Military Rebellion of July 29


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Military Rebellion of July 29, 1975:

The coup against Gowon - Part 8

continued from




Nowa Omoigui



Military regimes are, as the saying goes, inherently unstable.  

It is for good reason, therefore, that the Russians have a proverb which says “Doveriai no proveriai.”  It means “Trust, but verify.”  It would appear that General Gowon “trusted” the word of then Colonel JN Garba as an officer and gentleman, but did not “verify.”   

But Garba was not alone nor the first to pledge loyalty to Gowon and then forsake his pledge. Indeed all acts of treason in history are typically predicated on a violation of an oath of loyalty and often rationalized by higher supra-constitutional calls to duty to God and country.   The most important qualification of a coup plotter, therefore, is the willingness to betray trust.   

The Nigerian Armed Forces of 1975 was not by any means a neophyte in the vagaries of betrayal.  There had been several examples in Gowon’s professional experience such as in 1964 when he loyally reported efforts, by Lt. Colonels Ojukwu and Banjo, to recruit him for a coup.  In January 1966, he was a near victim of brutal acts of betrayal of trust among brother officers.   Seven months later, in July 1966 he was, by most accounts, an  “innocent bystander” beneficiary of a series of very violent events that were also based on a betrayal of trust among brother officers. 

Back in August 1974, when Gowon made Brigadier Murtala Mohammed Federal Commissioner for Communications, Mohammed had only just emerged from suspicions in the intelligence community regarding the controversial expenditure of Army Signals funds.     But Gowon wanted the bygones of the July 1966 aftermath to be bygones and made him a Minister.  Brigadier Murtala Mohammed then wrote a letter to Gowon, 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 for all times.”

However, when, in mid July 1975 Brig Murtala Mohammed was invited to be part of General Gowon’s delegation to the scheduled OAU meeting in Kampala, he declined, citing a prior “commitment” to represent the government at some event in London.  Already in touch with an active group of conspirators, however, his concept of loyalty “in the best possible way I ever could“ had since diverged from Gowon’s assumptions of officer loyalty.   The past, rather than being buried, was about to come alive again.

At about the same time, in mid-July, Colonel Anthony Ochefu got permission to attend a management course in Jos.  But in reality he was putting final touches to preparations for the coup.  He was there to activate Military Police battalions for possible use and also back up Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo.

On July 25th, the first lady, Mrs. Victoria Gowon left Nigeria for London.  Her husband had not wanted her to leave until he returned from Kampala but she insisted, fearing that she might miss the summer sales at upscale London stores.  In that era, as it remains to this day, many members of Nigeria’s consumerist elite routinely traveled to the UK on “summer holidays.”  Before Mrs. Gowon left, Army Chief of Staff Major General DA Ejoor also left the country on vacation, as did a few military Governors, including Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia of the Midwest who cited medical reasons.  While Ejoor was away, Brigadier Martin Adamu  - one of the three musketeers of July 1966 - acted in his stead.

On July 27, 1975, General Gowon discovered at the Ikeja airport in Lagos that he had forgotten an important briefcase containing documents relevant to the OAU conference at hand. His initial desire was to have his ADC, Lt. Col. William Godang Walbe, return to Dodan Barracks to pick it up prior to departure for Kampala.  But the Chief of Staff, SHQ, Vice Admiral Wey, advised against any delays that might violate protocol.   Plans were made, therefore, for Walbe to return to Nigeria from Uganda after dropping the General off, ostensibly to pick it up. But, as will be evident later on, there was more in Gowon’s mind than merely picking up a briefcase.

