Flashback: How Gen Garba Saved Gowon

Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd).


Seven different administrations have been toppled in Nigeria since from 1960.

This writeup revisits the 1975 coup that ousted General Yakubu Gowon from power. This article will discuss about one of the principal actors of the bloodless coup.

His name is Major General Joseph Nanven Garba (late). He was born in Langtang, Plateau State in in 1943. He was a retired Military and Civilian diplomat.

This 1975 coup came with three unforgettable things:

Firstly, It was the first bloodless coup in the country: The previous coups that occured in the country were bloody. The coup of January, 15 1966, was the bloodiest in the history of Nigeria. Many top Political and Military officers were killed. Among them were, Sir Abubakar Tabawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello (Sardunan Sokoto), Chief Samuel Akintola, Brigadier General Zakariya’u Maimalari, to mention just a few. While the July, 31, 1966 coup was also bloody. The coup resulted in the killing of General Aguiyi Ironsi.

Secondly: It was the first coup that Northerners spearheaded against a Northerner: General Gowon was from a North central State; he is a Northerner by virtue. Seeing Northerners on the frontline during the conduct of the coup was something to wonder.

It was the first coup to happened without the Head of State being around: The coup happened when General Gowon was outside the country. It was reported that General Gowon was in Kampala, Uganda, for a summit when the coup happened.

As some one who came from the same State with Gowon, Colonel Garba was reported to be among the forefront Army officers who were in good terms with the Head of States. After some junior Military officers felt with Gowon’s regime, Garba was approached by them for a way out. He was a major player in the designed of the coup. Since he knew everything about the Head of States and the proper time for the coup. He ensured that the coup is conducted when the President is out of the country. That was exactly what happened.

On July, 29 1975, General Gowon was outside the shores of Nigeria. He was in Kampala, Uganda, for an OAU summit when the coup happened.

Nigerians woke-up to hear Colonel Joseph Garba on air, announcing the ousting of General Yakubu Gowon from power.

“Fellow countrymen and women, I, Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba, in consultation with my colleagues, do hereby declare that in view of what has been happening in our country in the past few months, the Nigerian Armed Forces decided to effect a change of the leadership of the Federal Military Government. As from now, General Yakubu Gowon ceases to be head of the Federal Military Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. The general public is advised to be calm and to go about their lawful duties”.

After the coup, Colonel Murtala Muhammed, later General, was made the Head of States and Commander in Chief. Colonel Garba, later Major General was appointed as Federal Minister of External Affairs.


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