1966 Nigerian coup d'état

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1966 Nigerian coup d'etat
Date15–16 January 1966

Coup failed

Flag of Nigeria.svg Government of Nigeria Flag of Nigeria.svg Rebel Army Officers
Commanders and leaders
Nnamdi Azikiwe[2]
Nwafor Orizu[3]
Abubakar Balewa 
Ahmadu Bello 
Samuel Akintola 
Festus Okotie-Eboh 
Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi
Kaduna Nzeogwu
Timothy Onwuatuegwu
Emmanuel Ifeajuna
Adewale Ademoyega
Chris Anuforo
Humphrey Chukwuka
Don Okafor
unknown unknown
Casualties and losses
22 dead 0

The 1966 Nigerian coup d'état began on 15 January 1966, when mutinous Nigerian soldiers led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna killed 22 people[4] including the Prime Minister of Nigeria, many senior politicians, many senior Army officers (including their wives), and sentinels on protective duty.[5][6] The coup plotters attacked the cities of Kaduna, Ibadan, and Lagos while also blockading the Niger and Benue River within a two-day span of time before the coup plotters were subdued. The General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army, Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, was compelled to take control of the government of a country in upheaval, inadvertently putting Nigeria's nascent democracy on hold.[7] His ascendancy to power was deemed a conspiracy by the coup plotters, who were mainly Igbo officers, to pave the way for General Aguiyi-Ironsi to be Head of State of Nigeria. Consequently, the retaliatory events by Northern members of the Nigerian Army that led to deaths of many innocent Igbo soldiers and civilians caused the Nigerian Civil War.[citation needed]


In August 1965 a group of Army majors (Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Timothy Onwuatuegwu, Chris Anuforo, Don Okafor, Humphrey Chukwuka, and Adewale Ademoyega) began plotting a coup d'état against incumbent Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa.[8] The coup was planned because according to the majors, the men at the helm of affairs were running Nigeria aground with their corrupt ways. Ministers under them were living flamboyant lifestyles and looting public funds at the expense of ordinary citizens.[citation needed]

The president of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe left the country in late 1965, first for Europe, then on a cruise to the Caribbean. Under the law, the Senate president, Nwafor Orizu, became acting president during his absence and assumed all the powers of the office.[9]


In the morning of 15 January 1966, at a meeting with some local journalists in Kaduna seeking to find out what was going on, it was brought to Major Nzeogwu's attention that the only information about the events then was what was being broadcast by the BBC.[8] Nzeogwu was surprised because he had expected a radio broadcast of the rebels from Lagos. He is said to have "gone wild" when he learnt that Emmanuel Ifeajuna in Lagos had not made any plans whatsoever to neutralize Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi who was the Commander of the Army. Therefore, Nzeogwu hurriedly drafted a speech which was broadcast on Radio Kaduna sometime around 12 a.m. and in which he declared martial law over the Northern Provinces of Nigeria.[10][11]


Acting President Nwafor Orizu made a nationwide broadcast, after he had briefed President Nnamdi Azikiwe on the phone about the decision of the cabinet, announcing the cabinet's "voluntary" decision to transfer power to the armed forces.[citation needed] Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi then made his own broadcast, accepting the "invitation". On 17 January, Major General Ironsi established the Supreme Military Council in Lagos and effectively suspended the constitution.[3]


Regarding the casualties, the coup conspirators claimed their purge post-coup targeted members or supporters of the anterior regime and had been targeted for purely political reasons instead of being a racial purge focused on certain ethnic groups or clans; furthermore, they also claimed the list of people targeted was small and composed of only 8 people, half of them foreigners who were to be arrested not killed, and that the casualties had occurred as collateral damage of the coup. These claims were clarified by a member of the trio that formed the coup, Adewale Ademoyega, who published them in Nigeria in 1981 in a book titled Why We Struck outlining their reasons and motivations[12] in which he mentioned:

" There was no decision at our meeting to single out any ethnic group for elimination. Our intentions were honourable, our views were national and our goals were idealistic. Even those earmarked for arrest, four were northerners, two were Westerners and two were Easterners. "

Below is a comprehensive list of casualties from the coup.[4]


Military and police[edit]