Gowon’s official delegation comprised a mix of Federal Commissioners, State Governors, Military and Police Officers and Civil servants.   They included External Affairs Commissioner Dr. Okoi Arikpo, North-Western State Governor Usman Faruk, as well as Air Force Lt. Col. Mustafa Amin and Alhaji Muhammadu Gambo of the Police Special “E” Branch.  Sources say Lt. Col. Mustafa Amin and Alhaji Muhammadu Gambo were planted in the delegation as lookouts for the July coup plotters. But Gambo later denied that he had played such a role.  Following departure ceremonies, General Gowon’s executive aircraft, piloted by Nigeria Airways Captains Thahal and Nnaji taxied to take position for take-off.  He had no idea that it would be very many years before he would return to his homeland.  He had believed Colonel JN Garba’s denials but still felt there was something to the coup rumor and privately considered options for a quick return from Kampala to crush any attempt.

Nevertheless, because Gowon did not share his internal anxieties with others, key elements of his regime were not forewarned to be in a coup-busting mood.  He did not contact GOCs in other parts of the country, did not confine soldiers to barracks, and gave no clear-cut instructions about what various officers and formations should do in the event of a coup attempt.  Not long after Gowon’s aircraft left, a large delegation of senior officers, led by Major General Hassan Katsina, deputy Chief of Staff SHQ, departed for Kano to take part in a Polo tournament.  Among the officers concerned were at least two State Governors, Brigadiers Johnson and Rotimi of Lagos and Western State respectively.

Meanwhile Gowon’s Federal Commissioner for Works, then Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo, who was also in charge of the Army’s Engineering Corps, was on his way back to Lagos from a field trip to Enugu in the East Central State.  The Brigade Commander in Enugu accosted him and confessed that he had already been approached by a group of officers and invited to join a conspiracy.  The officer concerned hinted that if senior officers did not take action soon, the junior ones would.  As noted previously, Obasanjo had checked a few weeks earlier to see if Gowon was aware of coup rumors passed to him by Alhaji MD Yusuf.  But it does not appear, based on his own account, that Obasanjo made any effort to notify the C-in-C of this additional specific piece of direct intelligence, even if Gowon was enroute to Kampala, could certainly have been reached by phone, and was only four hours flight away. 

Anyway, with Gowon’s plane off the ground and airborne, the putschists swung into action to execute the final 48 hours of the plot.   They quarantined the airport and increased surveillance of key personnel of the Gowon regime.  Fortunately, they resisted the temptation to grab Gowon at the airport in what could have triggered a messy shoot-out.  This is what happened when Guard Commander Major Wanke ordered President Mainasara of Niger republic shot with a Russian anti-aircraft ZSU-23 weapon as he entered his aircraft many years later. 


As previously noted, field grade officers of the ranks of Lt. Col. and Colonel executed the July 29, 1975 coup at brigade level. Other than Brigadier Murtala Mohammed, who was prospectively identified and kept in the picture since April to minimize last minute arguments about leadership (as occurred in 1966), no other brigadiers were directly involved – as of July 27. 

To appreciate their operational ability to do this – as a group - let us quickly review the distribution of field grade officers holding key positions at that time.  Many were stuck in middle ranks, exercising command of major formations because of the catch up phenomenon after the war when officers who had been rapidly promoted had to be slowed down again to match their actual level of training and experience in an oversized army.

NOTE:  The table below does not imply and should not be construed as suggesting that all the listed persons were part of the plot. It is just to show how pervasive and influential field grade officers (as a group) were at that time. Some of the titles and positions no longer exist in the present Nigerian Army:



Command level/Commanders


Senior Captains/ substantive Majors eg Captain Sarki Muktar (4 Guards Bn),  Major John Shagaya (2 Guards Bn)

Recce regiments (Commanders)

Lt. Colonels eg IB Babangida 4 recce, JN Dogonyaro 1 recce, etc.

Artillery Brigade Commanders

Lt. Colonels eg Nasko (2 Arty Bde)

Infantry Brigades (Commanders)

Lt. Colonels/Colonels eg JN Garba, P Tarfa, G Innih, P Omu, Umaru Mohammed, Z Lekwot, Seidu Ayodele Balogun (S & T), Ejiga, Bali, Duba etc..

