First period of military rule in Nigeria
On 15 January 1966 a group of army officers (the Young Majors) mostly south-eastern Igbos, overthrew the NPC-NNDP government and assassinated the prime minister and the premiers of the northern and western regions. However the bloody nature of the Young Majors coup caused another coup to be carried out by General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. The Young Majors went into hiding. Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna fled to Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana where he was welcomed as a hero. Some of the Young Majors were arrested and detained by the Ironsi government. Among the Igbo people of the Eastern Region, these detainees were heroes. In the Northern Region, however, the Hausa and Fulani people demanded that the detainees be placed on trial for murder.
The federal military government that assumed power under General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was unable to quiet ethnic tensions on issue or other issues. Additionally, the Ironsi government was unable to produce a constitution acceptable to all sections of the country. Most fateful for the Ironsi government was the decision to issue Decree No. 34 which sought to unify the nation. Decree No. 34 sought to do away with the whole federal structure under which the Nigerian government had been organized since independence. Rioting broke out in the North.[The Ironsi government's efforts to abolish the federal structure and the renaming the country the Republic of Nigeria on 24 May 1966 raised tensions and led to another coup by largely northern officers in July 1966, which established the leadership of Major General Yakubu Gowon.The name Federal Republic of Nigeria was restored on 31 August 1966. However, the subsequent massacre of thousands of Ibo in the north prompted hundreds of thousands of them to return to the south-east where increasingly strong Igbo secessionist sentiment emerged. In a move towards greater autonomy to minority ethnic groups the military divided the four regions into 12 states. However the Igbo rejected attempts at constitutional revisions and insisted on full autonomy for the east.
The Central Intelligence Agency commented in October 1966 in an CIA Intelligence Memorandum that:
"Africa's most populous country (population estimated at 48 million) is in the throes of a highly complex internal crisis rooted in its artificial origin as a British dependency containing over 250 diverse and often antagonistic tribal groups. The present crisis started" with Nigerian independence in 1960, but the federated parliament hid "serious internal strains. It has been in an acute stage since last January when a military coup d'état destroyed the constitutional regime bequeathed by the British and upset the underlying tribal and regional power relationships. At stake now are the most fundamental questions which can be raised about a country, beginning with whether it will survive as a single viable entity.
The situation is uncertain, with Nigeria, ..is sliding downhill faster and faster, with less and less chance unity and stability. Unless present army leaders and contending tribal elements soon reach agreement on a new basis for association and take some effective measures to halt a seriously deteriorating security situation, there will be increasing internal turmoil, possibly including civil war.
On 29 May 1967, Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, the military governor of the eastern region who emerged as the leader of increasing Igbo secessionist sentiment, declared the independence of the eastern region as the Republic of Biafra on 30 May 1967. The ensuing Nigerian Civil War resulted in an estimated 3.5 million deaths (mostly from starving children) before the war ended with Gowon's famous "No victor, no vanquished" speech in 1970.
Following the civil war the country turned to the task of economic development. The U.S. intelligence community concluded in November 1970 that "...The Nigerian Civil War ended with relatively little rancor. The Igbos were accepted as fellow citizens in many parts of Nigeria, but not in some areas of former Biafra where they were once dominant. Iboland is an overpopulated, economically depressed area where massive unemployment is likely to continue for many years. View pictures in App save up to 80% data.
The U.S. analysts said that "...Nigeria is still very much a tribal society..." where local and tribal alliances count more than "national attachment. General Yakubu Gowon, head of the Federal Military Government (FMG) is the accepted national leader and his popularity has grown since the end of the war. The FMG is neither very efficient nor dynamic, but the recent announcement that it intends to retain power for six more years has generated little opposition so far. The Nigerian Army, vastly expanded during the war, is both the main support to the FMG and the chief threat to it. The troops are poorly trained and disciplined and some of the officers are turning to conspiracies and plotting. We think Gowon will have great difficulty in staying in office through the period which he said is necessary before the turnover of power to civilians. His sudden removal would dim the prospects for Nigerian stability."
"Nigeria's economy came through the war in better shape than expected." Problems exist with inflation, internal debt, and a huge military budget, competing with popular demands for government services. "The petroleum industry is expanding faster than expected and oil revenues will help defray military and social service expenditures... "Nigeria emerged from the war with a heightened sense of national pride mixed with anti-foreign sentiment, and an intention to play a larger role in African and world affairs." British cultural influence is strong but its political influence is declining. The Soviet Union benefits from Nigerian appreciation of its help during the war, but is not trying for control. Nigerian relations with the US, cool during the war, are improving, but France may be seen as the future patron. "Nigeria is likely to take a more active role in funding liberation movements in southern Africa." Lagos, however, is not perceived as the "spiritual and bureaucratic capital of Africa"; Addis Ababa has that role...."
Foreign exchange earnings and government revenues increased spectacularly with the oil price rises of 1973-74. On July 29, 1975 Gen. Murtala Mohammed and a group of officers staged a bloodless coup, accusing Gen. Yakubu Gowon of corruption and delaying the promised return to civilian rule. General Mohammed replaced thousands of civil servants and announced a timetable for the resumption of civilian rule by 1 October 1979. He was assassinated on 13 February 1976 in an abortive coup and his chief of staff Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo became head of state.