Key political moments in Nigeria’s history from 1960

Today, October 1, 2019, marks the 59th Independence Day of Nigeria.

From that fateful day when the Union Jack was lowered for the last time and the Nigerian flag raised at the Race Course (now Tafawa Balewa Square) in Lagos, the country has witnessed key political moments.

To mark this year’s Independence Day, Daily Advent takes a look at these political moments.

  • Independence – On October 1, 1960 Nigeria became an independent nation. The country’s Prime Minister was Tafawa Balewa and Nnamdi Azikwe was the President.


  • Republic – On Nigeria’s third Independence Day, the young nation became a Republic, totally severing ties with its previous colonial masters.


  • 1st military coup – The first military intervention happened on January 15, 1966, when select soldiers overthrew the first republic. Key political leaders such as Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello and S.L Akintola were killed. The following day, a military government was formed with General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi as the Head of State.


  • Counter Coup – On July 29, 1966, a counter coup occurred mainly by military officers from the North. In the tussle for power, the Head of State was General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi assassinated. After the coup, General Yakubu Gowon emerged as Head of State.


  • Biafra and the division of Nigeria into 12 states – On May 27, 1967, General Yakubu Gowon divided Nigeria into 12 states. Prior to this, attacks against Igbos in the North triggered the migration of Igbos back to the South-East. This would serve as the backdrop for the Biafra War. On May 30, 1967, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, then the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria declared that the region had separated from Nigeria and would be known as Biafra.


  • The surrender of Biafra – On January 15, 1970, Biafra surrendered and was integrated back into Nigeria.


  • Gowon regime overthrown – On January 29, 1975, the Gowon regime was overthrown in a bloodless coup which ushered General Murtala Mohammed as Head of State.


  • Murtala Mohammed assassination – On February 13, 1976, General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated by in an unsuccessful coup. His deputy, General Olusegun Obasanjo became Head of State.


  • Shehu Shagari as first Executive President – After general elections were conducted, Shehu Shagari was sworn in as President of Nigeria on October 1, 1979. This also marked Nigeria’s switch from the parliamentary style of government to the American style of democracy with an Executive President.


  • Shagari re-elected – In 1983, Shehu Shagari was re-elected for a 2nd term as President of Nigeria.


  • The Buhari coup – On December 31, 1983, Shehu Shagari was removed as President in a palace coup. General Muhammadu Buhari became the Head of State and Chairman of the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria.


  • The IBB coup – In August 1985, General Muhammadu Buhari was kicked out in a palace coup. The new regime was led by General Ibrahim Babangida who became Head of State and the President of the Armed Forces Ruling Council of Nigeria.


  • The unsuccessful Orkar coup – A coup spearheaded by Major Gideon Orkar aimed at removing General Ibrahim Babangida from power was unsuccessful in April 1990.


  • SDP and NRC – Two political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) were created by the political class to eventually lead Nigeria back to democratic rule.


  • June 12 Elections – Nigerians went to the polls on June 12, 1993 to elect a civilian president. The SDP candidate Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was presumed the winner of the election but the results were annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida. On August 26, 1993, IBB “stepped aside” due to political pressure and appointed Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan as Interim Head of State.


  • The resignation of Shonekan – On November 17, 1993, Shonekan was forced to resign from his position as the Interim Head of State to make way for General Sani Abacha to become the Head of State.


  • The detention of MKO Abiola – In 1994, MKO Abiola was arrested by the Abacha regime for declaring himself the lawful president of the country.


  • The detention of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua – Former Nigerian Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy Shehu Musa Yar’Adua were arrested by the Abacha regime for allegedly supporting a coup.


  • Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 – Human and environmental rights activist Ken Saro Wiwa was hanged on November 10, 1995 along with eight other activists.


  • The death of Abacha – General Sani Abacha passed away on June 8, 1998 due to a heart attack. He was swiftly replaced by Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar who set a timetable for the country’s return to democratic rule.


  • The release of Obasanjo – On June 15, 1998, Olusegun Obasanjo was released from government detention.


  • The death of MKO Abiola in detention – The presumed winner of the June 12 elections died on July 7, 1998 in government detention.


  • Obasanjo as civilian President – On May 29, 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as Nigeria’s democratically elected President (under the Peoples Democratic Party) after winning the 1999 elections a few months earlier.


  • Obasanjo re-elected – Olusegun Obasanjo was once again re-elected for another four years in 2003.


  • Third Term Agenda – After the Obasanjo administration tried to push for a third term, the National Assembly voted against the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution to remove term limits on May 16, 2006.


  • The Umaru Yar’Adua election victoryUmaru Yar’Adua under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won the Presidential election on April 21, 2007.


  • The death of President Yar’Adua – After a long illness, Umaru Yar’Adua died on May 5, 2009. The country’s Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan officially became President.


  • 50 years of Independence – Nigeria celebrates 50 years of Independence on October 1, 2010.


  • Goodluck Jonathan Election Victory – Goodluck Jonathan wins the Presidential election in 2011 to make history as the first Nigerian President to emerge from a minority tribe.


  • Buhari back for the second time – After several attempts, Muhammadu Buhari successfully won the 2011 presidential election under the All Progressives Congress on April 1, 2015 to become Nigeria’s President. This would mark the first time the PDP would lose a Presidential election since 1999 and the first time an incumbent Nigerian president would lose an election.


  • Buhari’s 2nd term – Muhammadu Buhari wins his second term bid after winning the elections held on February 23, 2019.