Garrisons e.g. Lagos Garrison, Ibadan Garrison etc. General Staff Officer (GSO 1)

Lt. Colonels eg SM Yar’Adua, GSO 1 Lagos Garrison Organization (formerly 9 Infantry Brigade Commander until September 1974 when he was replaced by Bali)

Garrison Commanders

Brigadiers eg Godwin Ally (LGO), Alani Akinrinade (IGO) etc.

Divisional Staff Officers (Colonels GS; Adjutant Generals and Assistant Adjutant Generals)

Various Lt. Colonels and Colonels eg Ibrahim Taiwo (3 Div), Muhammadu Jega (1Div), Lt. Col M. Magoro - Assistant AG 1Div;

Divisional Commanders (3 divisions)

Brigadiers eg Ibrahim Haruna (1st), James Oluleye (2nd), Theophilus Danjuma (3rd)

Army HQ “A” Branch

Colonel Olu Bajowa (Adjutant-General)

Army HQ Operations, General Staff Officers

Lt. Colonels, eg Lt. Col. Sani Bello, Lt. Col. Dahiru Mohammed etc..

Army HQ, Principal General Staff Officer (PGSO 1)

Brigadier G. Alabi-Isama (PGSO 1)

Army HQ, Chief of Staff, Army  (but technically not the Army Commander)

Major General DA Ejoor (temporarily replaced by Brigadier Martin Adamu)


Inspector of Recce

Colonel Mohammed Remawa

Inspector of Artillery

Colonel ADS Wya

Inspector of Army Engineers

Colonel HA Hannaniya

Engineer Corps Commander

Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo (also a Federal Commissioner)

Director, Supply and Transport

Lt. Col. M Buhari (formerly Col GS 3Div until Sept 1974 ) 


Inspector of Signals

Brigadier Murtala Mohammed (also a Federal Commissioner)

Senior Staff Officer (Signals)

Lt. Col. Alfred Aduloju

Commandant, Static Communications

Major David Mark

The Army Infantry Divisions had since the civil war been organized with a North-South polarity in order to cut across ethnic and regional boundaries.     From the standpoint of the government it was a useful way to encourage officers from different parts of the country to serve in northern or southern Nigeria irrespective of which Division they were assigned.  It also meant that Divisional Commanders would not view themselves as “Regionalized Commanders.” 

But this arrangement had an advantage for the putschists.  Recruiting activities could be carried out within an area of responsibility that covered a wide swath of territory from north to south while still technically within one’s “command” doing legitimate things.  Unlike during the January 1966 coup when coup coordinators and recruiters were focalized and regionalized, ie Ifeajuna (Lagos/South), Nzeogwu (Kaduna/North), Nwobosi (Ibadan/West) etc. the 1975 arrangement was a bit more diffuse – because that is how the Army was organized.  Taiwo could double as the “national coordinator” roaming up and down across the Benue and Niger rivers while the main Lagos group consolidated.  Now and again one of the “Lagos boys” would dash to Ibadan, Kaduna or Jos to tie up some loose end with some officer with whom they had a personal relationship.  But once a Brigade Commander in a Major City or State capital deemed to be vital was recruited he would take the baton and run with it locally. In this manner it was possible to project the plot as a nationwide exercise, even though many units “in between” were totally ignorant of what was going on.  To avoid mishap, however, as might happen if even only one charismatic GOC began issuing counter-commands to all sorts of units in their wide areas of responsibility stretching from north to south, all the Divisional commanders (Oluleye, Haruna and Danjuma) were co-opted on July 28. 

In his eagerness to be open and consultative, it will be recalled that Gowon had organized periodic Senior Officers meetings. One of the unintended side effects of those meetings was that it allowed observant mutiny-oriented officers to gauge the pulse of many other officers on political issues that they would not ordinarily discuss on a one on one basis in a regimental setting.   This became more of the case in April/May 1975 when officers became less and less pretentious as Gowon became more and more shifty.  There was no secret about where the 2Div GOC, Brigadier Oluleye, for example, stood on a number of matters.  In May 1975, 3Div GOC Brigadier TY Danjuma, concerned with emerging coup ‘indicators’, had even obliquely asked Oluleye if a coup was possible.


The best-documented account of a co-option was that provided by Lindsay Barrett in his biography of Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma (“The making of a General”).  Colonel Taiwo went to Danjuma’s house in Jos on July 28, catalogued a long list of complaints, particularly Gowon’s alleged chronic vacillation, and concluded:

“Sir, we have decided to take over the Government.”

He then named the officers involved in the plot and assured the Brigadier that there would be no bloodshed.  The three pillars upon which plotters based their confidence that there would be no bloodshed were that

  1. General Gowon was outside Nigeria,

  2. Colonel JN Garba, Commander, Brigade of Guards was in the plot, and

  3. Brigadier TY Danjuma, GOC, 3rd Division, civil war hero, one of the doyens of the middle belt officer corps and one of the three musketeers of July 1966 (Mohammed, Danjuma, Adamu) would not oppose the coup.

 As Taiwo put it,

“Sir, we don’t want you to do anything but we do not want you to go against us because we are sure that the moment it is announced that you are not with us there will be trouble.”

Danjuma’s primary concerns  - driven by his unpleasant experiences in July 1966 and thereafter - were that there should be no bloodshed by those executing the coup and, importantly, he would not personally take operational part in it.  He certainly did not want coup making to become his legacy (having already planned one too many), and, he had personally experienced firsthand what happens once soldiers are in a state of mutiny.

After losing control of Ironsi and Fajuyi to subalterns and NCOs at Government House Ibadan on July 29, 1966, he was later appointed Commander of the notorious 4th battalion by then Lt. Col. Gowon when Lt. Col. Joe Akahan was redeployed to Lagos as Army Chief of Staff.  When the 4th battalion was redeployed away from Ibadan to Kaduna and other northern Nigerian towns (like Makurdi) then Major Danjuma was still the commander.  Under his command (or lack thereof) the battalion’s lawlessness all over the north became the stuff of myths.  It was not the kind of thing he wanted to see happen again.

While Taiwo was still chatting with the Brigadier, Colonel JN Garba phoned from Lagos to confirm that Taiwo had indeed notified Danjuma of the coup, scheduled to begin in a matter of hours.  The following conversation occurred:

Danjuma:  ‘Make sure there is no bloodshed. Let me make this clear, I will do nothing to stop you, but I will not join you.’


Garba:  ‘Sir, we do not need your help, all that we want is for you to do nothing.’

The co-option of the other two GOCs has not been as well documented. However, there was some confusion in Kaduna because the Divisional Staff Officer who had been detailed to co-opt Brigadier Haruna misunderstood his orders and initially thought he was to kill him.  Fortunately the error was detected on time and alternative arrangements made to co-opt him.  What the plotters did was co-opt Brigadier Gibson Jalo, then Deputy Commandant at the Nigerian Defence Academy first.  Jalo – who, like Haruna, had at one time commanded the second division during the war - was then requested to talk the Commandant, Brigadier Iliya Bissalla (another wartime GOC) and the present GOC, 1st Division, Brigadier Ibrahim Haruna, into complacency.  However, it was not as if the NDA leadership had the wherewithal to do much – at least for now.  In February 1976, however, Bissalla – who has since become the Minister for Defence - was implicated in a plot to overthrow General Murtala Muhammed.

The GOC of the 2nd Division, Brigadier James Oluleye was also co-opted. Indeed the innermost insiders of the conspiracy, Yar’Adua and Taiwo, had served under him in the Second Division before.  However, the specifics of how he was co-opted have not yet been revealed, although he makes it clear in his memoirs that he too was fed up with General Gowon.  Nevertheless, an event later took place on July 29 which could have led to bloodshed had he not chosen not to oppose the coup.   According to a source, several officers under his command approached him to get permission to attack the putschists in Lagos.  According to this source, he denied them permission.  However, I have not personally verified this account.


The Nigerian Air Force had “Bases” eg, Lagos, Kano, Makurdi etc. and “Commands” eg Training Command, Military Airlift etc.  As can be surmised, recruitment was focused at HQ Operational/Command and specific Base Command levels.  The third indigenous Chief of Air Staff, Brigadier-General Emmanuel E. Ikwue, assumed office in December 1969 following the tragic death of Colonel Shittu Alao in an air-crash.  He was actually a personnel officer with no flying experience.  Thus there was tension with the younger, flight certified Air Force officers many of who had flown combat missions during the war.  To compound matters, General Gowon reprimanded Ikwue on account of the Lockheed scandal.  As of July 1975, he was not in a position to exert much operational control over the NAF.  Through liaison with Lt. Col. Muktar Mohammed, a group of Air Force officers became privy to plans and assisted with airfield and airspace security and military airlift in support of the putsch.  They included Colonel John Yisa Doko, Commanding Officer, Military Airlift Wing Ikeja, Colonel Dan Suleiman then Federal Commissioner for Special Duties, Colonel A.D. Bello, and Lt. Col. Ibrahim Alfa, Officer Commanding 64 Fighter Squadron, Kano. Others included Lt. Col. Hamza Abdullahi, Air Provost Marshall and Lt. Col. Usman Jibrin, Commanding Officer NAF Kano. Lt. Col. Mustafa Amin was with Gowon in Kampala suspected of keeping an eye on him, ready to provide early warning of any moves to return home or secure the support of a foreign power.


The plotters did not expect the sudden appearance of Major General Hassan Katsina and others in Kano.  In fact other than airfield protection and air interdiction arrangements, Kano – which was Nigeria’s only other active international airport - had not figured prominently in Army recruitment plans. According to Elaigwu, when Colonel Taiwo got the intelligence, he secured the assistance of Colonel Ochefu in Jos to secure the emergency cooperation of Colonel Geoffrey Ejiga, who was then the Brigade Commander in Kano – and was, importantly, from Ochefu’s home state.  Ejiga was ordered to make plans to contain the gathering and discretely freeze the senior officers affected once the coup was launched. 


After Colonels Taiwo and Garba had secured the cooperation (by inaction) of Brigadier Danjuma and reports came in confirming the co-option of other GOCs, the physical presence of General Gowon in Kampala, and the location of other key government personalities, the execution phase of the plot began. 

Colonel JN Garba confided in some civilians, including his spouse, that he was involved in a plot to overthrow the government that night.  He told selected officers in the Guards Brigade of his involvement and assured them that he was not doing it for personal aggrandizement.  According to him, should the coup succeed, the middle ranking officers who were carrying out the plot had no intention of taking any positions in the new government.  This was all about patriotism.  They would risk their necks to stage a coup and hand over power to a responsible triumvirate.

Other officers in operational units in the Lagos area (and other parts of the country) that would be used that night were also alerted to get their men ready – without specific disclosure of what their missions would be.

As might be expected this increase in communication and a widening of the circle of those who knew of the plot and had to make preparations to get their units ready for action led to a sudden increase in intelligence at Police HQ.  According to Alhaji MD Yusuf,

“I knew what they were doing, who they were using. They said they were going to do it tonight. But at about three or four o'clock, I got wind of it. So I told Garba, 'Look if you are going to make a coup, don't just say you are going to do it at this and this hour. I know.' Later on, he kept asking me, how did I know. And I told him: "I have no authority to investigate the army under our code. But I told you, if you talk to one civilian, then I will know. And that is what happened. You spoke to a civilian. And that is how I know. “


But unknown to Yusuf at the time, something else happened at about 3 pm that day.  The executive jet that had taken General Gowon to Kampala the day before flew back into the country and landed at Ikeja airport with one passenger – Lt. Col. WG Walbe - Gowon’s ADC.  He supposedly had come to fetch the so-called brief case Gowon allegedly forgot.  But in Walbe’s possession was a letter from General Gowon to Vice Admiral Wey, written on an East African Airways Letterhead:  

“Just to let you know that we arrived safely and we had a good journey right through and we also had a great welcome from Field Marshall Idi who was openly delighted to see us.


