagosMons Officer Cadet School; University Graduate Direct Commission March 6, 1961Brigadier, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup.Alive
Brigadier S.O.  Ogbemudia Military Governor, Midwest, in July 1975. Was outside the country during the coup  [Elected Civilian Governor of Bendel State (former Midwest) in 1983]April 1st, 1960 (Coursemate of General Danjuma) First set of intake into the NMTC. (NCO entry) NB:  Originally enlisted as a soldier in 1953; trained at Teshie, Ghana (1957-59) and British School of Infantry, Nevhervon, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) 1959-60. Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot (UK) Mar 3, 1961Brigadier, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup.  After initial ‘loss of rank’ in 1975, rank was later restored during the Babangida regimeAlive
Brigadier UJ Esuene Military Governor, South East, in July 1975 March 15, 1958  Officer School Teshie, Ghana; Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK);  December 15, 1960  Later transferred to the NAF, 1963  NAF Brigadier, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup. After initial ‘loss of rank’ in 1975, rank was later restored during the Babangida regime Deceased   [Apparently natural causes]
Brigadier Musa Usman Military Governor, North East, in July 1975 March 20, 1959Officer School Teshie, Ghana; Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot (UK); Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK);  December 12, 1961 Later transferred to the NAF, 1963 NAF Brigadier, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup. After initial ‘loss of rank’ in 1975, rank was later restored during the Babangida regime Deceased  [Apparently natural causes]
Brigadier  Abba Kyari (Military Governor, North Central, July 1975) March 20, 1959Officer School Teshie, Ghana; Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot (UK); March 5, 1960Brigadier, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup. After initial ‘loss of rank’ in 1975, rank was later restored during the Babangida regime  Alive
Colonel David Bamigboye (Military Governor, Kwara, July 1975)  April 1st, 1960 NMTC (Coursemate of General Danjuma)Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot (UK); March 3, 1961  Colonel, July 30, 1975 Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup After initial ‘loss of rank’ in 1975, rank was later restored during the Babangida regime.  There are public documents that refer to him as a Brigadier. Alive
Lt. Col. William Godang Walbe Military ADC to the HFMG and C-in-C in July 1975 1961  Coursemate of JN Garba at the Nigerian Military SchoolCommissioned 1962.  Officer Leadership Training Cadet Program, Fort Knox, Kentucky; Infantry School, Fort Dix, New Jersey;West Point Military Academy, U.S.A., January 13 to June 14, 1963 Colonel, May 31, 1979 Voluntary Served as Defence and Armed Forces Attache Washington DC, USA with responsibilities to Canada and all Caribbean Countries 1975 – 1979 Alive  
General Yakubu C. Gowon Head of State, HFMG, C-in-C in July 1975July 28, 1954Officer School Teshie, Ghana/ Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School (UK); Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (UK); December 21, 1956General, July 30, 1975  Compulsory Retired following the July 29, 1975 coup. After initial illegal ‘loss of rank’ in 1976, rank was later acknowledged  during the Babangida regime Alive (see text)

*Comment:  The fact that one or more officers at a meeting of officers of the 2nd Division at Ibadan on July 29, 1975 were urging their GOC, Brigadier James Oluleye, to resist the coup does not necessarily imply they were opposed to the putsch.   Among them were certainly some that were part of the conspiracy but may have been playing a complex double game.  The nature of the subject makes any conclusions speculative. It is in this context that the reported behavior of Lt. Cols. Abacha and Idiagbon must be viewed. They may well have been Gowon loyalists, but then it is just as plausible that they were not.  Lastly, an officer may oppose a coup, not on principle, but because he feels slighted that he was not taken into confidence by plotters.

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