Causes of the 1975 Military Coup d’état in Nigeria

Several factors contributed to the discontent that led to the overthrow of Gowon's government and the assumption of power by junior officers.


On July 29, 1975, a bloodless coup was staged in Nigeria by a group of military officers, led by Brigadier Murtala Ramat Mohammed and Lieutenant Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo. They were part of the younger generation of military officers who were discontent with the state of affairs under the military government of Yakubu Gowon.

General Yakubu Gowon

The 1975 coup ousted the military administration led by General Yakubu Gowon. Gowon had been in power since 1966 and had overseen Nigeria through its calamitous civil war. However, his government faced criticism for issues such as corruption and slow progress towards civilian rule.


After the successful coup, Brigadier Murtala Ramat Mohammed emerged as the Head of State, while Lieutenant Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo became his deputy. The new military government embarked on a program to address corruption, reform the public service, and plan for a return to civilian rule. It held power until 1979 when a return to civilian rule was initiated.

General Murtala Ramat Mohammed
General Olusegun Obasanjo

Causes of the 1975 Military Coup d’état

The 1975 military coup d’état in Nigeria marked a significant turning point in the country’s political history. Several factors contributed to the discontent that led to the overthrow of Gowon’s government and the assumption of power by junior officers. The causes of the coup can be attributed to various political, economic, and governance-related issues. Below are the main causes of the 1975 military coup d’état in Nigeria:

  1. Corruption: Rampant corruption within the government and among government officials and contractors created a climate of distrust and dissatisfaction among the public. The perception of widespread corruption eroded confidence in the Gowon’s government’s ability to address the country’s challenges effectively.
  2. Controversial Population Census: The government’s handling of the 1973 population census was marred by controversy and lack of transparency. The announcement of provisional figures, without a definite and widely accepted final figure, raised suspicions and fueled discontent. The 1973 Census which was conducted between November 25 and December 2 was cancelled on the grounds of falsification that marred the census figures.
  3. Change in Proposed Date for Return to Civil Rule: The government’s indecision and delays in announcing a clear timeline for the return to civilian rule created uncertainty and contributed to public frustration.
  4. Scarcity of Essential Commodities: Port congestion and mismanagement of trade logistics led to shortages of essential commodities in the country. The scarcity of goods negatively impacted the quality of life for many Nigerians.
  5. Indecision on Major Policies: The government’s indecisiveness on crucial policies, such as the redeployment of governors and permanent secretaries, further weakened public confidence in its ability to govern effectively.
  6. Disregard for Public Opinion: The government’s disregard for public opinion on important national issues, such as the creation of more states, alienated large segments of the population.
  7. Disillusionment Among the Armed Forces: Dissatisfaction and disillusionment among members of the armed forces regarding the government’s handling of national affairs played a crucial role in the military’s decision to intervene.
  8. Mismanagement of Public Funds: Allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds by government officials contributed to the public’s discontent and loss of confidence in the Gowon’s administration.
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