I forgot my briefcase and I am sending William to fetch it.  If you therefore have any message please send it through him.


My regards to all other colleagues.


Yours Aye,


Y. Gowon (sgd)”

What Gowon actually intended was for Walbe to sneak into Lagos, lie low, get information about any impending putsch from Wey, and then return quickly to Kampala to fetch him if there was trouble.  But, the time factor aside, perhaps illustrative of the fatal flaw in Gowon’s contingency plan, Walbe was supposed to help Garba contain any such coup – confirming that Gowon was totally taken in by Garba’s pledge of loyalty.  Walbe, nonetheless, unaware of the true seriousness of the coup rumors went to play tennis upon arrival in Lagos – even though something quite strange had transpired at the airport when he arrived.   Lt. Col. Muktar Mohammed of the NAF ordered the executive jet parked and secured by Air Police in the air force area of the airport instead of the VIP tarmac. This action was in furtherance of the coup, which had practically begun.  Not long after, unsurprisingly, both Garba and Ochefu became aware of Walbe’s presence in the country. 

While Walbe was out playing tennis, Garba called his house, having been briefed about his arrival – and the letter from Gowon to Wey.    Walbe was not in but when he returned he was able to take Garba’s second call requesting him to come over to his house to discuss an important matter.  After missing each other at least one more time, they eventually met. 


In the meantime, at about 10 pm, the final “Operations” Group meeting took place at the Lagos Garrison Organization, then at No. 3 Kofo Abayomi road, Victoria Island.  Colonel Ochefu – from Benue-Plateau - reportedly chaired it, but Lt. Colonel SM Yar’Adua – from Katsina -  issued the operational orders.   Among the officers present at that meeting were Colonel JN Garba, Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo, Col. Ibrahim Babangida, Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed, Colonel Paul Tarfa, Lt. Col. Alfred Aduloju, Lt. Col. Muhammadu Buhari, Lt. Col. Muktar Mohammed, Lt. Col. Sani Bello and a few others.

