Murtala Muhammed: 42 years after, legacy still counting

The memory has refused to diminish 42 years after the revolutionary head of state, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, was assassinated. It was on a Friday, February 13, 1976, a day the conspirators believed the leader could be felled by the bullets. Otherwise, Muhammed, according to them, was invincible. The failed coup was led by the late Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka of the Nigeria Army Physical Training Corps.

He was ambushed few minutes after stepping out of Dodan Barracks, Obalende, on his way to the mosque. He died with his ADC Lt. Col. Akintunde Akinsehinwa and his driver. The death of the leader jolted the nation, given the landmark achievement the country recorded within the six months he took over leadership.

When he took over after Gen. Yakubu Gowon was toppled, the late leader left no one in doubt about what he intended to achieve for the country. In one fell swoop, the military governors under Gowon were sacked. And only Brig. Mobolaji Johnson and the late Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo were absolved of corruption when the hammer fell.

The civil service was not spared, as no fewer than 10,000 public servants were dismissed and charged to court for vices, ranging from fraud and falsification of documents. He did not stop there, as corrupt firms and agencies shortchanging the people were brought under scrutiny.

Those indicted either had their licence revoked or were completely advised to leave Nigeria. The intensity of regime could be felt far and near. Foreign businessmen, whose intention was to make Nigeria a dumping ground, weighed the consequence of their action.

He was described as  ‘no nonsense General’ and was respected by Nigerians and members of the international community. He was a leader who did not only depend for information through the official channels, but followed the unorthodox method. It was said the leaders sometimes rode on a bike to get the information required to shape public policy.

This uncommon propensity to mix with the ordinary people on the street, kept most public servants on their watch, leading to high productivity and better services.

So, when his death was announced, the country mourned and grieved.  The nature of the killing was almost misinterpreted.

The wrong signals was almost sent out given that majority of those who took part in the coup were Christians from the Plateau region and it was by the grace of God that the country avoided what could have caused a civil war, when it was barely recovering from the previous fratricidal struggle known as Nigeria/Biafra War.

According to former President Olusegun Obasanjo: “The killing of a Muslim on a Friday by a gang thought to be Christians, particularly when we remembered the first coup which upturned the political situation, gave a signal.”

Obasanjo, who succeeded Muhammed, was the then Chief of Staff at the Supreme Headquarters. He noted that the late leader worked for the peace and unity of the country.

He could not even hide his emotion, when the fallen leader was given his last respect. He said Nigerians thought the bloody coup would end the nation called Nigeria.

To some, Muhammed fell in the class of benevolent dictators, who never cared about how he achieved popular leadership. The masses woke to see a drastic review of the cost of living that had accelerated beyond their reach.

He set up the price control board, ensuring that prices of essential commodities came down. Traders who refused to cooperate had their warehouses or shops forcefully opened and the items sold to the public at the control prices.

Nigerian markets were flood with essential commodities like milk, frozen beef chicken, beverages, detergents which most people had in their homes. It was a period Nigerians would not forget in a hurry.

That was why when news filtered in that dark Friday, that the revolutionary leader had been assassinated, the country was thrown into confusion. Lagos residents and most schools immediately closed for the day.

Professor of History and member of the Governing Council, Osun State University, Siyan Oyeweso, said the late General would be remembered for his giant strides in governance.

He said: “The death of Murtala Mouhammed on February 13, 1976, remained a reference point in Nigerian history. He played active role in the civil war which can be referred to as war of Nigerian unity. It is war among brothers; he was a key actor in that tragic war.

“His greatest legacy today must be located within the context of good governance. Within six months of his reign, he was able to restore discipline to governance. He had zero tolerance for corruption and was able to put the right people in the right place.

“He was a no nonsense general, within the civil service he made his mistake. He committed one error in term of mass retirement, the purge of the public service. But his intention, I am sure, was pure.

“Today, you have the Murtala Muhammed airport named after him and a number of other edifices. But, he is little remembered in history because of the absence of history. We use the occasion of the anniversary to remind Nigerians of the active service of a general who died in service to his fatherland and his legacy lives on.”

Member, PRONACO , Chief Linus Okoroji said the leader who meant well for the country, got it wrong when he purged the civil service. He corroborated what Oyeweso had pointed out.

He added that the mass purge created way for mismanagement as new people who came into the service took advantage of the opening the discovered to entrench corruption.

“He came and tried to see what he could do to make society better. He wanted to arrest poverty in Nigeria, he cut down the cost of living but unfortunately he did not live for long. He did very well. But his retirement of civil servant was a wrong step.

“It created a big problem for the country. That made them to start stealing from the treasury. That is what brought the corruption we are talking about. The compulsory retirement of civil servant created problem for the country.”

Ofenifere Publicity Secretary Yinka Odumakin said the short period Mohammed served the country was eventful, urging other leaders to show the same commitment to the growth of the country.

“He governed for only a few months, but the period was very impactful. He tried to galvanise the country towards good governance. He quickly brought back what was missing from the leadership system.

“He showed the country best way to fight corruption. He was always in the forefront and used himself as example in whatever he proposed. That is why he is being remembered and would continue to be remembered.”

Publicity Secretary Lagos State All Progressives Congress (APC) Joe Igbokwe said he was a good leader who came like a spark. According to him, the late General would have got Nigeria far ahead if he had lived much longer.

He said it was unfortunate good people don’t last, just like the fate that befell Chief M.K.O Abiola, the general’s legacy would remain ever green when good men are mentioned.

1 Comment

  • idris yayah
    Posted 1 day ago 10:52 pm 0Likes

    Rest in peace Sir,
    May almighty Allah continue to bless u
    amin

Live a Reply

%d bloggers like this: