Have you for once been asked; who was the first military head of state in Nigeria and promised that a prize will be given for accurate answer?
From migration to settlement, living under rulers to slave trade, colonization to independence, first coup which brought about the first military head of state in Nigeria and subsequent coups in the military regime, to the dawn of civilian rule, democracy as many would call it, we, presently, still bask in.
Yes, just as every family has their story and tradition, states also have theirs; so do not find it surprising that Nigeria, my country, our country, has its history. In short you should be questioning why it would not have sef.
Not quite long, we wrote about the system of Nigerian government where I explained more about the 3 tiers of government in Nigeria, you should check that out too.
Tales of The First Military Head of State In Nigeria
Tales told by those who saw it all happen, heard the announcements including that of the first military head of state in Nigeria; lived in the fear and freedom of the moment and records kept in office has kept citizens of Nigeria informed of the history of their country.
Nigeria, a name invented by Flora Louise Shaw, gained her independence on the 1st of October, 1960. This independence was not given but gotten.
Thanks to the two major political parties then, Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and Nigerian Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), they induced the movement.
[Tweet “Hmm, Independence wasn’t given but gotten“]
Despite gaining “freedom”, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom stayed as the head of state only in name and was referred to as Queen of Nigeria.
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Who Was the First Nigerian Military Head of State General?
In the history of Nigeria, military leaders have come and gone. Today I wonder why our current affairs teacher never asked us who was the first military head of state in Nigeria?
Possibly we were asked but skipped the question as we did not know so it never stuck in the brain…who stored failures in the head as a kid?
“…a brave father” his son called him.
“…the first military head of state in Nigeria” history referred him.
“…an excellent soldier and great patriot” Hajia Aisha Muhammadu Buhari described him.
“…a citizen of Nigeria and a soldier” Aurora Maikudi noted him of.
There are different answers from different people, from different backgrounds, and ofcourse with different knowledge. Let history answer this question in great detail.
Unto Mazi Ezeugo Aguiyi was a child, the future first military head of state in Nigeria, born on the 3rd day of the third month in the year 1924 in Umuahia-Ibeku, Abia State. His name was Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi.
8 years later, due to unknown reasons till date, Thomas went to live with Anyamma, his elder sister. Anyamma was married to Theophilus Johnson as at this time.
Thomas developed a bond with his brother-in-law and soon saw him as a father figure. It was no wonder he tactfully took the name Johnson to be his first name.
10 years did nothing to tame a brave decisive Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, he joined the Nigerian army against his sister pleas…like say he don see future say he go be the first military head of state in Nigeria…lol.
At the age of 22, he was no longer called a private but a company sergeant major of the Nigerian army. Learn more about the Nigerian army ranks and salary.
At the age of 25 years, he was the second lieutenant of Royal West African Frontier Force. He became a captain in the year 1953. At age 31, he was known as Major Johnson .T. Aguiyi-Ironsi.
Five years later, a private of the 7th battalion who had risen in ranks over the years since he joined became the commandant of the 5th battalion having the rank of lieutenant colonel in Kano. The following two years saw him promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.
In 1965, he was referred to as Major-General Johnson .T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi. In the same year 1965, he succeeded Major-General Welby-Everard and became the General Officer Commanding of the whole Nigerian Army at the age of 41 years.
Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi became the first military head of state in Nigeria on the 17th of January, 1966. Little did we know that as we saw him rise quickly so would we see him fall so fast without warning. Life sha..
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4 months and 14 days after the first military head of state in Nigeria 42nd birthday, his remains were reported to have been found in a forest in Ibadan.
Reports tell of how the first military head of state in Nigeria was brutally murdered by some northern army officers.
Major-General Johnson T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi was the first military head of state in Nigeria for 194 days. Isn’t that hmm, what do I call it?
Also Read: Nigerian Government Structure Since 1960
How Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi Became First Military Head Of State In Nigeria
Britain colonised Nigeria but history has it that after World War II, Nigeria was moved in the direction of self government.
The Nigerian government that ruled upon independence was said to be a merge of the political parties that were made up of distinct religions and tribes.
Before the coup that begot the first military head of state in Nigeria, the late Prime Minister, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa presided over an all Nigerian executive council (…we call it National Assembly now).
There are bound to be flaws in everything but some certain set of people could not sit out what they claimed was happening at the time.
They had claimed those ruling Nigeria as at that time were corrupt (…it seems Nigeria seem to have made covenant with corruption, hmm…I did not say anything o).
Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna could not tolerate it any longer and decided to handle things the way they knew how to.
Courtesy of a group of a Nigerian soldiers led by these majors, January 15th, 1996 was a bloody day as Prime Minister, late Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and some senior politicians and army officers including their wives were murdered.
In the midst of the chaos; the acting president, Nwafor Orizu, under no coercion, transferred power to the Nigerian army following the cabinet’s decision.
Major-General Johnson T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi, who was the general commanding officer of the whole Nigerian army, intervened. He apprehended Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and the other rebels.
17th of January, 1996. congratulated Major-General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi as the first military head of state in Nigeria.
Who Was the First Executive President of Nigeria?
So you have once asked “who is the first president of Nigeria”, isn’t it? Then, the famous current affairs question was who the first president of Nigeria was?
Later as we grew up there was distinguishing between the same question; the first executive president of Nigeria and the first civilian president of Nigeria.
Oh my! The answers to these questions do bring up arguments between us then. Do you remember those times back in school?
The first executive president was elected after years of military rule that began with a coup that begat the first military head of state in Nigeria. He is said to be the first civilian president having executive powers at full level.
On the 25th of February, 1925 in Shagari village, Sokoto state, Hajia Mariamu gave birth to a bouncing baby boy for Mr. Aliyu. This baby was named Shehu, the 6th child in a polygamous family.
Five years later, Shehu became fatherless. This did not deter him from treading on the illuminating path of education. He got involved in politics in the year 1951 and started a teaching career in 1953.
It would seem getting involved in politics was actually the right path as history has him on record as the first executive president of Nigeria…not relating to teaching, right?
It is also in record that he occupied seven important public positions between the years 1958 – 1971.
Today Shehu Shagari is 93 years old and is still described as “a statesman of uncommon pedigree” by northern states governors.
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Who Was The First Civilian President of Nigeria
Although history marks October 1st, 1960 as Independence Day for Nigeria, she was chained and unchained two more times. It is not surprising we have varying answers concerning the above question.
I cannot just tell who the first civilian president of Nigeria was as this would also put me in the list of those confusing you about the answer to this question but I can tell you the three “first civilian president of Nigeria”.
Gaining independence, we were free from the shackles of our colonial masters. We became a republic three years later and could have a president. The president as at this time was no other than Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
He was a civilian and was occupying the seat of president, the first of its kind in the republic of Nigeria.
Suffice to say Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was the first civilian president of Nigeria, the first president of Nigeria.
16th of November, 1904 welcomed a crying baby to the world, into the arms of Rachel Chinwe Azikiwe and Obed-Edom Chukwuemeka Azikiwe in the land of Zungeru, Niger state. This child was named Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Nnamdi upbringing in different regions of Nigeria aided his fluency in the three major ethnic languages, his education saw to his fluency in the official language, English.
At the age of 30, Nnamdi had bagged two masters degree in religion and anthropology from two different universities.
Upon his return to Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe started a newspaper company called the Zik Group of Newspaper in 1937.
He was also active in politics. He used his newspaper company as a tool to pursue his political ambitions too. He was well known but seemed to be turned down on some important offers.
Reports told of an allegation of assassination plot against Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, this allegation was made public and used to stimulate compassion for him.
This favoured business as more people bought his newspapers to read about him thereby increasing his popularity alongside.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was an entrepreneur, an activist and is said to be regarded as “the father of Nigerian nationalism”. 47 days after independence, the governor – general’s position was occupied by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe.
Three years after independence, Nigeria became a republic and took scissors to what was left of the rope tying them to the British.
Now the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the governor – general seat was renamed ‘president’. Now, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe was no longer referred to as Governor-General Nnamdi Azikwe but President Nnamdi Azikwe, although his role as a president was more ceremonial.
“My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life’s work is done. My country is now free and I have been honored to be its first indigenous head of state. What more could one desire in life?” – talking about Nigeria’s independence on 1st of October 1960. Reference: Wikipedia.
In the year 1972, former president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe became a chancellor at UNILAG. The former president, which was succeeded by the first military head of state, was a chancellor of University of Lagos for 4 years.
After failed attempts to become the president of Nigeria again, he gave up on politics after another military coup that happened in the year 1983.
11th May, 1996 mourned how a prolonged illness dealt its last blow of death on the first president of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in Enugu.
Things did not turn out to be as they say in fairy tales; a coup lead to the emergence of the first military head of state followed by counter coups that birthed other military heads of state in Nigeria.
