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Independence Day Celebrations Of The 1970s And 1980s (Videos And Memories)

Independence Day celebrations of the 1970s and 1980s (Videos and Memories).

Decorations, horses and fighter planes
Usually, almost a week before October 1st, there would be flags and buntings on Awolowo Road all the way to Tafawa Balewa Square and on the other side of the neighbourhood, there would also be flags, balloons and buntings from Obalende Road, through Moloney Street and then to Catholic Mission Street (beside Tafawa Balewa Square).

I was always torn between going outside to see whether the mounted police escorted the president all the way from Ribadu Road to Tafawa Balewa Square or watching the arrival sequence on TV. I always ended up watching it on TV. I was never quite sure if the mounted police escorted the president all the way from their barracks on Ribadu Road or whether, as a soldier on parade told me, they only escorted him from outside the arena into the arena.

My Favourite part of the parade began from the 21 gun salute onwards. I would usually go and stand in the doorway and I’d usually hear the explosion from the artillery guns on TV first and then in real life. It took longer for the sound to travel directly to me than it did for me to hear it on TV. Then, immediately after the gun salute, I’d see the fighter jets on TV and I’d go outside to see two fighter jets and two attack helicopters flying over Five Cowrie Creek. There’s usually green and white smoke trailing the jets. Someone told me that they used to threw toys from the helicopters once upon a time, but I don’t know if that’s true.

I also loved watching the various armoured vehicles as they rolled past. There was a particular year that I felt sorry for President Shagari. I was wondering how he was able to stand at the saluting dais for such a long time. Almost at the same time, my mum asked how the president was able to cope with the noise from all the armoured vehicles that were going past.

Taiwo Obileye and Dame Julie Coker
My favourite Independence Day commentators on the NTA were Taiwo Obileye and Julie Coker.

Taiwo Obileye was absolutely wonderful. He would tell you the name of the parade commander and the name of the parade commander’s horse. He would also tell you the number of times that the horse has taken part in these kind of parade and explain that that’s why the horse was still when the 21 gun salute was fired and when the armoured vehicles and fighter jets went past. Taiwo Obileye’s diction was absolutely flawless and it was a joy to listen to him.

I was in love with Julie Coker and so I watched anything that she presented. She was a perfect professional.

Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki

I remembered Taiwo Obileye during one of the Independence Day parades in the early 2000s. That’s because the parade commander’s horse nearly threw him off and bolted when the 21 gun salute was being fired. The horse was frightened. Then the NTA showed Obasanjo and Mbeki and they were both laughing at the parade commander. I wonder why they didn’t use a horse that had experienced that kind of frightening noise before. None of the horses in the 1970s and ‘80s panicked like that.

The crazy people
It was also quite interesting to see the various schools that were marching past. C1982 (or was it 1981) a particular group of crazy students (who shall not be named) displayed a particular brand of madness while they were right in front of President Shagari. Schools usually try to put on a unique display when they get in front of the president, but that one was just insane (and you won’t believe the things they told me afterwards).

Nigeria is 25!
President Babangida usually staged a “Command Performance” on the night before Independence Day (September 30th). This was usually a dinner at which the major entertainment acts in Nigeria at the time would perform. I remember that the cast of the New Masquerade performed a couple of times, as did the cast of Samanja (it was said that Samanja was General Babangida’s favourite TV show).

A lot of activities were lined up for Nigeria’s 25th anniversary celebrations in 1985. Famous singer, Bongos Ikue, wrote the lyrics of a television jingle. It went

♪Nigeria is 25
The odds we did survive
Arise salute the nation
Come join the celebration
A people united will never fall
Nigeria is 25!
Nigeria is 25!
Nigeria is 25! ♫

* = forgotten lyrics.

President Babangida wanted the most famous comedian in Nigeria at that time, John Chukwu, to host the command performance, but JC had gone to his village on holiday, so President Babangida had to send the presidential jet to pick him up and bring him to Lagos.

I remember that the NTA showed a (pre=recorded) variety show that morning and there were lots of stars on the show. I remember that Veno Marioghae was on the show as well as Samanja. I remember it because all the guests were made to sing along to a song that was composed for the anniversary (I think the song was by Veno). My aunt laughed heartily when Samanja sang his part. She couldn’t believe that Samanja could sing.

1986 Independence Day Drama.

The usual arrival sequence on Independence Day during the military era was,

1) The service chiefs and the inspector general of police (they received the general salute)

2) The minister of defence & chairman joint chiefs of staff (he received the general salute)

3) The chief of staff Supreme Headquarters/chief of general staff (he received the national salute. The first 4 lines of the anthem)

4) The president/head of state and commander in chief (he received the national salute. The full anthem).

This was also the order of precedence at national events.

However, there was a coup on August 27th, 1985 which created a strange arrangement.

1) The president was Major General Ibrahim Babangida.

2) The chief of general staff was Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe

3) The minister of defence and chairman joint chiefs of staff was Major General Domkat Bali

4) The service chiefs were Major General Sani Abacha (chief of army staff), Rear Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (chief of naval staff) and Air Vice Marshal Ibrahim Alfa (chief of air staff).

The question was, how can a commodore (one star general) be the chief of general staff (military vice president) when the minister of defence and service chiefs were two star generals? This was a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, General Bali was actually President Babangida’s senior and Admiral Aikhomu had been the chief of naval staff in Buhari’s administration when Ukiwe was just the flag officer commanding the Western Naval Command!

Well, the answer was that Ukiwe served in the Biafran Navy during the Civil War and therefore he lost a round of promotion. He could have also been a two star general if the Civil War had not happened.

Anyway, these issues came to a head ahead of the 1986 Independence Day parade. It was decided that Commodore Ukiwe should arrive the arena before the service chiefs. Commodore Ukiwe was not happy about this, so he did not attend the parade.

This is exactly the way I remember it. There were sirens and a motorcade arrived. The commentator said, “. . .the sirens heralding the arrival of the chief of general staff”. I looked through the window of the car and I could see a white naval uniform, so I naturally assumed that it was Ukiwe, but it was not. It was actually President Babangida and he was dressed in the uniform of an admiral! Ukiwe did not attend the parade at all!

Later that day, I heard that Ukiwe had been placed on house arrest. It was later announced that he had been retired from service. Four days later it was announced that Rear Admiral Aikhomu was the new chief of general staff and Rear Admiral Patrick Koshoni was the new chief of naval staff.

The next year, on October 1st, 1987, President Babangida promoted himself to a four star general, Aikhomu was promoted to a vice admiral (three star), Bali was promoted to a lieutenant general (three star), while the service chiefs were left as two star generals.


The first national Independence Day parade that was held in Abuja was held during the Shagari era. This was sometime between 1981 and 1983. The Akinola Aguda Lodge was hurriedly built to serve as the presidential residence during the celebration. The old Parade Ground was also built at this time.

22nd anniversary decoration in Abuja.

President Babangida also staged the 1986 and 1987 Independence Day parades in Abuja. The Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel was built for the 1987 Command Performance, which was staged in the Congress Hall of the hotel.

Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel in 1987.

No Parades

The 1987 Independence Day parade was the last national Independence Day parade for a long time. There was no parade in 1988 and in fact, no parade was staged until 2000. My brother said that President Babangida was afraid that he would be killed in the same way that Anwar Sadat was killed.

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