A General and His Fight against Corruption

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Yinka Kolawole in Osogbo reports that the post-graduate students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-ife, recently honoured the late General Murtala Muhammed for his fight against corruption

On Monday, December 2, 2019, the postgraduate students of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife, honoured the late General Murtala Muhammed by unveiling his statue at the entrance of the postgraduate college of the institution. The gesture was an occasion to remember him for what he stood for, his legacies, as well as his humility.

Speaking at the unveiling, done by Osun’s Commissioner for Economics Development and Budget Planning, Prof. Olalekan Yinusa, the son of the late general, Mr Risqua Muhammed, commended the administration of President Muhammad Buhari for emulating the anticorruption policy of his father. Muhammed Jnr, who was elated for the statue, noted that his father fearlessly fought corruption during his tenure as Nigeria’s head of state.

Charging Nigerians to celebrate and emulate his father for living a simple life, and who like President Muhammadu Buhari had fought corruption at all levels of government, Muhammed Jnr said even after serving Nigeria as head of state, the late head of state left a paltry seven thousand naira in his bank account. Describing his father as a man of integrity, the son said he was excited his late father was being honoured 43 years after losing his life.

In his remarks at the unveiling, the Vice Chancellor of OAU, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, urged the family of the late icon to maintain the legacies of their father. While acknowledging that the late “Murtala Muhammed led by example”, he noted that “within six months he was able to lay a solid foundation for the development of the country.”

Advising Nigerians to imbibe the spirit of being conversant with happenings of the past, so as to know their history and lay good foundation for their children and the coming generation, Ogunbodede stressed that the institution would continue to celebrate the late General for believing in “good vision, good ideas and commitment to the nation’s development.”

Also in his submission, the program coordinator of the Murtala Muhammed Foundation, Mr Solomon Okonkwo, thanked the postgraduate students for remembering the nation’s icon. He said anyone who read about the late General would appreciate his lifestyle and legacies when he was alive, and come to appreciate the foundation he left behind for Nigeria.

To understand the late Muhammed’s legacies, one must start with the history of the man. Born on November 8, 1938, into the family of Mallam Muhammadu Riskuwa and Mallama Uwan Ramatu, in the ancient city of Kano, Muhammed attended the Kofar Kudu Primary School, Gidan Makama primary school, and Rumfa College, all in Kano.

Mallam Muhammadu Riskuwa was of the Genawa clan; a clan of scholars known for their knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence.

The late Muhammed would attend Government School, Zaria (now Barewa College), before joining the Nigerian Army. In 1961 he was commissioned Second Lieutenant, and posted to the Nigeria Army Signals, where he had stints in military training in Nigeria and Ghana, before attending the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst England. He then went on to specialize in signals at the Royal School of Signals in Catterick England.

In 1962, he was appointed the ADC to Majekodunmi, administrator of the Western Region. Two years later, in 1964, he was appointed officer commanding 1st Signal Squadron. In 1971, during the civil war, as a Lieutenant Colonel, he was appointed General Officer Commanding, 2nd Infantry Division, prominent for pushing the Biafran forces out of the Midwest. The 2nd Infantry Division’s feat changed the course of the civil war in Nigeria’s favor.

He became Federal Commissioner of Communications in 1974, and then Head of State and commander in Chief of the Nigeria Armed Forces on July 29, 1975, through a bloodless coup organized by the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and a few of his colleagues. His administration would go ahead to make history with the implementation of the following programs:

Inauguration of the Constitution Drafting Committee of wise men headed by Chief Rotimi Williams to draft a new constitution; creation of 7 new states: Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Imo, Niger, Ogun and Ondo; total overhaul of the Nigeria Civil Service in order to instill discipline and refocus the service; and the relocation of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) from Lagos to Abuja as a result of the congestion in Lagos.

Murtala Muhammed spent just 200 days in office as Nigeria’s Head of State, but he left an imprint of dedication and empathy. He is today still celebrated as a legendary visionary, eminent soldier and a great patriot. His dedication to his country and his people is still celebrated and recognized today, both in Nigeria and internationally.

In honour of his memory, he was the first Nigerian to have his depiction on the Nigerian currency, specifically the 20 Naira note. The International Airport in Lagos is also named after him. In almost every city or state of the country, there are streets, parks, gardens, buildings and other monuments named after him; and so is this hall of Residence.

A devout Muslim who believed everything resides in God’s hands and that only Him can protect, his conviction in God as the ultimate protector was the reason why he never moved with any security, but was instead always only accompanied by just his driver, orderly and ADC. This is the reason why he was an easy target. He was ambushed and assassinated on a Friday morning, on his way to work, in the Lagos rush hour traffic. The Head of State, in just one car, obeying the traffic rules, no sirens, no security, no fleet of cars.

He lived a very simple life. As head of state, he never moved into the state house, but instead lived in the same residence he was living in as a federal commissioner. He believed that all mankind are the same before God, came from God with nothing, and will return to God with nothing. He believed that the only thing that will outlive one in this life and the hereafter, are your deeds. This is why he devoted his life to making Nigeria a better place.

Died on February 13, 1976, his legacy of professionalism, dedication, honor and hard work lives on in his works and through his children and grandchildren.