Not many people know that GOWON used to be an acronym. Not many people remembered that GOWON once meant ‘Go On With One Nigeria’. Those were the days when Nigerians loved their Heads of State with all their hearts and a young officer named Yakubu, the fifth child of Yohena Gowon from Plateau State, was the beneficiary.

General Yakubu Gowon, Nigerian head of state during its civil war, was born in northern Nigeria in 1934. He joined the Nigerian Army in 1954, and became a Second Lieutenant on his 21st birthday in 1955. He started as a professional soldier with no interest in politics.  In 1966 he was a Lieutenant Colonel.  When the predominantly Igbo military junta, which overthrew the Nigerian civilian government in January 1966, was itself overthrown in July of that year, most of the senior military officers who survived both coups were driven out of the Army.   Leadership of the country then fell onto 32-year-old Gowon.

During his tenure, winning the Biafran war was one of his greatest achievements and its government’s ability to welcome back the Biafran returnees, provision of a massive relief programme and granting them amnesty positioned him as a leader of leaders and every citizen was ready to Go On With One Nigeria.

After the civil war in 1970, General Yabuku Gowon proposed the three ‘Rs’  Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation which consisted of a nine point programme; the reorganisation of the Armed Forces, the preparation and implementation of second development plan(1970-1974), the eradication of corruption in the county’s national life, the creation of more states, the preparation and adoption of a new constitution, the introduction of a new revenue formula, the carrying out of a national census, the organization of election and subsequent installation of popular government both at the state and federal level and the organization of genuinely national political parties.

The nine-point, if he had implemented it could have been a progressive path for the nation but Gowon’s government lacked the tools to tackle the issues before it. In fact, it could be deducted that the level of inflation, congestion, misdistribution of petrol and the level of corruption increased and rose to its peak after Gowon’s announcement of the nine-point programme.

The items in the nine-point that were implemented were inadequately implemented due to lack of adequate planning, mismanagement of allocated fund, inefficiency and lack of proper execution.

Nigerians were ready to overlook the flaws of the government if he had stepped down and handed over power to a democratically elected representatives as expected of him but were rather disappointed when General Gowon announced the date as unrealistic on October 1,1974. At this point, Nigerians began to wonder if there were still strong-willed men left in the country as nobody was willing to challenge him, the hope of the people was dashed but they were incapable of voicing out their opinions.

Fear gripped Nigerians more with Gowon’s trivial attitude and approach towards the serious allegation of impropriety levelled against his former commissioner for communication, Joseph Tarka by Godwin Darbo.

As a result of all the compiled flaws of his government, and that of his military governors, the people, having reached the limit of tolerance and patience with the administration, wanted him to vacate its position.

Among his major critics was General Murtala Muhammad who had never hidden his hatred for Gowon’s laxity. This had put asunder their relationship.

However, in August 1974, after Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba settled the dispute between the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon and Brigadier Murtala Muhammed, Gowon invited General Muriala Muhammed to become part of his government and appointed him as the Federal Commissioner for Communications and in response Murtala wrote him a letter in which he said, among other things.

“There were occasions in the past when Your Excellency misunderstood some of my actions.  I agree the past must be buried but I would like to assure you that I have always tried to be loyal in the best possible way I ever could and I shall continue to do so at all times.”

Indeed, Murtala tried to be loyal, when in the month of April 1975, Garba and Shehu  Musa Yar’adua went to his house wanting him to be the head of state, he declined, saying even though the coup was long overdue, and he would do nothing to stop them, he could not accept their offer to be the head of state. He believed in their motive and promised to render any assistance he could, he also gave them an undertaking that if the coup flopped he would do his best to ensure they were not executed. He gave his approval but refused to be a partaker in the coup and with the assurance by Yar’adua to Garba that Murtala would come around and accept the offer, they left his house.

While the planning was going on, Gowon did not know, and even if he did, he never took it serious. Besides; he never believed Murtala would be involved.

He innocently took Murtala’s rejection to attend the scheduled OAU meeting in Kampala due to other national commitments and apparently Gowon trusted the word of Garba as an officer and gentleman, but did not verify his loyalty.

Garba would not be the first nor the last to betray loyalty as the key qualification of a coup plotter is the ability not to betray trust.

On the lane of event, Colonel Anthony Ochefu, the Provost-Marshal of the Military Police, requested to attend a management course in Jos.  Unknown to Gowon, he was putting the coup in order. Ochefu went there to activate Military Police battalions should in case of unforeseen circumstances and to support Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo.

Coincidentally, the First Lady, Mrs. Victoria Gowon, decided to embark on a shopping spree in London with her kids about the time the all event was due on motion. Several military governors also left the country on vacation leaving the country vulnerable.

At the time of his departure for the OAU summit, at Ikeja Airport, Gowon discovered he left the briefcase which contained the documents needed at the summit and wanted his ADC, Lt. Col. William Godang Walbe, to return to Dodan Barracks and pick up the briefcase before his departure but was advised against risking any delay, certainly afterwards the events would play out to him and he would remember the game plan, but as at that time he was oblivious.

The general left for Kampala with no plan of action needs to be taken in case of a coup and immediately Gowon’s plane was airborne, the coup plotters got into action to execute the final 48 hours of the plot, security of the country increased, the airport was sealed up, and troops were sent to keep a watch on Gowon’s personnel.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that field grade officers of the ranks of Lt. Col. and Colonel executed the July 29, 1975 coup at brigade level. Aside Murtala, who was mentioned, no other Brigadier was involved as at July 29, 1975.

The three reasons why the coup was a bloodless one was due to the fact that: Gowon was outside Nigeria, Garba, Commander, Brigade of Guards was in the plot, and Brigadier TY Danjuma, GOC, 3rd Division, civil war hero, one of the doyens of the middle belt officers corps and one of the three musketeers of July 1966 (Mohammed, Danjuma, Adamu) would not oppose the coup.

At about 0400 hours on D-day, therefore, the pre-agreed outline of a coup announcement was fine-tuned and Garba went over to Radio Nigeria to deliver this speech:

“Fellow countrymen and women, I, Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba, in consultation with my colleagues, do hereby declare that in view of what has been happening in our country in the past few months, the Nigerian Armed Forces decided to effect a change of the leadership of the Federal Military Government.

As from now, General Yakubu Gowon ceases to be head of the Federal Military Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. The general public is advised to be calm and to go about their lawful duties.

However, in view of the traffic situation in Lagos area, all workers other than those on essential services like NEPA, Medical Services, Water Works, NPA, the P & T, all workers and all Tanker Drivers will observe today, 29th of July, 1975, as a work free day.

A dusk to dawn curfew is hereby imposed until further notice. Nigeria Airways operations are suspended and all Airports and Borders are closed till further notice.

Fellow countrymen, this has been a bloodless operation and we do not want anyone to lose his or her life. You are therefore warned in your own interest to be law abiding. Anyone caught disturbing the public order will be summarily dealt with.

We appeal to everyone to co-operate in the task ahead. Further announcements will be made in due course. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Immediately after the announcement came on air at 0600 hours, Colonel Garba returned to Dodan Barracks (across the road) to gauge reactions among the troops, who were filled up with mixed feelings, The coup plotters appointed Brigadier Murtala Mohammed as head of the new government, and Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo as his deputy. And this was not an easy task.

The ‘junta’, as the members of the putschist were called back then had agreed amongst themselves how they want the new government to turn out, but Murtala rejected their terms, the then group offered the position to Obasanjo and then to Danjuma both had supported Murtala to be the best candidate for the position and said it was important that he agreed.

When a closed-door meeting on the matter took place at Brigadier Godwin Ally’s place, the commander of the Lagos Garrison Organization’s territory with Murtala, asked the plotters what the group wanted in the new government, and explained why they needed to secure the agreement, Murtala flared up, saying even if he wanted to be the head of state, he won’t allow his hands to be tied to the back, he insisted he must have executive authority and lead the country the best way he could.

Garba and the rest must have anticipated the outburst. The head of Nigerian Army; Colonel Abdullah Muhammad took over, and analysed to Murtala why they needed him and included him while planning the coup. The group decided he was the best man to lead the country. Murtala exploded again but gave in and accepted the group’s terms.

After he accepted their terms, Garba informed dozens of officers already waiting in the conference room, announcing Murtala Muhammed as the Head of State; Obasanjo as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters; Danjuma as Chief of Army Staff.

To give assurance to Nigerians that the era of General Gowon was history and a new era had began making Brigadier Murtala Muhammed the new Nigerian head of state, this was the maiden speech of Brigadier Murtala Ramat Muhammed, July 29, 1975:

Fellow Nigerians,

Events of the past few years have indicated that despite our great human and material resources, the Government has not been able to fulfill the legitimate expectations of our people. Nigeria has been left to drift. This situation, if not arrested, would inevitably have resulted in chaos and even bloodshed. In the endeavor to build a strong, united and virile nation, Nigerians have shed much blood. The thought of further bloodshed, for whatever reasons must, I am sure, be revolting to our people. The Armed Forces, having examined the situation, came to the conclusion that certain changes were inevitable.

After the civil war, the affairs of state, hitherto a collective responsibility became characterized by lack of consultation, indecision, indiscipline and even neglect. Indeed, the public at large became disillusioned and disappointed by these developments. This trend was clearly incompatible with the philosophy and image of a corrective regime. Unknown to the general public, the feeling of disillusionment was also evident among members of the armed forces whose administration was neglected but who, out of sheer loyalty to the Nation, and in the hope that there would be a change, continued to suffer in silence. Things got to a stage where the head of administration became virtually inaccessible even to official advisers; and when advice was tendered, it was often ignored. Responsible opinion, including advice by eminent Nigerians, traditional rulers, intellectuals, et cetera, was similarly discarded. The leadership, either by design or default, had become too insensitive to the true feelings and yearnings of the people. The nation was thus plunged inexorably into chaos. It was obvious that matters could not, and should not, be allowed in this manner, and in order to give the nation a new lease of life, and sense of direction, the following decisions were taken:

  1. The removal of General Yakubu Gowon as Head of the Federal Military Government and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
  2. The retirement of General Yakubu Gowon from the Armed Forces in his present rank of General with full benefits, in recognition of his past services to the nation.
  3. General Gowon will be free to return to the country as soon as conditions permit; he will be free to pursue any legitimate undertakings of his choice in any part of the country. His personal safety and freedom and those of his family will be guaranteed.
  4. The following members of the Armed Forces are retired with immediate effect: Vice Admiral JEA Wey – Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ, Major-General Hassan Katsina – Deputy Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ, Major-General David Ejoor – Chief of Staff (Army), Rear Admiral Nelson Soroh – Chief of Naval Staff, Brigadier EE Ikwue – Chief of Air Staff, and all other officers of the rank of major general (or equivalent) and above.Alhaji Kam Salem – Inspector General of Police, Chief TA Fagbola – Deputy Inspector General of Police.
  5. Also with immediate effect, all the present Military Governors, and the Administrator of East Central State, have been relieved of their appointments and retired.
  6. As you are already aware, new appointments have been made as follows: Brigadier TY Danjuma – Chief of Army Staff, Colonel John Yisa Doko – Chief of Air Staff, Commodore Michael Adelanwa – Chief of Naval Staff, Mr. MD Yusuf – Inspector General of Police.

New Military Governors have also been appointed for the States as follows:

  1. Lt. Col. Muhammed Buhari, North East
  2. Colonel George Innih, Midwest
  3. Lt. Col. Sani Bello, Kano
  4. Captain Adekunle Lawal (Navy), Lagos
  5. Lt. Col. Paul Omu, South East
  6. Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo, Kwara
  7. Captain Akin Aduwo, (Navy), West
  8. Col. Anthony Ochefu, East Central
  9. Lt. Col. Usman Jibrin, North Central
  10. Col. Abdullahi Mohammed, Benue-Plateau
  11. Lt. Col. Umaru Mohammed, North West
  12. Lt. Col. Zamani Lekwot, Rivers

The Structure of Government has been reorganized. There will now be three organs of government at the federal level namely,

(i) The Supreme Military Council

(ii) The National Council of States

(iii) The Federal Executive Council

There will of course continue to be Executive Councils at the State level. The reconstituted Supreme Military Council will comprise the following:

The Head of State and C-in-C of the Armed Forces

Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo – Chief of Staff, SHQ

Brigadier TY Danjuma – Chief of Army Staff Commodore Michael Adelanwa – Chief of Naval Staff Col. John Yisa Doko – Chief of Air Staff

Mr. MD Yusuf – IG of Police

GOCs –

1st Division, Brigadier Julius Akinrinade

2nd Division, Brigadier Martin Adamu

3rd Division, Brigadier Emmanuel Abisoye

L.G.O. –

Brigadier John Obada

Colonel Joseph Garba

Lt. Col Shehu YarAdua

Brigadier James Oluleye

Brigadier Iliya Bisalla

Colonel Ibrahim Babangida

Lt. Col Muktar Muhammed

Colonel Dan Suleiman

Captain Olufemi Olumide (NN)

Captain H Husaini Abdullahi (NN)

Mr. Adamu Suleman, Commissioner of Police

Lt. Col. Alfred Aduloju

Lt. Commander Godwin Kanu (NN)

All the civil commissioners in the Federal Executive Council are relieved of their appointments with immediate effect. The composition of the new Executive Council will be announced shortly.

Political Programme

We will review the political programme and make an announcement in due course. In the meantime, a panel will be set up to advise on the question of new states. A panel will also be set up to advise on the question of the federal capital.

With due regard to the 1973 population census, it is now clear that whatever results are announced will not command general acceptance throughout the country. It has, therefore, been decided to cancel the 1973 population census. Accordingly, for planning purposes, the 1963 census figures shall continue to be used.

A panel will be set up to advise on the future of the Interim Common Services Agency (ICSA) and the Eastern States Interim Assets and Liability Agency (ESIALA).

The Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture are postponed in view of the obvious difficulties in providing all the necessary facilities. Consultations will be held with other participating countries with a view to fixing a new date.

Finally, we reaffirm this country’s friendship with all countries. Foreign nationals living in Nigeria will be protected. Foreign investments will also be protected. The government will honour all obligations entered into by the previous Governments of the Federation. We will also give continued support to the Organization of African Unity, the United Nations Organization, and the Commonwealth.

Fellow Countrymen, the task ahead of us calls for sacrifice and self discipline at all levels of our society. This government will not tolerate indiscipline. The Government will not condone abuse of office.

I appeal to you all to cooperate with the Government in our endeavour to give this nation a new lease of life. This change of Government has been accomplished without shedding any blood; and we intend to keep it so.

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Gowon heard about the coup while still in the OAU summit, firstly dismissing it as a rumour then when it was confirmed he had been toppled he immediately went into exile in the United Kingdom, he decided to go back to school where he acquired a PhD in political science as a student at the University of Warwick. He lived in north London Hertfordshire border, and very much became part of the English community in his area, where he served a term as Churchwarden in the local church.

How did Murtala Muhammed run his government? Meet the next edition of flashback to know it.


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