Joseph Nanven Garba

Major General Joseph Nanven Garba (17 July 1943 – 1 June 2002) was a Nigerian general, diplomat, and politician who served as president of the United Nations General Assembly from 1989 to 1990.

Joseph Nanven Garba
President of the United Nations General Assembly
In office
Preceded byDante Caputo
Succeeded byGuido de Marco
Federal Commissioner for External Affairs
In office
Preceded byArikpo Okoi
Succeeded byHenry Adefope
Commandant, Nigerian Defence Academy
In office
July 1978 – July 1979
Preceded byBrig E.S. Armah
Succeeded byBrig Zamani Lekwot
Personal details
Born(1943-07-17)17 July 1943
Langtang, Nigeria
Died1 June 2002(2002-06-01) (aged 58)
Military service
Branch/serviceFlag of the Nigerian Army Headquarters.svg Nigerian Army
Years of service1957–1980
RankMajor general

Early life and military careerEdit

Born in Langtang, Nigeria, Garba was educated at Sacred Heart School, Shendam from 1952 to 1957. His early military career began at the Nigerian Military School in Zaria in 1957, where he studied until 1961. In 1961 he enlisted in the Nigerian Army and was sent to the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England, before being commissioned as an infantry officer in 1962. Garba rose through the ranks quickly: amongst his many military command posts[1] were platoon commander of 44th Battalion in 1963, company commander from 1963 to 64, and mortar platoon commander in 1964. He participated in the United Nations Military Observer Mission in India/Pakistan (UNIPOM) from 1965 to 1966[2] before being made commander of the Brigade of Guards in 1968. He studied at Staff College, Camberley, England, in 1973.

Participation in the Nigerian Counter Coup of July 1966Edit

Garba, then a Captain with the Federal Guards in Lagos, was one of the many officers of northern Nigerian origin (including Lieutenant Colonel Murtala Muhammed, Major Theophilus Danjuma, Lieutenant Muhammadu Buhari, Lieutenant Ibrahim Babangida, Lieutenant Ibrahim Bako, 2nd Lieutenant Sani Abacha among others), who staged what became known as the Nigerian counter-coup of 1966 because of grievances[3] they felt towards the administration of General Aguiyi Ironsi's government which quelled the January 15, 1966 coup.

Participation in the 1975 Military CoupEdit

Garba first came to national attention in Nigeria when, on July 29, 1975, he announced the coup d'état against the leader of the country, General Yakubu Gowon.[1] Garba's speech, broadcast from Radio Nigeria, began with the following statement:

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.[4]

Garba was a close ally of Gowon. The coup was led by junior military officers unhappy at the lack of progress General Gowon had made in moving the country towards democratic rule, and Garba's role as an insider is credited with ensuring that the coup was bloodless.[4] Garba and Gowon later reconciled to the extent that Gowon attended Garba's funeral in Langtang in 2002.[5]

Diplomatic careerEdit

Following the coup, Garba made a shift from the military to politics and diplomacy. In 1975 he was appointed Nigeria's foreign minister (Federal Commissioner for External Affairs) by Murtala Mohammed, and continued in this role under Olusẹgun Ọbasanjọ after the former was assassinated in 1976. Garba was the head of the Nigerian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly from 1975, culminating in his appointment as President of the United Nations Security Council in January 1978.[6]

In 1978, as Ọbasanjọ was preparing to hand rule of Nigeria over to civilians, Garba was reassigned to the role of Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy. He held this position until 1980, when he left to study at the National Defence College in New Delhi, India. Following this, Garba studied as a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University, where he obtained a Master's degree in Public Administration.[6]

Returning to diplomatic life, Garba was appointed a Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1984, a role he continued in until 1989. In 1989, he was elected President of the United Nations General Assembly for its forty-fourth session. During his tenure, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted into international law. In the post of president, Garba was also an outspoken opponent of apartheid in South Africa.[7] Garba remained president for the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth special sessions of the assembly, on Apartheid, drug abuse, and international economic co-operation respectively.

