List of Military Head of State in Nigeria

List of Military Head of State in Nigeria

Nigeria was ruled by military men from 1966 to 1999. But there were cases where they handed over the government to the civilian rulers, and later, the military overthrew the civilian government. We will be looking at the list of military head of State in Nigeria.

After the first coup led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu in 1966, which resulted in the killings of many elite and high-ranking military officers, mostly from the northern province, the civilian government handed over power to the military headed by Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi to help maintain stability in the country.

List of Military Head of State in Nigeria

  • Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (1966-1966)
  • General Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975)
  • General Murtala Mohammed (1975-1976)
  • Major-General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976-1979)
  • Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (1983-1985)
  • General Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993)
  • General Sani Abacha (1993-1998)
  • General Abdulsalami Abubakar (1998-1999)

Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (1966 – 1966)

Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi took over power from President Nnamdi Azikiwe on 16 January 1966 and served as the Head of State of Nigeria before he was assassinated on 29 July 1966.

He took over power from President Nnamdi Azikiwe after a failed coup led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and other officers, mostly Igbo, which resulted in the killings of top politicians and military officers of mostly Northern and Western Province.

Power was surrendered to him by the civilian government to help stabilise. He was the Head of State for one hundred and ninety-four (194) days. 

On 29 July 1996, a counter-coup led by military men, mainly from the northern province, assassinated Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi and his host, Lieutenant Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi.

General Yakubu Gowon  (1966 – 1975)

General Yakubu Gowon took over power on 1 August 1966 after the July 1966 coup, which resulted in the assassination of Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. He served as the Head of State of Nigeria till 29 July 1975.

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General Yakubu Gowon was the Head of State when Nigeria’s civil war broke out. This was a result of the Igbo being killed in the northern part of the country, and they wanted to secede from Nigeria and form their own country, “Biafran”.

He also created twelve states out of the four provinces that were in place before Nigeria got her independence. 

He was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by Colonel Joe Nanven Garba on 29 July 1975 while he was attending an OAU (Organization of African Unity) Summit in OAU summit in Kampala.

Related: List of 12 states created by Yakubu Gowon in 1967

General Murtala Mohammed (1975 – 1976)

General Murtala Mohammed took over power on 29 July 1975 after the bloodless coup, which resulted in General Yakubu Gowon being deposed. He served as the Head of State of Nigeria till 13 February 1976, when he was assassinated.

He created and renamed seven states which included Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Imo, Niger, Ogun, and Ondo, which brought the total number of states to nineteen (19) at that time. Murtala Mohammed set the year 1979 for Nigeria to return to democracy.

He was assassinated in a failed coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Buka Suka Dimka on 13 February 1976 in his Mercedes Benz while on his way to work around 8 AM.

His picture is on the 20 Naira bill, and an airport was named after him (Murtala Muhammed International Airport).

Major-General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976 – 1979)

Major-General Olusegun Obasanjo took over power on 13 February 1976 after the failed coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Dimka, which resulted in the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed.

He served as the Head of State of Nigeria till 1 October 1979, when he handed over power to the democratic civilian government.

He is fourth person on the list of military Head of State in Nigeria.

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Major-General Olusegun Obasanjo continued the preparation for returning Nigeria to democracy. On 1 October 1979, he handed over power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who was elected as the President of Nigeria. 

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Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (1983 – 1985)

Major-General Muhammadu Buhari took power on 31 December 1983 after a coup that saw the civilian President Alhaji Shehu Shagari deposed as the President of Nigeria. Buhari Served as Military Head of State till 27 August 1985.

Buhari launched the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) campaign in 1984, addressing the perceived lack of public morality and civic responsibility in Nigerian society.

Anyone who was caught urinating in public was charged with a fine or imprisoned. Nigerians must line up orderly at bus stations or will be flogged by soldiers. Late coming to work by civil servants resulted in them being beaten or humiliated by forcing them to do “frog jump”.

During his regime, he restricted the freedom of the press and any journalist or person who criticised the military government was charged with a fine or imprisonment.

Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was overthrown in a coup led by General Ibrahim Babangida and other members of the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) in August 1985.

General Ibrahim Babangida (1985 – 1993)

General Ibrahim Babangida took over power on 27 August 1985 after a coup which saw the removal of Major-General Muhammadu Buhari from office. He served as Nigeria’s Head of State till 26 August 1993.

Babangida completed the third mainland bridge in Lagos, completed the dualising of the Kaduna-Kano highway, completed the Shiroro Hydroelectric Power Station, also had Toja Bridge in Kebbi constructed, Jibia Water Treatment Plant and the Challawa Cenga Dam in Kano, He founded the Federal Road Safety Commission which was tasked with the enforcement of road regulations.

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On 26 August 1993, he stepped down as head of State and established an Interim National Government headed by Ernest Shonekan.

General Sani Abacha (1993 – 1998)

General Sani Abacha took over power on 17 November 1993 after a bloodless led by him, which saw the resignation of Ernest Shonekan as President of the interim government.

During his regime, the inflation rate dropped from 54% to 8.5%. He constructed roads in different parts of the country and reduced the nation’s national debt from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion by 1997.

However, General Sani Abacha had the worst human rights record. The Abacha Government hung Ogoni Activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. 

Abacha also imprisoned Moshood Abiola, who won the 12 June 1993 Presidential Election organised by the government of Babangida. He was arrested for treason after he declared himself the President of Nigeria. Abiola died on the day he was scheduled to be released.

General Sani Abacha died of a heart attack at the early house on 8 June 1998.

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General Abdulsalami Abubakar (1998 – 1999)

General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over on 9 June 1998 after the death of Abacha. He served as Nigeria’s head of State till 29 May 1999.

General Abdulsalami promised to hold elections and hand over power to the democratically elected President in one year. He set up a panel to draft the constitution, which will be implemented after the democratic President is sworn in.

He handed over power to Olusegun Obasanjo, who won the 1999 Presidential Election and retired from the Army the same day.

That’s all on the list of military Head of State in Nigeria. Let us know how you feel about this article through the comment section of this blog.

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