Retelling SHS Stories: Nigeria’s First Coup d’Etat Results in Martial Law

On this very same day in 1966…

Shortridge Daily Echo — Friday, February 9th, 1966

Nigeria’s First Coup d’Etat Results in Martial Law

By: Lila Reese Osili

The week of January 10, 1966, had been an eventful and historic one. The heads of all of the commonwealth countries had met, for the first time, outside of the United Kingdom. The venue was Lagos, Nigeria. The Nigerian Prime Minister had called the conference to discuss possible sanctions and actions to be taken against Rhodesia which had recently declared unilateral independence.

It was considered a successful conference and Nigeria was being proclaimed as forthright for taking the initiative to seek means to bring Rhodesia’s declaration of independence to an end. But Nigeria’s “house was not in order” because three days after the close of the conference which had been presided over by Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of England, Nigeria had its first coup d’etat.

Power Failure Warns of Trouble

Friday night, January 15, 1966, was just like any other evening — warm, quiet and serene. The only thing of note which happened during the night was the air conditioner which went off, due, we thought, to a power failure which frequently happened. This failure of power lasted long after breakfast time. The Saturday morning traffic was as heavy as usual as Saturday is a half-day workday. On the way to work, it was noticed that soldiers were surrounding the radio station and the House of Representatives which was to discuss the decisions taken at the conference.

Martial Law Result of Coup

As my mother went to work at State House, she noticed for the first time that the gates of State House were closed and locked. The police officer standing on duty there responded to the car horn and opened the gates. Inside State House on the office block, the atmosphere was quiet as usual. The telephones were dead.

The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was out of the country for health reasons.

The 8:00 news did not come on and about 10:00 the radio began to play only music. Suspicion took a strong grip when we heard that a coup had taken place the night before. Rumors were spreading throughout the office block that the military had taken over. People were still driving through the streets completely oblivious to the fact that we were under martial law and that a successful coup had been staged.

Curfew Order Issued to People

After lunch, the radio announced that we were under the rule of a military government and that all citizens and aliens were under martial law and should remain at home and “CALM” and that the Prime Minister and Federal Minister of Finance has been kidnaped. A curfew order was issued that all people were to remain indoors after dark. We were fortunate in that we had done our shopping for food on the day before and had enough in the house to last for two weeks. Airplanes and helicopters were flying low over Lagos which caused even more panic.

The churches were poorly attended on Sunday and cars were practically nonexistent on the streets. Doors were bolted as orders were given by my father that only he would answer the ring of the doorbell. Panic was everywhere.

Military Order Issued by Radio

The radio throughout the day played only music with periodic interruptions to say that an important announcement would come at any time. The announcement was made at 1:00 a.m. Monday that the military government was now in charge of the government and people could go about their normal business. The supreme commander had been selected, the major-general of the army. All meetings and public gatherings were to be cancelled until further notice. Schools and government offices were to remain open with full staff. The curfew was to last until further instructions.

Funeral Held For Officials

The whereabouts of the Prime Minister of Finance were to remain unknown until Friday, January 22, 1966, when the “we regret to announce” announcement came over the air, that their bodies had been found. The next day the Prime Minister, a Moslem, was buried with full honors in his home town. Funeral music was played throughout the day and the flags were flown at half mast. The Federal Minister of Finance was given a private funeral, the time and place of which were not announced publicly.

The army takeover was proclaimed throughout the country as the “right thing” and people soon became relaxed as they expected better things from the military. The expected things occurred but not as expected. Unprecedented horrors were yet to come.


This story is a part of the series Retelling SHS Stories produced by the Shortridge Archives. The Shortridge Archives meets on alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays weekly. For more information email Mr. Durrett at Stay tuned for more stories like this one!