Later lifeEdit

In 1979, Garba was awarded the title of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, and made a Grand Officer of the Ordre National Du Bénin ("National Order of Benin"). He wrote a number of books, including Revolution in Nigeria: Another View (1982), Diplomatic Soldiering (1987), and Fractured History: Elite Shifts and Policy Changes in Nigeria (1995), and was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the State University of New York in 1991.[1]

Garba spent four years (1992-1995) in New York directing The Southern African Peacekeeping and Peacemaking Project, which focused on the security challenges facing a changing southern African region.[8] A key focus of the project was the restructuring of the security forces for a new and post-apartheid South Africa. The findings and results of the project were published in two volumes in 1993 and 1994. On 26–28 January 1994, in Harare, Zimbabwe, he brought together for the first time military commanders from South Africa and their counterparts from the ANC and the southern Africa region, as well as international security experts for a conference on restructuring South Africa’s security forces.[citation needed] His input, role and engagement with some senior South African military and police commanders in South Africa, including Lt. General Pierre Steyn, General J.J. Geldenhuys, Major-General Bantu Holomisa and Lt. General Sebastian J. Smit, Major-General George Fivas, and commanders from the neighboring countries would prove instrumental to the smooth transition of the South African military in the post-apartheid era.[citation needed] [ see, Restructuring the security forces for a new South Africa.]

In his later years, Garba was reported as holding a desire to lead Nigeria, and said so publicly in 1995.[5] During the Abacha transition program he was a member of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), In the fourth republic he joined the All Nigeria People's Party, although he was never elected to public office. From 1999, he was Director General of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Nigeria, and while carrying out the duties of this office in Abuja he died on June 1, 2002. Garba was survived by his wife and six children.

Following his death the president of the Nigerian Senate, Anyim Pius, described Garba as "one of [Nigeria's] finest diplomats, patriots and staunch advocates of an indivisible and indissolable African continent",[9] referring to Garba's strong belief in and advocacy of Pan-Africanism.


  • Garba, Joseph Nanven (1982). Revolution in Nigeria: Another View. London: Africa Books. ISBN 0-903274-15-9.
  • Garba, Joseph Nanven (1987). Diplomatic Soldiering: Nigerian Foreign Policy, 1975-1979. Ibadan: Spectrum Books. ISBN 978-2461-76-8.
  • Garba, Joseph Nanven (1993). The Honour To Serve: reflections On Nigeria’s Presidency of the 44th U.N. General Assembly. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria). ISBN 978-129-285-7
  • Garba, Joseph Nanven (1993). Towards Sustainable Peace and Security in Southern Africa. New York, N.Y.: Institute of International Education.
  • Garba, Joseph Nanven (1994). Restructuring the security forces for a new South Africa, New York, N.Y.: Institute of International Education ISBN 978-0-87206-210-8
  • Garba, Joseph Nanven (1995). Fractured History: Elite Shifts and Policy Changes in Nigeria. Princeton: Sungai Books. ISBN 0-9635245-4-2.


  1. ^ a b c "End of a Diplomatic Guru". Online Nigeria. 2002-06-14. Retrieved 2006-07-28.
  2. ^ "Joseph Garba: 1943-2002". The Guardian. 2002-06-04. Retrieved 2006-07-28.
  3. ^ Siollun, Max (2009). Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture (1966 - 1976). Algora. p. 97. ISBN 9780875867090.
  4. ^ a b Omoigui, Nowa (2006-07-11). "Military Rebellion of July 29, 1975: The Coup Against Gowon". Retrieved 2006-07-28.
  5. ^ a b Obaze, Oseloka (2003-06-01). "Joe Garba: A Man Before His Time". Archived from the original on May 4, 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-28.
  6. ^ a b "Joseph N. Garba (Nigeria) Elected President of the Forty-Fourth Session of the General Assembly". Retrieved 2006-07-28.
  7. ^ Kavan, Jan (2002-10-28). "Commemoration Ceremony for Major-General Joseph Nanven Garba". Retrieved 2006-07-28.
  8. ^ Jacqz, Jane Wilder (1977-01-01). Toward a New Africa Policy. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9780878557547.
  9. ^ Cobb Jr., Charlie (2002-06-03). "Nigeria: Tributes Pour in For Garba". Retrieved 2006-07-28.

External linksEdit

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Dante Maria Caputo
President of the United Nations General Assembly
Succeeded by
Guido de Marco
Political offices
Preceded by
Arikpo Okoi
Foreign Minister of Nigeria
Succeeded by
Henry Adefope