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Tales of Nigeria Head of Government Continues
Nigeria was under military rule, starting from when the country was presided over by the first military head of state until the year 1979, when General Olusegun Obasanjo amicably handed over power to an elected president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Alhaji Shehu Shagari was sworn in as the first president of this civilian rule on October 1st, 1979. Suffice to say, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the first civilian president of Nigeria.
Little did we know this freedom was to last for a short duration of time. Again, the motive behind first coup that brought about the military rule, and the first military head of state in Nigeria, reared its head again.
The federal government was accused of corruption plus the hardships faced during that period made the president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, lose the people’s support.
31st of December, 1983 saw Nigeria under military rule following a non-violent overthrow of the civilian president in Nigeria, led by Major-General Buhari Muhammadu and Major-General Ibrahim Babaginda.
And then there was a ray of sunshine when General Abdulsalami Abubakar promised a change, a change that was opposite the military rule from the time of the first military head of state.
After 16 years of military rule, a new book was opened for Nigeria, elections were held and a winner was produced. Read more about Military rule in Nigeria in this post.
May 29th of 1999 popped champagnes in celebration of the winner of the presidential election, President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Suffice to say, Chief Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo was the first civilian president of Nigeria.
Son of Mr. Amos Adigun Obasanjo Bankole and abiamo Ashabi was born on the 5th of May, 1937 in Abeokuta.
Despite all odds, he became somebody.
He became motherless at the age of 21 and joined the Nigerian Army. The following year saw him celebrating his birthday as a second lieutenant of the Nigerian Army and also mourning the death of his father.
Three years later, he became a captain and in the year 1965, a Major. Year 1967 did not pass him by; he had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
He was promoted over the following years and by the year 1972, he was known as Brigadier-General Olusegun Obasanjo.
The year 1976 held much more celebration for him as he was chosen as the head of state, not the first military head of state in Nigeria, by the Supreme Military Council.
He was also another unique person that attains extraordinary feats. He became a civilian on the 1st of October, 1979 when he resigned from the Nigerian Army and handed over to civilian rule.
At last, the mission his predecessor, General Murtala Muhammed (the man whose picture is on the twenty naira note), started had been completed.
Nigeria, once again, gained independence, but this time, from local colonization.
During the second local colonization, military rule, he was arrested on the 13th of March, 1995 by General Sani Abacha and released on the 8th of June, 1998.
After confined within the walls of prison for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days; he became the first civilian president in Nigeria on the 29th of May, 1999.
Suffice to say, the first civilian president in Nigeria is Chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo. Till date, may 29th is celebrated as democracy day in Nigeria. The 81 years old chief is one of the powerful men in Nigeria.
List of All Nigerian Presidents
I’m sure at this point you’ll want to know all the names of Nigerian presidents from 1960 till date isn’t it? Please read the full gist here: all Presidents in Nigeria from 1960 with pictures
Military Rule in Nigeria Since 1960, Quick List of the Military Presidents That Ruled Nigeria
- Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi (January 16, 1966 – July 29, 1966)
- General Yakubu Gowon (August 2, 1966 – July 29, 1975)
- General Murtala Mohammed (July 29, 1975 – February 13, 1976)
- General Olusegun Obasanjo (February 14, 1976 – September 30, 1979)
- Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (December 31, 1983 – August 27, 1985)
- General Ibrahim Babangida (August 27, 1985 – August 26, 1993)
- General Sani Abacha (November 16, 1993 – June 8, 1998)
- General Abdulsalami Abubakar (June 9, 1998 – May 29, 1999)
There’s more in that list of all Nigerian presidents above. You’ll find in depth information about their background, how they rose to power, what they did and more.
Who Was The First Military Head of State in Nigeria (Summary)
And there you have it, the wonderful history that answers the question ‘who was the first military head of state in Nigeria.
The first national anthem seemed to have been taken more seriously in the past especially by our heroes. But the first military head of state did not sing “…though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand…” just for singing sake.
He took these words to heart and acted accordingly when he apprehended his fellow Igbo brothers that carried out the first coup that have been blamed to have cut down a promising Nigeria.
“…the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain…” The first military head of state in Nigeria was not the only hero we had, history tells of others although we might not remember them as often as we ought to.
Also, Nigeria might not be where they had died for it to be, we have not forgotten them, history has not and can never forget them and our generation will definitely not forget them.