Targets and tasks were divided in standard fashion.  In order of priority the most sensitive were Dodan Barracks (office and residence of General Gowon), Ministry of Defence, Army, NAF and NN HQ on Marina, and the Police HQ on Moloney Street. Others included Radio Nigeria, Nigerian Television Service (Channel 10), Ikeja airport, along with a few key road junctions (like Ikeja) and bridges to Lagos and Victoria Islands.  The Telephone Exchange and symbolic Public Buildings followed these in priority.  Plans for the neutralization of some radio and TV stations in major centers outside Lagos were made and the latest intelligence reviewed about the location and movement of key personalities.  The C-in-C was away in Uganda.  The Chief of Staff, SHQ (Wey) was no threat, because he was a Naval Officer with no troops and had never had the appetite to fight for power.  Indeed as far back as July 1966, then Commodore Wey – and not Brigadier Ogundipe as is widely assumed - was actually the most senior surviving officer in the Nigerian military but he never pressed the issue, preferring to counsel Gowon behind the scenes.  The Chief of Staff (Army)  [COSA] – Maj Gen Ejoor - was outside the country.  The acting COSA - Brigadier Martin Adamu – a highly respected war hero and one of the three musketeers of July 1966 would be co-opted that night by Colonels Ochefu and Yar’Adua if all went well.  In fact the group nominated Adamu to deliver the coup speech at dawn so as to project the impression that the coup was an institutional Army coup.  The Chiefs of Air (Ikwue) and Naval (Soroh) Staffs would be politely informed of the change of government.  Same was to go for the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Kam Salem.  The Army GOCs had already been co-opted earlier in the day.  But for some reason Yar’Adua decided to keep his boss, Brigadier Godwin Ally, out of the picture until early on July 29.  The Walbe matter was to be personally handled by Colonel JN Garba – assisted by Ochefu.  Since Radio Nigeria was typically guarded by officers from the Guards Brigade, penetration – by a combined team comprising Colonel Garba, Lt. Colonel Yar’Adua and Colonel Ochefu - would be a walk-over.  The same consideration went for Dodan Barracks.  Most of the operations on Lagos island were carried out personally or by units under direction of Yar’Adua, Garba, Abdullahi Mohammed, Ochefu, Muktar Mohammed and Aduloju.  Units under the direction of Taiwo, Bello, Babangida, Buhari, and Tarfa carried out most of the tasks in the AHQ Ops coordinating center and troop/armoured vehicle deployments on the Lagos mainland.  Extra security was provided at the home of Brigadier Murtala Mohammed in Ikoyi. At dawn, a special aircraft would be dispatched from Lagos carrying NAF Colonel Dan Suleiman, NAF Lt. Col. Muktar Mohammed, and Army Colonel Inua Wushishi first to Kano to bring General Hassan Katsina and other Gowon regime personalities back to Lagos from the Polo tournament. Then, subsequently, the same aircraft was to fly around the country to pick up senior military officers from various formations for a planned meeting later that afternoon in Lagos where the new triumvirate was to be anointed by the putschists. 



Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed, who also contacted Brigadier Murtala Mohammed in London to confirm that he would be on the next flight home, formally notified Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo of the putsch.  It would appear that he was a major source of information on events of that night – and perhaps even before then - for the Police Special Branch.  I have concluded so because MD Yusuf recalled that,  

‘That night, one of the plotters told me, 'Look, I'm going to [speak with] Murtala. We are going to ask Murtala to take over. But if he refuses, we are going to ask Obasanjo. And I am going to Obasanjo now to tell him our plans. This was the actual night of the coup after Gowon had gone.‘

  Meanwhile Obasanjo has confirmed that Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed, Director of Military Intelligence, did in fact come to see him at about 10:45 pm. and said,

“Sir, there will be a coup tonight.”

  Obasanjo says he replied,

‘Please endeavour to make it bloodless, disrupt normal life for the public as little as possible and let General Gowon return home after the whole thing has died down, if he so desires.’

But after Abdullahi Mohammed left, a jittery Obasanjo quickly drove to the house of MD Yusuf ostensibly to report the visit of Colonel Mohammed to whom he had just offered ideas on how the coup should be carried out.  He met a small group of federal civil servants there.  It later became apparent to Obasanjo that it was actually MD Yusuf, Gowon’s Chief Security Officer, who gave Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed  - one of the putschists - Obasanjo’s phone number and even described the way to his house!  What is fascinating is that nowhere is it mentioned nor is testimony provided about any effort to urgently contact General Gowon in Kampala to update him on the fast moving events of the night.  What the Special Branch did for the rest of the night was to increase surveillance and reporting activities all over the country.  It is unclear for whom the information was actually being collected. 




Meanwhile Garba and Ochefu returned to Garba’s house to meet Walbe and clarify the purpose of his return to Nigeria.  It was the moment of truth.   According to Elaigwu, Garba formally notified Walbe that ‘he no longer had anything to do with Gowon and that he was not ready to have himself killed because of General Gowon.’ At that point Garba wanted to place Walbe under arrest but was dissuaded from doing so by Ochefu.  Instead Garba told Walbe that he would visit him at his home later.  Walbe, therefore, left and went home.  Once home he called Brigadier Martin Adamu, acting Army Chief of Staff, to report what he had just heard.  Adamu’s reaction was to advise him to call back when Garba showed up. 