  • Brig. Samuel Ademulegun
  • Brig. Zakariya Maimalari
  • Col. Ralph Shodeinde[14]
  • Col. Kur Mohammed [15]
  • Lt. Col. Abogo Largema[15]
  • Lt. Col. James Pam[15]
  • Lt. Col. Arthur Unegbe
  • Sergeant Daramola Oyegoke (assisted Nzeogwu in the attack on the Sardauna's lodge and according to the police report was murdered by Nzeogwu)[5][6]
  • PC Yohana Garkawa
  • Lance Corporal Musa Nimzo
  • PC Akpan Anduka
  • PC Hagai Lai
  • Philip Lewande


  1. ^ Baxter, Peter (2015). Biafra : the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970. Solihull, West Midlands, England: Helion. p. 13. ISBN 9781909982369.
  2. ^ Bolashodun, Oluwatobi (15 January 2016). "8 Facts To Know About The January 15, 1966 Coup D'état". Legit. Legit. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  3. ^ a b Abubakar Ibrahim (29 July 2008). Rose, Esther; Aziken, Emmanuel; Ba, Amadou Mahtar (eds.). "Nigeria: The Forgotten Interim President". AllAfrica. Lagos, Nigeria: AllAfrica Global Media. Retrieved 28 February 2010 – via Daily Trust.
  4. ^ a b Siollun, Max (2009). Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture (1966-1976). Algora Publishing, 2009. p. 237. ISBN 9780875867106.
  5. ^ a b Omoigui, Nowamagbe. "SPECIAL BRANCH REPORT: "Military Rebellion of 15th January 1966". Gamji.com. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  6. ^ a b Kirk-Greene, Anthony Hamilton Millard (1 January 1971). Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria: A Documentary Sourcebook, 1966–1969. Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria: A Documentary Sourcebook, 1966-1969. Vol. 1 (1st ed.). New York City, New York, United States of America: Oxford University Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0192156419.
  7. ^ Teniola, Eric (28 December 2015). Mojeed, Musikilu; Akinbajo, Idris; Abdullahi, Nasiru Abubakar; Olorunyomi, Dapo (eds.). "Was Power Initially Handed Over To or Taken Over By the Military?, By Eric Teniola - Premium Times Opinion". Premium Times. Abuja, Nigeria: Premium Times Services Limited. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  8. ^ a b Bolashodun, Oluwatobi (15 January 2016). Akinrujomu, Akinyemi; Ebhomele, Eromosele; Ishaq, Mudathir (eds.). "50 Years After: 8 Facts To Know About The January 15, 1966, Coup D'état". Legit.ng. Lagos, Nigeria: Naij.com Media Limited Read. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  9. ^ Obasi, Emeka (18 August 2018). Anaba, Aze (ed.). "Why Zik escaped death in 1966". Vanguard. Lagos, Nigeria: Vanguard Media Limited. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  10. ^ Nzeogwu, Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna; et al. (Compiled and annotated by Nowa Omoigui). Dawodu, Segun Toyin (ed.). "Nzeogwu's Declaration of Martial Law - January 15, 1966". Dawodu.com. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, United States of America. Archived from the original on 21 April 2002. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  11. ^ Nzeogwu, Chukwuma Kaduna. Anaba, Aze (ed.). "Radio broadcast by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu – announcing Nigeria's first Military coup on Radio Nigeria, Kaduna on January 15, 1966". Vanguard. Lagos, Nigeria: Vanguard Media Limited. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  12. ^ Ademoyega, Adewale (1 January 1981). Why We Struck: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup. Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria: Evans Brothers. ISBN 9789781671678.
  13. ^ a b Teniola, Eric (11 January 2016). Anaba, Aze (ed.). "Hand over or took over power". Vanguard. Lagos, Nigeria: Vanguard Media Limited. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  14. ^ Olubode, Sesan (16 July 2016). Osinubi, Ademola; Aboderin, Wale (eds.). "The first 1966 coup: Though painful, I'm happy I witnessed the killing of my parents-– Ademulegun-Agbi". The Punch. PUNCH (Nigeria) Limited. Archived from the original on 17 July 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  15. ^ a b c Iloegbunam, Chuks (29 July 2016). Anaba, Aze (ed.). "July 29,1966 counter-coup: Africa's bloodiest coup d'état". Vanguard. Lagos, Nigeria: Vanguard Media Limited. Retrieved 29 July 2021.