The Nigerian coups d'etat of 1966 and 1983 : failure of legitimacy and nation building

Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


International Studies

First Advisor's Name

Stephen M. Fjellman

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Susan E. Waltz

Third Advisor's Name

Anthony P. Maingot

Date of Defense



In 1966 Nigeria joined the extended list of nations where the military through the coup d'etat substituted themselves and their policies in place of civilian regimes. This thesis deals with the problem of the coup d'etat in that nation with a specific focus on the coups of 1966 and 1983. The major emphasis centers on factors that are significant in the occurrence of the coup d'etat.

Nigeria presents an interesting case study because at the time of independence it was not expected to be plagued by the specter of unstable civil-military relations that was rampant in other parts of Africa and Latin America. This study thus, set out to analyze societal conditions to attain valid reasons why the constitutional government had been so easily displaced by the military.

This study hypothesizes that the failure of political elites to acquire confidence and support for societal institutions significantly enhanced the atmosphere that was conducive to the coup d'etat. This approach pays specific attention to societal conditions such as, weak institutions and elite inefficiency to make its case.

This study describes the failure of the elites to rally mass support for societal institutions as the critical variable in the occurrence of the coup d’état.

It is my genuine hope that this study will contribute to the debate on the coup d’état by adding the concept of internal dynamics to the institutional theories. In this regard, this study hopes to determine to what extent internal societal conditions are relevant in the occurrence of the coup d’état.



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