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Military Rule in Nigeria aim at examining how military ruled Nigeria. Military rule in Nigeria focus on the features of military rule in Nigeria. Military government is a government that is administered by the (Army, Navy, Airforce, some time Police Officers) and Civilians. Nigerian military operated diarchy system of government that Involved both the military and civilians with the military holding the veto power. Military come into power through undemocratic means. They do it by overthrowing democratically elected civilian government and they may even kill the head of such government. In some cases military overthrow military.

The article military rule in Nigeria will explore:

  • Meaning of military rule in Nigeria.
  • How military government remove and appoint new officials.
  • How they constituted decision making body.
  • How Nigerians conciously and unconsciously support military coups.

My hope in sharing this information is to help you …

  1. How military dissolve democratic institutions when they take over power.
  2. Those that constitute the military decision making body.
  3. Military government that successfully handed over power to democratically elected civilian government and those that did not.
  4. How Nigerians directly or indirectly applauded military coups.

This bring us to the central theme of the article military rule in Nigeria

Military Rule in Nigeria

Military Rule in Nigeria:

How did the military dissolved democratic institutions?

When military take over power, they suspended the country Constitution and replaced it with Decree. They dissolve the National Assembly as well as the State Assemblies. The Federal Executive Council (FEC) and States Executive Councils were not left out. The Federal Commissioners or Ministers were ordered to hand over to their Permanent Secretaries, while the same thing happened at the state levels.

The Brigade Commanders are ordered to take over from the state civilian governors pending when State Military Governors or State Military Administrators will be appointed. Where there is no Brigade Commander, such state Commissioner of Police take charge.

At Local Government Levels. All Local Government Chairmen were ordered to hand over to their Local Government Director of Personnel Management (DPM) until when Local Government Administrator will be appointed by the incoming State Military Governor.  They also dissolved political parties, political parties processions, et cetra.

Military Rule in Nigeria:

Want to know military decision making body?

The Commander-in-Chief and the Head of State (who head the military regime) constitute the military body that served as the decision making organ of the military. In Nigeria they were called different names under different military regime. They are:

the Supreme Military Council (SMC) from 1966 to 1979; 1984 to 1985;

the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) from 1984 to 1992 and

the Provisional Ruling Council Council (PRC) from 1993 to 1999.

Let me tell you how…

The member of this body include:

  • The Military Head of State and  Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (who serve as the Chairman).
  • Deputy Head of State (who is the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters)

Once did Nigeria Military regime appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters throughout her history in Nigeria. Once, did a civilian (late Chief Obafemi Awolowo) with no military background was appointed in this position during Yakubu Gowon regime. Again, Admiral Augustus Akhabue Ahikomu continue to hold this position as Deputy Head of State even after his retirement from the military.

  • Chief of Defence Staff: This position was established in 1979 under the Nigeria’s 1979 constitution. This office can be occupy by the most serving senior officer in any of the Nigerian military ( Army, Navy or Airforce).

  • Chief of Army Staff.

  • Chief of Naval Staff.

  • Chief of Air Staff.

  • Inspector General of Police. It was once that Police seat at the military decision making was two. After the Police IGP. Abdulsalami Abubakar appointed AIG Musiliu Smith. In fact, he later became the Police IGP and presently the Chairman Police Service Commission.
  • Other top serving military officers are also members of this body.

In some occasion the officials at the Federal Level that hold the following position are included: they are:

  • The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
  • Minister of Internal Affairs and
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Military Rule in Nigeria:

Who Are The Appointed Officials?

After the constitution of the military government decision making organ. The next thing is the appointment of military officers and civilians as Federal Commissioners or Ministers.

Please Take Note! 

The administration of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa use the title minister for his cabinet members, Maj. Gen. J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi did not appoint Ministers. He employed the services of Permanent Secretaries. Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon also employed the services of Permanent Secretaries. He later appointed Federal Commissioners, as well as General Murtala Ramat Muhammed. It was during regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo that Nigeria change back to minister which is still in use till present.

Now, let’s continue…

It was once that a serving Police Commissioner (Kafaru Tinubu now late) was appointed the Minister of Health. Next thing is appointment of military and police officers as State Military Governors or State Military Administrators. When they duty in respective state they were to govern, they inturn appoint their  State Commissioners, Local Government Administrators and other appointments.

But there was an exception when Mr. Ukpabi Asika a civilian was appointed as an Administrator of Old Anambra State from 1967 to 1970.

Sometimes military officers are appointed as Ambassadors (Col. Tunde Ogbeha, Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea in 1985) and even Maj. Gen. Haladu Hananiya was appointed Nigeria High Commissioner to United Kingdom’s in 1984) while others were appointed head of public corporations. During the military regime press freedom is curtailed and human rights abuses take the center stage.

Military Rule in Nigeria:

Are there military government that successfully handed over power?

Case in point are General Olusegun Obasanjo who handed over power to democratically elected civilian government, Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979. This made Olusegun Obasanjo the first Military Head of State that handed over power in Nigeria and third in Africa.

The second that did so was General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar who handed over power willingly to Olusegun Obasanjo (who handed over power to democratically elected civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari) on May 29, 1999.

Military Rule in Nigeria:

Want to know military government that failed to handover power?


On a rain soaked Independence Day Parade on October 1, 1979, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon (Later General) said that the country was not yet ready for multi party politics and postponed indefinitely the return of Nigeria to democratic civilians rule. Part of his reasons were that the politicians had “learnt nothing and forgotten nothing”.

General Ibrahim Babangida organized what Political scientists called ‘political transition without end’. He was later pressured before he later decided to hand over power to Chief Ernest Adegunle Shonekan who was sworn in as the Interim National Government (ING). This government was unconstitutional and was not sworn in as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Another one was General Sani Abacha that wanted to succeed himself at all cost before he was snatched away by the cold hand of death on June 8, 1998.

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Military Rule in Nigeria:

How did Nigerians directly or indirectly applauded military coups?

As Karl Maier one time Lagos correspondent of London observed in his renowned book titled: This House has Fallen; Nigeria in Crises. The general populace and sometimes even the most strident pro-democracy activist repeatedly applauded soldiers who overthrew government they did not support… Business men, politicians and media tycoons played a vital role in coups.

The fact that the exception of the Lt. Col. Busa Sukar Dimka unsuccessfully but bloody coup of Friday February 13,1976, in which the Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed lost his life. Even bloodier but also unsuccessful the Gideon Gwaza Orkhar coup against Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in April 1990. The organizers of this coup planned to remove the far North out of Nigeria. All military coups in Nigeria, including those against the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in January 15, 1966. Alhaji Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983; that of Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari on Id-el-kabir August 26/ 27, 1985 and that of Gen. Sani Abacha against the Interim National Government (ING) of Ernest Shonekan were applauded by Nigerians.

Readers will recall…

When we go back to memory lane of military rule in Nigeria, we will discover that Some academics from our universities and senior civil servants and even politicians occupied themselves with dressing up military rule in Nigeria as redemptive.

Ultimately, coups in principle are of course crimes against the state. In principle, however, they become crimes only when they fail. Once they succeed and they subsequently deliver on their promises to rectify the misdeeds of their predecessors they become tolerable. They become objectionable only when they begin to overstay their welcome as corrective regimes.

It is clear that despite the current challenges, several Nigerians who were old enough to know what happened during the long period of military rule in Nigeria will want us not to go back to our inglorious past of military rule in Nigeria. The worst civilian government is always better than military government. The only way Nigeria Armed Forces can regain their pride and be professional is to be non partisan.




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