However, when Garba showed up just before midnight he was with three Landrover loads of soldiers in full combat outfit.  He walked into Walbe’s home armed and lay his gun down on the carpet.  According to reports, he may have been tipsy, having fired himself up for the night’s operations.  He reminded Walbe of their long years of association together going all the way back to the Nigerian military school (NMS) in the late fifties.  Then, in the presence of Walbe’s spouse, he asked Walbe to abandon Gowon and join the conspiracy. 

Walbe reacted incredulously, accusing Garba of betrayal.  ‘If our friendship goes all the way back to NMS why did you need to bring your weapon into my living room?’ (Other sources claim that Garba had heard an unconfirmed rumor that Walbe had signed for a weapon when he arrived earlier that day from Kampala).  According to Walbe’s testimony to me in December 2002, Walbe then told Garba that the situation ‘was like a man’s wife waiting for him to go into the shower and then with his back turned, fully naked, and the water running she shows up with a gun aimed at him.’  ‘Why’, Walbe asked, ‘did you not try this when we were in town? ‘  Evidently, the conversation was going nowhere, and so Garba left for a rendezvous with Ochefu.  Meanwhile putschists had cut selected telephone lines at midnight and Walbe found that he could no longer get Martin Adamu on the phone.  Shortly thereafter, Garba returned to invite Walbe to the Officers Mess for a purported meeting with Martin Adamu, TY Danjuma, Ochefu and other prominent middle belt officers who allegedly either signed or were not planning to resist the coup.  This confused Walbe because the kind of names that were being dropped were, in his view then, unlikely to be involved but if involved would portend an army-wide exercise.  So he went along for the ride.  On arrival at the Mess, he was detained.  Ochefu was the only officer there. Walbe had been tricked. 



After midnight, with communications effectively under the control of plotters, Colonel Anthony Ochefu and Lt. Col SM Yar’Adua went to the house of the Army Chief of Staff to ask him not only to join the plot but also to agree to announce the coup at dawn.  Their argument was that it would make it look like an institutional take over at Army level.  Adamu refused outright and even went so far as to advise both officers that the coup should be called off and Gowon given another chance.  His name, he said, would definitely not be associated with such a profound announcement for all time. After a long period of unsuccessful haggling – which reports say - were conducted with the Brigadier wearing pyjamas, Ochefu and Yar’Adua, armed and in full combat outfit, left.  Deciding who would be best suited to make the announcement now became an issue. It was certainly quite presumptive for plotters to assume that an officer who was not part of the inner circle of the conspiracy would agree at the last minute to put his name to such a scheme.  Adamu was not the type.  He fully understood the historic implications and potential for stigmatization back home in Plateau from whence he and Gowon (as well as Garba) came.



Eventually, SM Yar’Adua and Garba, supported by Muktar Mohammed, Ochefu, Aduloju and Abdullahi Mohammed jointly decided that an announcement by the Plateau born Brigade of Guards Commander deposing the Plateau born C-in-C would have the same effect as one by the Plateau born Army Chief of Staff.  At about 0400 hours, therefore, the pre-agreed outline of a coup announcement was fine-tuned and Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba went over to Radio Nigeria to deliver it.  Immediately after the announcement came on air at 0600 hours, time-cycled with martial music, Colonel Garba returned to Dodan Barracks (across the road) to gauge reactions among the troops. Many were confused, paralyzed and excited all at the same time, realizing that they were in the center of the action.  Unable to fully comprehend what had just transpired some Angas soldiers – trained to defend General Gowon to the death - even hailed Garba.   In time to come, however, there was a backlash – in February 1976 - and it took the life of General Mohammed. 

Meanwhile, having infiltrated Radio Nigeria without resistance from familiar soldiers on guard, a defensive sub-team was left behind.  Among the soldiers in the small unit left behind was then 2/Lt. (later Major) Garba Ismaila who had only just been personally chosen by Colonel Garba from an NDA passing-out-parade for service in the Brigade a month before. 




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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.