U.S. Diplomatic cable to Washington after the assassination of General Muritala Muhammed Feb 13 1976

Summary: situation in Nigeria returning to normal. Yesterday’s coup attempt has seemingly been foiled but there has as yet been no rpt no announcement of fate head of state or other members of ruling supreme military council (smc). If muhammed is indeed dead, delay in announcement may reflect difficulty in selecting successor. Smc has been meeting since yesterday according to nigerian radio and is to make announcement soon. Rumor that usg or cia had hand in coup is making rounds in ibadan and lagos, perhaps partially attributable to u.s. nigerian differences on angola and external affairs commissioner statement on return warning nigerians to be security conscious and on guard against saboteurs and detractors of nigerian foreign policy.


1. Situation: coup attempt has apparently been foiled. Traffic almost back to normal for a saturday morning in lagos and radio nigeria resumed normal news broadcasting at about 1000 hours local. Radio reports that coup led by lt. Col. Dimka crushed and that smc meeting going on at this time would result in statement to nation. Reports reaching embassy today indicate that local tv stations in benin and elsewhere outside of lagos and ibadan were broadcasting statements of support for government yesterday along lines of radio dakuna (kaduna 179). Only Ibadan radio appears to have been in hands of dimka supporters.

2. Coup plotters apparently were successful only in seizing temporary control NBC in Lagos and in assassinating general Muhammed. Phone and telex communications between lagos and rest of country were not interrupted which left forces loyal to Muhammed regime able to communicate with each other and organize counter coup. As department aware, external telecommunications also remained operative.

3. However, airports and borders remain closed to international traffic as of this time night curfew has not rpt not bee called off, and department’s warning to travelers still appropriate.

4. Smc meeting: nigeria’s ruling smc continues meeting according reports we receiving. There has been no rpt no statement about fate of muhammed or other members fmg. In fact, there has been no rpt no statment from fmg except variations of one which reported that coup attempt had been crushed (lagos 1869).

If the reports that muhammed has been killed are correct (and we at this point accept that they are), delay in making further statement probably reflects inability of smc agree on successor as head of state. Obasanjo, as yoruba and widely alleged to have been lining his pockets, probably unacceptable to some on smc and within army despite his position as number two in fmg power structure. Danjuma, who would stand third in line, may not enjoy support among full military hiearchy’s result his moves to demobilize army and the purge of army officers which he directed. He has also come out hard against “cults” and “secret organizations” in army which probably rubbed members those nigerian organizations wrong way. There is possibility that commissioner defence bisallia could be compromise candidate.

5. As matter of pure speculation, it may be that dimka forces were able seize a couple of important hostages yesterday and delay in making additional statement reflects ongoing negotiations for their release. It could also be that some of those implicated in the plot are still being rounded up, and fmg awaiting word that all is tidy before making public announcement of new lineup.

6. Rumors of cia and u.s. involvement: ibadan has reported that rumors flying there that cia was behind yesterday’s coup attempt. Storgy that americans were behind coup making rounds in lagos yesterday also. These stories may be related to publicized differences between u.s. and nigeria over angola and partially attributable to external affairs commissioner garba’s statement on his return from u.s. when he warned nigerians to be security conscious and on guard against saboteurs and detractors of nigeria’s new “revolutionary” foreign policy (lagos 1773).

Have received phone report from ibadan that university students demonstrated against u.s. at consulate this morning. Ibadan reports there were no rpt no personnel in consulate offices and that requested police protection was on scene. At moment it is raining in lagos which should temporarily at least dampen any similar demonstration here if one is being contemplated. We are in touch with local police headquarters in case need for protection should arise. Kaduna consulate reports all quiet.


US diplomatic cables

At 1225 hours local supreme military council announced “tragic death” of former head of state general murtala muhammed.

Statement said he was assassinated yesterday morning by lt. Col. Dimka and small band of dissident officers who now under arrest. Muhammed funeral is scheduled for today in kano. Seven days of national mourning have been decreed; all flags to be flown at half-mast.

2. Sum further announced that lt. General o. Obasanjo had been unanimously chosen by smc as new head of federal military government and commander in chief of nigerian armed forces. Former commissioner transport lt. Col. Yar a’dua has been named new chief of staff supreme headquarters and promoted to brigadier.

3. Obasanjo to make nationwide braodcast this evening at 2100 hours local.

4. Recommend that department consider sending presidential message of condolence to new head of state. In view fmg’s reaction to “unsigned “presidential communication over angolan policy (african heads of state send personal emmisaries to deliver signed letters) suggest signed original be delivered to nigerian embassy in washington and commercial cable be sent directly to fmg, dodan barracks, lagos, with info copy to embassy. Easum

1976 February 14, 21:40 (Saturday)

Lt General O. Obasanj Is new Head Of Military Government And Commander In Chief Of Nigerian Armed Forces

In Nationwide Radio And Tv Broadcast This Evening At 2100 Hrs Local Promised A Continuation Of The Policies Of His Predecessor.

2. In Short Effective Speech, He Gave Details Of The Death Of Gen Mohammed, His Aide, Orderly And Driver. He Also Revealed The Death Of The Governor Of Kwara State Col. Ibriham Taiwo Whose Body Was Found In Grave Near Ilorin. A Third Casualty Was A Col. Dimudja Killeosin Another Area Of Lagos.

3. Obasanjo Announced There Had Been Many Arrests And The Fmg Had Established A Military Board Of Inquiry To Conduct A Full Scale Investigation. Calling On People Not To Take Law Into Own Hands He Promised Justice Would Be Done And That Fmg Had Made Firm Decision To Summarily Deal In military Way With Those Found Guilty.

4. Called On “Against My Personal Wishes And Desires” To Serve As Head Of State He Promised That All Policies Of Fmg Would Continue As Before, “We Are Strongly Committed To All That We Have Been Doing”.

5. The Situation Was Under Control He Said Because Of The Loyalty Of The Armed Forces And Police; He Had Received Public Support From All Parts Of The Country. Friday, Feb 20, Would Be Public Holiday And A Day Of Public Mourning For The Late Head Of State. He Finished By Appealing For Calm And Asking The Public to Avoid Any Action That Would Lead To A Breach Of The Peace. He Called For Eternal Vigilance To Preserve The Stability Of The Nation.

6. Comment:

Given The Fact That He Did Not Mention A Lifting Of The Dusk To Dawn Curfew, It Is Assumed That It Continues And Frontiers Remain Closed And International Flights Suspended.


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